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.
He pounded his chest
and his thighs and the side of his ribs.
"My tonal is
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
you may think you know about them is pure nonsense," 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.
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
"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
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 incredulity.
"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 attitude had not really annoyed
"The tonal is
everything we are," he proceeded. "Name it! Anything 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 said,
because the world around us was not the product of socialization.