Page semi-protected

Carlos Castaneda

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the historian, see Carlos Castañeda (historian).
Carlos Castaneda
Carlos Castaneda in 1962
Born December 25, 1925
Cajamarca, Peru
Died April 27, 1998(1998-04-27) (aged 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Author, anthropologist
Nationality American
Education UCLA (B.A.)
UCLA (Ph.D.)
Period 20th century
Subject Anthropology, ethnography, shamanism

Carlos Castaneda (December 25, 1925[nb 1]–April 27, 1998) was an American author with a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in shamanism, particularly a group that he called the Toltecs. The books, narrated in the first person, relate his experiences under the tutelage of a Yaqui "Man of Knowledge" named Don Juan Matus. His 12 books have sold more than 28 million copies in 17 languages. Critics have suggested that they are works of fiction; supporters claim the books are either true or at least valuable works of philosophy and descriptions of practices which enable an increased awareness.

Castaneda withdrew from public view in 1973 to work further on his inner development, living in a large house with three women whom he called "Fellow Travellers of Awareness", and who were ready to cut their ties to family and changed their names. He founded Cleargreen, an organization that promoted tensegrity, purportedly a traditional Toltec regimen of spiritually powerful exercises.

Early life

Castaneda moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen in 1957. He was educated at UCLA (B.A. 1962; Ph.D. 1973).[6] Castaneda married Margaret Runyan in Mexico in 1960, according to Runyan's memoirs.[7] Castaneda is listed on the birth certificate of Runyan's son C.J. Castaneda as his father even though his biological father was a different man.[7] It is unclear whether Carlos and Margaret were divorced in 1960, 1973, or not at all, and his death certificate even stated he had never been married.[7]


Castaneda's first three books – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality; and Journey to Ixtlan – were written while he was an anthropology student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He wrote these books as his research log describing his apprenticeship with a traditional "Man of Knowledge" identified as don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico. Castaneda was awarded his bachelor's and doctoral degrees based on the work described in these books.

In 1974 his fourth book, Tales of Power, was published and chronicled the end of his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Matus. Castaneda continued to be popular with the reading public with subsequent publications.

In his books, Castaneda narrates in first person the events leading to his 1960 introduction to Matus, a half-Yaqui "Man of Knowledge". Castaneda's experiences with Matus inspired the works for which he is known. He also says the sorcerer bequeathed him the position of nagual, or leader of a party of seers. Matus also used the term nagual to signify that part of perception which is in the realm of the unknown yet still reachable by man, implying that, for his party of seers, Don Juan was a connection in some way to that unknown. Castaneda often referred to this unknown realm as nonordinary reality.

The term nagual has been used by anthropologists to mean a shaman or sorcerer who claims to be able to change into an animal form, or to metaphorically "shift" into another form through magic rituals, shamanism and experiences with psychoactive drugs (e.g., peyote and jimson weed – Datura stramonium).[8]

Castaneda was the subject of a cover article in the March 5, 1973 issue of Time[1] which described him as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tortilla". When confronted by correspondent Sandra Burton about discrepancies in his personal history, Castaneda responded:

To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics ... is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all.

The interviewer wrote:

Castaneda makes the reader experience the pressure of mysterious winds and the shiver of leaves at twilight, the hunter's peculiar alertness to sound and smell, the rock-bottom scrubbiness of Indian life, the raw fragrance of tequila and the vile, fibrous taste of peyote, the dust in the car, and the loft of a crow's flight. It is a superbly concrete setting, dense with animistic meaning. This is just as well, in view of the utter weirdness of the events that happen in it.

Following that interview, Castaneda retired from public view.

In the 1990s, Castaneda once again began appearing in public to promote Tensegrity, a group of movements that he claimed had been passed down by 25 generations of Toltec shamans. On 16 June 1995, articles of incorporation executed by George Short were filed to create Cleargreen Incorporated. The Cleargreen statement of purpose says in part:

Cleargreen is a corporation that has a twofold purpose. First, it sponsors and organizes seminars and workshops on Carlos Castaneda's Tensegrity, and second, it is a publishing house.

Cleargreen published three videos of Tensegrity movements while Castaneda was alive. Castaneda himself did not appear in the videos.


Castaneda died on April 27, 1998[3] in Los Angeles due to complications from hepatocellular cancer. There was no public service; Castaneda was cremated and the ashes were sent to Mexico. His death was unknown to the outside world until nearly two months later, on 19 June 1998, when an obituary entitled "A Hushed Death for Mystic Author Carlos Castaneda" by staff writer J. R. Moehringer appeared in the Los Angeles Times.[9]

Upon his death, The New York Times referred to Castaneda's works as "dubious biography and shaman-like tales" that "[f]ew academics regard [as] serious scholarship".[3]

Four months after Castaneda's death, C. J. Castaneda, also known as Adrian Vashon, whose birth certificate shows Carlos Castaneda as his father, challenged Castaneda's will in probate court. Carlos' death certificate states metabolic encephalopathy for 72 hours prior to his death, yet the will was supposedly signed 48 hours before Castaneda's death.[not in citation given] C.J. challenged its authenticity. The challenge was ultimately unsuccessful.[3]

Castaneda's companions

After Castaneda stepped away from public view in 1973, he bought a large house in Los Angeles which he shared with some of his female companions. The women broke off relationships with friends and family when they joined Castaneda's group. They also refused to be photographed and took new names: Regina Thal became Florinda Donner-Grau, Maryann Simko became Taisha Abelar and Kathleen Pohlman became Carol Tiggs. Another disciple, Patricia Partin, was renamed Blue Scout by Castaneda.[10]

Shortly after Castaneda died in April 1998, his companions Donner-Grau, Abelar and Patricia Partin disappeared. Amalia Marquez (also known as Talia Bey) and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl had their phones disconnected and also disappeared. Weeks later, Partin's red Ford Escort was found abandoned in Death Valley.

Because the women in question had cut all ties with family and friends, it was some time before people noticed they were missing. There has been no official investigation into the disappearances of Donner-Grau, Simko and Lundahl. Luis Marquez, the brother of Talia Bey, went to police in 1999 over his sister's disappearance, but was unable to convince them that it merited investigation.

In 2006, Partin's sun-bleached skeleton was discovered by a pair of hikers in Death Valley's Panamint Dunes area and was identified by DNA testing. The investigating authorities ruled Partin's death as undetermined.[10][11]

On August 2, 1998, Carol Tiggs spoke at a workshop in Ontario, Canada. Since that time, she also has disappeared.


Despite the widespread popularity of his works, some critics questioned the validity of Castaneda's books as early as 1969. In a series of articles, R. Gordon Wasson, who had made psychoactive mushrooms famous, and had originally praised Castaneda's work, questioned the accuracies of Castaneda's botanical claims.[12]

In 1976, author and Scientologist Richard de Mille published Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory, in which he argued, "Logical or chronological errors in the narrative constitute the best evidence that Castaneda's books are works of fiction. If no one has discovered these errors before, the reason must be that no one has listed the events of the first three books in sequence. Once that has been done, the errors are unmistakable."[13] On these showings de Mille asserts, The Teachings of Don Juan and Journey to Ixtlan (his third book) cannot both be factual reports.[14]

For his part, Castaneda in the introduction to A Separate Reality, his second book, addressed the incomprehensible nature of his experiences as only being able to be understood in the context of the alien system of perception from which they arose, suggesting that his books are by their very nature contradictory and incomprehensible (as to time and place especially) to academic and critical inquiry.

In a 1968 radio interview[15] with Theodore Roszak, Castaneda, while confirming that his mystical experiences were absolutely true to life, did explain that he took some chronological license in his writing about actual events: "The way the books present it seems to heighten some dramatic sequences, which is, I'm afraid, not true to real life. There are enormous gaps in between in which ordinary things took place, that are not included. I didn't include in the book because they did not pertain to the system I wanted to portray, so I just simply took them away, you see. And that means that the gaps between those very heightened states, you know, whatever, says that I remove things that are continuous crescendos, in kind of sequence leading to a very dramatic solution. But in real life it was a very simple matter because it took years between, months pass in between them, and in the meantime we did all kinds of things. We even went hunting. He (Don Juan) told me how to trap things, set traps, very old, old ways of setting a trap, and how to catch rattlesnakes. He told me how to prepare rattlesnakes, in fact. And so that eases up, you see, the distrust or the fear."

At first, and with the backing of academic qualifications and the UCLA anthropological department, Castaneda's work was critically acclaimed. Notable anthropologists like Edward Spicer (1969) and Edmund Leach (1969)[16] praised Castaneda, alongside more alternative and young anthropologists.

The authenticity of Don Juan was accepted for six years, until Richard de Mille and Daniel Noel both published their critiques of the Don Juan books in 1976. Later anthropologists specializing in Yaqui Indian culture (William Curry Holden, Jane Holden Kelley and Edward H. Spicer), who originally supported Castaneda's account as true, questioned the accuracies of Castaneda's work.[17] Other criticisms of Castaneda's work include the total lack of Yaqui vocabulary or terms for any of his experiences, and his refusal to defend himself against the accusation that he received his PhD from UCLA through deception.[18]

Others[who?] (including Dr. Clement Meighan) point out that the books largely, and for the most part, do not describe Yaqui culture at all with its emphasis on Catholic upbringing and conflict with the Federal State of Mexico, but rather focus on the international movements and life of Don Juan who was described in the books as traveling and having many connections, and abodes, in the Southwestern United States (Arizona), Northern Mexico, and Oaxaca. Don Juan was described in the books as a shaman steeped in a mostly lost Toltec philosophy and decidedly anti-Catholic. Dr. Clement Meighan, one of Castaneda's professors at UCLA, and an acknowledged expert on Indian culture in the U.S., Mexico, and other areas in North America, up to his death, never doubted that Castaneda's work was based upon authentic contact with and observations of Indians. Later, Miguel Ruiz also verified the existence of Indian "Brujos" in Mexico with native teachings much like Don Juan's.

A March 5, 1973 Time article by Sandra Burton, looking at both sides of the controversy, stated:

... the more worldly claim to importance of Castaneda's books: to wit, that they are anthropology, a specific and truthful account of an aspect of Mexican Indian culture as shown by the speech and actions of one person, a shaman named Juan Matus. That proof hinges on the credibility of Don Juan as a being and Carlos Castaneda as a witness. Yet there is no corroboration beyond Castaneda's writings that Don Juan did what he is said to have done, and very little that he exists at all.

A strong case can be made that the Don Juan books are of a different order of truthfulness from Castaneda's pre-Don Juan past. Where, for example, was the motive for an elaborate scholarly put-on? The Teachings were submitted to a university press, an unlikely prospect for best-sellerdom. Besides, getting an anthropology degree from U.C.L.A. is not so difficult that a candidate would employ so vast a confabulation just to avoid research. A little fudging perhaps, but not a whole system in the manner of The Teachings, written by an unknown student with, at the outset, no hope of commercial success.[1]

David Silverman sees value in the work even while considering it fictional. In Reading Castaneda he describes the apparent deception as a critique of anthropology field work in general – a field that relies heavily on personal experience, and necessarily views other cultures through a lens. According to Silverman, not only the descriptions of peyote trips but also the fictional nature of the work are meant to place doubt on other works of anthropology.[19]

Donald Wieve cites Castaneda to explain the insider/outsider problem as it relates to mystical experiences, while acknowledging the fictional nature of his work.[20]

Related authors

Two other authors, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, wrote books in which they claimed to be from Matus' party of Toltec warriors. Both Abelar and Donner-Grau were endorsed by Castaneda as being legitimate students of Matus, whereas he dismissed all other writers as pretenders. The two women were part of Castaneda's inner circle, which he referred to as "The Brujas," and both assumed different names as part of their dedication to their new beliefs. They were originally both graduate students in anthropology at UCLA.

Felix Wolf, one of Carlos Castaneda's apprentices and translators, wrote The Art of Navigation: Travels with Carlos Castaneda and Beyond. In his book Wolf details how his life had been transformed by his association with Castaneda. While touching on all aspects of the teachings, Wolf highlights what he perceives to be the overriding and essential transmission that came through Castaneda's work: The Art of Navigation.

Amy Wallace wrote Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda,[21] an account of her personal experiences with Castaneda and his followers.

In Carlos Castaneda e a Fenda entre os Mundos – Vislumbres da Filosofia Ānahuacah no Século XXI Brazilian writer Luis Carlos de Morais analyzes the work of Carlos Castaneda, its cultural implications, and its continuation in other authors.

Sanchez's first book, The Teachings of Don Carlos: Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda (1995), provides in-depth techniques and commentary on a path of "self-growth" based on the wisdom of the Toltec descendants. His approach in this book is bringing the proposals of Castaneda down to the earth focusing on those parts of Castaneda's book that can be applied in everyday life and used for personal development. Sanchez has published three further books: Toltecs of the New Millennium (1996), providing an overview of and background on the author's experiences with the Wirrarika; The Toltec Path of Recapitulation: Healing Your Past to Free Your Soul (2001); and The Toltec Oracle (2004). Sanchez's recapitulation technique bears some resemblance to Sandra Ingerman's soul retrieval technique, but is probably the most comprehensive approach to the subject that has been published so far. Other shamanic teachers using similar techniques include Michael Harner, PhD founder of "core shamanism", and Ken Page, founder of Heart and Soul Healing. Some have associated Sanchez's work with Toltec author Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements.


See also


  1. ^ Castaneda's birth name, as well as the date and location of his birth, are uncertain. According to a 1973 article in Time, U.S. immigration records indicates that Castaneda was born Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda on December 25, 1925 in Cajamarca, Peru.[1] In the article, Castaneda himself claimed that he had adopted the surname "Castaneda" later in life and that he had been born in São Paulo, Brazil. He also reported his date of birth as December 25, 1935.[1] In other accounts he gave his date of birth as December 25, 1931.[2][3] A 1981 article in The New York Times stated that Castaneda "was born Carlos Arana in a Peruvian mountain town 66 years ago", indicating a 1915 birth.[4] Most sources tend to favor the Peruvian birth and 1925 date.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Burton, Sandra; et al. (March 5, 1973). "Don Juan and the Sorcerer's Apprentice". Time 101 (10). Retrieved 2011-12-23. 
  2. ^ Epstein, Benjamin (March 1, 1996). "My Lunch With Carlos Castaneda". Psychology Today. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Applebome, Peter (June 20, 1998). "Carlos Castaneda, Mystical and Mysterious Writer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Walters, Ray (January 11, 1981). "Paperback Talk". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Chávez Candelaria, Cordelia; Garcia, Peter J.; Aldama, Arturo J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture, Volume One. Greenwood. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-313-32215-0. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  6. ^ De Mille (1976)
  7. ^ a b c Woo, Elaine (January 30, 2012). "Margaret Runyan Castaneda, Carlos Castaneda's ex-wife, dies at 90". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Castaneda, C: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, pp. 88–120, Washington Square Press Publication, 1968 paperback ISBN 0-671-60041-9
  9. ^ "Castaneda Obituary". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). June 19, 1998. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Marshall, Robert (April 12, 2007). "The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda". Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  11. ^ Flinchum, Robin (2006-02-10). "Remains of guru's disciple identified". Pahrump Valley Times. Archived from the original on 2015-02-22. Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  12. ^ Wasson, R. Gordon. 1969. (Bk. Rev.). Economic Botany vol. 23(2):197. A review of Carlos Castaneda's "The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.", Wasson, R. Gordon. 1972a. (Bk. Rev.). Economic Botany vol. 26(1):98–99. A review of Carlos Castaneda's "A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan."; Wasson, R. Gordon. 1973a. (Bk. Rev.). Economic Botany vol. 27(1):151–152. A review of Carlos Castaneda's "Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan."; Wasson, R. Gordon. . 1974. (Bk. Rev.). Economic Botany vol. 28(3):245–246. A review of Carlos Castaneda's "Tales of Power."; Wasson, R. Gordon. 1977a. (Mag., Bk. Rev). Head vol. 2(4):52–53, 88–94. November.
  13. ^ De Mille (1976), p. 166
  14. ^ De Mille (1976), pp. 170–171
  15. ^ Roszak, Theodore (30 January 1969). "DON JUAN THE SORCERER - Carlos Castaneda interview". KPFA, Pacifica Radio Archive. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  16. ^ Leach, Edmund (June 5, 1969). "High School". The New York Review of Books (New York). ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  17. ^ Kelley, Jane Holden (1978). Yaqui Women: Contemporary Life Histories. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-8032-0912-1. 
  18. ^ Harris, Marvin (2001). Cultural materialism: the struggle for a science of culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. p. 322.
  19. ^ David Silverman. Reading Castaneda: A Prologue to the Social Sciences. ISBN 978-0-7100-8146-9
  20. ^ Donald Wieve. "Does Understanding Religion Require Religious Understanding?" In Russel T. McCutcheon (ed.), The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion. New York: Bath Press, 1999. p. 263.
  21. ^ Amy Wallace (2007). Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-206-2. Retrieved 2015-11-12. 


  • De Mille, Richard (1976). Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory. Capra Press. ISBN 978-0-88496-067-6. 

Further reading

  • Morais Junior, Luis Carlos de. Carlos Castaneda e a Fresta entre os Mundos: Vislumbres da Filosofia Ānahuacah no Século XXI (Carlos Castaneda and the Crack Between the Worlds: Glimpses of Ānahuacah Philosophy in the 21st Century). Rio de Janeiro: Litteris Editora, 2012.
  • Sanchez, Victor. The Teachings of Don Carlos: Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda. Bear & Company, 1995. ISBN 1-879181-23-1
  • Williams, Donald. Border Crossings: A Psychological Perspective on Carlos Castaneda's Path of Knowledge Inner City Books, 1981.
  • Collier, Richard "The River That God Forgot" (Background on Julio Cesar Arana, despotic rubber baron, Carlos Castaneda's paternal grandfather) E.P. Dutton & Co., N.Y., 1968. Library of Congress CATALOG CARD NUMBER:68-12451
  • Torres, Armando "Encounters with the Nagual: Conversations with Carlos Castaneda" First Light Press, 2004.
  • Torres, Armando "The Secret of the Plumed Serpent: Further Conversations with Carlos Castaneda" Hade Publishing, 2014 (First published in Spanish as "El Secreto de la Serpiente Emplumada" by Editora Alba, 2010)
  • Desper Jr., James "The End Of History: A Commentary On The Warrior's Way: A System Of Knowledge First Reported In The Books Of Carlos Castaneda" Third Attention Publishing, 2012.

External links