Castaneda, Carlos (Vol. 119)
Carlos Castaneda 1931(?)–1998
American anthropologist and fiction/nonfiction writer.
For further information on Castaneda's life and career, see CLC, Volume 12.
Castaneda emerged as a cult figure in the 1960s as a result of his accounts of an apprenticeship with a Yaqui-native sorcerer in the Arizona-Mexican Desert. Called the godfather of the New Age, Castaneda's writings encouraged a generation of readers to explore mysticism and the use of hallucinogens. The facts of Castaneda's life are steeped in the same illusiveness which characterizes his writing. The exact date and place of his birth are not known. The author claims he was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December 25, 1931, however, United States immigration records list December 25, 1925, in Cajmarcs, Peru. Immigrating to America in the 1950s, Castaneda studied anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. While on a research trip to Arizona to study the medicinal use of herbs by Native Americans, Castaneda allegedly befriended Don Juan Matus, who agreed to apprentice the graduate student in the ancient rites of sorcery. In The Teachings of Don Juan (1968), Castaneda chronicles the lessons he learned in achieving a "non-ordinary reality," often with the help of psychotropical drugs such as peyote. Published after his return to Los Angeles following his five years in the desert, the book won Castaneda instant acclaim, as well as his Ph.D. His search for an alternate reality, his rejection of the primacy of Western logic, and his affinity for drug use appealed to youthful followers. Scholars praised his unusual approach, which consisted of his participation in Yaqui practices, contrasting sharply with traditional observational techniques, and his questioning of his own cultural biases. Throughout the next thirty years Castaneda continued to write about his experiences with Don Juan. However, critical and popular support waned; increasingly, his work has been viewed as fiction in light of the supernatural nature of his writings, the incongruities of his life, and the lack of any evidence of the existence of Don Juan Matus. While some critics felt duped, others argued that, whether fiction or nonfiction, Castaneda's writings are beautiful, thought-provoking, and influential.
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (fictional autobiography) 1968
A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (fictional autobiography) 1971
Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (fictional autobiography) 1972
Tales of Power (fictional autobiography) 1974
The Second Ring of Power (fictional autobiography) 1977
The Eagle's Gift (fictional autobiography) 1981
The Fire Within (fictional autobiography) 1984
The Power of Silence (fictional autobiography) 1987
El Arte de Ensonar [The Art of Dreaming] (fictional autobiography) 1995
Silent Knowledge (nonfiction) 1996
(The entire section is 73 words.)
Benjamin Epstein (essay date March-April 1996)
SOURCE: "My Lunch with Carlos Castaneda," in Psychology Today, Vol. 29, No. 2, March-April, 1996, pp. 30-4.
[In the following essay based on an interview with Castaneda, Epstein discusses Castaneda's teachings and views on religion.]
One of the most elusive figures of modern times, Castaneda recently materialized, to great surprise, at a small conference in Anaheim, California.
He is the 20th century's own sorcerer's apprentice. He is the invisible man, ephemeral, evanescent: now you see him, now you don't. He is a navigator making his way through a living universe in exquisite flux. Or as Carlos Castaneda himself might say, he is a moron, an idiot, a fart. It's been said that Jesus Christ was either the Son of God or the greatest liar who ever lived. Carlos Castaneda, who may have a cult following but says deities are the last thing people need, presents a similar conundrum. Critics grapple for middle ground: One called him a "sham-man bearing gifts…. He lied to bring us the truth."
The jury has been out ever since books such as The Teachings of Don Juan took the public and academia by storm in the 1960s and 70s, and it's still out. Castaneda has now produced nine books he claims are based on his supernatural experiences with Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui seer. To remain invisible, he says, is...
(The entire section is 2767 words.)
J. R. Moehringer (obituary date 19 June 1998)
SOURCE: "A Hushed Death for Mystic Author Carlos Castaneda," in Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1998, p. A1.
[In the following obituary, Moehringer emphasizes the deceptive and enigmatic aspects of Castaneda's life.]
Carlos Castaneda, the self-proclaimed "sorcerer" and best-selling author whose tales of drug-induced mental adventures with a Yaqui Indian shaman named Don Juan once fascinated the world, apparently died two months ago in the same way that he lived: quietly, secretly, mysteriously.
He was believed to be 72.
Castaneda died April 27 at his home in Westwood, according to entertainment lawyer Deborah Drooz, a friend of Castaneda and the executor of his estate. The cause of death was liver cancer.
Though he had millions of followers around the world, and though his 10 books continue to sell in 17 different languages, and though he once appeared on the cover of Time magazine as a leader of America's spiritual renaissance, he died without public notice, without the briefest mention in a newspaper or on TV.
As befitting his mystical image, he seemingly vanished into thin air.
"He didn't like attention," Drooz said. "He always made sure people did not take his picture or record his voice. He didn't like the spotlight. Knowing that, I...
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Paul Riesman (essay date 22 October 1972)
SOURCE: "The Collaboration of Two Men and a Plant," in New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1972, pp. 7, 10, 12, 14.
[In the following essay, Riesman, an anthropology professor at Carleton College, discusses what Casianeda's books reveal about the short-comings of anthropology.]
Anthropology is, for many of its American practitioners and amateurs, a way of trying to get out of our particular culture, or at least a way of finding out whether "other ways of life" are possible and, if so, perhaps better than our own. Yet despite the impetus of such curiosity, the bulk of the writing actually published in this field only tends to confirm what we think we already know about the nature of man, society, the human condition. For when we study "other cultures" this way, we assume in advance that "understanding" means "explanation" in terms with which we are already familiar from our own experience and knowledge of what the world is like. To put it another way, anthropological understanding is a way of making the world feel safer, a way of extending the edge of order so that we can comfortably say that people are fundamentally the same everywhere and that "cultural differences" are merely something like different mental images of the same basic reality.
I used to think, in fact, that one of anthropology's great humanistic...
(The entire section is 7053 words.)
Victor Howes (review date 24 January 1973)
SOURCE: "Desert Meditation, or Back Home to L.A.," in Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 65, No. 50, January 24, 1973, p. 13.
[In the following review of Journey to Ixtlan, Howes, an English professor at Northeastern University, states that the least satisfying part of this account is Castaneda's description of psychedelic experiences.]
What happens when an inquisitive student of anthropology named Carlos Castaneda meets a wise old Yaqui Indian sorcerer? What happens when an ardent scholar, a compulsive taker of notes, bumps into a true sage, an elderly vigorous man of power named don Juan, who lives alone on the edge of a desert somewhere in southwestern U.S.A.?
Answer: the young man becomes the sorcerer's apprentice. Journey to Ixtlan is the story of that apprenticeship.
Billed as anthropology, and subtitled The Lessons of Don Juan, Journey reads nevertheless like a novel. Its classic form is the tale of initiation—Huckleberry Finn floating down the Mississippi on a raft, and drifting deeper and deeper into ambiguities of experience through his relations with Jim, an escaping slave. Or Hemingway's Nick Adams in the North woods, learning Indian tore.
Don Juan is a perplexing guide. He leads Castaneda a merry chase through scorching deserts, up steep faces of rock,...
(The entire section is 3696 words.)