The word is probably the most confusing one in the works of Carlos Casteneda. In some areas it is used in reference to Don Juan, his teacher. His teacher uses it in terms of the unknown or unknowable. There are roots which refer to shape shifting, there are links to teachers, and there are lines to a double.
The strange part about this word, is that it is all of these. In its ancient roots, Nagi, is a spirit or another form that the shaman/seers took when traveling in the “other world”. Thus a nagual as inherited by the nahuatl language became originally connected to a shape shifter or the animal spirits that surround our world – aka out there in the jungle. The shaman could through dreaming venture out into that world for information about plants, animals, hunting and suspecting danger. We see on the temples of Mexico me with jaguar heads or eagles or other numinous spirit forms. These are naguals.
The old seers took this idea to the extreme and created separate fully formed bodies or doubles of themselves. Through their intense dreaming skill this body could interact and change the world at large. They could scare the hell out of humans or haunt people, or steal their power. This is the seer’s nagual or double. Beyond the animal form which could aid the tribe in survival, it was intended as the next step in their evolution and the key to their survival. The nagual lives beyond the physical life. To the northern natives this nagi or double was dangerous. When a person died, no one spoke their name for fear that the nagi, nagual, would remain with the tribe and not take the journey to the spirit world. This form of the person was stuck. And the old seers were often stuck on this idea. Whole civilizations came to an end as a result of this obsession with the nagual.
The term, when looked at with an absence of self importance really just means unknown. The area outside what we know. Thus the new seers realigned this term to an abstract point of teaching. If we release everything that we know that we constantly vibrate with – tonali… then we have the nagual. The deep sea of awareness beyond our attachments. Thus the new seers placed the term nagual in the realm of mystery and discovered that even if it is not known within the great band of human awareness, this does not mean that it is not knowable or experience-able. Aka the nagual has its own set of principles and rules that allow the seer to connect more deeply with the dark sea of awareness, the active side of infinity.
At which point the term was used to teach, confuse the ration, the apprentices. The Nagual became a person who embodied this connection to this deep sea of awareness. For Carlos, Don Juan was The Nagual. For some others it was Genaro, yet for some it was Silvia Manuel. In reality they all were The Nagual for they had removed themselves from the common connections and demands of being human. Thus the term The Nagual was used for an individual who taught the apprentices how to connect or see the infinite sea of awareness. The Nagual shifts individuals perceptions, their assemblage points to other points. Thus a band of Toltec warriors is also a band of Naguals.
The Naguals had a connection to vast resources of energy for they are not trapped by the debilitating energies of the fixation of the tonali. They thus are extremely vibrant and even passionate people. They allow the nagual (deep sea) to move through them to the world around them. They impact everyone and everything on this level. Thus The Nagual (deep sea) takes care of appearances. In other words, the tonali is incapable of seeing a person who is connected to the nagual and interprets them as human form, within the perceptual framework that makes rational sense. Many have seen naguals and disregarded them completely. Thus the nagual does strange things and teaches the world always… for the nagual is constantly attempting to shift the fixation of the assemblage point of man, the mold of man. The nagual is the anti-virus to the virus of fixated perceptions.
In its last form, A Nagual, is capable of leading warriors into infinity. This use of the term is one of the deepest and most confusing and one I chose not to use. For in this case the term is completely obfuscated by its history and a context that requires more than this brief statement can attend to. Needless to say, this is the term that gets everyone riled up. The Nagual leads a group of warriors to freedom. And thus we are stuck back again in the old seers dilemma of obsessing on somethings, freedom, which if grasped cannot be had. The Nagual in this sense becomes utterly personal rather than allowing it to be completely abstract.
The ancient peoples were pragmatic people. The old seers were morbidly obsessed. The New seers bent on redefining everything with the goal of greater discipline. But in the end, nagual is a very unstable term to use with reference to the path. It may require a longer time to find a term that better describes what is really happening. But then again… when we get lost in the term, we get lost in the tonali and the finger when pointing at the beauty of the moon. Just connect to nagual… and it makes all the sense in the world.