The word nagual (nahual) is derived from the ‘Nahuatl language. The common Mesoamerican definition was one who had the ability to transform themselves into an animal. They also had the power to harm or heal depending on their disposition. The nagual is a personal guardian spirit believed by some Mesoamerican Indians to reside in an animal, such as a deer, jaguar, or bird. In some areas the nagual is the animal. Nagualism was linked to the Mesoamerican calendar system and used for divination. The Nahuatl word ‘tonalli’ meaning ‘day’ or ‘day sign’ from which the word Tonal is derived was used to refer both to a day and to the animal associated with that day. Much like the system of the Totem, all humans were thought to have an animal counterpart to which their life force was linked. The nagual would be distinguished by virtue of his birth; powerful sorcerers would be born on a specific day. And just as the Tonal was thought to be the spirit of the day, the nagual was said to be that of the night. So the Nagual or sorcerer would possess an animal spirit that would be linked to his ‘tonal’, and this relationship would last as long as both existed.
The person who is to receive his nagual traditionally goes to an isolated spot and sleeps. The animal that appears in his dreams or that confronts him when he awakens will thereafter be his particular nagual. Among many modern Mesoamerican Indians, it is believed that the first creature to cross over the ashes spread before a newborn baby becomes that child’s nagual. The belief in nagualism varies from region to region. In some areas it is believed that only the most powerful leaders (usually men) can transform themselves into this animal form to do evil; thus, the word derives from the Nahuatl word nahualli or (“disguise”), applied to the animal forms magically assumed by sorcerers.
The word nagual also has the connotation of “knowledge”. In the Nahuatl language, a number of derivatives from the same root exist, all of them pertaining to “knowledge.” The early missionaries to the New World often spoke of the nagual, as a ‘master of mystic knowledge’.
This is precisely the way in which Don Juan describes himself to Castaneda, as a ‘man of Knowledge’ or as ‘One who knows’.
Don Juan’s Benefactor the ‘Nagual’ Julian Osorio, he cites as a being a diablero. He defines this as one who is capable of transforming themselves into an animal or bird. He describes the world of the diableros or that of the sorcerer as opposed to the world of the average man. This is a place where unfathomable mysteries are glimpsed and all things become possible.
Don Juan is also quoted as saying about his benefactor:
“Do you know that to this day it’s hard for me to visualize him? I know that sounds absurd, but depending on his needs or the circumstances, he could be either, young or old, handsome or homely, effete and weak or strong and virile, fat or slender, of medium height or extremely short.”
Over the course of his apprenticeship Don Juan described the nagual to Castaneda in detail.
The Nagual is a double being to whom the “rule” has been revealed.
The nagual comes in a male and female pair – the pair becomes the nagual only when the “rule” has been given to each and it has been fully understood by both.
A Nagual is a teacher, a leader and a guide.
The Nagual is said to have extraordinary energy, sobriety, endurance and stability.
The nagual acts a conduit between the spirit and the world – channeling peace, harmony, laughter and knowledge to his/her companions.
The maneuvers of the nagual are based on artifice and subterfuge, but they cannot plan their course of action but instead follow the dictates of the spirit.
A nagual is also capable of moving their, own assemblage point and the assemblage point of others.
With the nagual there is no assertion of self
Throughout the works of Castaneda the nagual is also considered to be the world of the second attention – the unknown, the other, the darkside, the left side of awareness, the world of dreaming, this is the battlefield of the warrior, and the training ground for the third attention, the world in which they make their stand. It is both the individual and the world he occupies.