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Carlos Castaneda (1) (1925–1998)

Author of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

For other authors named Carlos Castaneda, see the disambiguation page.

34+ Works 15,015 Members 148 Reviews

About the Author

Image credit: Carlos Castaneda


Works by Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan (1972) 2,135 copies, 22 reviews
A Separate Reality (1968) 2,046 copies, 12 reviews
Tales of Power (1974) 1,483 copies, 13 reviews
The Second Ring of Power (1977) 1,024 copies, 6 reviews
The Art of Dreaming (1993) 870 copies, 6 reviews
The Eagle's Gift (1981) 866 copies, 11 reviews
The Fire from Within (1984) 802 copies, 9 reviews
The Power of Silence (1987) 728 copies, 6 reviews
The Active Side of Infinity (1998) 415 copies, 8 reviews

Associated Works

The Portable Sixties Reader (2002) — Contributor — 331 copies, 2 reviews


(67) American literature (49) anthropology (562) Carlos Castaneda (105) Castaneda (289) consciousness (49) Don Juan (136) dreams (56) drugs (125) esoteric (86) fantasy (72) fiction (472) gone (97) hallucinogens (49) literature (81) magic (61) metaphysics (86) Mexico (174) mysticism (365) Native American (91) New Age (204) non-fiction (363) novel (59) occult (164) paperback (55) philosophy (486) psychedelics (48) psychology (99) read (88) religion (329) shaman (53) shamanism (793) sorcery (117) spiritual (98) spirituality (573) to-read (276) Toltec (51) unread (46) Yaqui (67) Yaqui Indians (52)

Common Knowledge

Legal name
Arana Castañeda, Carlos César Salvador
Date of death
Peru (birth)
USA (naturalized | 1957)
Cajamarca, Perú
Place of death
Los Angeles, California, USA
University of California, Los Angeles
Wallace, Amy (lover)
Short biography
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).



An interesting fiction played as if it were reality amplifying the meaning of tripping. Where some might find the consciousness transformation fascinating to me it os much like sci-fi but the plot wasn’t very good.
yates9 | 41 other reviews | Feb 28, 2024 |
Well, I’ve finally found the combination of dope and spirituality I’ve been looking for in works such as The Joyous Cosmology by Alan Watts, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley, and why I perused the works (I inherited a full set of books from my late uncle) of Thomas Merton (I found him distasteful in that he hid behind God on every other page and esp. after reading his poem God of Death putting his Islamophobia plain). I do have Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincy still sitting on my reading table. However, I have been universally disappointed by all the previously mentioned works, and as mentioned in the Teachings Don Juan, they failed in that they forgot what they saw and heard while under the influence thus failing to achieve knowledge of the trip. Now, I’m not a big dope fiend but I do occasionally indulge (legally) though I rarely experience out of the ordinary for the commonalities of the experience(s). As for the truthfulness or accuracy of the drug trips in this book, well, there may be room for doubt.
Some of my favorite quotes dealing with the trippy part are:
“The difficulty of the ingredients,” he proceeded suddenly, “makes the smoke mixture one of the most dangerous substances I know. No one can prepare it without being coached. It is deadly poisonous to anyone except the smoke’s protégé! Pipe and mixture ought to be treated with intimate care. And the man attempting to learn must prepare himself by leading a hard, quiet life. Its effects are so dreadful that only a very strong man can stand the smallest puff. Everything is terrifying and confusing at the outset, but every new puff makes things more precise.” [pg.69]
[…] I told him I could see in the dark.
He stared at me for a long time without saying a word; if he did speak, perhaps I did not hear him, for I was concentrating on my new, unique ability to see in the dark. I could distinguish the very minute pebbles in the sand. At moments everything was so clear it seemed to be early morning, or dusk. Then it would get dark; then it would clear again. Soon I realized that the brightness corresponded to my heart’s diastole, and the darkness to its systole. The world changed from bright to dark to bright again with every beat of my heart.
I was absorbed in this discovery when the same strange sound that I had heard before became audible again. My muscles stiffened. [pg.98]
The sound of my voice did not project out, but hit the roof of my palate, bounced back in to [sic] my throat, and echoed to and fro between them. The echo was soft and musical, and seemed to have wings that flapped inside my throat. Its touch soothed me. I followed its back-and-forth movements until it had vanished. [pg.96]
This work purports (more on that later) to be a “true” record in the form of a young anthropologist student’s (Carlos Casteneda’s) diary documenting his time spent learning as an acolyte of a Yaqui (a Native American ethnic group in Mexico where this story takes place) shaman named Don Juan in the text. For the most part, this book is very readable, and the narrative moves at a good pace. This is not a boring book granted most of the action is contained in the shamanistic drug trips of its protagonist culminating in a “battle” with a disguised witch. I enjoyed the first section of the book.
The second section, however, is not really good reading, it’s an analysis of the previous text and the logical structuring of the basis of Don Juan’s teachings. It is somewhat interesting but can be skipped as the tone of this last part of the book is whiplash from vibrant descriptive content to a very dry scholarly and analytical blandness. Don’t get me wrong, it does help to clarify some aspects of the previous section, but it does detract a little from the reading experience of the first three-fourths of the book.
Are there tidbits of wisdom in this book? A few, I guess.
“Is the smoke the best possible ally for everybody?”
“It’s not the same for everybody. Many fear it and won’t touch it, or even get close to it. The smoke is like everything else; it wasn’t made for all of us.” [pg.68]
There’s even a little advice for the majority of people on the internet:
“No! I’m never angry at anybody! No human being can do anything important enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel that their acts are important. I don’t feel that way any longer.” [pg.72]
I might share a little personal sentiment here in the context of the net.
And then hilariously (and smartly):
I followed him. He walked around the house, making a complete clockwise circle. He stopped at the porch and circled the house again, this time going counterclockwise and again returning to the porch. He stood motionless for some time, and then sat down.
I was conditioned to believe that everything he did had some meaning. I was wondering about the significance of circling the house when he said, “Hey! I have forgotten where I put it.” [pg.77]
Would I recommend this book? Well, first, this book is considered entirely fictional for good reason which I was aware of when I dove in. However, I still found the main text of the book (the first section) compelling and interesting. This is despite the book being nowhere near factual when it comes to anything concerning the Yaqui people of Mexico. The shamanistic beliefs represented in the narrative are (admittedly by the author) based on Toltec shamanic beliefs (according to Wikipedia). There are also several other books published that refute the anthropological truth of the work.
So, would I still recommend this book? Yes, I liked it and taking this as a work of fiction does lessen the impact a little, but it was a fun read, at least to me. However, remember that datura is definitely toxic, and knowing that this book is entirely fiction, DO NOT take this book as a guide to consuming such a dangerous plant. Otherwise, this book is interesting as a hero’s journey of a young, educated skeptic into the “non-ordinary reality” of sorcery via the ritual consumption of peyote buttons, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and bits of the deadly datura plant.
“The desire to learn is not ambition,” he said. “It is our lot as men to want to know, but to seek the devil’s weed is to bid for power, and that is ambition, because you are not bidding to know. Don’t let the devil’s weed blind you. She has hooked you already. She entices men and gives them a sense of power; she makes them feel they can do things that no ordinary man can. But that is her trap. And, the next thing, the path without a heart will turn against men and destroy them. It does not take much to die, and to seek death is to seek nothing.” [pg.161]
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Ranjr | 41 other reviews | Nov 29, 2023 |
An interesting look a certain kind of folk religion.
mykl-s | 12 other reviews | Aug 4, 2023 |
I read this book in the 1970s and have recently re-read it.

Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998) wrote a series of twelve books about Mexican sorcery. They remain controversial because some think that Castaneda made it all up, but he maintained that this is a true account of his experiences as an apprentice and, later, a sorcerer.

“Journey to Ixtlan” is the third book in the series after “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” and “A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan.” The first book describes Castaneda’s attempt in the early 1960s to study Native American use of psychotropic plants, working with don Juan Matus (1892?-1972?). The premise of “Journey” is that, by the early ’70s, Castaneda realized that he left out of the earlier books too much of what don Juan taught him, so he sets the record straight.

In his introduction, Castaneda claims that he never said that Juan Matus’ system of magic was linked to the traditions of the Yaqui tribe. It turns out to be a shared system that transcends tribal affiliation. Castaneda’s critics had pointed out that nothing in don Juan’s teachings fit with what is generally known about Yaqui tribal tradition. Castaneda’s rejoinder belies the fact that he did subtitle his first book “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” an implicit claim that don Juan’s teachings belong to this tribe. IMHO, Castaneda should have admitted that, when he published his first book in 1968, he made an honest if embarrassing mistake in attributing what don Juan taught him to Yaqui tradition.

A standard practice of anthropologists is to choose an informant from the community under study to help explain the customs and structure of the society from the inside. As “Journey” demonstrates, don Juan was an uncooperative informant, refusing to answer basic questions that might have cleared up the misunderstandings that bedevil Castaneda’s scholarship. Don Juan and Carlos (Castaneda is conventionally referred to by his first name when he becomes a character in his own books) are comically at cross purposes from the start. While the anthropologist is trying to recruit don Juan as his informant, the sorcerer is trying to recruit Carlos as his apprentice.

In hindsight, Carlos should have known that he was being recruited. He feels that don Juan is hectoring him about changing his lifestyle, and there is no reason for it other than that it is a necessary condition of their association and, besides, it is somehow for Carlos’ own good.

In Don Juan’s world, people not only must defend themselves from the familiar physical dangers – natural disasters, accidents, dangerous animals and bad people – but also from dangerous spirits and other unseen, malevolent forces. It turns out that there are no safe spaces in eternity (or “infinity” as Castaneda and don Juan call it). Interestingly, don Juan tames and uses “allies” or spirits similarly to ancient Greek and Persian magicians I have read about. Rituals and spells are means to gain control over spirits which are then used to enhance the magician’s power.

In don Juan’s universe, you don’t attain immortality by leading a good life but by leading an “impeccable” one, seeking knowledge and power, putting aside all considerations that are extraneous to that goal. Though there does seem to be some sort of karmic justice: it is better to be good than evil (For example, the sorcerer is said to be harmed by his own hatreds.), but being careless with the supernatural is worse than being a bad person.

“Journey” is about the preparations for leaving behind the mundane world. To expose oneself to supernatural power, which can be invigorating and terrifying all at once, the would-be sorcerer must learn to focus only on what matters, facing the fact of one's mortality and responsibility for one's own actions. Each chapter introduces a different component of this task. In exercising these disciplines, the line between the social, natural and supernatural blurs; the sorcerer must be just as inaccessible to people who would sap his vitality as to supernatural forces that would do the same or worse.

Along the way, don Juan evinces great flexibly in his teaching methods. When teaching Carlos about plants is not working, don Juan instead teaches him about hunting animals, to which the apprentice proves to be better suited. Don Juan is a master hunter, stalking prey with detailed knowledge of their habits, building traps from sticks and stones he finds in the semi-arid plains and mountains, cleaning and cooking what he catches. He is able to live off the land with an ease that would make any graduate of survival training jealous. He drops tidbits of wisdom such as that the hunter must have fewer bad habits than the prey; when animals elude otherwise powerful predators, it is often because the prey are less predictable than the predators.

The concept of “seeing” in the special sense in which a “man of knowledge” such as don Juan “sees” was introduced in “A Separate Reality” where don Juan taught Carlos that “seeing” is more than merely looking. In order “to see,” one must "not-do" or “stop the world,” that is, end the routine mental habits of perception handed to us since childhood. This is Carlos’ quest in this book as his incredulity is eroded by experiences with the supernatural. In one sequence, he spends a night surrounded by fog, rain, thunder and lightning, plus the utter blackness between lightning bolts. In the morning he awakens to find himself in a forest that is altogether different from the place where he fell asleep. Did don Juan carry him there? Was the dried meat he was eating the day before laced with a drug that made him imagine the place where he thought he fell asleep the previous night? Or did something magical actually take place?

Later in the book, don Juan turns Carlos over to don Genaro Flores, who was introduced in, “A Separate Reality.” Don Genaro makes Carlos begin to let go of his doubts. The distinction is made between Carlos’ body, which wises up under don Genaro’s manipulation, and his mind, which is still doubtful. When Carlos’ body is thus readied, don Juan orders him to go into the hills and not come back until his mind catches up with his body. Bravely, Carlos goes, despite having no idea what he must do. On his second day in the wilderness, he has three strange experiences: 1) he communicates telepathically with a friendly coyote; 2) he sees a phantom man out of the corner of his eye; and 3) he has a vision of the landscape covered with glowing lines.

Don Juan later tells him that the coyote is now Carlos’ special companion, which, he adds, is unfortunate because coyotes are tricksters and liars. Otherwise, Carlos is told that he did very well. His vision of the glowing filaments was a kind of "seeing." The “man” that he almost saw was an ally or spirit. The next step in Carlos’ apprenticeship will be to tackle the ally and acquire power from him. At the end of the book, Carlos must decide for himself whether he is ready or not to attempt this. Before he decides, don Genaro tells him a story about the first time that he overpowered an ally. Afterward, Genaro felt imbued with magical power, but the price he paid was never being able to find his way back to the town of Ixtlan, and that is the meaning of the title of this book. As Thomas Wolf might say, once you have changed, you can’t go home again.
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MilesFowler | 21 other reviews | Jul 16, 2023 |



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