Castaneda, Carlos (1925–1998)
An anthropologist and occultist who created a sensation
with his best-selling book The Teachings of Don Juan A Yaqui Way
of Knowledge, first published in 1968. The volume described his
experiences with the mysterious Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian
from Sonora. Don Juan was represented as a sorcerer and
metaphysical master of the Mexican border who taught a
higher reality involving the visionary potentialities of drugs like
mescaline. The books caught the imagination of a generation
of spiritual seekers who were using various mind-altering drugs
and the attention of social scientists who were opting for new
theories about the subjective nature of reality.
Castaneda’s background is somewhat obscure. His official
biographies say that he was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1931.
However, it is now known that he was born in Cajamarca, Peru,
on December 25, 1925. He moved to Lima as a young man and
studied at the Colegio Nacienal de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
and the National Fine Arts School of Peru. He moved to
San Francisco in 1951 and later attended Los Angeles City College
(1955–59). He became an American citizen in 1959 and
that same year enrolled in UCLA. He received his B.A. in anthropology
in 1962. He pursued his graduate studies sporadically
through the next decade, and he finally completed his
Ph.D. in 1973.
In the meantime he published his first three books detailing
the material he had learned from Don Juan. His third book,
Journey to Ixtlan, had been presented as his doctoral dissertation.
Anthropologists praised Castaneda, and Don Juan became
a cult figure, although this elusive sorcerer seems to have
manifested only to Castaneda and remained a mystery man.
There is, of course, no proof of the existence of Don Juan
outside Castaneda’s accounts, and his teachings are often recounted
in language that sounds nearer to that of a popular
thriller than that of a Yaqui Indian. Typically unconvincing
phrases from Tales of Power (1975) are ‘‘You’re goofing,’’ ‘‘You
indulge like a son of a bitch,’’ and ‘‘You nearly lost your marbles.’’
Alan Brian, a British critic, pointed out in a London Sunday
Times review (May 11, 1975) that Don Juan appears to be
bursting with laughter every few pages.
In the absence of any convincing validation of the actual existence
of Don Juan, many readers will prefer to regard him as
a product of Castaneda’s fertile imagination, a mystification of
a similar kind to the Lopsang Rampa hoax. For a thoughtful
and scholarly analysis of the Castaneda phenomenon, see Castaneda’s
Journey; The Power and the Allegory (1976) by Richard
DeMille. DeMille discovered sources, published earlier, for the
Don Juan material and views the books as fiction. DeMille’s
work created a storm within the scholarly community and led
to a general discrediting of Castaneda. However, the large public
tuned to his psychedelic spiritual vision seemed hardly concerned
with the controversy. The reclusive Castaneda continued
to publish new books in the Don Juan series through the
1980s.
Castaneda died April 27, 1998.
Sources
Benitez, Fernando. In the Magic Land of Peyote. Austin University
of Texas Press, 1975. Reprint, New York Warner
Books, 1975.
Castaneda, Carlos. The Eagle’s Gift. New York Simon &
Schuster, 1981.
———. Journey to Ixtlan The Lessons of Don Juan. New York
Simon & Schuster, 1972.
———. The Power of Silence Further Lessons of Don Juan. New
York Simon & Schuster, 1987.
———. The Second Ring of Power. New York Simon & Schuster,
1977.
———. A Separate Reality Further Conversations with Don
Juan. New York Simon & Schuster, 1971.
———. Tales of Power. New York Simon & Schuster, 1974.
———. The Teachings of Don Juan A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
Berkeley University of California Press, 1968.
DeMille, Richard. Castaneda’s Journey; The Power and the Allegory.
Santa Barbara, Calif. Capra Press, 1976.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Castaneda, Carlos
253
———, ed. Don Juan Papers Further Castaneda Controversies.
Santa Barbara, CA Ross-Erickson, 1980. Reprint, Belmont,
Calif. Wadsworth, 1990.
Seeing Casteneda Reaction to the ‘‘Don Juan’’ Writings of Carlos
Castaneda. New York G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1976.
Silverman, David. Reading Castaneda A Prologue to the Social
Sciences. London Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.