On Saturday, May 22, 1971,
I went to Sonora, Mexico, to see don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, with whom I had been associated since 1961. I thought that my visit on that day was going to be in no way different from the scores of times I had gone to see him in the ten years I had been his apprentice. The events that took place on that day and on the following days, however, were momentous to me. On that occasion my apprenticeship came to an end. This was not an arbitrary withdrawal on my part but a bona fide termination.
I have already presented the case of my apprenticeship in two previous works: The Teachings of Don Juan and A Separate Reality.
My basic assumption in both books has been that the articulation points in learning to be a sorcerer were the states of non-ordinary reality produced by the ingestion of psychotropic plants.
In this respect don Juan was an expert in the use of three such plants: Datura inoxia, commonly known as jimson weed; Lofihophora williamsii, known as peyote; and a hallucinogenic mushroom of the genus Psilocybe.
My perception of the world through the effects of those psychotropics had been so bizarre and impressive that I was forced to assume that such states were the only avenue to communicating and learning what don Juan was attempting to teach me. That assumption was erroneous.
For the purposes of avoiding any misunderstandings about my work with don Juan I would like to clarify the following issues at this point.
So far I have made no attempt whatsoever to place don Juan in a cultural milieu. The fact that he considers himself to be a Yaqui Indian does not mean that his knowledge of sorcery is known to or practiced by the Yaqui Indians in general.
All the conversations that don Juan and I have had throughout the apprenticeship were conducted in Spanish, and only because of his thorough command of that language was I capable of obtaining complex explanations
of his system of beliefs.
I have maintained the practice of referring to that system as sorcery and I have also maintained the practice of referring to don Juan as a sorcerer, because these were categories he himself used.
Since I was capable of writing down most of what was said in the beginning of the apprenticeship, and everything that was said in the later phases of it, I gathered voluminous field notes. In order to render those notes readable and still preserve the dramatic unity of don Juan’s teachings, I have had to edit them, but what I have deleted is, I believe, immaterial to the points I want to raise.
In the case of my work with don Juan I have limited my efforts solely to viewing him as a sorcerer and to acquiring membership in his knowledge.
For the purpose of presenting my argument I must first explain the basic premise of sorcery as don Juan presented it to me. He said that for a sorcerer, the world of everyday life is not real, or out there, as we believe it is. For a sorcerer, reality, or the world we all know, is only a description.
For the sake of validating this premise don Juan concentrated the best of his efforts into leading me to a genuine conviction that what I held in mind as the world at hand was merely a description of the world; a description that had been pounded into me from the moment I was born.
He pointed out that everyone who comes into contact with a child is a teacher who incessantly describes the world to him, until the moment when the child is capable of perceiving the world as it is described.