Carlos Castaneda

From Academic Kids

Carlos Castaneda (previously Castaeda) was born in Peru on December 25, 1925 and died in Los Angeles on April 27, 1998. In the US, he wrote a controversial series of books that claimed to describe his training in traditional Native American Shamanism.

Castaneda claimed to have met the Yaqui shaman Don Juan Matus in 1960, which inspired the partly autobiographical works for which he is known. He further claimed to have inherited from this figure the position of nagual, or leader of a party of seers.

Castaneda's works contain descriptions of paranormal 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 So Paulo, Brazil on Christmas Day in 1931, but immigration records show that he was born 6 years earlier in Cajamarca, Peru. He anglicized his name by changing the "" (in Castaeda) into "n". 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 (B.A. 1962; Ph.D. 1970).

His first three books, The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui way of knowledge, A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan were written while Castaneda was an Anthropology student at the University of California at Los Angeles. Castaneda wrote these books as if they were his research log describing his studies under a traditional shaman he identified as Don Juan. Castaneda was granted his Masters and PhD degrees for the work described in these books.

Castaneda's first two books were written during a time when the use of psycho-active drugs were popular, and were seen as a technological shortcut to the kinds of spiritual insights eastern mystics required decades of devoted work to achieve. In Castaneda's first two books he describes that the Yaqui way of knowledge also required the heavy use of powerful psycho-active drugs -- natural ones, like peyote and datura. Many young people used the apparent authoritative endorsement of psycho-active drug use to justify their own use of psycho-active drugs.

In his third book, Journey to Ixtlan, he essentially reverses his endorsement of drug use. In this book he describes Don Juan telling him he only needed to use drugs with Carlos, because he was so dumb. In this book the way of knowledge that Don Juan describes bears an uncanny resemblance to the newly popular New Age movement.

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 preparing to leap off a cliff that would mark his graduation from disciple to full-fledged Shaman. Since he recorded, in Journey to Ixtlan, that a man of knowledge didn't write about the activities of Shamanism, 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. Castaneda went on to write fourteen books in all, three published posthumously.

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

Castaneda died on April 27 1998 from liver cancer. Little is known about his death. There was no public service, Castaneda was apparently cremated and the ashes sent to Mexico.

Castaneda's philosophy

His 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 growing movement world-wide of practitioners of this philosophy.

This world view is unlike either traditional Western or Eastern culture. Though some precepts can be said to resemble Eastern "Zen" in terms of the disciplines taught and techniques used, 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.

Our cocoons are intersected throughout by these filaments, producing perception, but we 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 we perceive as the daily world of human beings. 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 final works. The term is borrowed from architecture - "tensional integrity". Tensegrity is promoted by Cleargreen, Inc, a company founded in the 90s, 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 later (post Cleargreen) work is completely discredited by other practitioners and students of the Toltec belief system. (see external links)

Interpretation and criticism

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 per se of Don Juan is irrelevant, since the important matter is the theme that Don Juan presents.

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 The Teachings of Don Juan with a series of equally popular books, including A Separate Reality (1971), Journey to Ixtlan (1972), and 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. It is up to the reader to decide.

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 -- "Easterly" "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")

  • Nestor -- the "scholarly man" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
  • Benigno -- the "man of action" 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 -- "nagual woman" in Carlos' generation of practitioners, who died trying in an attempt to join previous generation
  • Rosa -- "Easterly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
  • Lidia -- "Northerly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
  • Josephina -- "Westerly" "dreamer" in Carlos' generation of practitioners
  • Doa Soledad -- Originally thought to be the "Southerly" "dreamer", she turned out to be a "Northerly" "dreamer", apparently a manifestation of Carlos not being a four-pronged nagual

Generation of practitioners preceding Castaneda

  • Don Juan Matus -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Castaneda
  • Carol -- nagual woman in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
  • Genaro Flores -- the "man of action" and "master of awareness" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners, benefactor to Castaneda
  • Vincente 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" "stalker" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
  • Marta -- "Southerly" "dreamer"? in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
  • Zoila Abelar -- "Westerly" "stalker" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
  • Zuleica Grau -- "Westerly" "dreamer" in Don Juan's generation of practitioners
  • Delia Abelar -- "Easterly" "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

  • Julin Osorio -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Juan Matus

Generation of practitioners preceding Julin Osorio

  • Elias Grau -- leader or nagual man to a generation of practitioners, teacher to Julin 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 "old" seers from the "new" seers. Castaneda stated that the death defier met with every nagual since Sebastien, including with Carlos.

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.

Notable works

Books by other authors

  • Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest by Florinda Donner[-Grau] (1992) ISBN 0062502425
  • Being-In-Dreaming: An Initiation into the Sorcerers' World by Florinda Donner-Grau (1992) ISBN 0062501925
  • The Sorceror's Crossing by Taisha Abelar (1993) ISBN 0140193669
  • The Witch's Dream by Florinda Donner-Grau (1997) ISBN 0140195319
  • The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies by Richard Demille (1973)
  • Carlos Castaneda: Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties by Jay Courtney Fikes (1993)
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda by Amy Wallace (2003)

External links


de:Carlos Castaneda es:Carlos Castaeda fr:Carlos Castaneda he:קרלוס קסטנדה lt:Karlosas Kastaneda nl:Carlos Castaneda ru:Кастанеда, Хуан Карлос fi:Carlos Castaneda


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