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.