Florinda Donner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Florinda Donner
Regine Margarita Thal

Other namesFlorinda Donner-Grau
Notable work
Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest; The Witch's Dream: A Healer's Way of Knowledge

Florinda Donner (originally Regine Margarita Thal, later Florinda Donner-Grau) is an American writer and anthropologist known as one of Carlos Castaneda's "witches" (the term for three women who were friends of Castaneda).

She studied anthropology at UCLA, but did not complete her degree, letting her graduate studies lapse in 1977, after having advanced to doctoral candidacy.[1] While studying she met Castaneda and worked with him on developing his thinking. In addition to working on Castaneda's books, she has written several books about indigenous healing, sorcery and lucid dreaming.


In 1982 Florinda Donner published a book, Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest, named after the Yanomami word for shelter, a narrative of her life among the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon rainforest.

While initially praised as a compelling account of Yanomami culture, in 1983 controversy broke out when an article in American Anthropologist[2] accused the book of not being based on original ethnographic work, but instead being a patchwork made of previously published ethnographic accounts. Rebecca De Holmes, the author of the critique, stated that it was unlikely that Donner had spent any amount of time among the Yanomami. Particularly she criticized Donner for having plagiarized the biographical account of the Brazilian woman Helena Valero, who grew up as a captive among the Yanomami, without acknowledging having borrowed large parts of her life-story. Another critical review, by Dr. Debra Picchi, argues that the book was invalid as social science because of the author's auto-biographical focus on her personal development and experience, rather than on describing the Yanomami people.[3] One critic suspected that Donner might have worked from the many ethnographic movies about the Yanomami and argued that in that case her book could be considered an interpretive study of the visual documentary data.[4]

The validity of De Holmes' critique was largely accepted by the anthropological community. Even though Donner did not anywhere claim that her book was based on having actually lived among the Yanomami, she was roundly criticized for having used the ethnographic writing genre without her work in fact being based on anthropological methods. Eventually her former doctoral committee at UCLA published a letter in the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association, in which they expressed their disbelief in Donner's account, stating that she was present in Los Angeles during the period in which she supposedly lived among the Yanomami. When the book was published they were not aware that the author was their former student, due to her having changed her name in the meantime.[1]

Some scholars later wondered why her book was criticized for being unscientific, even though it never made any explicit claims to scientific authority.[5] Combined with the controversy generated by the writings of Carlos Castaneda, the controversy about Donner's book contributed to sparking the ethnography "crisis of representation" of the 1980s, represented by the "Writing Culture" movement. The book is now generally considered "anthropologically-inspired fiction".[6]


After the death of her mentor Carlos Castaneda in 1998, Florinda and four other women who followed Castaneda disappeared from Los Angeles, California. One of the women's bodies, Patricia Lee Partin, was discovered in 2003, but the location of the rest remains a mystery. The last time Florinda was seen was the day after Castaneda's death.[7]

Partin's bones were found in the desert sands of Death Valley. Some suspect the remaining four women also went to Death Valley and died there in a suicide pact. Some also think they are still alive and erased their personal history in compliance with Castaneda's belief system.[8]

See also[edit]


  • Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest. Delacorte Press. 1982. ISBN 978-0-440-07828-9.
  • The Witch's Dream: A Healer's Way of Knowledge. Simon & Schuster. 1985. ISBN 978-0-671-55198-8.
  • Being-in-Dreaming: An Initiation Into the Sorcerers' World. Harper Collins. 1992. ISBN 978-0-06-250192-9.


  1. ^ a b D. R. Price-Williams, R. B. Edgerton and L. L. Langness. "Journey to a Shabono" (pages 2–7). Anthropology News. Volume 24, Issue 9. December 1983. American Anthropological Association [1]
  2. ^ De Holmes, R. B. (1983), Shabono: Scandal or Superb Social Science?. American Anthropologist, 85: 664–667.
  3. ^ Picchi, D. (1983), Cultural/Ethnology: Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the Heart of the South American Jungle. Florinda Donner. New York. American Anthropologist, 85: 674–675
  4. ^ Collier, John. Jr. 1988. "Visual Anthropology and the future of ethnographic film". in Anthropological filmmaking: anthropological perspectives on the production of film and video for general public audiences. Jack R. Rollwagen (ed.) Psychology Press. p. 78
  5. ^ Pratt, Mary Louise. 1988. "Fieldwork in Common Places." In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George Marcus
  6. ^ Ramos, A. R. (1987), Reflecting on the Yanomami: Ethnographic Images and the Pursuit of the Exotic. Cultural Anthropology, 2: 284–304. doi:10.1525/can.1987.2.3.02a00020
  7. ^ "Mysterious Vanishings and Strange Deaths at Death Valley | Mysterious Universe". mysteriousuniverse.org. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  8. ^ Munger, Sean (2013-08-18). "Disappeared: The Women of Tensegrity, missing 15 years". SeanMunger.com. Retrieved 2020-01-25.