Carlos Castaneda: What is Fake?

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Francesco Sammarco, Life Arts Media
Waking Times

Castaneda, Don Juan, Tibetan Master Norbu, Parmenides, Liars, Infinity and Ayahuasca

Tibetan Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, world authority on Dzogchen Buddhism, about 3 decades ago, in the early 80′s, reportedly said – during a retreat in the very first community that he founded in Italy (Arcidoss, Tuscany) in 1982 – that “the way of Castaneda is the closest possible to Dzogchen Buddhism” (Cosimo Di Maggio, personal communication). Ten years later, in 1992, Norbu wrote “Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light”, and in 1993 appeared Castaneda’s “The Art of Dreaming”. An interesting coincidence.

“Whatever is profound, loves masks […] every profound spirit needs a mask.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Scholars, journalists, academics and detractors alike all love the tale of Castaneda’s – and his main teacher, the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan – being a fraud. It’s far too easy to stop to the first three books of Castaneda, and then think it’s all made up. There is much more than those three books and Don Juan – whomever he may have been – in Castaneda. There is a wealth of knowledge going through the very end of his work, through his last books, public seminars, all the way through “The Way of the Warrior: A Journey of Applied Hermeneutics” which non-specialist detractors might not be overly familiar with, not to count the previous (unauthorized yet intriguing) spontaneous “Nagualist Newsletter” platform.

What is fake? Saying that we live in a world where death is the hunter? That we are surrounded by infinity and yet do not have time? Or that we live in an unfathomable universe and in a very mysterious world? That sorcerers discovered the existence of the ‘flyers’, predatory creatures and energetic parasites? That our earth is a gigantic living sentient being? That a warrior should use death as an adviser and choose to walk a path with a heart? That we ought to be fluid, unpredictable, free from routines, practice ‘not doing’ and prepare ourselves for the final journey to infinity? Or else, more, that we should recapitulate our lives to free old, trapped energy? Or even that we ought to practice Chinese martial arts? This list could go on forever, and I will just add we were told of ‘Mescalito’ as being a teacher and a protector, then to loose personal importance, erasing our personal history, and the solidity of our world being, merely, an illusion. It’s the destiny of all profound spirits to be misunderstood and not be welcomed by their time. Our society, our world, our trapped consciousness and awareness is too immature and too unprepared to accept the full blow of the Nagualist teachings of Don Carlos and Don Juan to our consolidated sense of reality.


  • Sure, Carlos indulged with lots of women, and this might not have been really part of the Toltec teachings…but that was his predilection. So did ancient Chinese emperors, Taoist alchemists, masters and sages pursuing their path to immortality. True, he may have gone a bit too far in dismantling the sense of personal importance of his female “favourites”, often queuing up for the privilege of being the chosen ones, and have an intimate encounter with their enlightened master. At times it all looked much a power game. And may be – at times – it was. He exercised his personal power (of which, at some point, he had a lot). And – in the process – also manifested with them another attribute of the Toltec Nagualist teachings of Don Juan: ruthlessness.

    There is a disturbing element out there – namely, the presumed disappearance and suicide of his female cohort-s, after his death (?) – an element this, which might not necessarily have been part of the original teachings of Don Juan, as they were passed on to Carlos at least.
    We may choose to see this event in a few different ways. Either as a failed attempt to reach the Nagual and abruptly resulting in the physical (& energetic) death of all of his cohorts. Or else, as a partially successful attempt to reach the Nagual, however, resulting in the physical (& energetic) death of his adopted daughter, yet, accompanied by the ultimate flight to freedom of the rest of his female clan (their bodies, remember, have never been found and might have accomplished the supreme feat of turning into conscious energy and join the realm of inorganic beings). Or else more, we may choose to see this cult suicide-s as an act of blind loyalty of people – Castaneda’s female cohorts – who have been misguided by a sorcerer who indulged in dark practices and was warned several times by Don Juan not to mingle too much with the realm of inorganic beings.

    But then, what do we know? Warriors burning with a fire from within and turning themselves into conscious energy (at the magical time of death) imply that their bodies will physically disappear? Or will their bodies and bones remain on this earth and decay, whilst their consciousness is transformed, maintained and transported on to other energetic levels and continues to exist in infinity, maintaining its individuality? That is, the final journey to freedom?

    Aside from the bones shown in the BBC documentary made in 2008 no much is known about the final destiny of the ‘witches’. Did they reach Freedom?? It may take a Nagual to answer these questions, or perhaps some good, revelatory Ayahuasca sessions may do it.  I just recollect the words of Don Juan: “Some men of knowledge deliberately choose death”.  To live or to die made no difference to those people. He personally chose to live as he liked laughing, but not because this was better on an absolute scale of values. Yet, this is not to be taken as a universal truth for everybody either, as this is related to the ‘man of knowledge’, only. And at some point Don Juan also tells us that “to look for death is to look for nothing”. So, as in all great traditions of knowledge, there is ambiguity.

    Even the ancient oracles, including the famous Greek one at Delphi, were intrinsically and dangerously ambiguous. This ambiguity is not Castaneda’s own trademark, is the ambiguity of teachings that come from other, non-human, worlds and realities. Parmenides was an initiate in the cult of Apollo Oulios (‘Apollo the Healer’, as well as ‘Apollo the Destroyer’) at Velia and also his priest. He was a healer, a scientist, a sage, a philosopher and expert in the ancient practice of incubation. He is more famous for being considered by modern scholarship as the “father of logic”, that is, for being with his rational thought and teachings, at the very fabric of our Western world. Yet Parmenides is the same man who received by an unnamed goddess, during his magical, ecstatic, shamanic journey of descent in the underworld, the revelation that the earth was a sphere. It was the fifth century B.C. For two thousand years this revelation was attacked as false, negated and ridiculed. Truth’s tragic destiny. Socrates, ‘the wisest and most just of all men’, was put to death simply for not recognizing the gods of Athens and introducing new ones. Castaneda – though he lived to tell the tale – shares his fate with that of many great men of antiquity, misunderstood and charged with falsehood, illegitimacy, untruthfulness, impiety.

    Few years ago I received in dreaming a vivid vision of spiralling galaxies spinning at different speeds in the universe. Then I saw large glossy pictures of these colourful galaxies bond in an Album. This Album was essentially a book from Castaneda with lots of photos of galaxies inside it (nothing of the sort still exists, btw). Then I had a revelation: “Castaneda’s books come from the stars”, meaning, the Nagualist teachings brought to light and passed on to us by Carlos do come from infinity. Verify this with Ayahuasca, if you can. Not by chance, the kind of Nagualist Toltec teaching practiced by Don Juan, Castaneda and their cohorts was called “sorcery of infinity” (rather than simply “shamanism”).

    As for the “authenticity” of Don Juan, it’s an old issue, and he may have certainly used a fictional name to protect a necessary the bond of confidentiality of his mentor, informant and teacher. There is, however, a big difference from using a fictional name to using a fictional character. 
Claudio Naranjo, interviewed by Massimo De Feo, when asked whether Don Juan Matus really existed or not, replied:

    “I cannot doubt that Don Juan ever existed, because Castaneda, when he did not write yet any book, made me a proposal to go to see Don Juan, who – according to him – made an invitation for me to come to see him. Castaneda told me: ‘Enter in my car, we will reach Sonora in nine hours’, but I had a problem with the passport, with the visa for the United States, it was an entry-only visa, and if I would have gone to Mexico, I wouldn’t have been able to come back”. I did not know Don Juan but it would have made no sense for Castaneda – when he still wasn’t famous – to invent it, and then I was his confident, and was used to say:  “You are the only person that I perceive as a journey companion; it’s not like in the world of anthropology, there they don’t believe me.”

    ALTROVE, issue 9, p. 96-97, Torino 2002
    (ALTROVE is the bulletin of the Italian Society for the Study of Consciousness States)

    No much more to say other than I have verified Castaneda’s teachings with Ayahuasca, which I use mostly for divination, and in my very first ceremony with the vine of the dead in the jungle it helped immensely to keep the internal dialog of the warrior active, like “going to knowledge as if going to war”, and considering myself already dead, so the worst was already over. It was all the more hilarious, comforted by the idea of my personal death, hearing the Quechua word “Shammuirimun” – a call to the spirits – sung by the elderly Capanahua maestro Don Ruperto, which, amazingly, sounded exactly like “let’s go to die”, in the Salento dialect of my land.

    To finish with, I’ll pass on a message received from the plant spirits directly during an Ayahuasca session in the Peruvian Amazon jungle, many years ago: “We must set the record straight about Castaneda.”

    I know for a fact that Castaneda worked with a Yaqui Indian named “Hawk”, a nomadic Toltec sorcerer ‘serious as hell’, who was ‘practising magic in his tent all night long. Up until the early 90s (1992) he was living in the Washington D.C. area (then he travelled to Mexico where he joined the Zapatist revolution).

    Lao Tzu said that “A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.” In that spirit, I wish this little contribution to be an initial step forward in that direction.

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