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The Spanish-language word nagual derives from the Nahuatl nahualli , a term that itself has several meanings, namely: one facile with words, witch, shapeshifter, and animal co-essence. The last is a name for an entity, to which refers a widespread and ancient Mesoamerican belief that one part of the souls of humans (or human-like figures, such as gods), manifests itself as a sort of animal (or phenomenon, such as lightning) of a spiritual character. The Mayan term is way. The belief is still current in many parts of Mesoamerica, though the term may vary. Nagual has found its way into the Mexican Spanish idiom, with the meaning lie or trick.

'Nagual' (pronounced nah-wa'hl) is also a term used in the books by Carlos Castaneda to describe a person who is able to lead people to new areas of consciousness. Carlos Castaneda's guide “Don Juan Matus” often referred to himself as the Nagual for his "party of warriors". Also, Nagual is considered by Castaneda's followers to be related to Eastern concepts of Tao, meditation, or infinity. As Castaneda's teacher says: "We cannot understand the Nagual, we can only see for ourselves that it exists". Even the term 'Nagual' exists only as a very inaccurate way of talking about 'what really isn't any-thing at all.' In Casteneda's books one reference to the meaning of nagual is: "... Turn everything into what it really is: the abstract, the spirit, the nagual." don Juan Matus

In the modern New Age beliefs based off of the works of Carlos Castaneda reality is seen as multi-dimensional or mulit-faceted. Usually it is said that a person is only able to see a certain limited aspect of the multi-faceted reality during any given experience. The Nagual is considered an alternete "unknown" side or dimension of reality, as opposed to the Tonal, which can be considered the everyday "known" dimension of reality. It has also been said that the Nagual is all that is, and that it condenses to form what is called the Tonal. The Nagual and the Tonal as dual aspects of reality and being are perceived either through the First Attention, where we experience the Tonal, or the Second Attention where we experience the Nagual. To the Toltec of Castaneda the Tonal is often associated with the masculine aspect of the universe and the Nagual to the feminine. The Tonal can roughly be linked to the concept of Ego, the conscious mind, and subconscious minds.

A Nagual is the "benefactor" of an apprentice in Castaneda's system and is also the great unnameable Spirit. The "benefactor" is born to be a direct link to the great unnameable spirit and guide an apprentice to obtain what has been called Total Freedom. The Second Attention or Nagual awareness is a goal that the warrior apprentice strives to attain. In some Mesoamerican traditions hallucinogenic plants or as Castaneda called them "power plants" where utilized to experience the Nagual as well as other states of awareness. When one is able to perceive the Second attention they are considered a "seer". Castaneda's books as well as the books of Victor Sanchez, Don Miguel Ruiz, Theun Mares and others have detailed techniques to use to come into an experience of the Second Attention.


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