Metanoia in Tales of Power


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Fall 1975 (11/25/75)

Philosophy 1520

Dr. Kathy Emmett


The concept of metanoia, as delineated in Joseph Pearce's The Crack in the Cosmic Egg[1], is very similar in meaning and implication to certain ideas expressed in Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda.[2]  These latter include: "the totality of oneself;" the tonal and the nagual; reason and will; "the bubble of perception," and generally "the sorcerer's explanation."  I will discuss these similarities here, with mention of the work of Dr. John Lilly to help resolve the ideas of "will" and "belief."

The totality of oneself is "the source of everything that matters" (13). This totality is the feeling or awareness that is the self and which comes into being when we are born.  At birth, luminous fibers that are "feelings" come together form the nagual (where "all the possible feelings and beings and selves float . . . like barges, peaceful, unaltered, forever") and are bound by "the glue of life" into a cluster that is the totality (265).  At death, the fibers will disperse again, but in the meantime we are placed into a "bubble," in a manner of speaking, the bubble of perception that in fact is our perception (246).  Open at first, it begins to close and seals us in.  What we perceive is only "our own reflection" on the inside of the bubble, or rather the reflection of our worldview, which is "the real thing" to us (246-7).  The view stated as a description of the world given us by our parents, etc., from birth, but "all our attention is caught by it" and it "becomes a view" (247).  The worldview is also called "the island of tonal" which is "make by our perception, which has been trained to focus on certain elements; each of these elements and all of them together form our view of the world" (247).  Furthermore, "everything that we are is on that island" of the tonal (247).  Reason is what allows us to witness the tonal (270).  Reason is "only a center of assemblage, a mirror that reflects something which is outside it" (269).  The tonal is "but a reflection of that indescribably unknown filled with order" (271).  It is "the ultimate center of reason" (248).

As social beings, it is necessary to have a tonal and to have a worldview.  "We are perceivers," but our perception is caught in the bubble of its own devise (249).  The problem is that we believe that the perception coming to us through reason, owing to the description given to us, is the only important perception (249). We have forgotten an important part of the totality of ourselves, which is made u p of eight points; not only the tonal and reason but also talking (which, with reason, "concocts and maintains " the worldview of the tonal (101)), feeling, seeing, dreaming, will, and the nagual (99).  The latter four are developed only by special men  ("warriors") whose aim is to arrive at their totality.  In order to do so, the bubble must be reopened after the tonal has been rearranged in preparation, leaving one half of the bubble for the nagual to fill (248).  The nagual is "the ultimate center of the will" (248).  It is outside and yet inside all of us, but this is not really a paradox (270), for the point inside the totality is merely "a reflection of that indescribable void that contains everything" (271).  The tonal dies when we die, but the nagual is forever (141).  Will, fundamentally, is to the nagual as reason is to the tonal; while reason corresponds roughly to "reason" as we understand it, will is somewhat farther removed form "will" as we ordinarily think of it.  Nevertheless, it is from the nagual, but through will, that all decision come; we witness the nagual only through the will: reality, the real world, the unconditioned, etc., is the nagual, which is reflected in the will (269).  The nagual is "where power hovers," so that our idea of "will" and "will power" very roughly correspond to don Juan's will.  I will return to this later.

The rearrangement or reordering of the island of the tonal – the worldview – is a process of metanoia.  The worldview, or body of concepts, is organic: it changes in the adult, the student, etc., either randomly (according to outside influences, circumstances, etc.) or under the conscious supervision of the individual.  Here we are reminded of Lilly's work with "self-metaprogramming."[3]  The advantage of conscious, willful metanoia is that we can rally our forces, integrate ourselves, gain control over our behavior (heretofore influenced largely by such arbitrary influences as traumatic events in our childhood), attain some measure of freedom, and, in general, live better lives.  Lilly calls this improvement becoming a general-purpose human biocomputer and offers a model, or worldview, which promises to provide for its own metanoic restructuring.  Don Juan's "warrior" tempers his will, developing it into a functioning unit.  Purportedly, only the warrior cultivates wise will (85) – but don Juan would probably admit that both the general purpose biocomputer and the student of Pearce's metanoia had well-ordered tonals, even if they were not "warriors."

The role of the will is very important. In don Juan, " a human being is, first of all, will" (99).  Will is our primary center of our totality, is "more engulfing than reason" (the other center)(101), and upholds the alternate worldview held by the warrior or "sorcerer," which view is basically what don Juan refers to as "the sorcerer's explanation" (115).  This description, alternate to the normal view, allows the warrior to function in the nagual, just as our worldview is necessary for us to function in the world of man that is so real to us.  (Obviously, it is necessary to have a worldview in order to live in it, though there is a slight distinction between the island of the tonal and the tonal itself.)  The alternative worldview leads to the opening of the bubble and, thus, to the unconditioned and direct perception, which experience gives us knowledge that is power (200, 86).  For Lilly, we live in a model of the universe, a worldview, not in the actual universe. Changing our model through metanoia is accomplished largely through an effort of will.  We instruct ourselves willfully by commands or by wishes and these are carried out on a subconscious level.  To be free from the control of others, to control ourselves, to have free will – will play a major role in all of these.  Will power is stressed.

Belief is also important.  Belief and will are related in that we will to believe.  Don Juan's warrior believes nothing but acts as though he believes, yet he has to believe in that when he does believe he does so as a decision made according to his innermost predilection, his inner wishes, his will.  It must be remembered that all decisions come though the will.  "He doesn't believe in anything" (58), yet "he believes without believing" (110) in that he has to believe that his actions have at least this meaning: he will at least be able, because of the power he has stored, to die where he wants (see 117). Without this belief he has nothing (113); yet he realizes this, for he takes all possibilities into account before choosing to believe (see 114).  In effect, he decides that either there is nothing or he is not deceived in his belief.  In Lilly, beliefs serve as rules for which experiences are generated.  Don Juan says the same: we believe in the description we have been given, and we perceive according to this description:  "the description reflects itself" in our bubble of perception (30).  For Lilly, beliefs work as programs in our biocomputer (brain), affect the hardware (circuitry) by changing either the chemical or electrical charges of the neurons or the patterns of firing of the neurons, and, by causing alterations in our nervous system's processing of stimuli, result in experiences which match the beliefs.  Castaneda calls this "intentionality" (31). 

With Pearce's passage in mind, we are able (in a general sort of way) to answer any "ultimately serious question" we ask ourselves.  There is a shift of attention, of focus on the elements of our experience, what don Juan calls "changing façades" (237), and we organize our experience in order to answer the question.  Asking the question, we are "seized … by an ultimately serious quest" (Pearce) which is not at all unlike the "path" taken by a warrior in don Juan: one chooses a path with heart and follows it to the end; the goal is to arrive at the totality of oneself.  Any goal or quest seriously pursued should result in fulfillment.  In this pursuit, our gears shift, metanoia occurs as an organic process, and we turn ourselves for the answer of our questions, the attainment of our goal, or the fulfillment of our quest.



[1]Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, New York: Pocket Books, 1973. Passage for discussion:

Metanoia is the Greek word for conversion: a "fundamental transformation of mind." It is the process by which concepts are reorganized. Metanoia is a specialized, intensified adult form of the same world view development found shaping the mind of the infant. Formerly associated with religion, metanoia proves to be the way by which all genuine education takes place. . .  Metanoia is a seizure by the discipline given total attention, and a restructuring of the attending mind. This reshaping of the mind is the principal key to the reality function.


The same procedure found in world view development of the child, the metanoia of the advanced student, or the conversion to a religion, can be traced as well in the question answer process, or the, proposing and eventual filling of an "empty category" in science. The asking of an ultimately serious question, which means to be seized in turn by an ultimately serious quest, reshapes our concepts in favor of the kinds of perceptions needed to "see" the desired answer. To be given ears to hear and eyes to see is to have one's concepts changed in favor of the discipline. A question determines and brings about its answer just as the desired end shapes the nature of the kind of question asked.

[2] Carlos Castaneda. Tales of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.

[3] John C. Lilly, M.D. Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer. New York: Julian Press, 1972.


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