Interview 1973 Castaneda, Time Magazine
Carlos Castaneda Time Magazine Interview Don Juan and the Sorcerer's Apprentice Publication Date: March 5th, 1973
Glendower: "I can call spirits from the vasty deep" Hotspur: "Why so can I, or so can any man;" "But will they come when you do not call for them?" -- Henry IV, Part I
THE Mexican border is a great divide. Below it, the accumulated structures of Western "rationality" waver and plunge. The familiar shapes of society - landlord and peasant, priest and politician - are laid over a stranger ground, the occult Mexico, with its brujos and carismaticos, its sorcerers and diviners. Some of their practices go back 2,000 and 3,000 years to the peyote and mushroom and morning glory cults of the ancient Aztecs and Toltecs. Four centuries of Catholic repression in the name of faith and reason have reduced the old ways to a subculture, ridiculed and persecuted. Yet in a country of 53 million, where many village marketplaces have their sellers of curative herbs, peyote buttons or dried hummingbirds, the sorcerer's world is still tenacious. Its cults have long been a matter of interest to anthropologists. But five years ago, it could hardly have been guessed that a master's thesis on this recondite subject, published under the conservative imprint of the University of California Press, would become one of the bestselling books of the early '70s.
OLD YAQUI. The book was The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968). With its sequels, A Separate Reality (1971) and the current Journey to Ixtlan (1972), it has made U.S. cult figures of its author and subject an anthropologist named Carlos Castaneda and a mysterious old Yaqui Indian from Sonora called Juan Matus. In essence, Castaneda's books are the story of how a European rationalist was initiated into the practice of Indian sorcery. They cover a span of ten years, during which, under the weird, taxing and sometimes comic tutelage of Don Juan, a young academic labored to penetrate and grasp what he calls the "separate reality" of the sorcerer's world. The learning of enlightenment is a common theme in the favorite reading of young Americans today (example: Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha). The difference is that Castaneda does not present his Don Juan cycle as fiction but as unembellished documentary fact.
The wily, leather-bodied old brujo and his academic straight man first found an audience in the young of the counterculture, many of whom were intrigued by Castaneda's recorded experiences with hallucinogenic (or psychotropic) plants: Jimson weed, magic mushrooms, peyote. The Teachings has sold more than 300,000 copies in paperback and is currently selling at a rate of 16,000 copies a week. But Castaneda's books are not drug propaganda, and now the middleclass middlebrows have taken him up. Ixtlan is a hardback bestseller, and its paperback sales, according to Castaneda's agent Ned Brown, will make its author a millionaire.
To tens of thousands of readers, young and old, the first meeting of Castaneda with Juan Matus which took place in. 1960 in a dusty Arizona bus depot near the Mexican border is a better known literary event than the encounter of Dante and Beatrice beside the Arno. For Don Juan's teachings have reached print at precisely the moment when more Americans than ever before are disposed to consider "non-rational" approaches to reality. This new openness of mind displays itself on many levels, from ESP experiments funded indirectly by the U.S. Government to the weeping throngs of California 13 year olds getting blissed out by the latest child guru off a chartered jet from Bombay. The acupuncturist now shares the limelight with Marcus Welby, M.D., and his needles are seen to work - nobody knows why. However, with Castaneda's increasing fame have come increasing doubts. Don Juan has no other verifiable witness, and Juan Matus is nearly as common a name among the Yaqui Indians as John Smith farther north. Is Castaneda real? If so, did he invent Don Juan? Is Castaneda just putting on the straight world?
Among these possibilities, one thing is sure. There is no doubt that Castaneda, or a man by that name, exists: he is alive and well in Los Angeles, a loquacious, nut-brown anthropologist, surrounded by such concrete proofs of existence as a Volkswagen minibus, a Master Charge card, an apartment in Westwood and a beach house. His celebrity is concrete too. It now makes it difficult for him to teach and lecture, especially after an incident at the University of California's Irvine campus last year when a professor named John Wallace procured a Xerox copy of the manuscript of Ixtlan, pasted it together with some lecture notes from a seminar on shamanism Castaneda was giving, and peddled the result to Penthouse magazine. This so infuriated Castaneda that he is reluctant to accept any major lecture engagements in the future. At present he lives "as inaccessibly as possible" in Los Angeles, refreshing his batteries from time to time at what he and Don Juan refer to as a "power spot" atop a mountain north of nearby Malibu: a ring of boulders overlooking the Pacific. So far he has fended off the barrage of film offers. "I don't want to see Anthony Quinn as Don Juan," he says with asperity. Anyone who tries to probe into Castaneda's life finds himself in a maze of contradictions. But to Castaneda's admirers, that scarcely matters. "Look at it this way," says one. "Either Carlos is telling the documentary truth about himself and Don Juan, in which case he is a great anthropologist. Or else it is an imaginative truth, and he is a great novelist. Heads or tails, Carlos wins."
Indeed, though the man is an enigma wrapped in mystery wrapped in a tortilla, the work is beautifully lucid. Castaneda's story unfolds with a narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies. Its terrain studded with organpipe cacti, from the glittering lava massifs of the Mexican desert to the ramshackle interior of Don Juan's shack becomes perfectly real. In detail, it is as thoroughly articulated a world as, say, Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. In all the books, but especially in Journey to Ixtlan , Castaneda makes the reader experience the pressure or mysterious winds and the shivver of leaves at twilight, the hunter's peculiar alertness to sound and smell, the rock bottom scrubbiness of Indian life, the raw fragrance of tequila and the vile, fibrous taste of peyote, the dust in the car and the loft of a crow's flight. It is a superbly concrete setting, dense with animistic meaning. This is just as well, in view of the utter weirdness of the events that happen in it.
The education of a sorcerer, as Castaneda describes it, is arduous. It entailed the destruction, by Don Juan, of the young anthropologist's interpretation of the world; of what can, and cannot be called "real." The Teachings describes the first steps in this process. They involved natural drugs. One was Lophophora williamsii, the peyote cactus, which, Don Juan promised, revealed an entity named Mescalito, a powerful teacher who "shows you the proper way of life." Another was Jimson weed, which Don Juan spoke of as an implacable female presence. The third was humito, "the little smoke" a preparation of dust from Psilocybe mushrooms that had been dried and aged for a year, and then mixed with five other plants, including sage. This was smoked in a ritual pipe, and used for divination.
Such drugs, Don Juan insisted, gave access to the "powers" or impersonal forces at large in the world that a "man of knowledge" - his term for sorcerer - must learn to use. Prepared and administered by Don Juan, the drugs drew Castaneda into one frightful or ecstatic confrontation after another. After chewing peyote buttons Castaneda met Mescalito successively as a black dog, a column of singing light, and a cricket like being with a green warty head. He heard awesome and uninterpretable rumbles from the dead lava hills. After smoking humito and talking to a bilingual coyote, he saw the "guardian of the other world" rise before him as a hundred-foot high gnat with spiky tufted hair and drooling jaws. After rubbing his body with an unguent made from datura, the terrified anthropologist experienced all the sensations of flying.
Through it all, Castaneda often had little idea of what was happening. He could not be sure what it meant or whether any of it had "really" happened at all. That interpretation had to be supplied by Don Juan.
Why, then, in an age full of descriptions of good and bad trips, should Castaneda's sensations be of any more interest than anyone else's? First, because they were apparently conducted within a system - albeit one he did not understand at the time - imposed with priestly and rigorous discipline by his Indian guide. Secondly, because Castaneda kept voluminous and extraordinarily vivid notes. A sample description of the effects of peyote: "In a matter of instants a tunnel formed around me, very low and narrow, hard and strangely cold. It felt to the touch like a wall of solid tinfoil...l remember having to crawl towards a sort of round point where the tunnel ended; when I finally arrived, if I did, I had forgotten all about the dog, Don Juan, and myself." Perhaps most important, Castaneda remained throughout a rationalist Everyman. His one resource was questions: a persistent, often fumbling effort to keep a Socratic dialogue going with Don Juan:
"'Did I take off like a bird?' "'You always ask me questions I cannot answer...What you want to know makes no sense. Birds fly like birds and a man who has taken the devil's weed flies as such.' "'Then I didn't really fly, Don Juan. I flew in my imagination. Where was my body?' " And so on.
By his account, the first phase of Castaneda's apprenticeship lasted from 1961 to 1965, when, terrified that he was losing his sense of reality - and by now possessing thousands of pages of notes - he broke away from Don Juan. In 1968, when The Teachings appeared, he went down to Mexico again to give the old man a copy. A second cycle of instruction then began. Gradually Castaneda realized that Don Juan's use of psychotropic plants was not an end in itself, and that the sorcerer's way could be traversed without drugs.
But this entailed a perfect honing of the will. A man of knowledge, Don Juan insisted, could only develop by first becoming a "warrior" not literally a professional soldier, but a man wholly at one with his environment, agile, unencumbered by sentiment or "personal history". The warrior knows that each act may be his last. He is alone. Death is the root of his life, and in its constant presence he always performs "impeccably." This existential stoicism is a key idea in the books. The warrior's aim in becoming a "man of knowledge" and thus gaining membership as a sorcerer, is to "see." "Seeing," in Don Juan's system, means experiencing the world directly, grasping its essence, without interpreting it. Castaneda's second book, A Separate Reality, describes Don Juan's efforts to induce him to "see" with the aid of mushroom smoke. Journey to Ixtlan, though many of the desert experiences it recounts predate Castaneda's introduction to peyote, datura and mushrooms, deals with the second stage: "seeing" without drugs.
"The difficulty." says Castaneda, "is to learn to perceive with your whole body, not just with your eyes and reason. The world becomes a stream of tremendously rapid, unique events. So you must trim your body to make it a good receptor; the body is an awareness, and it must be treated impeccably." Easier said than done. Part of the training involved minutely, even piously attuning the senses to the desert, its animals and birds, its sounds and shadows, the shifts in its wind, and the places in which a shaman might confront its spirit entities: spots of power, holes of refuge. When Castaneda describes his education as a hunter and plant gatherer learning about the virtues of herbs, the trapping of rabbits, the narrative is absorbing. Don Juan and the desert enable him, sporadically and without drugs, to "see" or, as the Yaqui puts it "to stop the world." But such a state of interpretation free experience eludes description even for those who believe in Castaneda wholeheartedly.
SAGES. Not everybody can, does or will. But in some quarters Castaneda's works are extravagantly admired as a revival of a mode of cognition that has been largely neglected in the West, buried by materialism and Pascal's despair, since the Renaissance. Says Mike Murphy, a founder of the Esalen Institute: "The essential lessons Don Juan has to teach are the timeless ones that have been taught by the great sages of India and the spiritual masters of modern times." Author Alan Watts argues that Castaneda's books offer an alternative to both the guilt-ridden Judaeo-Christian and the blindly mechanistic views of man: "Don Juan's way regards man as something central and important. By not separating ourselves from nature we return to a position of dignity."
But such endorsements and parallels do not in any way validate 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.
Ever since The Teachings appeared, would be disciples and counterculture tourists have been combing Mexico for the old man. One awaits the first Don Juan Prospectors' Convention in the Brujo Bar BQ of the Mescalito Motel. Young Mexicans are excited to the point where the authorities may not even allow Castaneda's books to be released there in Spanish translation. Said one Mexican student who is himself pursuing Don Juan: "If the books do appear, the search for him could easily turn into a gold-rush stampede."
His teacher, Castaneda asserts, was born in 1891, and suffered in the diaspora of the Yaquis all over Mexico from the 1890s until the 1910 revolution. His parents were murdered by soldiers. He became a nomad. This helps explain why the elements of Don Juan's sorcery are a combination of shamanistic beliefs from several cultures. Some of them are not at all "representative" of the Yaquis. Many Indian tribes, such as the Huichols, use peyote ritually, both north and south of the border - some in a syncretic blend of Christianity and shamanism. But the Yaquis are not peyote users.
Don Juan, then, might be hard to find because he wisely shuns his pestering admirers. Or maybe he is a composite Indian, a collage of others. Or he could be a purely fictional shaman concocted by Castaneda.
Opinions differ widely and hotly, even among deep admirers of Castaneda's writing. "Is it possible that these books are nonfiction?" Novelist Joyce Carol Oates asks mildly. "They seem to me remarkable works of art on the Hesse-like theme of a young man's initiation into 'another way' of reality. They are beautifully constructed. The character of Don Juan is unforgettable. There is a novelistic momentum, rising, suspenseful action, a gradual revelation of character."
GULLIVER. True, Castaneda's books do read like a highly orchestrated Bildungsroman. But anthropologists worry less about literary excellence than about the shaman's elusiveness, as well as his apparent disconnection from the Yaquis. "I believe that basically the work has a very high percentage of imagination," says Jesus Ochoa, head of the department of ethnography at Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology. Snaps Dr. Francis Hsu of Northwestern University: "Castaneda is a new fad. I enjoyed the books in the same way that I enjoy Gulliver's Travels." But Castaneda's senior colleagues at U.C.L.A., who gave their former student a Ph.D. for Ixtlan, emphatically disagree: Castaneda, as one professor put it, is "a native genius," for whom the usual red tape and bureaucratic rigmarole were waived; his truth as a witness is not in question.
At the very least, though, it is clear that "Juan Matus" is a pseudonym used to protect his teacher's privacy. The need to be inaccessible and elusive is a central theme in the books. Time and again, Don Juan urges Castaneda to emulate him and free himself not only of daily routines, which dull perception, but of the imprisoning past itself. "Nobody knows my personal history," the old man explains in Ixtlan. "Nobody knows who I am or what I do. Not even I...we either take everything for sure and real, or we don't. If we follow the first path, we get bored to death with ourselves and the world. If we follow the second and erase personal history, we create a fog around us, a very exciting and mysterious state."
Unhappily for anyone hot for certainties about Carlos Castaneda's life, Don Juan's apprentice has taken the lesson very much to heart. After The Teachings became an underground bestseller, it was widely supposed that its author was El Freako the Acid Academic, all buckskin fringe and pinball eye, his brain a charred labyrinth lit by mysterious alkaloids, tripping through the desert with a crow on his hat. But Castaneda means chestnut grove, and the man looks a bit like a chestnut: a stocky, affable Latin American, 5 ft. 5 in., 150 lbs. and apparently bursting with vitamins. The dark curly hair is clipped short, and the eyes glisten with moist alertness. In dress, Castaneda is conservative to the point of anonymity, decking himself either in dark business suits or in Lee Trevino-type sports shirts. His plumage is words, which pour from him in a ceaseless, self-mocking and mesmeric flow. "Oh, I am a bullshitter!" he cackles, spreading his stubby, calloused hands. "Oh, how I love to throw the bull around!"
FOG. Castaneda says he does not smoke or drink hard liquor; he does not use marijuana; even coffee jangles him. He says he does not use peyote any more, and his only drug experiences took place with Don Juan. His own encounters with the acid culture have been unproductive. Invited to a 1964 East Village party that was attended by such luminaries as Timothy Leary, he merely found the talk absurd: "They were children, indulging in incoherent revelations. A sorcerer takes hallucinogens for a different reason than heads do, and after he has gotten where he wants to go, he stops taking them."
Castaneda's presentation of himself as Mr. Straight, it should be noted, could not be better designed to foil those who seek to know his own personal history. What, in fact, is his background? The "historical" Carlos Castaneda, anthropologist and apprentice shaman, begins when he met Don Juan in 1960; the books and his well-documented career at U.C.L.A. account for his life since. Before that, a fog.
In spending many hours with Castaneda over a matter of weeks, TIME Correspondent Sandra Burton found him attractive, helpful and convincing - up to a point - but very firm about warning that in talking about his pre-don Juan life he would change names and places and dates without, however, altering the emotional truth of his life. "I have not lied or contrived," he told her. "To contrive would be to pull back and not say anything or give the assurances that everybody seeks." As the talks continued, Castaneda offered several versions of his life, which kept changing as Burton presented him with the fact that much of his information did not check out, emotionally or otherwise.
By his own account, Castaneda was not his original name. He was born, he said, to a "well-known" but anonymous family in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Christmas Day, 1935. His father, who later became a professor of literature, was then 17, and his mother 15. Because his parents were so immature, little Carlos was packed off to be raised by his maternal grandparents on a chicken farm in the back country of Brazil.
When Carlos was six, his story runs, his parents took their only child back and lavished guilty affection on him. "It was a hellish year," he says flatly, "because I was living with two children." But a year later his mother died. The doctors' diagnosis was pneumonia, but Castaneda's is accidie, a condition of numbed inertia, which he believes is the cultural disease of the West. He offered a touching memory: "She was morose, very beautiful and dissatisfied, an ornament. My despair was that I wanted to make her something else, but how could she listen to me? I was only six."
Now Carlos was left with his father, a shadowy figure whom he mentions in the books with a mixture of fondness and pity shaded with contempt. His father's weakness of will is the obverse to the "impeccability" of his adopted father, Don Juan. Castaneda describes his father's efforts to become a writer as a farce of indecision. But, he adds, "I am my father. Before I met Don Juan I would spend years sharpening my pencils, and then getting a headache every time I sat down to write. Don Juan taught me that's stupid. If you want to do something, do it impeccably, that's all that matters.
Carlos was put in a "very proper" Buenos Aires boarding school, Nicolas Avellaneda. He says he stayed there till he was 15, acquiring the Spanish (he already spoke Italian and Portuguese) in which he would later interview Don Juan. But he became so unmanageable that an uncle, the family patriarch, had him placed with a foster family in Los Angeles. In 1951 he moved to the U.S. and enrolled at Hollywood High. Graduating about two years later, he tried a course in sculpture at Milan's Academy of Fine Arts, but "I did not have the sensitivity or the openness to be a great artist." Depressed, in crisis, he headed back to Los Angeles and started a course in social psychology at U.C.L.A, shifting later to an anthropology course. Says he: "I really threw my life out the window. I said to myself: If it's going to work, it must be new." In 1959 he formally changed his name to Castaneda.
BIOGRAPHY. Thus Castaneda's own biography. It creates an elegant consistency - the spirited young man moving from his academic background in an exhausted, provincial European culture toward revitalization by the shaman; the gesture of abandoning the past to disentangle himself from crippling memories. Unfortunately, it is largely untrue.
For between 1955 and 1959, Carlos Castaneda was enrolled, under that name, as a pre-psychology major at Los Angeles City College. His liberal arts studies included, in his first two years, two courses in creative writing and one in journalism. Vernon King, his creative writing professor at L.A.C.C., still has a copy of The Teachings inscribed "To a great teacher, Vernon King, from one of his students, Carlos Castaneda. "
Moreover, immigration records show that a Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda did indeed enter the U.S., at San Francisco, when the author says he did: in 1951. This Castaneda too was 5 ft. 5 in., weighed 140 lbs. and came from Latin America. But he was Peruvian, born on Christmas Day, 1925, in the ancient Inca town of Cajamarca, which makes him 48, not 38, this year. His father was not an academic, but a goldsmith and watchmaker named Cesar Arana Burungaray. His mother, Susana Castaneda Navoa, died not when Carlos was six, but when he was 24. Her son spent three years in the local high school in Cajamarca and then moved with his family to Lima in 1948, where he graduated from the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe and then studied painting and sculpture, not in Milan, but at the National Fine Arts School of Peru. One of his fellow students there Jose Bracamonte, remembers his pal Carlos as a resourceful blade who lived mainly off gambling (cards, horses, dice), and harbored "like an obsession" the wish to move to the U.S. "We all liked Carlos," recalls Bracamonte. "He was witty, imaginative, cheerful - a big liar and a real friend."
SISTER. Castaneda apparently wrote home sporadically, at least until 1969, the year after Don Juan came out. His Cousin Lucy Chavez, who was raised with him "like a sister," still keeps his letters. They indicate that he served in the U.S. Army, and left it after suffering a slight wound or "nervous shock" Lucy is not sure which. (The Defense Department, however, has no record of Carlos Arana Castaneda's service.)
When TIME confronted Castaneda with such details as the time and transposition of his mother's death, Castaneda was opaque. "One's feelings about one's mother," he declared, "are not dependent on biology or on time. Kinship as a system has nothing to do with feelings." Cousin Lucy recalls that when Carlos' mother did die, he was overwhelmed. He refused to attend the funeral, locked himself in his room for three days without eating. And when he came out announced he was leaving home. Yet Carlos' basic explanation of his lying generally is both perfect and totally unresponsive. "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics," he says, "is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all." In short, Castaneda lays claim to an absolute control over his identity.
Well and good. But where does a writer's license, the "artistic self-representation" Castaneda lays claim to, end? How far does it permeate his story of Don Juan? As the books' sales mount, the resistance multiplies. Three parodies of Castaneda have appeared in New York magazines and papers lately indicating that the critics seem to be preparing to skewer Don Juan as a kind of anthropological Ossian, the legendary third century Gaelic poet whose works James Macpherson foisted upon 18th century British readers.
Castaneda fans should not panic, however. 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 was submitted to a university press, an unlikely prospect for bestsellerdom. 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.
For that was certainly Castaneda's situation in the summer of 1960: a young Peruvian student with limited ambitions. There is no reason to doubt his account of how the work began. "I wanted to enter graduate school and do a good job of being an academic, and I knew that if I could publish a little paper beforehand, I'd have it made." One of his teachers at U.C.L.A., Professor Clement Meighan, had interested him in shamanism. Castaneda decided the easiest field would be ethnobotany, the classification of psychotropic plants used by sorcerers. Then came Don Juan.
The visits to the Southwest and the Mexican desert gradually became the spine of Castaneda's life. Impressed by his work, the U.C.L.A. staff offered him encouragement. Recalls Professor Meighan: "Carlos was the type of student a teacher waits for." Sociology professor Harold Garfinkel, one of the fathers of ethnomethodology, gave Castaneda constant stimulus and harsh criticism. After his first peyote experience (August 1961), Castaneda presented Garfinkel with a long "analysis" of his visions. "Garfinkel said, "Don't explain to me. You are a nobody. Just give it to me straight and in detail, the way it happened. The richness of detail is the whole story of membership." The abashed student spent several years revising his thesis, living off odd jobs as taxi driver and delivery boy, and sent it in again. Garfinkel was still unimpressed. "He didn't like my efforts to explain Don Juan's behavior psychologically. 'Do you want to be the darling of Esalen?' he asked." Castaneda rewrote the thesis a third time.
Like the various versions of Castaneda's life, the books are an invitation to consider contradictory kinds of truth. At the core of his books and Don Juan's method is, of course, the assumption that reality is not an absolute. It comes to each of us culturally determined, packaged in advance. "The world has been rendered coherent by our description of it," Castaneda argues, echoing Don Juan. "From the moment of birth, this world has been described for us. What we see is just a description. '
MULTIVERSE. In short, what men take as reality, as well as their notions of the world's rational possibilities, is determined by consensus, in effect by a social contract that varies from culture to culture. Through history, the road has been hard for any person who questions its fine print - especially if, like Castaneda, he tries to persuade others to accept his vision.
Anthropology by its nature deals with different descriptions, and hence literally with separate realities, within different cultures. As Castaneda's colleague Edmund Carpenter of Adelphi College notes, "Native people have many separate realities. They believe in a multiverse, or a biverse, but not a universe as we do." Yet even this much scholarly relativism is indigestible for many people who like to reassure themselves that there is only one world and that the "validity" of a culture's interpretations can and should be measured only against this norm. Any myth, they would say, can conveniently be seen as an embryonic form of what the West accepts as linear history; a Hopi rain dance is merely an "inefficient" way of doing what cloud-seeding does well.
Castaneda's books insist otherwise. He is eloquent and convincing on how useless it is to explain or judge another culture entirely in terms of one's own particular categories. "Suppose there was a Navajo anthropologist," he says. "It would be very interesting to ask him to study us. He would ask extraordinary questions, like 'How many in your kinship group have been bewitched?' That's a terribly important question in Navajo terms. And of course, you'd say 'I don't know,' and think 'What an idiotic question.' Meanwhile the Navajo is thinking, 'My God, what a creep! What a primitive creep!' "
Turn the situation around, Castaneda argues, and there is your typical Western anthropologist in the field. Yet a "very simple" alternative exists: the crux of anthropology is acquisition of real membership. "It's a hell of a lot of work," he says, explaining the years he spent with Don Juan. "What Don Juan did with me was simply this: he was making his sorcery membership available, handing down the necessary steps." Professor Michael Harner of The New School for Social Research, a friend of Castaneda's and an authority on shamanism, explains: "Most anthropologists only give the result. Instead of synthesizing the interviews, Castaneda takes us through the process."
It is not those years of study but the nature of the revelation he offers that has run Castaneda afoul of rationalists. To join another man's consensus of reality, one's own must go, and since nobody can easily abandon his own accustomed description it must be forcibly broken up. The historical precedents, even in the West, are abundant. Ever since the ecstatic mystery religions of Greece, our culture has been continually challenged by the wish to escape its own dominant properties: the linear, the categorical, the fixed.
Whether Carlos Castaneda is, as some leading scholars think, a major figure in an evolution of anthropology or only a brilliant novelist with unique knowledge of the desert and Indian lore, his work is to be reckoned with. And it goes on. At present, he is finishing the fourth and last volume of the Don Juan series, Tales of Power, scheduled for publication next year.
"POWER SPOT." It may confront, more clearly than the first three books, the final purpose of Don Juan's painful teachings: a special case of the ancient desire to know, propitiate and, if possible, use the mysterious forces of the universe. In that pursuit, the splitting of the atom, the sin of Prometheus and Castaneda's search for a "power spot" near Los Angeles can all be remotely linked. A good deal of the magic Don Juan works on Castaneda in the books (making Carlos believe his car has disappeared, for instance) sounds like the kind of fakir rope trickery that gurus think frivolous. Yet all in all, the books communicate a primal sense of power running through the world, arranging our perceptions of reality like so many iron filings in a huge magnetic field.
A sorcerer's power, Castaneda insists, is "unimaginable," but the extent to which a sorcerer's apprentice can hope to use it is determined by, among other things, the degree of his commitment. The full use of power can only be acquired with the help of an "ally", a spirit entity which attaches itself to the student as a guide - of a dangerous sort. The ally challenges the apprentice when he learns to "see," as Castaneda did in the earlier books. The apprentice may duck this battle. For if he wrestles with the ally - like Jacob with the Angel - and loses, he will, in Don Juan's slightly enigmatic terms, "be snuffed out." But if he wins, his reward is "true power the final acquisition of sorcery membership, when all interpretation ceases."
Up to now, Castaneda claims, he has chosen to duck the final battle with an ally. He admits to an inner struggle on the matter. Sometimes, he says, he feels strongly tugged away from the commitment to sorcery and back into the mundane world. He has a very real urge to be a respected writer and anthropologist, and to use his new-found power of fame in tandem with the printed word to go on communicating glimpses of other realities to hungry readers.
APEX. Moreover, like most men who have explored mystical separate realities and returned, he seems to have reentry problems. According to the books, Don Juan taught him to abandon regular hours - for work or play - and even in his apartment in Los Angeles he apparently eats and sleeps as whim occurs, or slips off to the desert. But he often works at his writing as many as 18 hours a day. He has great skill at avoiding the public. No one can be sure where he will be at any given time of day, or year. "Carlos will call you from a phone booth," says Michael Korda, his editor at Simon & Schuster, "and say he is in Los Angeles. Then the operator will cut in for more change, and it turns out to be Yuma." His few good friends do not give his whereabouts away to would-be acolytes, in part because his own experience is mysterious and he can't explain it. He has a girl friend but not even his friends know her last name. He avoids photographers like omens of disaster. "I live in this inflow of very strange people that are waiting for a word from me. They expect something that I can't give at all. I had a class in Irvine that was very large, and it looked like they were just waiting for me to crack up."
At other moments he seems decided to be a true sorcerer or bust. "Power takes care of you," he says, "and you don't know how. Now I'm at the edge, and I have to change my whole format. Writing to get my Ph.D. was my accomplishment, my sorcery, and now I am at the apex of a cycle that includes the notoriety. But this is the last thing I will ever write about Don Juan. Now I am going to be a sorcerer for sure. Only my death could stop that." It is a romantic role, this anthropological gesture across a pit of entities which, in a different age, would have been called demons. Will Castaneda become the Dr. Faustus of Malibu Beach, attended by Mephistopheles in a sombrero? Stay tuned in for the next episode. In the meantime, his books have made it hard for readers ever to use the word primitive patronizingly again.
© Copyright Time Magazine Publication Date: March 5th, 1973