The Teachings of Don Juan

The Work

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge was Castaneda’s doctoral thesis in anthropology submitted to the University of California, Santa Cruz. It details Castaneda’s visits with don Juan, a seventy-year-old Yaqui sorcerer whose religious practices feature the use of peyote to provoke mystical visions. With don Juan’s guidance and through the liberal ingestion of peyote, Castaneda is taught to become a “man of knowledge,” entering an alternately marvelous and frightening supernatural dimension in which the ordinary laws of time and space are suspended.

Impact

The Teachings of Don Juan was widely regarded as giving a powerful legitimacy to the use of psychedelic drugs. In endorsing the mind-altering peyote and in treating a nonwestern culture as a spiritual resource, Castaneda created one of the seminal works of the “consciousness revolution” of the 1960’s.

Related Works

The Teachings of Don Juan was the first of a tetralogy that continued in A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971 ), Journey to Ixtlan (1972), and Tales of Power (1974). Together these books have sold millions of copies around the world.

Bibliography

Abelar, Taisha. The Sorcerers’ Crossing. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Ash, Lee. Review in Library Journal. XCIV (March 1, 1969), p. 1014.

De Mille, Richard, ed. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1990.

Fikes, Jay Courtney. Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism, and the Psychedelic Sixties. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Mellenia Press, 1993.

Noel, Daniel C., ed. Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the “Don Juan” Writings of Carlos Castaneda, 1976.

Roszak, Theodore. Review in Nation. CCVIII (February 10, 1969), p. 184.

Silverman, David. Reading Castaneda: A Prologue to the Social Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1975.

Young, Dudley. “The Magic of Peyote,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXIII (September 29, 1968), p. 30.

Form and Content

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge reads like a novel, but it was Carlos Castaneda’s master’s thesis. While gathering information about medicinal plants used by southwestern Indians, Castaneda was introduced to the enigma tic and supremely confident don Juan Matus. This Yaqui brujo (a medicine man, sorcerer, or witch) was to be his mentor in the arduous process of becoming what the Indian called “a man of knowledge.”

Mescalito, the spirit of the peyote plant, has indicated to the brujo that Castaneda is the person to whom he should act as “benefactor” and pass on his age-old knowledge. As a youth, don Juan was selected similarly. There is no indication where his knowledge originates or how old it may be. As teacher, guide, and interpreter, don Juan introduces his student to an extraordinary world by teaching him the principles necessary for entering and utilizing “nonordinary” reality. Castaneda’s unusual experiences during his apprenticeship both terrify him and make him violently ill, but they disclose marvelous possibilities.

Near the end of the fourth year of his apprenticeship, Castaneda experienced a particularly traumatic lesson. Late one evening, suddenly fearing for his life, he became convinced that the don Juan he seemingly observed was in fact a diabolical impostor bent on destroying him. With this experience, Castaneda’s implicit sense of everyday reality was severely undermined; he...

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Bibliography

Abelar, Taisha. The Sorcerers’ Crossing. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Ash, Lee. Review in Library Journal. XCIV (March 1, 1969), p. 1014.

De Mille, Richard, ed. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1990.

Fikes, Jay Courtney. Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism, and the Psychedelic Sixties. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Mellenia Press, 1993.

Noel, Daniel C., ed. Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the “Don Juan” Writings of Carlos Castaneda, 1976.

Roszak, Theodore. Review in Nation. CCVIII (February 10, 1969), p. 184.

Silverman, David. Reading Castaneda: A Prologue to the Social Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1975.

Young, Dudley. “The Magic of Peyote,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXIII (September 29, 1968), p. 30.