Carlos Castaneda (1925 – 1998)

Carlos Castaneda, previously Castaneda, (December 25, 1925- April 27, 1998) was an author of a controversial series of books that claimed to describe his training in traditional Native American shamanism (ancient Toltec sorcery).

Castaneda claimed to have met a Yaqui shaman named Don Juan Matus in 1960. Castaneda's experiences with Don Juan allegedly inspired the works for which he is known. He claimed to have inherited from don Juan the position of nagual, or leader of a party of seers. He also used the term "nagual" to signify that which is unknowable, neither known nor knowable; implying that, for his party of seers, don Juan was a connection in some way to that unknowable. The term has been used by anthropologists to mean a shaman or sorcerer who is capable of shapeshifting, or changing to an animal form, and also to mean the form to which such a person might shift.

Castaneda's works contain descriptions of paranormal or magical experiences, several psychological techniques, Toltec magic rituals, shamanism and experiences with psychoactive drugs (e.g. peyote). Carlos Castaneda's works have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages.

He wrote that he was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Christmas Day in 1931, but immigration records show that he was born 6 years earlier in Cajamarca, Peru. He moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen in 1957. He was educated at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) (B.A. 1962; Ph.D. 1970). Castaneda was later stripped of the Ph.D. on the grounds that he presented fiction in the place of proper ethnographic research.

His first three books, Journey To Ixtlan were written while Castaneda was an anthropology student at UCLA. Castaneda wrote these books as if they were his research log describing his studies under a traditional shaman he identified as don Juan (used the name Juan Matus, but not the man's 'real' name). Castaneda was granted his masters and doctoral degrees for the work described in these books, although he later had his Ph.D taken away for pretending his fiction was actual anthropological research.

In Castaneda's first two books he describes that the Yaqui way of knowledge also required the heavy use of powerful psychoactive or entheogenic plants, such as peyote and datura. In his third book, Journey to Ixtlan, he essentially reverses his emphasis on 'power plants'. In this book he describes don Juan telling him he only needed to use drugs with Carlos because Carlos was so dumb. In this book the way of knowledge that don Juan describes was perceived by some as resembling the newly popular New Age movement. Castaneda, however, emphatically denied any real similarity between them in several lectures.

Castaneda was a popular enough phenomenon for Time magazine to do a cover article on Castaneda on March 5, 1973 (Vol. 101 No. 10) that was five or six pages long.

His fourth book, Tales Of Power, ended with Castaneda leaping off a cliff marking his graduation from disciple to man of knowledge (actually a leap from the tonal into the unknown). Some writers thought this must necessarily mark the end of his series. They were very surprised to see he continued to produce more books. Despite an increasingly critical reception Castaneda continued to be very popular with the reading public. Twelve books by Castaneda have been published, and 3 videos released.

In 1997 Castaneda launched a lawsuit against his ex-wife, Margaret Runyon Castaneda, over her book, A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda; but this was dropped when Castaneda died.

The official story is that Castaneda died on April 27, 1998 from liver cancer in Los Angeles. Little is known about his death. There was no public service, Castaneda was apparently cremated and the ashes were sent to Mexico.

Castaneda's account of Toltec knowledge
There are three main elements to Castaneda's description of Toltec beliefs:

* a. mastery of awareness- nagual (2nd attention) and tonal (1st attention), art of dreaming, description of the seers perception of luminous energy and bubbles of energy around living things (luminous cocoon) and ultimately the source of these energetic lines which are consciousness itself.

* b. art of self-stalking- dealing with the world and actions in it.

* c. mastery of intent- dealing with the primary force of the universe or the spirit or the means to move the assemblage point.

Castaneda's books can be read as a philosophical/pragmatical text that express a world view by which a person can live one's life. There is a movement world-wide of practitioners of this philosophy, applying Castaneda's published ideas either independently or through consultation with Castaneda's associates.

This school of applied shamanism, sometimes called "nagualismo", purports to be unlike either traditional Western or Eastern culture. Castaneda's ideas, insofar as they can be called a "system", share some similarities with Eastern mysticism, Zen, Taoism, or Tibetan Buddhism in terms of the inherent order (or chaos) of the universe, disciplines taught and techniques used, but the underlying structure is fundamentally different.

According to Castaneda, the most significant facts in a person's life are his possession of awareness and its impending termination at death. The primary goal of a Toltec "Warrior" is the continuation of his awareness after bodily death: to "dart past the Eagle and be free", in the words of the tradition, where the Eagle is the force which consumes the awareness of all living beings.

To cheat death in this way requires all of the discipline and procedures that constitute the Warrior's way of life. These practices are devised to maximise the Warrior's personal power, or energy. The condition of not wasting this energy is known as "impeccability".

Sufficient personal power leads to the mastery of awareness, chiefly the controlled movement of what is known as the "assemblage point". This is an artifact of the tradition's description of another world underlying what we perceive as ordinary reality. In this description men are glowing cocoons of awareness inhabiting a universe consisting of the Eagle's "emanations", described euphemistically as all-pervading filaments of light.

Humans' cocoons are intersected throughout by these filaments, producing perception, but they filter our perceptions by concentrating on only a small bundle. The assemblage point is the focusing lens which selects from the emanations. In its accustomed position, the assemblage point produces what humans perceive as everyday, 'normal' reality. Movement of the assemblage point permits perception of the world in different ways; small movements lead to small changes in perception and large movements to radical changes. For example, dreaming is presented as the result of a movement of the assemblage point; "power plants" such as Peyote, used in the early stages of Castaneda's apprenticeship, produce powerfully altered states of mind through such movement.

Castaneda describes complex and bizarre worlds experienced through the controlled movement of the assemblage point in dreaming; his premise is that the world of the dreams of a warrior is no less real than the world of daily life. This follows logically from the description of both worlds as being simply the result of positions of the assemblage point. He depicts complex interactions with unearthly beings in dream worlds and describes his fear of being physically trapped by these malicious but charismatic beings.

Amongst the various practices of a warrior, Tensegrity, a series of meditative stretching and posing techniques, is introduced in Castaneda's tenth work, Magical Passes. The term is borrowed from architecture-"tensional integrity". Tensegrity is promoted by Cleargreen, Inc., a company founded in the 1990s, closely affiliated with Castaneda, which runs workshops and sells various materials relating to Castaneda's work. There are many individual and group practitioners around the world. Tensegrity and much of Castaneda's other work are the subject of a variety of recurring disputes.

Brief Description of Books

1. The Teachings Of Don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge- description of plant allies and way towards knowledge: mescalito (peyote cactus)- the protector of man, seeing beings as liquid colors; mushrooms- learning to handle, fly, and perceive as animal form; datura (weed)- female spirit, hard to handle, gives strength, lengthy procedure. This book was unique of the series in that the last part included a detailed scholarly "Structural Analysis" of the teachings.
2. A Separate Reality- Discusses the ideas of will, controlled folly, and seeing (as opposed to looking) as tools a warrior uses to be a man/person of knowledge.
3. Journey to Ixtlan- lessons about the warriors way, or stalking the world, routines, personal history, self-importance, death as an advisor, not-doing, dreaming
4. Tales of Power- description of points of perception in body or luminous cocoon, tonal or toñal (1st attention, known, right side awareness, [possibly the left-brain]) and nagual (2nd attention, unknown, left side awareness, right-brain), dreaming double
5. The Second Ring of Power- describes events after don Juan's departure, experiences with the women warriors of the original nagual's party, 2nd attention (second ring of power), losing "human 'form"', human mold, dreaming, gazing
6. The Eagle's Gift- description of the force that creates, destroys, and rules the universe (or at least the 48 bands of earth), also source of emanations themselves, description of the eagle's command to man, the rule of the nagual, various levels of petty tyrants, and way towards freedom, self-stalking and dreaming, power spots. Note that don Juan described the energy-structure/entity called eagle a thing that is not what we call an eagle, but rather a thing so vast as to be incomprehensible.
7. The Fire From Within- step by step (actually chapter by chapter) elucidation of the mastery of awareness or the new seers' knowledge: everything is energy (the Eagle's emanations or luminous emanations), the luminous cocoon and assemblage point(glow of awareness), the known (1st attention or tonal), unknown (2nd attention or nagual), unknowable (outside luminous cocoon), petty tyrants as a way to move assemblage point and foster warrior's way, twin worlds of organic and inorganic ( more correctly matter-beings and non-matter-bound beings- carbon-based/not carbon based wasn't what was meant), shifting the assemblage point and other bands of awareness, bundles of emanations that are the basis for the different species source of awareness and forms/molds, the human mold, the rolling force or tumbler (that hits luminous cocoon), the death defier, self-stalking, intent, and dreaming.
8. The Power of Silence- stories about essentially the mastery of intent, set into what were called sorcery cores.
9. The Art Of Dreaming - steps to mastering control and consciousness of dreams.
10. Magical Passes- descriptions with photos of sorcery-based physical movements intended to increase well-being, a system which became known as Tensegrity
11. The Active Side of Infinity- recapitulation, making a log of significant life events (as seen by the spirit)
12. The Wheel of Time- recollection of the mood in which each previous book was written; significant quotes from each previous book.

Interpretation and criticism (the Castaneda controversy)

Many critics doubt the existence of don Juan, citing inconsistencies in don Juan's personality across the books and in the sequence of events in the books. Many Castaneda supporters claim in turn that the very fact of handling awareness and perception accounts for this; and that the actual existence of don Juan is irrelevant, since the important matter is the theme that don Juan presents.

What is easily understood is the fact that the writing style changes greatly from the first to the last of the "don Juan" books. The Eagle's Gift (sixth book) is a novel-like work with specific characters on a journey towards what they call "Total Freedom", and where the words of don Juan seem more like those of a scientist. This could be the result of changes in the mind of Carlos Castaneda.

As Castaneda was very elusive, and because his works were taken up by young people at a time when mystical and shamanic traditions were in fashion, many professionals cast doubt on the authenticity of contents of his works. When he followed up Tales of Power (1975), even more questions were raised as to how much of his work was true anthropology and how much was his own creation.

Another way to read the books is as a sort of game, almost like a detective novel. Depending upon one's approach, they could be either accepted at face-value in their entirety, or discarded. Some of the material could be considered true, some fictional; and some of the events described probably appeared to be real at the time, but could be interpreted as hallucinations. The vividness and plausibility of Castaneda's early works argue for their essential truth. Accounts of Castaneda'a early life and the memoir "A magical journey with Carlos Castaneda", by his former wife Margaret Runyan Castaneda, exhibit many conflicts with what Castaneda said about himself, and point the other way.

As in all matters literary, one needs to consider that we (the reader) are but distant viewers of the events described by the words on the page. In reading the words of Castenada it is certainly important to decide why one is reading these books. Confirming and/or denying the veracuty of who Carlos Castenada was and if anything he wrote actually happened, is not entirely unlike reading the Bible and other religious bodies of literature; the average reader will never verify truth or fiction of the events recorded, but take the texts and their "message" on faith, as the truth.

The only possible way to ascertain the Truth of the words of Carlos Castenada are to take the words as a complete body of work from the beginning to end, and then incorporate the concepts illucidated there into ones daily routine to see if they "hold any water". As we now live in a society, world wide, that is marked by instant gratification and easy platitudes as regards the truth, it is highly unlikely than any such in-depth exploration of Castenadas words will ever be performed by any institution examining the concepts put forth in his works. In other words, it is highly unlikely to ever encounter a totally objective evauation of Castenadas words, either confirming or denying what truth they may contain.

Individuals may pursue these concepts in their daily lives, however, if they do confirm that words written in Castenada's works do contain some truth or "the truth", then who will they share this experience with? Certainly not with an institution seeking "Scientific Independent Verification".

Significant characters In Castaneda's works

This is a list of characters, claimed to be real persons, mentioned in Castaneda's works. Castaneda makes it clear that these are not the persons' real names (ostensibly to protect their identity). In denoting their function within each generation of practitioners, terms are used which can only be understood by reading Castaneda's writings:

Generation of practitioners peer to Castaneda (Compact group for "three-pronged Nagual")

* Florinda Donner-Grau- "Northerly" "dreamer" in Castaneda's generation of practitioners
* Taisha Abelar-"Westerly" "self-stalker" in Castaneda's generation of practitioners
* Carol Tiggs- "nagual woman" in Castaneda's generation of practitioners

Generation of practitioners peer to Castaneda (Original group for "four-pronged Nagual")

* Pablito- the "man of action" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Nestor- the "scholarly man" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Benigno- the "master of intent" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Eligio- a "courier" who ultimately joined previous generation due to Carlos' lack of ability to follow his explorations of awareness, apparently a manifestation of Carlos not being a four-pronged nagual
* La Gorda- "Northerly" "dreamer" who was originally thought to be the "Southerly" "dreamer", this was apparently a manifestation of Carlos not being a four-pronged nagual
* Rosa- "Northerly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Lidia- "Easterly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Josephina -- "Westerly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
* Doña Soledad -- "Northerly" "self-stalker" in Carlos' generation of practitioners

Generation of practitioners preceding Castaneda

* Don Juan Matus -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Castaneda
* Genaro Flores -- the "man of action" and "master of awareness" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners, benefactor to Castaneda
* Vicente Medrano -- "scholarly man" and herbalist in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Silvio Manuel -- "master of intent" and purported to be permanently in a state of "heightened awareness" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Juan Tuma -- "scout" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Florinda Grau -- "Northerly" "dreamer" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Nelida Abelar -- "Northerly" "self-stalker" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Marta -- "Southerly" "dreamer"? in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Zoila Abelar -- "Westerly" "self-stalker" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Zuleica Grau -- "Westerly" "dreamer" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Delia Abelar -- "Easterly" "self-stalker" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
* Celia Grau -- "Easterly" "dreamer" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners

Generation of practitioners preceding Juan Matus

* Julián Osorio -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Juan Matus

Generation of practitioners preceding Julián Osorio

* Elias Ulloa -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Julián Osorio, and to Juan Matus as well.

Significant event in the lineage

* The nagual Sebastian's encounter in the 1700s with an ancient seer, the "death defier", also referred to as the "tenant". That encounter dramatically altered their lineage and was what separates the "new" seers from the "old" seers. Castaneda stated that the death defier met with every nagual since Sebastien, including with Carlos. The death defier also met and possessed Carol Tiggs. Capable of taking male or female form, existing or not existing corporeally in this world.

Related authors

Two other authors, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, have also written books in which they claim to be from Don Juan Matus' party of Toltec warriors. Both Abelar and Donner-Grau were endorsed by Castaneda as being legitimate students of Don Juan Matus, whereas he has dismissed many other pretenders. Another author of note is Victor Sanchez; Sanchez claims to have had similar teachings, and met Castaneda, but emphasizes in his books that Castaneda does not endorse his work. Martin Goodman claimed to have met a "reconsituted" Carlos after the death of Carlos in his book "I Was Carlos Castaneda".

Books by Carlos Castaneda