by Lisa Roggow

LR: Ken, how long have you been on the Toltec path?

KEF: I started on a daily basis in 1973 when I was in the hospital. I was in the military and had a bleeding ulcer and a couple of other problems with my digestive tract. I'd been in the hospital for about 3 months, and in talking with some other people on the ward I got pushed onto the path. The doctor wanted to perform surgery and keep me on medication. I didn't want to do that. So by reading Castaneda's book Journey to Ixtlan (1972) and then Tales of Power (1974) later, and then by engaging the exercises in those books, I eventually healed myself. For the first few years, staying with the path was forced because every time I quit doing the exercises the pain would come back, and as soon as I started doing the exercises again the pain would go away. And then after a few years I completely healed myself, and now I can eat pizza with the best of them.

LR: For someone new to the path, will it necessitate a change of lifestyle?

KEF: Eventually there will come a time that you have to redefine your life, yes. Now I'm not saying that everything will change your life circumstances may not change but certainly your attitudes and the way you approach your life will change. But it's been my experience that most people will have a radical change in what they are doing, in addition to how they go about doing it. What then occurs is between the person and Spirit.

LR: Can you explain the term Nagualism? How is this different from Shamanism?

KEF: Nagualism is probably a select class of Shamanism; a certain variety of it. It has academic roots going way back to when anthropologists were working with indigenous tribes in Mexico. Don Juan, Castaneda's teacher, uses it to mean a specific class of teaching. So even his definition is different than the academic's. And so one way to relate to it is to consider that there is a lot of shamanic flavour in it, but then there are a lot of things that are different. For instance, you don't necessarily build medicine wheels; you don't necessarily have the trappings of a pipe and feathers. it's very pristine, very streamlined. And also very rough and ready. it's not heavy on the spirituality as most people might define it. It is very individualistic, but yet you work in small teams. it's very, very rigorous and it's aimed not so much to build a world view, such as [is] found in Shamanism, at least in mainstream versions of it, but to actually work on developing perception. There will come a time when you will leave the teachings behind, because to hold on to them would pin down perception. And so there are different stages of growth along the path: from apprentice to practitioner to what don Juan calls a person of knowledge, someone who has grown beyond the teachings. These people are in an entirely different relation with the world. They have found freedom, and are in a state of complete being.

Is Nagualism a religion?

KEF: Only in the sense that it contains a philosophical structure. This means it is a way to accumulate knowledge. But the way you learn, and what you learn, are biased by the type of structure. So, in a sense, structure is a set of beliefs. A person of knowledge is someone who has used different structures, different sets of beliefs to learn the costs and benefits of structures. By evolving beyond the need for structure, the person has figuratively and literally grown beyond belief. One of the tools to help along this evolution is the petty tyrant. This is a person in your life who pushes every button you have. So if you are working with somebody, especially if they are in authority over you, and if they are a little harsh, that's a good thing. Because it makes you work on your own shortcomings. It makes you pull your dirty laundry out of the hamper. Keep in mind that every time you rail and scream at a person you are just projecting onto them a trait within yourself. In order to discharge that energy within you accurately and ruthlessly, so that you may grow into new connections with the world and Spirit, you need to assess your complete circumstances with absolutely no pity, either for others or for yourself. that's when you are on the mark, when you engage energy on that level. The petty tyrant helps to get you there, forces you to work on your own stuff to
bring yourself further to light.

LR: So basically what you are saying is that petty tyrants and other kinds of challenges help transform things like fear into power, or confusion into a spiritual clarity?

KEF: Right, definitely in terms of Fear and Clarity. It is interesting that you bring those up because those are two steps along the path that require working directly with energy. Fear is a lack of suppleness in the energy body. This lack of movement translates through the physical body as fear, when it really is just being stuck. One way to fight fear is this: any time you come upon something and the only thing that keeps you from doing it is fear, then your decision is automatically made. You look it straight in the eye and proceed in that direction. From that struggle what you find is that fear is a lack of momentum in your energy body, a lack of fluidity. The energy body is stagnant; it has barnacles and is calcified. The more you jolt your energy body with the new experiences you gain by fighting fear, the more you awaken it. Fighting what was a lack of momentum then delivers you to clarity. The problem with this is you now think you know what's really going on, when all you have [done] is developed a new set of thoughts about what is going on, an enhanced set of beliefs. You then set the stage for becoming a metaphysical (or New Age) fundamentalist. Instead of talking about the material world, you get to talk about the spiritual world, complete with reincarnation, psychic phenomena, and alternative healing. But while you've expanded your world, a grand accomplishment, you haven't grown beyond belief. So the discipline for managing clarity is to not use it, and to pretend that you are still fighting fear.

LR: In Tracking Freedom you write about non patterning, which seems to be at the heart of the Toltec Way. To me this is reminiscent of a Buddhist-like non-attachment. It effects physical, emotional, and mentally based reality as we know it, almost as if you are getting back to a Platonic ideal about things, scrutinising that Platonic ideal and then releasing even that conceptual hold. Would you say this is true?

KEF: Yes, that's true, and it delivers you to fully understanding that which you will never fully understand. . . . So, non patterning is not putting the world into form. This includes yourself. Pure non patterning means you are not interpreting anything. And when you do interpret something it's on a practical level, to communicate something, for instance. The problem is that by interpreting the world you then hold on to your definitions, your interpretations. Optimally, however, you begin to realize that your world is just a set of mental and emotional constructs about reality. The further you go into reality, the clearer this becomes. Just remember that your enhanced clarity is also your prison. We really don't know anything about what this magnificence called creation is. It cannot be encapsulated. And so non patterning is very much a core Toltec teaching that is designed to constantly keep you open, keep awareness open, and keep perception open.

LR: Some traditions might approach this by divorcing themselves from the world. How does a Toltec live in the world and still stay so deeply within in order to do this work?

KEF: that's interesting, because Don Juan says you really have never learned your lessons if you can't do it in the world. This brings in the discipline of a Path with Heart. This is a path intended to bring you to life. A Path with Heart is formed by deliberately selecting a number of things that you want to involve yourself with: relationships, vocations, hobbies, arts, anything that really connects your heart with the world. The criteria for selection is peace, joy, and strength. You don't worry about money; you don't worry about if you are going to be socially acceptable. If an activity gives you peace, of your Path with Heart. When you have a number of these, you are on your Path with Heart. I have never seen a situation where a person who has a well-developed Path with Heart doesn't have their livelihood taken care of. They get their money; it's just that the emphasis isn't on money. That doesn't mean that money is a bad thing. It is an interesting form of power that can accomplish grand things. Just keep it very balanced, and within its place. Your income should be supportive of your path, not the defining element of it. So if you think it is part of your path, you may have the wrong relationship with your heart. If you think you must have money to accomplish some grand goal, say, to help humanity, it may just be your self-importance. So, like non patterning, the Path of Heart is also an essential feature of Toltec structures. It is something that awakens you and gives you joy as you walk over the earth. Then petty tyrants, no pity, and fighting fear are all exercises, skills to quicken the process so that you can achieve a radical transformation in the life you are living now. They give you a fighting chance to claim your freedom.

LR: What about personal power? It seems that the Toltecs actively and openly engage in acquiring and cultivating their personal power. This is really in contrast to many religions, and yet its use in Nagualism seems to reflect the reasons that other paths avoid it.

KEF: In the modern Toltec world, personal power means having enough energy to continually be more and more aware. In the ancient structures, several thousand years ago, it meant having more power than the next guy, competition, greed, manipulation, these kinds of things. When the Toltec empire got laid to waste by Indian wars and the Inquisition, the remnant went underground and revamped the system. They introduced ethics and from that ethical standpoint a new meaning of personal power evolved. So it relates to being more aware. For that you need more energy, which means you have awakened more of your energy body. That gives you your energy, and your Path with Heart generates energy. And from that energy you become more aware. . . .

LR: While most systems talk about their past masters in terms of highest respect and devotion, not that this is untrue of Nagualism, Nagualism openly talks about the mistakes of past Toltecs. Do you see this as a sign of an evolving path?

KEF: This is definitely an evolving path, and I think one of the distinctions of the Toltec path of knowledge. In some systems, you have a teacher for life, someone to give you a gentle, or sometimes not-so-gentle, reminder of what you're really supposed to be up to. Toltecs, like Don Juan, grab you by the scruff of the neck, work you over up and down, in and out, then set you on your way to fend for yourself. Personally, I appreciate this style of teaching. it's very individualistic, very responsible, very empowering. It lets you assess what your teacher says and does, then figure out if you want to continue exactly that way. Or perhaps you'll even want to get off the path entirely. The effect is similar: the system evolves, as it's not static to a given set of practices. There is nothing to adhere to except the unrelenting drive to develop perception. In this way, you can grow beyond belief.

LR: How do you see your work, and in particular Tracking Freedom, contributing to this evolution?

KEF: Tracking Freedom is the culmination of a learning task don Juan gave me over twenty years ago. He directed me to write books about his teachings. In doing so, I earnestly tried to present views that would crystallise don Juan's teachings, and make them applicable to a variety of situations. For instance, I aimed to make his teachings realisable in the daily world for anyone who was bold enough, or nuts enough, to travel this path. I also wanted to demonstrate how a philosophy works: how it expands perception, how it hems in perception. By understanding what we're working with, we stand a better chance of not getting bogged down in our amazing concoctions about reality. We stand a better chance of tracking freedom.




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According to Don Juan Matus there are four inner obstacles a man of knowledge must overcome: fear, clarity, power, and old age. These four elements are both obstacles as well as necessary preconditions. Taken together the links below will help offer special added insights into understanding and alleviating some of the hardships faced when confronting the four obstacles along the path.

You will notice there is a heavy ring of Buddhism in the links below. Some people would argue quite stringently that Buddhism and Shamanism are for the most part nowhere related and to draw an anology would be creating a thin line. However, the coincidence of characteristics and striking similarities between Buddhist adepts and Shamans and Shamanism has been studied and outlined quite thoroughly by the likes of Mircea Eliade in his monograph, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. For example, the abilities of the Arhat relating to the sixfold knowledge of the worthy ones that includes not only the ability similar to the Cloud Shaman to appear and disappear at will, but also the oft cited case in Buddhism and Zen by the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja where the venerable Arhat was adomished by the Buddha for flying and performing miraculous acts infront of the faithful. For more, consider the very beginning root-source or Shamanism:

The word shaman, used internationally, has its origin in manchú-tangu and has reached the ethnologic vocabulary through Russian. The word originated from saman (xaman), derived from the verb scha-, "to know", so shaman means someone who knows, is wise, a sage. Further ethnologic investigations shows that the true origin for the word Shaman can be tracked from the Sanskrit initially, then through Chinese-Buddhist mediation to the manchú-tangu, indicating a much deeper but now overlooked connection between early Buddhism and Shamanism generally. In Pali it is schamana, in Sanskrit sramana translated to something like "buddhist monk, ascetic". The intermediate Chinese term is scha-men. (source)


  1. FEAR




  3. POWER


  4. OLD AGE