Every aspect of Carlos Castaneda's life, from his literary credibility and marital history to his place of birth and circumstances of death, are shrouded in mystery. Born Carlos Aranha, Castaneda graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, and soon after he published the first of eight best-selling novels detailing his purported apprenticeship with a Yaqui Indian wizard named Don Juan Matus. Castaneda's books, among them The Techniques of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and The Wheel of Time: The Shamans of Ancient Mexico, Their Thoughts about Life, Death and the Universe, have sold over eight million copies, in 17 languages, around the world. Little is known about Castaneda's personal life. He was briefly married to Margaret Runyan in 1960. They only lived together as man and wife for six months before going to Mexico for a divorce. In 1973, after realizing that their first divorce was not legal, Castaneda and Runyan were formally divorced. Castaneda died of cancer on April 27, 1998, at his home in Westwood, California. His death was kept a secret for more than two months before word of it was finally leaked to the press. (Bowker Author Biography) — biography from The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge… (more)
Carlos Castaneda was the enigmatic author of several best-selling books about the mystical teachings of don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman from Sonora, Mexico, first introduced to audiences in 1968's The Teachings of don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Castaneda's other books continued the story, with don Juan (or his companion, don Genaro) playing the wise descendant of ancient Mexican shamans and Castaneda playing the dim but earnest student. The short version: Castaneda met don Juan at a bus station in Arizona in 1960 and learned that ingesting peyote in the desert opened doors to new perspectives on reality. Castaneda, though, had a tough time overcoming his Western rationalism and grasping ancient Mexican mystical stuff. His books about don Juan were originally presented as a scholarly anthropological study, but Castaneda's credibility gradually came to be called into question. To this day the debate goes on -- was Castaneda a brilliant anthropologist and philosopher, or was he a world class charlatan? He kept his own life story a mystery, but it is generally accepted that he was born in Peru, immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s, attended college in Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen in 1957. His experiences in the early '60s, on which the first books are based, remain clouded in mystery. The only thing that is certain is that his books, true or not, struck a chord with the public. His best-selling books include A Separate Reality (1971), The Eagle's Gift (1981), The Fire From Within (1984) and The Art of Dreaming (1993).