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Carlos Castaneda (1925?-1998)

"All paths are the same: they lead nowhere." --Don Juan

carlos c on time coverCarlos Castaneda was a best-selling author of a number of books centering on a Mexican Yaqui brujo (witch, sorcerer, or shaman) and his pharmacologically induced visions. He called the brujo Don Juan Matus. Castaneda claimed he was doing anthropology, that his books were not fiction. He was granted a Ph.D. by the UCLA Anthropology Department in 1973 for his third book, Journey to Ixtlan. Critics say the work is not ethnographically accurate and is a work of fiction.

Castaneda's books are full of stories of magic, sorcery, and out-of-body experiences. His first books hit the market during the late 1960s when LSD guru Timothy Leary was advising the world to "turn on, tune in, drop out." The LSD gurus believe that the chemical changes in their brains, which cause them to perceive the world differently and to perceive different worlds, bring them into a divine realm. Getting high meant opening the doors of perception to a higher reality. Castaneda could not have had better timing for his books.

Castaneda claims that he met Don Juan in 1960 at a bus station in Nogales, Arizona. At the time, Castaneda was a graduate student in anthropology doing research on medicinal plants used by Indians of the Southwest. He claims that Don Juan made him a sorcerer's apprentice and introduced him to the world of peyote and visions. It is unlikely that a great shaman would pick someone up at a bus stop and make him a disciple, but we'll never know since no one but Castaneda ever met Don Juan. [I should have known that now that Castaneda is dead, others would claim Don Juan for their own. One such is a fellow who calls himself Ken Eagle Feather. Unfortunately, Mr. Eagle Feather doesn't have any photos of his master, either. You'll just have take his word for it that he did a ten-year apprenticeship with Don Juan Matus.] Was Don Juan a hoax? Probably. Yet Castaneda's books have sold over eight million copies. I guess that was all the inspiration Mr. Eagle Feather needed.

Castaneda obviously filled a need. He told good stories and gave enigmatic advice. He gave people hope, especially those who believe that the more modern civilization has become, the further it has driven human beings from their spiritual or true nature. The old shamans know the way. They know truths the modern scientist has not even dreamed of. They do hallucinogenic drugs, too. Maybe that is why they thought they could fly and transmogrify into birds and other animals.

In his later years, Castaneda introduced a new way to get high: Tensegrity (not to be confused with the tensegrity of Buckminister Fuller). It involves meditation, exercises, a luminous egg, an assemblage point, depersonalization, dreaming, and other New Age magic. Tensegrity allegedly leads to the perception of "pure energy," breaking down the barriers to higher consciousness. It is supposed to be based on some ancient magic, known to Indian healers centuries ago. Sounds familiar.

See also Lynn Andrews and Reiner Protsch.

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further reading


Fikes, Jay Courtney. Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties (Millennia Press, 1996).

Lindskoog, Kathryn. Fakes, Frauds & Other Malarkey : 301 Amazing Stories & How Not to Be Fooled (Zondervan Publishing House, 1993).

Wallace, Amy. The Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda (Frog Ltd; reprint edition, 2003).


Did Carlos Castaneda hallucinate that stuff in the Don Juan books or make it up? The Straight Dope 21-Jun-2002

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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