Being in Dreaming:
an introduction to TOLTEC SORCERY
an interview with Florinda Donner
by Brian S. Cohen
Late one afternoon at a coffee shop in Tucson, a woman sporting a peculiar
sits at the counter and orders a hamburger. In an effort to humiliate the cook
allegedly refusing to serve an Indian friend of hers, she deftly deposits a
dead cockroach on her meal and shrieks in revulsion. The cook picks up the food
studies the woman intently. "Either this cockroach fell from the ceiling, he
replies, looking at her, "or it dropped out of her wig." Before the woman can
she is offered any meal, compliments of the house, and so she humbly enjoys a
and baked potato. Yet when she gets to her salad, she notices a rather large
crawling in her lettuce. Looking up, she sees the cook waving to her, a dazzling
smile lighting his face.
Scenes like this one occur frequently in a society where many different cultures
vying for acceptance and control. Upon further inspection, however, this episode
not as straightforward as it seems. It is an introductory chapter into a world
we normally don't perceive, a parallel world inhabited by brujas and
brujos—sorcerers descended from the Indians of the Oaxaca Valley prior to the
Spanish conquest. You see, the cook's name is Joe Cortéz, known to his
Carlos Castaneda. The woman's friend is the nagual don Juan Matus.
Florinda Donner's introduction into this world, a world that we have filtered
our perception, a world that has been encrusted with layers of social norms and
acceptance, pushed out of sight and forgotten, is the subject of her third book,
Being-in-Dreaming (Harper-SanFrancisco, 1991). In it she tells her tale of the
disruption of all her assumptions about space, time, reality, and femininity by
group of people who interact in a state of awareness that resides somewhere
being asleep and being awake. Drawn into this world through the energy of don
Castaneda, and the female members of their group, Florinda experiences a clear,
albeit confounding, perception of human ability and energy. Her experiences are
without discomfort, however, for she must reassess all her current knowledge and
beliefs into a world that few are able to see.
I had the chance to speak with Florinda about her twenty-some years of
with don Juan and Castaneda, and it was easy to understand the benefits of being
able to perceive that which we usually overlook. Highly spirited and energetic,
Florinda is as comfortable talking about parallel realities as she is about her
favorite pastime, going to the movies.
How do you describe yourself, and what are you currently doing?
Florinda Donner: I am an anthropologist who no longer practices anthropology,
I have an interest in non-Western healing practices. My work with the Yanomamo
Indians in South America was the subject of my first book, Shabono. I then did
another study in which I worked with a healer in Northern Venezuela. By that
had already been exposed to the world of don Juan, and carried a desire to
with it. I am no longer involved in academic research. What I am trying to do
along with the other people who are involved in the same quest, is to work and
the way don Juan taught us, within a whole other world that he and his cohorts
opened for us.
What is, or is there, an objective of sorcery?
Florinda: Sorcerers are interested in the inherent capacity to see energy
directly. They describe their knowledge as the pursuit of this capacity to see
essence of things. What one normally does in everyday life is to perceive a
one already knows and just revalidate it. Apparently the job of civilization is
give one an a priori idea of thinking, and therefore no experiences are really
People force their children to perceive the way they perceive, by hook or by
And once they have accomplished that, of course, their children are bona fide
members of the group.
Once you are able to see energy in the environment around you, what do you do
that knowledge, that ability?
Florinda: Most people are limited in terms of what they see. What sorcerers,
including myself, want to do is expand the limits, the parameters, of normal
perception. Not only do sorcerers see energy directly, we relate to it
than most people. Our whole spectrum of what we are capable of as human beings
changes. One's choices in life are very limited, because the choices have been
defined by the social order. Society sets up the options, and the individual
the rest, because the options are only those that have been made available.
only source of possibilities, it seems, comes from within those limitations.
Sorcerer, the emphasis in the everyday world is to stay within socially accepted
boundaries of perception.
How do you go about teaching people to enhance their perception?
Florinda: Whether we are trained as a male or a female, we are conditioned to
react in a certain manner. If we can stop that, or at least examine it, we can
up an enormous amount of energy. That energy can then be utilized for dreaming.
don Juan the whole thing always boils down to having enough energy. In the
States we are conditioned for instant gratification; we want an instant formula
will work right now. On one level the immediacy is extremely appealing, but, on
other hand, nothing is good unless you can push a button and have it instantly.
So, a sorcerer tries to re-channel this energy?
Florinda: Not only that, we try to break the barriers that block our potentials.
It is possible to break those barriers by the rigor of self- examination. One of
first exercises all sorcerers do—one that I did not do for years because I did
believe in it—is a recapitulation of their lives with all the people with whom
have had any kind of interaction. They start working on the present and work
the past, and, of course, they end up with their parents. They don't, however,
a psychological interpretation. Sorcerers want to feel how they have interacted,
what kinds of emotions they felt. As they go further and further back in time,
realize that the repetitiveness of their way of perceiving or interacting is so
horrendously boring that there is nothing special about them.
Don Juan says there is this parallel world existing around us, a force of energy
that we don't let in because we are too busy with upholding what the social
dictates. Dreaming is one of the main techniques for perceiving this parallel
This "second attention," as Castaneda calls it, takes a lot of energy, energy
can only be gained by canceling the idea of the self. In dreaming, basically
want to accomplish is the same control we have over the everyday world. The
becomes as real as our everyday life. The gains are gigantic, tremendous, in
of what we are capable of being. We realize that we are energetic beings.
Is lucid dreaming something similar to being-in-dreaming?
Florinda: In Carlos' books, he talks a great deal about what the sorcerers call
the "assemblage point." Perception takes place wherever that assemblage point
becomes static. The greatest accomplishment of our human upbringing is to lock
assemblage point on its habitual position. Once immobilized there, our
can be walked and guided to interpret what we perceive. We learn to perceive in
terms of our system first; then in terms of our senses.
In dreaming, one sees the body as a luminous egg of energy. The assemblage point
shifts inside the egg and assembles different perceptions; perceptions produced
the energy filaments that traverse the egg. In dreaming, prior to that moment
one falls asleep, the assemblage point starts to flutter. The sorcerer tries to
control where that assemblage point fixes itself. The sorcerer is interested in
manipulating it and using it at will. Someone who is adept at lucid dreaming can
into their dream and totally control it. And that is exactly what don Juan wants
do. Through dreaming it's possible to accomplish the ultimate goal of sorcery:
liberate perception from its social bindings in order to perceive energy
One of the differences between your initial experiences and those of Castaneda
the use and non-use of drugs. There is no mention of drugs in your book.
Florinda: Carlos was given psychotropic plants because it was so difficult for
to break through the barriers of perception. For a man it is much more
for no other reason than because they are the upholders and shapers of our
definition of reality.
The conceptualization of reason has been done exclusively by man. This has
men to belittle women's gifts and accomplishments. Even worse, it has allowed
exclude feminine traits from their conceptualized ideals. Women have been reared
believe that only men can be rational and coherent. Men define the very nature
knowledge and from it they have excluded all that is feminine. Though maybe we
verbalize it, women instinctively know that man's rationale is not our own. Our
commitment to this man-made reality, therefore, is not as strong as the male's.
gives us the ability to weave in and out of the parallel worlds, or to go more
easily with the flow. The importance of women healers in the shamanistic
has been ignored in the shamanistic literature. In the history of Western
the role of women is not even acknowledged.
So how do you feel about male sorcerers?
Florinda: Don Juan was the nagual of a group of 14 sorcerers. Castaneda is the
nagual of a much smaller group. The male sorcerers know that without the female
sorcerers, there is nothing. Don Juan and Castaneda are not the leaders in the
that they are better or have more knowledge. The only reason that they are the
leaders of their groups is that they have more energy. Don Juan knew that he did
have an inch of ground to stand on without the women. In that kind of
men and women never take advantage of each other, because, energetically, they
that they need each other to such a large degree. The male sorcerers know that
the female who has a direct link to whatever it is that is out there—knowledge,
spirit, energy, whatever you want to call it.
Carlos' books reflect a different process, a process he is still going through.
build knowledge step-by-step; they "cone" toward knowledge. This coning process
limits men as to how far they can reach. The male wants the order, the
first. The female plunges into something, and then she makes order out of it. In
women, the cone is inverted; it is open like a funnel. Women are able to open
themselves directly to the source, or rather, the source reaches them directly.
When you first came across Castaneda, he was working as a cook in Tucson as part
a task assigned to him by don Juan. Did you have an assigned task?
Florinda: My task was to finish school, get a Ph.D., and continue to study. From
the sorcerers point of view it is useless not to utilize what the world has to
offer. The way the rational mind has been developed, and works, is one of the
exquisite things we have. To negate that is criminal. It is very important to be
very well trained both from the perceptual level and the rational level, for we
only reject something, or find its flaws, if we understand it to perfection. I
always thought, "I don't care." Why should I go through with my academic
if I'm not going to use it?" the sorcerers made me see how important it is to
rational knowledge the same way I embody sorcery. We cannot reject it, because
best that man has to offer is his intellectual achievements. All the people of
group have upper degrees, because when you plunge into the darkness, if your
not so keen and so well trained from a rational point of view, you cannot make
out of what you find in the darkness.
Even if the object is to understand it from a non-rational point of view?
Florinda: In order for us to make sense as human beings, we have to be rational.
If you have a keen intellect you can very easily go from one stage to another.
don Juan's point of view, we are "reasonable men," but not "men of reason." That
our own fault. We have the capacity for incredible intellectual possibilities.
haven't really profited from them because we don't take it's possibilities at
face-value. The world of the sorcerer is a sophisticated world; it is not enough
understand its principles intuitively. One needs to absorb them intellectually.
Contrary to what people believe, sorcerers are not practitioners of obscure,
esoteric rituals. Sorcerers are men of reason. They have a romance with ideas.
have cultivated reason to its limits, for they believe that only by fully
understanding the intellect can they embody the principles of sorcery without
sight of their own sobriety and integrity. This is where sorcerers differ
drastically from other people. Most people have very little sobriety and even
That is quite a difficult change for most people to comprehend.
Florinda: Yes, because what we are trying to do is reduce our involvement with
world by changing our routine ways of interacting and being in the world. You
we always want to be the protagonist, we always want to be the "I." Every story,
everything we see, everything we perceive, everything we tell, is always through
"I." If you can curtail the "I," and truly see as a witness, it is more
The enjoyment of experiencing the ability of a human being is gigantic. Any kind
normal situation becomes an event, becomes a story. It is very interesting to
the other person be the protagonist.
That is not something that Western culture tends to allow.
Florinda: Of course. If you want to analyze it, the whole idea of the West is
succeeding the "I," of seeing what you think. Yet what we don't see, which
just as well, is limitless.
Your idea sound analogous to Buddhism's idea of no-self.
Florinda: Except that Buddhism is a system that works inside the social order.
Sorcery doesn't work within the social order. To truly embody sorcery, one has
almost outside the social order. It is not that one is a deviant, but that one
to extract oneself. One has to truly see, to look from the bridge. Trying to
retreating to a monastery or to the desert is useless. Only by being challenged
our daily life, by what we know, will we be able to change. The pressure always
becomes such that we cannot uphold this new rationale, precisely because we are
being pressured. And we are only going to be pressured by the world we know. The
thing is not to hook into our routine ways. To accomplish that one needs energy.
important thing is to convince ourselves of the need to modify our deep
socialization in order to acquire that energy.
So sorcery is action, not just thought.
Florinda: Exactly. Sorcery is not illusory; it is abstract. Sorcery is an
pursuit of re-making ourselves outside the parameters of what the social order
defined and allowed us to be.
We talked about the social value of sorcery before, but it doesn't seem that
work would have an effect on a large amount of people.
Florinda: We, as individuals, have to change in order for us to assume that we
change anybody else.
And we can't just have intellectual change.
Florinda: No. Intellectually we are willing to tease ourselves with the idea
culture predetermines who we are, how we behave, what we are willing to know,
we are able to feel. But we are not willing to embody this idea, to accept it as
concrete practical proposition. And the reason for this is that we are not
to accept that culture also predetermines what we are able to perceive. On a
practical level, we want everybody else to change, but we ourselves don't
The civil wars in Central America, for instance, are not changes. They are
switches in power. It is the same thing in this country. We haven't changed. The
hope is that people begin to realize that their predetermined world doesn't make
sense. Collectively, we know that something is terribly wrong. What we have done
the Earth has already been done, and we can't change that. The Earth will
its existence whether we are here or not. We are not doomed because the Earth is
doomed; we are doomed because of our unwillingness to change.
To break with our habitual patterns, we need energy and the commitment that we
want to do it. Don Juan was extremely forceful in the sense that he could
practically grab you by the neck and put you into another world. Castaneda is
different. All he is interested in is the person's commitment. It has to be your
decision. He will not influence you. He will help you if something has to be
explained, but he is not interested in coercion or in trying to brow-beat
into changing the world we live in. The change has to come from within first.
Magical Blend Magazine
Publication Date: 1992