The Hunt for Magic and Reason

Chapter One
How Did I Get Here?

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You are here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. -Morpheus, The Matrix, 1998

   The question of the man standing in front slowly seeped into my barricaded mind. Was he talking to me? Or the other twenty in the room? Evenly spaced on the honey colored floor we stood like sentinels motionless, waiting for someone to answer. His black eyes rested loosely on me. In his gaze I felt exposed. “I am nobody, I am nothing,” I said without words. He saw me and I saw him with the pores of my skin, with the feelers of my neck. What does he mean? How did I get here? In general or in particular? What brought me here? To this room in this city, to this country, into his elusive presence? The walls stopped to exhale. The light above crackled in blaring neon, growing nuances stronger. His probing question tore into the void of silence and grew a myriad of tentacles rooting through the muck of possibilities like dark matter in space. In the bright glare of this spotlight my mind raced, bouncing the question like a ping-pong ball off the many walls of the elaborate mansion that houses my memory.

   In a sense, it was no miracle to suddenly stand in front of him. Hadn’t I prepared all my life for this moment? It was the wishing, longing, hating, mocking and sneering that dropped me into this dream of illusions turned reality. But then it came as a complete shock. For thirteen years, I've lived in this never-ending sea of houses that stretches two driving hours from East to West and is harnessed only inconsequentially by the Pacific Ocean. A mythical movie-town with her everyday street corners and crossings eternalized on celluloid, a magic carpet of invented miracles, heroic deeds and heart-wrenching dramas packaged for fast consumption. As if this city, "The City of the Angels" that feeds its self-generated illusions to the rest of the world could also give birth and form to my fantasies!

   Conceivably, I had walked the same sidewalks and touched the same door handles he had, possibly even rubbed elbows without ever seeing him. So close, and yet unreachable. Why did it happen now after so many years? Utter coincidence, a whimsy of the universe. There has to be a reason for it. I did not look for him, not here or in Yuma and Nogales, like so many others. I knew that to find someone hiding purposefully in the anonymity of a city of millions was more difficult than searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It was not my scheming that brought me here. Maybe it was my soul mourning for its loss in nightmares of hunger? Or was it the hole she left behind staring out of my eye sockets, gnawing and scratching in my throat, gliding in dreams over Spain like a witch in a red silk robe? For millennia she held me by the hand, ridiculing love, religion, authority and power, but never letting me grow blind. And if I only stumbled wearily behind her once in a while, I caught the seam of her dress.

   Whatever it was that prompted me to leave the narrow-minded village of my youth and to throw myself into the unknown expanse, this mysterious force pushed me over the western ocean like a nutshell and suddenly reeled me into this man’s presence.

   This is how I happened to meet the sorcerer. He slipped into my life like a sock long lost in the wash that suddenly reappeared, unexpectedly anticipated. My insides shook uncontrollably. My mind ripped from the indolent daily routine, drew slow circles of disbelief. Cognitive dissonance.

   I was still far away searching for a plausible, honest and comprehensive reply to the unanswerable question when the pregnant silence became unbearable. What by now seemed like an eon later, I gushed: "From Germany, I came from Germany", as if that would explain my whole story! With one glance he had reduced my razor-sharp tongue to stammering. This bothered me afterwards immensely. I felt like an idiot - the worst insult to my self-image. The simplest answer would have been that it was Kylie who had invited me to the private instructions of the magical movements. Kylie, the Nordic looking bodyguard, who follows the witches to all public appearances. She is the guardian of the outer door. She accompanied Florinda to the Sisterhood bookstore anniversary celebration in Westwood.

   Was it not a wondrous coincidence that I heard Florinda's name mentioned during the ten minutes of daily car radio time? A decade of listening went by before I caught this precise moment. A handful of people, mostly my friends, crammed into the small room of the women's bookshop. Florinda, the author of "A Witches Dream", sat only inches away from us. Her short spiked hair glowed in golden blond. Piercing blue shot from her eyes. Wondering about her age, I scanned her face for telltale signs of cosmetic surgery. With the female habit of critical comparison, my gaze scrutinized her carefully combed eyebrow arches, her perfectly smooth, peachy complexion and an almond-shaped face featuring a delicate small nose and a strong chin, used to getting her way. She wore no offensive perfume but an immaculately pressed blouse and well fitting tailored pants on her evenly proportioned slender frame. With her freshness and understated elegance she seemed to have stepped down from a reclining pose on an Armani billboard from which she languidly watched over the neon palm tree sunsets of Los Angeles with the indifference of nobility. Did I expect a turquoise laden Lynn Andrew’s sister draped with amulets, or maybe a robust, colorful woman with braids and ruffled skirts wearing no panties? Perhaps an exotic creature reeking with mystery? Instead, there was a female Johnny Carson impersonator with the same smirk on her face balanced on a daintily thin neck. She rode on a wave of gushing confidence with unscarred pixie-like youthfulness. She smiled readily and spoke loudly in exuberant bursts without a moments hesitation. Was she playing a game with us, feeding our hungry eyes from her addictive lips? Did she bask in our attention?

   The allotted fifteen minutes were too short to answer our questions. I needed more time to probe the enigma of her sudden appearance into my world. Outside, on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore on Westwood Boulevard, I summoned all my courage and addressed her in German. "Kann ich Sie wiedersehen?" Through her book I knew about her German upbringing in Venezuela and with this clever maneuver I was hoping to place a foot into the suddenly opened doorway of the sorcerers’ world before it would close again. Her eye flickered for a second. Was she flattered? Maybe it was our German connection, maybe she enjoyed my obvious ardor, or possibly it was just a fleeting whim that made her promise me another opportunity for a longer talk. Kylie, the androgynous guardian, gave me her telephone number.

   Months passed. Bill Clinton became president; Audrey Hepburn died from colon cancer; Erich Honecker was free to fly to Chile since it violated his human rights to stand trial in front of a judge with an illness; the World Trade Center in New York was damaged in a bomb attack; the Christian sect in Waco incinerated by the government; and yes, Prince Charles and his wife Diana decided on a separation. A report that must have brought tears to my mother’s eyes.

   My sporadic telephone conversations with Kylie resulted in shrunken expectations and always the same polite excuse of an out-of-the-country-traveling Florinda. Was she testing my persistence? Did she want to soften me up, turn me into easy prey, marinate me like a piece of meat? Or was this crack in the door to the unknown nothing but a glimpse, a fleeting facet on the random tapestry of chaos?

   My hopes had all but disappeared, when, unexpectedly, and without explanation, Florinda was ready to talk. So I saw her again, the female embodiment of confidence and the emissary of an unknown world. She agreed to appear at the apartment of a friend, in front of an assembled group of people who met there for weekly discussions on shamanism. I would have liked to tell her how long I had waited for this opportunity to encounter a bona fide sorceress; what an honor it was to welcome her, and how curious I was to hear her story, but she cut me off. She didn't need someone else's introduction. She would present herself. Florinda Donner-Grau, the name given to her by her master, becomes real through dreaming. She did not want to be the explanation of another, but rather the image of her own fabrication. In the ensuing conversation she enjoyed answering questions. She was so full of life, so full of energy. She did not seem to be worn out by the daily grind, or scarred by the role of wife, mother, grandmother and consumed by the common struggle for survival? No, she was childless and unmarried, devoted to a life of sorcery.

   My mind circulated a thousand questions that grew insignificant in her presence, but I felt compelled to tell the strange dream I had had a few nights before. Although I sensed her momentary apprehension, I abandoned my usual restraints and sputtered away. In my ordinary unconscious dream world I heard the name Florinda Donner. It was followed by a violent punch into my stomach region that catapulted me into an awareness of crystalline proportions. Suddenly, I found myself crawling carefully through a narrowing mint-green wooden chute. My friend Greg, whom I had met a few months earlier through a personal ad, was holding on to my right ankle. I continued forward in a slow crawl, pulling him like a log behind me. Finally, I arrived at an opening that widened into a small room. It was full of tiny things: toys, dollhouses and figurines placed neatly in the middle. I looked them over carefully. They reminded me of nothing. Soon the dream images weakened and my concentration waned. Or was I found out? Nobody seemed to be in the room. Florinda had listened to my account in amusement. She exchanged knowing glances with her attendant and said that it was Taisha's room. How could it have been Taisha's room?

   Nobody mentioned who was leading the sorcery passes the first time I stood in the dance studio on Stewart Street. In my ignorance I assumed it would be Kylie and Aricele, the chacmools who dragged a hundred participants from physical stagnation at the seminar in Arizona with their animalistic flexibility and the strength of Amazons. Since that day, together with a friend, I pestered Kylie to start a practice group in Los Angeles. When the small gray-haired man took his place between the two guardians, he seemed to me a generously tolerated Mexican who told funny stories with a mellow Latin singsong lilt. Friendly and unassuming in his dark blue shirt, designer jeans and beige windbreaker, he looked nothing like the sorcerer of my subconscious mind. Missing was the colorful headdress, the extravagantly bold clothing, the ominous beard and a brooding countenance. The deep lines crisscrossing his smiling great-uncle face gave him the shrunken-head-appearance of a dried apple with unruly hair.

    Surrounded by the laughter of the invited group, he talked about his search for gurus in which he encountered the last real guru, who fell down a long staircase, breaking his neck right in front of him. All of the twenty or more attending students and the three witches standing behind us were under the spell of this inconspicuous man, who pulled our puppet strings with effortless ingenuity. His existence had suddenly penetrated through a small hole in the wall separating the world of fantastic literature from my ordinary reality.

   But where had this leak begun? I was searching one slow seething Sunday afternoon, driven by memories of empty choking village Sundays when after church service and lunch not even the leaves of the linden trees ventured to stir, and the houses turned into faces with sleepy vacuous eyes. On these summer afternoons of thunderstorms, when the first drops whipped down on the musty earth, and I threw myself in giant leaps against the wind that squalled around the sandstone barn I was hunting for a way out, out of the village, out of the habitual labyrinth of my world of thoughts. I longed to be the wind, the house, the wash table, the child, the jump, the sensation of flying. I thirsted for inspiration, for hope and answers, for a small step forward. On this nameless shabby Sunday afternoon I had gone to the Phoenix Bookstore. The eager clerk recommended the book of a fellow sorceress in lieu of the dried up river from the master's typewriter. He sensed my resistance in the skeptical composure that expected warmed up, watered down and pilfered ideas, prompting him to point out that I could paint my own picture of the validity of this self-proclaimed witch at the author's upcoming book signing.

   Trained in a fabulist-father course and enough hard-won practice to see through my mother's thick curtain of self-absorption, I believed myself to be fully prepared to smell out prevarication of any sort. But the woman’s clarity, sincerity and simplicity surprised me the more. Taisha Abelar, as she called herself, sat next to a small card table dressed in the businesslike attire of an accountant with a subdued patterned silk blouse, while her manicured, fine-boned hands without nail polish brushed calmly over her matching fashionable pants. She wore her hair in a short mouse-brown bob, possibly a wig, with substantial gold hoop earrings. Her clean alabastrine complexion showed no trace of make-up during her talk about her apprenticeship as a sorceress. Without the obligatory feather adornments, quartz crystals, beaded necklaces and Celtic jewelry she was no contender for the contemporary new-age witch. Plain and unobtrusive, she reminded me of a Buddhist nun. Her steel-gray eyes wandered openly in a steady gaze over the crowded room. The execution of her thought processes appeared logical, of continuous rational clarity bordering on beauty. Only a superior actress could hide her true feelings and thoughts so thoroughly, preventing the seepage of even the tiniest fleck of a lie in her body language and tone during this marvelous performance.

   Or did I cloud my rational mind with sugar plums? Did I hunger for the fantastic and wondrous imaginative opposite of my world and therefore read clarity in empty vacant eyes, perceive beauty in parroted rote ideas? Was believing her not more than a desperate act of grasping for straw? Or could this really be a new pathway providing physical answers to the mysteries of existence? I bought her book off hand and she signed it on the first page, wishing me the best. My stammered question was as unimportant as her polite answer, since I wanted her undivided attention for one solipsistic moment. And the moment betrayed no lies. She was as solid as a rock, convinced of the authenticity of her experiences.

   Just like he was. Steeped in a blank stare I oscillated in front of him. The sudden realization of vast possibilities overpowered me. His words poured over me in the overwhelming force of a landslide, that crushed and shook me in my boots, unlocking endless vistas of grandeur, a sublime landscape, that had been only raw fantasy until the moment I stood in the proximity of the electrifying energy running through his wiry body and his ubiquitously penetrating eyes. His words pierced me like darts on a bulls-eye.

  The sorcerer is no ordinary man. He has adventitious opportunities in life as well as in death. At the hour of his departure he turns his total self into a single ball of energy passing by death with grit and bravado whizzing into infinity. Ordinary humans have no other way than the total annihilation and destruction of their awareness by the eagle of death that awaits like a bird of prey for the moment the awareness separates from the body. The sorcerer buys his freedom through the constant and willing release of all identifications, memories and feelings. In the velvet indigo of the night he saw between tears the streaming lights of his master sorcerer and cohorts jump over the wall of the compound, disappearing on a spiraling course with a last gesture of farewell like silent firework rockets into the purple vastness of the universe. The Disneyfication of a lost story from the collected works of the Grimm Brothers? No, he maintained this to be the truth, as concrete and real as the wooden floor on which our feet squealed back and forth in horse stance. He does not want money. He only wants to show us the way. We do not have to believe him. We should test the veracity of his teachings ourselves. His words were urgent. The time is short. Soon he would leave. There was no speckle of a doubt, no furrow of deceit, not one gesture that betrayed him. Or is he himself a phantom? Is he a like the incestuous mind coloring of his books a mere product of my imagination?

This man, who calls himself Carlos Castaneda.