(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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


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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2767 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 4366 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3696 words.)