Home > Don Juan > The Island of Tonal I

The Island of Tonal I

"I’m going to
tell you about the tonal and the nagual" he said and
looked at me

This was the first
time in our association that he had used those
two terms. I was vaguely familiar
with them through the anthropo­logical literature on the cultures of central
Mexico. I knew that the
"tonal" (pronounced, toh-na’hl) was thought to be a kind of
usually an animal, that a child obtained at birth and with
which he had intimate
ties for the rest of his life. "Nagual" (pro­nounced, nah-wa’hl) was
the name given to the animal into which
sorcerers could allegedly
transform themselves, or to the sorcerer that elicited such a transformation.

"This is my tonal"
don Juan said, rubbing his hands on his chest.


"No. My

He pounded his chest
and his thighs and the side of his ribs.

"My tonal is
all this."

He explained that
every human being had two sides, two separate entities, two counterparts which
became operative at the moment of
birth; one was called the "tonal" and the
other the "nagual."

I told him what
anthropologists knew about the two concepts. He
let me speak without interrupting

"Well, whatever
you may think you know about them is pure non­
sense," he said. "I base this statement on the fact that
whatever I’m
telling you about the tonal
and the nagual could not possibly have
been told to you before. Any idiot would know that you know nothing about them, because in order to be acquainted
with them,
you would have to be a sorcerer
and you aren’t. Or you would’ve had
to talk about
them with a sorcerer and you haven’t. So disregard
everything you’ve heard before, because it is inapplicable."

"It was only a
comment," I said.

He raised his brows in
a comical gesture.

"Your comments
are out of order," he said. "This time I need your
undivided attention,
since I am going to acquaint you with the tonal and the nagual. Sorcerers
have a special and unique interest in that
knowledge. I would say that the tonal
and the nagual are in the
exclusive realm of men of knowledge. In your case,
this is the lid that
closes everything I have taught you. Thus, I have waited until now to talk about them.

"The tonal is
not an animal that guards a person. I would rather
say that it is a guardian that
could be represented as an animal. But
that is not the important

He smiled and winked
at me.

"I’m using your
own words now," he said. "The tonal is the social

He laughed, I
supposed, at the sight of my bewilderment.

"The tonal is,
rightfully so, a protector, a guardian —a guardian
that most of the time turns into
a guard."

I fumbled with my
notebook. I was trying to pay attention to what
he was saying. He laughed and
mimicked my nervous movements.

"The tonal is
the organizer of the world," he proceeded. "Perhaps the best way of
describing its monumental work is to say that on its
shoulders rests the task of
setting the chaos of the world in order. It
is not farfetched to maintain, as
sorcerers do, that everything we know and do as men is the work of the tonal.

"At this moment,
for instance, what is engaged in trying to make
sense out of our conversation is
your tonal; without it there would be
only weird sounds and grimaces
and you wouldn’t understand a
thing of what I’m saying.

"I would say
then that the tonal is a guardian that protects some­thing priceless,
our very being. Therefore, an inherent quality of the
tonal is to be cagey and
jealous of its doings. And since its doings are
by far the most important part of our lives, it is no
wonder that it eventually changes, in every
one of us, from a guardian into a guard."

He stopped and asked
me if I had understood. I automatically
nodded my head affirmatively and
he smiled with an air of incredu­

"A guardian is
broad-minded and understanding," he explained.
"A guard, on the other hand,
is a vigilante, narrow-minded and most of the time despotic. I say, then, that
the tonal in all of us has been
made into a petty and despotic
guard when it should be a broad-
minded guardian."

I definitely was not
following the trend of his explanation. I heard
and wrote down every word and yet
I seemed to be stuck with some
internal dialogue of my own.

"It is very hard
for me to follow your point," I said.

"If you didn’t
get hooked on talking to yourself you would have no
quarrels," he said

His remark threw me
into a long explanatory statement. I finally
caught myself and apologized for
my insistence on defending myself.

He smiled and made a
gesture that seemed to indicate that my at­
titude had not really annoyed

"The tonal is
everything we are," he proceeded. "Name it! Any­
thing we have a word
for is the tonal. And since the tonal is its own
doings, then
everything, obviously, has to fall under its domain."

I reminded him that he
had said that the "tonal" was the social
person, a term which I myself had
used with him to mean a human
being as the end result of socialization processes. I
pointed out that if
the "tonal" was that product, it could not be everything, as
he had
because the world around us was not the product of socializa­

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