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Carlos Castañeda 1962
|Born||Carlos César Salvador Arana Castañeda|
December 25, 1925
|Died||April 27, 1998 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Carlos Castañeda 1962
|Born||Carlos César Salvador Arana Castañeda|
December 25, 1925
|Died||April 27, 1998 (aged 72)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968, Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his alleged training in shamanism. The books, narrated in the first person, relate his supposed experiences under the tutelage of a Yaqui "Man of Knowledge" named Don Juan Matus. His 11 books have sold more than 28 million copies in 17 languages. Critics have suggested that they are works of fiction; supporters claim the books are either true or at least valuable works of philosophy and descriptions of practices which enable an increased awareness.
Castaneda withdrew from public view in 1973 to work further on his inner development, living in a large house with three women ("Fellow Travellers of Awareness") who were ready to cut their ties to family and changed their names. He founded Cleargreen, an organization that promoted tensegrity, purportedly a traditional Toltec regimen of spiritually powerful exercises.
Castaneda's first three books – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality; and Journey to Ixtlan – were written while he was an anthropology student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He wrote these books as his research log describing his apprenticeship with a traditional "Man of Knowledge" identified as don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico. Castaneda was awarded his bachelor's and doctoral degrees based on the work described in these books.
In 1974 his fourth book, Tales of Power, was published and chronicled the end of his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Matus. Castañeda continued to be popular with the reading public with subsequent publications.
In his books, Castaneda narrates in first person the events leading to and following after his meeting Matus, a half-Yaqui "Man of Knowledge", in 1960. Castaneda's experiences with Matus inspired the works for which he is known. He also says the sorcerer bequeathed him the position of nagual, or leader of a party of seers. He also used the term "nagual" to signify that part of perception which is in the realm of the unknown yet still reachable by man, implying that, for his party of seers, Don Juan was a connection in some way to that unknown. Castañeda often referred to this unknown realm as nonordinary reality.
The term "nagual" has been used by anthropologists to mean a shaman or sorcerer who claims to be able to change into an animal form, or to metaphorically "shift" into another form through magic rituals, shamanism and experiences with psychoactive drugs (e.g., peyote and jimson weed – Datura stramonium).
Immigration records for Carlos César Salvador Arana Castañeda indicate that he was born on 25 December 1925 in Cajamarca, Peru. His first family name, Arana, is the paternal one, inherited from his father's paternal family name, César Arana Burungaray; while the second family name, Castañeda, is the maternal one, inherited from his mother's paternal family name, Susana Castañeda Navoa. His maternal surname appears with the ñ in many Hispanic dictionaries, even though his famous published works display an anglicized version. He moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen in 1957. In January 1960 Carlos married Margaret Runyan. Even though there are many rumors of a divorce in 1973, they were actually never divorced and were still married at the time of Carlos's death in 1998. On August 12, 1961, Carlton Jeremy Castaneda was born in Hollywood, California. Carlos spoke of CJ as his biological son and is listed on the younger Castaneda's birth certificate as his father.
In all, twelve books by Castaneda were published, two posthumously.
Castaneda was the subject of a cover article in the March 5, 1973 issue of Time. The article described him as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery." When confronted by correspondent Sandra Burton about discrepancies in his personal history, Castaneda responded by saying: "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics...is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all". The interviewer wrote that "Castaneda makes the reader experience the pressure of mysterious winds and the shiver 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." Following that interview, Castaneda retired from public view.
In the 1990s Castaneda once again began appearing in public to promote Tensegrity, a group of movements that he claimed had been passed down by 25 generations of Toltec shamans. On 16 June 1995, articles of incorporation executed by George Short were filed to create Cleargreen Incorporated. The Cleargreen statement of purpose says in part, "Cleargreen is a corporation that has a twofold purpose. First, it sponsors and organizes seminars and workshops on Carlos Castaneda's Tensegrity, and second, it is a publishing house." Cleargreen published three videos of Tensegrity movements while Castaneda was alive. Castaneda himself did not appear in these videos.
Castaneda died on April 27, 1998 in Los Angeles due to complications from hepatocellular cancer. There was no public service; Castaneda was cremated and the ashes were sent to Mexico. It was not until nearly two months later, on 19 June 1998, that an obituary entitled "A Hushed Death for Mystic Author Carlos Castaneda" by staff writer J. R. Moehringer appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Four months after Castaneda's death, C. J. Castaneda, also known as Adrian Vashon, whose birth certificate claims Carlos Castaneda as his father, challenged Castaneda's will in probate court. For many years Castaneda had referred to Vashon as his son. The will was signed two days before Castaneda's death and Vashon challenged its authenticity. The challenge was ultimately unsuccessful.
After Castaneda stepped away from public view in 1973, he bought a large house in Los Angeles which he shared with three of his female companions. The women broke off relationships with friends and family when they joined Castaneda's group. They also refused to be photographed and took new names: Regina Thal became Florinda Donner-Grau, Maryann Simko became Taisha Abelar and Kathleen Pohlman became Carol Tiggs.
In the early 1990s, Florinda Donner-Grau and Taisha Abelar published two books purporting to describe their experiences with Don Juan and his party. Together with Carol Tiggs, they appeared and sometimes lectured at many of the Tensegrity workshops that began in July 1993, and Donner-Grau and Abelar appeared at book signings and gave occasional lectures and radio interviews as well.
Shortly after Castaneda died, Donner-Grau and Abelar disappeared, along with Patricia Partin. Amalia Marquez (also known as Talia Bey) and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl had their phones disconnected and also disappeared. On August 2, 1998, Carol spoke at a workshop in Ontario. The remains of Partin, also referred to by Castaneda as Nury Alexander and/or Claude, were found in 2003 near where her abandoned car had been discovered a few weeks after Castaneda's death in 1998, on the edge of Death Valley. Her remains were in a condition requiring DNA identification, which was made in 2006.
Because the women had cut all ties with family and friends, it was some time before people noticed they were missing. There has been no official investigation into the disappearances of Donner-Grau, Simko and Lundahl. Luis Marquez, the brother of Talia Bey, went to police in 1999 over his sister's disappearance, but was unable to convince them that her disappearance merited investigation. Their opinion changed in 2006 after the remains of Patricia Partin were identified, and the LAPD finally added Bey to their missing person database.
Despite the widespread popularity of his works, some critics questioned the validity of Castaneda's books as early as 1969. In a series of articles, international banker and amateur mycologist R. Gordon Wasson, who had originally praised Castaneda's work, questioned the accuracies of Castaneda's botanical claims.
In 1976, Scientologist author Richard de Mille published Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory, in which he argues, "Logical or chronological errors in the narrative constitute the best evidence that Castaneda's books are works of fiction. If no one has discovered these errors before, the reason must be that no one has listed the events of the first three books in sequence. Once that has been done, the errors are unmistakable." On these showings de Mille asserts, The Teachings of Don Juan and Journey to Ixtlan (his third book) cannot both be factual reports.
For his part, Castaneda in the introduction to A Separate Reality, his second book, addressed the incomprehensible nature of his experiences as only being able to be understood in the context of the alien system of perception from which they arose, suggesting that his books are by their very nature contradictory and incomprehensible (as to time and place especially) to academic and critical inquiry.
In a 1968 radio interview with Theodore Rosak, Castaneda, while confirming that his mystical experiences were absolutely true to life, did explain that he took some chronological license in his writing about actual events: "The way the books present it seems to heighten some dramatic sequences, which is, I'm afraid, not true to real life. There are enormous gaps in between in which ordinary things took place, that are not included. I didn't include in the book because they did not pertain to the system I wanted to portray, so I just simply took them away, you see. And that means that the gaps between those very heightened states, you know, whatever, says that I remove things that are continuous crescendos, in kind of sequence leading to a very dramatic solution. But in real life it was a very simple matter because it took years between, months pass in between them, and in the meantime we did all kinds of things. We even went hunting. He (Don Juan) told me how to trap things, set traps, very old, old ways of setting a trap, and how to catch rattlesnakes. He told me how to prepare rattlesnakes, in fact. And so that eases up, you see, the distrust or the fear."
Castaneda's works were presented as real-life accounts, but critics held that they were fictional. At first, and with the backing of academic qualifications and the UCLA anthropological department, Castaneda's work was critically acclaimed. Notable anthropologists like Edward Spicer (1969) and Edmund Leach (1969) praised Castaneda, alongside more alternative and young anthropologists such as Peter Furst, Barbara Myerhoff and Michael Harner.
The authenticity of Don Juan was accepted for six years, until Richard de Mille and Daniel Noel both published their critical exposés of the Don Juan books in 1976. Most anthropologists had been convinced of Castaneda's authenticity until then – indeed, they had had little reason to question it – but some averred that de Mille's analysis disproved the veracity of Castaneda's work. Later anthropologists specializing in Yaqui Indian culture (William Curry Holden, Jane Holden Kelley and Edward H. Spicer), who originally supported Castaneda's account as true, questioned the accuracies of Castaneda's work.
Others[who?] (including Dr. Clement Meighan) point out that the books largely, and for the most part, do not pretend to describe Yaqui culture at all with its emphasis on Catholic upbringing and conflict with the Federal State of Mexico, but rather focus on the international movements and life of Don Juan who was described in the books as traveling and having many connections, and abodes, in the Southwestern United States (Arizona), Northern Mexico, and Oaxaca. Don Juan was described in the books as a shaman steeped in a mostly lost Toltec philosophy and decidedly anti-catholic. Dr. Clement Meighan, one of Castaneda's professors at UCLA, and an acknowledged expert on Indian culture in the U.S A., Mexico, and other areas in North America, up to his death, never doubted that Castaneda's work was based upon authentic contact with and observations of Indians. Later, Miguel Ruiz also verified the existence of Indian "Brujos" in Mexico with native teachings much like Don Juan's.
In The Power and the Allegory, De Mille compared The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge with Castaneda's library stack requests at the University of California. The stack requests documented that he was sitting in the library when allegedly his journal said he was squatting in Don Juan's hut. One discovery that de Mille alleges to have made in his examination of the stack requests was that when Castaneda was alleged to have said that he was participating in the traditional peyote ceremony – (the least fantastic of many episodes of drug use that Castaneda described in his books) – he was sitting in the UCLA library and he was reading someone else's description of their experience of the peyote ceremony. Other criticisms of Castaneda's work include the total lack of Yaqui vocabulary or terms for any of his experiences.
A March 5, 1973 Time article by Sandra Burton, looking at both sides of the controversy, stated:
... 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.
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 were 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.
David Silverman sees value in the work even while considering it fictional. In Reading Castaneda he describes the apparent deception as a critique of anthropology field work in general – a field that relies heavily on personal experience, and necessarily views other cultures through a lens. According to Silverman, not only the descriptions of peyote trips but also the fictional nature of the work are meant to place doubt on other works of anthropology.
Two other authors, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, wrote books in which they claimed to be from Matus' party of Toltec warriors. Both Abelar and Donner-Grau were endorsed by Castaneda as being legitimate students of Matus, whereas he dismissed all other writers as pretenders. The two women were part of Castaneda's inner circle, which he referred to as "The Brujas," and both assumed different names as part of their dedication to their new beliefs. They were originally both graduate students in anthropology at UCLA.
Felix Wolf, one of Carlos Castaneda's apprentices and translators, wrote The Art of Navigation: Travels with Carlos Castaneda and Beyond. In his book Wolf details how his life had been transformed by his association with Castaneda. While touching on all aspects of the teachings, Wolf highlights what he perceives to be the overriding and essential transmission that came through Castaneda's work: The Art of Navigation.
In Carlos Castaneda e a Fenda entre os Mundos – Vislumbres da Filosofia Ānahuacah no Século XXI Brazilian writer Luis Carlos de Morais analyzes the work of Carlos Castaneda, its cultural implications, and its continuation in other authors.