Carlos Castaneda in 1962
|Born||December 25, 1925|
|Died||April 27, 1998 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Subject||Anthropology, ethnography, shamanism|
Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in shamanism, particularly with a group whose lineage descended from the Toltecs. The books, narrated in the first person, relate his experiences under the tutelage of a man that Castaneda claimed was 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.
Castaneda withdrew from public view in 1973, living in a large house in Westwood, California from 1973 until his death in 1998, with three colleagues whom he called "Fellow Travellers of Awareness." He founded Cleargreen, an organization that promotes "Tensegrity", which Castaneda described as the modern version of the "magical passes" of the shamans of ancient Mexico.
Castaneda moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen on June 21, 1957. He was educated at UCLA (B.A. 1962; Ph.D. 1973). Castaneda married Margaret Runyan in Mexico in 1960, according to Runyan's memoirs. 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. 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.
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, allegedly 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 that unfolded further aspects of his training with don Juan.
Castaneda wrote that don Juan recognized him as the new nagual, or leader of a party of seers of his lineage. 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 own party of seers, Matus was a connection 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).
While Castaneda was a well-known cultural figure, he rarely appeared in public forums. He was the subject of a cover article in the March 5, 1973 issue of Time which described him as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tortilla". There was controversy when it was revealed that Castaneda may have used a surrogate for his cover portrait. 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." Following that interview, Castaneda completely retired from public view.
Don Juan Matus
Scholars have debated "whether Castaneda actually served as an apprentice to the alleged Yaqui sorcerer don Juan Matus or if he invented the whole odyssey." Castaneda's books are classified as non-fiction although they have been criticized as fictional. In two books, Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory (Capra Press, 1976) and The Don Juan Papers (Ross-Erickson, 1981), author and Castaneda critic Richard de Mille intimated that Don Juan was imaginary, although de Mille's critiques have also been questioned. Walter Shelburne contends that "the Don Juan chronicle cannot be a literally true account." Other critics[who?] remain agnostic, contending that there is no proof either side of the matter.
In the 1990s, Castaneda once again began appearing in public to promote Tensegrity, which was described in promotional materials as "the modernized version of some movements called magical passes developed by Indian shamans who lived in Mexico in times prior to the Spanish conquest." 
Castaneda, along with Carol Tiggs, Florinda Donner-Grau and Taisha Abelar, created Cleargreen Incorporated in 1995. The organization's stated purpose is "carrying out the instruction and publication of Tensegrity". Tensegrity seminars, books, and other merchandise were sold through Cleargreen.
Castaneda died on April 27, 1998 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.
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. C.J. challenged its authenticity. The challenge was ultimately unsuccessful. Carlos' death certificate states metabolic encephalopathy for 72 hours prior to his death, yet the will was purportedly signed 48 hours before Castaneda's death.
After Castaneda stepped away from public view in 1973, he bought a large multi-dwelling property in Los Angeles which he shared with some of his followers. Among those who lived there were Taisha Abelar (formerly Maryann Simko) and Florinda Donner-Grau (formerly Regine Thal). Like Castaneda, Taisha Abelar, and Florinda Donner-Grau were students of anthropology at UCLA. Each went on to write books that explored the experience of being followers of Castaneda's teachings from a feminist perspective. Cf. "Related Authors"
Around the time Castaneda died in April 1998, his companions Donner-Grau, Abelar and Patricia Partin informed friends they were leaving on a long journey. Amalia Marquez (also known as Talia Bey) and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl also left Los Angeles. Weeks later, Partin's red Ford Escort was found abandoned in Death Valley.
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.
Since his death, Carol Tiggs, a colleague of Castaneda, has spoken at workshops throughout the world, including at Ontario, California in 1998, Sochi, Russia in 2015 and Merida, Yucatan in 2016. Tiggs had the longest association with Castaneda and is written about in some of his books. Today, she serves as a consultant for Cleargreen.
Although Castaneda's account of the Teaching of Don Juan were initially well-received as non-fiction works of ethnography, the books are now widely regarded as works of fiction.
At first, and with the backing of academic qualifications and the UCLA anthropological department, Castaneda's work was mostly praised by reviewers. Edmund Leach praised the book. Anthropologist E. H. Spicer offered a somewhat mixed review of The Teachings of Don Juan, highlighting Castaneda's expressive prose and his vivid depiction of his relationship with Don Juan. However, Spicer noted that the events described in the book were not consistent with other ethnographic accounts of Yaqui cultural practices, concluding it was unlikely that Don Juan had ever participated in Yaqui group life. Spicer also stated:
[It is] wholly gratuitous to emphasize, as the subtitle does, any connection between the subject matter of the book and the cultural traditions of the Yaquis." 
In a series of articles, R. Gordon Wasson, the ethnobotanist who made psychoactive mushrooms famous, similarly praised Castaneda's work, while expressing doubts regarding the accuracy of some of the claims. An early unpublished review by anthropologist Weston La Barre was more critical. La Barre questioned the book's accuracy, calling it a "pseudo-profound deeply vulgar pseudo-ethnography." The review, initially commissioned by The New York Times Review of Books, was rejected and replaced by a more positive review from a different anthropologist.
Later reviews were more critical, with several critics positing that the books were fabrications. Beginning in 1976, Richard de Mille published a series of criticisms that uncovered inconsistencies in Castaneda's field notes, as well as several instances of apparent plagiarism. Later, anthropologists specializing in Yaqui Indian culture, such as Jane Holden Kelley, questioned the accuracy of Castaneda's work. 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. Stephen C. Thomas notes that in her book With Good Heart: Yaqui Beliefs and Ceremonies in Pascua Village, Muriel Thayer Painter gives examples of Yaqui vocabulary associated with spirituality: "morea", an equivalent to the Spanish brujo; "saurino", used to describe persons with the gift of divination; and "seataka", or spiritual power, a word which is "fundamental to Yaqui thought and life." Thomas further states:
It is hard to believe that Castaneda's benefactor, a self-professed Yaqui, would fail to employ these native expressions throughout the apprenticeship. In omitting such intrinsically relevant terms from his ethnography, Castaneda critically undermines his portrait of Don Juan as a bona fide Yaqui sorcerer.
John Dedrick, a Protestant missionary who lived among the Yaqui Indians of Vicam, Sonora, from 1940 to 1979, stated in his letter of May 23, 1989 that:
I've only read "The Teachings of Don Juan", and before I got to the third part of the book I knew that he [Castaneda] did know of the Yaquis and that he had not been to the Rio Yaqui river, or that there is no terminology in the Yaqui language for any of the instructions and explanations that "Don Juan" was giving it to him [Castaneda].
Clement Meighan and Stephen C. Thomas, 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.
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.
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.
Related and Associated Authors
- Octavio Paz, Nobel laureate, poet, and diplomat. Paz wrote the prologue to the Spanish language edition of The Teachings of Don Juan: "La Mirada Anterior" (The Anterior Gaze), Fondo de Cultura, 1974
- Michael Korda—writer, novelist, editor-in-chief, Simon & Schuster. Castaneda's editor for his first eight books. Wrote essay on Castaneda in, Another Life: A Memoir of Other People, Random House, 1999 ISBN 0-679-45659-7
- George Lucas, Star Wars. Yoda and Luke Skywalker were inspired in part by don Juan and Castaneda
- Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, both students of don Juan Matus and colleagues of Castaneda, wrote memoirs of their experiences - Sorcerers' Crossing by Taisha Abelar and Shabono, and Being-in-Dreaming by Florida Donner-Grau. Their books were endorsed by Castaneda as authentic works. He dismissed others who claimed to share a history with don Juan Matus as pretenders. The two women, along with Carlos Tiggs, were part of Castaneda's inner circle, and he insisted that, along with him, they were the only legitimate students of Matus. They were both graduate students in anthropology at UCLA.
- Felix Wolf, one of Castaneda's followers 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, an account of her personal experiences with Castaneda and his followers. She died in August, 2013
- In Carlos Castaneda e a Fenda entre os Mundos – Vislumbres da Filosofia Ānahuacah no Século XXI Brazilian writer Lui Morais analyzes the work of Castaneda, its cultural implications, and its continuation in other authors.
- Victor Sanchez's first book, The Teachings of Don Carlos: Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda (1995). Though he was never a student of Castaneda, his book 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.
- The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1968. ISBN 0-520-21757-8. (Summer 1960 to October 1965.)
- A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan, 1971. ISBN 0-671-73249-8. (April 1968 to October 1970.)
- Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan, 1972. ISBN 0-671-73246-3. (Summer 1960 to May 1971.)
- Tales of Power, 1974. ISBN 0-671-73252-8. (Autumn 1971 to the 'Final Meeting' with don Juan Matus in 1973.)
- The Second Ring of Power, 1977. ISBN 0-671-73247-1. (Meeting his fellow apprentices after the 'Final Meeting'.)
- The Eagle's Gift, 1981. ISBN 0-671-73251-X. (Continuing with his fellow apprentices; and then alone with La Gorda.)
- The Fire From Within, 1984. ISBN 0-671-73250-1. (Don Juan's 'Second Attention' teachings through to the 'Final Meeting' in 1973.)
- The Power of Silence: Further Lessons of Don Juan, 1987. ISBN 0-671-73248-X. (The 'Abstract Cores' of don Juan's lessons.)
- The Art of Dreaming, 1993. ISBN 0-06-092554-X. (Review of don Juan's lessons in dreaming.)
- Magical Passes: The Practical Wisdom of the Shamans of Ancient Mexico, 1998. ISBN 0-06-017584-2. (Body movements for breaking the barriers of normal perception.)
- The Wheel of Time: Shamans of Ancient Mexico, Their Thoughts About Life, Death and the Universe, 1998. ISBN 0-9664116-0-9. (Selected quotations from the first eight books.)
- The Active Side of Infinity, 1999. ISBN 0-06-019220-8. (Memorable events of his life.)
- 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. 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. In other accounts he gave his date of birth as December 25, 1931. 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. Most sources tend to favor the Peruvian birth and 1925 date.
- Burton, Sandra; et al. (March 5, 1973). "Don Juan and the Sorcerer's Apprentice". Time. 101 (10). Archived from the original on June 27, 2006. Retrieved 2011-12-23.
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- County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services (1998). Carlos Castaneda death certificate
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- 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.
- Kelley, Jane Holden (1978). Yaqui Women: Contemporary Life Histories. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-8032-0912-1.
- Harris, Marvin (2001). Cultural materialism: the struggle for a science of culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. p. 322.
- Thomas, Stephen. "Shamans and Charlatans: Assessing Castaneda's Legacy". Archived from the original on 18 June 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
- Painter, Muriel Thayer (1986). With Good Heart: Yaqui Beliefs and Ceremonies in Pascua Village. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. pp. 11, 43–44.
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- David Silverman. Reading Castaneda: A Prologue to the Social Sciences. ISBN 978-0-7100-8146-9
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- De Mille, Richard (1976). Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory. Capra Press. ISBN 978-0-88496-067-6.
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- Sanchez, Victor. The Teachings of Don Carlos: Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda. Bear & Company, 1995. ISBN 1-879181-23-1 (Note: Castaneda won a law case requiring Sanchez to alter his book covers and clarify he was not Castaneda's student.)
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- 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
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- transcript: Carlos Castaneda Interviewed by Jane Hellisoe of the University of California Press, 1968, UCLA
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