Friday, February 21, 2014

Stuff on Carlos Castaneda


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Carlos Castaneda
Photographer Unknown
Erowid Character Vaults
Carlos Castaneda

Carlos Castaneda was an author and anthropologist born in Cajamarca, Peru in 1925. Though he claimed to have been born in Brazil in 1935, immigration papers show he was born in Peru in 1925. There are a great many opinions of Carlos Castaneda and his writings. He burst onto the scene with a popular book about entheogens and the magical world-view as reality in the middle of a time of academic and cultural upheaval.

His stories of a wizened old sorcerer, a man who came from a long line of peyote and mushroom-using wise men with extraordinary powers, captured the imaginations of students, hippies, and scholars. His original book is presented as a "UCLA PhD Anthropology Thesis", but it was a highly radical, postmodern piece of anthropological 'field work'. Castaneda's work was a watershed for critique and thought by cultural anthropologists and brought many new, excited minds into the field.

When the story continued, however, his public supporters changed their opinions and Castaneda went from being the 'most popular anthropologist ever' to 'lying opportunist'. His books have been critiqued and criticized. Many college students study anthropology because they were touched by their stories. In his later years, he went into more bizarre things, including a type of martial art / movement style (tensegrity). There is a cult of personality that is associated with Castaneda; he is sometimes called the godfather of the New Age movement.

But, throughout the debate and whether or not the work is totally a flight of fancy, the books remain an interesting type of meta-fiction: novel, anthropology, philosophy, spirituality.

As Novel: The story is given from the first person perspective of the slow-witted disbeliever in a magical, entheogen-using initiation into the Sorcerer's world view. The style and plot is acceptable, but those are not the strong suits. The reader is carried forward by wondering whether any of this story could be real and by the character development. There are a few points in the series where he captures feelings well: nostalgia, confusion, self-doubt, questioning the nature of reality.

As Anthropology: Anthropology has gone through many changes in the last 100 years, from a colonial English 'erudite visitor from a civilized culture to a prehistoric one', to a more involved visitor like Margaret Mead, to questioning whether it is possible to know a culture that is not your own. Carlos Castaneda died in 1998 at the age of 72.

Author of (Articles)

  • The Art of Dreaming (Psychology Today, 1977)

  • Interviews

  • Castaneda Interview (U.C. Press, 1968)
  • Castaneda Interview (Roszak, 1968)






    Debut writer/director Ralph Torjan's Carlos Castaneda: Enigma of a Sorcerer offers up an intriguing road trip to the heart of Castaneda's neo-shamanist beliefs and teachings. Castaneda contributed thirty plus years of writings and workshops in an effort to espouse his beliefs that largely centered on the idea of expanding one's perception of reality and consciousness. The trip Torjan takes us on manages to enlighten and engage sans psychedelics.

    A rare glimpse of Castaneda himself
    Torjan utilizes a wildly dynamic visual style in exploring the enigma of Castaneda. Colorful whorls rotate rapidly in concert with a powerful score that echoes rhythmic drumbeats. Juxtaposed with this kaleidoscope are powerful images of mountains, the rapid rising of the sun, and the ascent and flight of an eagle. These images seem to encapsulate Castanedas’s belief that we are all individually part of a much larger consciousness and capable of seeing and experiencing a much deeper and vivid reality. Torjan beautifully conveys this through his choice of imagery, editing, and scoring of the film. Torjan attempts and succeeds on some level in taking the viewer on a cinematic vision quest.

    The engaging visual style of Carlos Castaneda: Enigma of a Sorcerer is complimented by numerous testimonials from individuals who attended his workshops and private sessions. Castaneda’s workshops were conducted during the latter years of his life when he emerged from a largely reclusive existence to enlighten some of his most ardent followers. The accounts of many of these followers is intriguing if nothing else. The various individuals who attempt to provide insights about the mysterious Castaneda include ardent followers, lovers, and scholars. Even if one doesn’t necessarily buy into Castaneda’s notions of expanded consciousness and reality, it’s hard to dismiss his ideas outright based on the individuals who describe their experience. The majority of these individuals appear relatively stable, intelligent, and grounded. Despite varying accounts of Castaneda’s character and personality, virtually everyone acknowledges being profoundly affected by their contact with Castaneda.

    Castaneda is alternately characterized as enlightened, sexually voracious, and a plagiarist by those who contribute to the film. Unfortunately absent are any images or conversations with Castaneda himself, besides a single still photograph. Castaneda’s predominantly reclusive lifestyle contributed to this. We are largely left to ponder who this enigma was via accounts from the individuals interviewed for the film and Castaneda’s work itself.
    Clearly, Castaneda was a complex, cerebral, and perhaps enlightened individual. Castaneda’s message of freeing oneself from the limiting shackles of ego and discovering an expanded reality that is more vibrant and alive than our daily existence is seductive. The timing of his message was impeccable, arriving in the late 1960s when old institutions and belief systems were proving to be obsolete and disillusionment was de rigeur. Astutely, Torjan recognizes that Castaneda’s message would not necessarily have the same resonance today that it had when it first seduced readers thirty years ago.
    Torjan’s film effectively manages to seduce the audience. By the end of Carlos Castaneda: Enigma of a Sorcerer, we are still left with unanswered questions and an image of a man that is far from focused. Fortunately, Castaneda’s list of works is extensive for those who elect to dig deeper into the mythology and philosophy that he defined. However, the mystery of Castaneda himself will likely remain unsolved.
    Rating: EL (Enlightening).


    The Warrior Path & Carlos Castaneda
    [The Carlos Castaneda books reveal the magic of our complete being outside of our prison of thinking and reason, Here is a separate reality with true knowledge as revealed by Don Juan and Don Genaro, called The warrior Path or Path of Knowledge. The cover of the Eagles's Gift is a great visual depiction of that reality--the Nagual.]
    Harley Swiftdeer Reagan (an apprentice to Don Genaro)
    Books:Star Warrior: The Story of Swiftdeer by Bill Wahlberg, Francis Huxley
    Return of the Warriors by Theun Mares
    The purpose of life is Pleasure and Experience


    Amy Wallace - author of Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda

    Frequently Asked Questions from the Ellis's Place Discussion Forum
    1. Do you believe that there was a real Don Juan?

    No. I believe that Carlos made up this wonderful literary figure as a composite of many teachers. These included Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, of Sufi tradition, his hero, philosopher Alan Watts, Swami Muktananda and Swami Vivekananda, and many more. I assume he made many trips to Latin America, where he met shamans and took a wide variety of "power plants." I believe he added his own genius to these experiences, and gave us the magnificent, but fictional, don Juan.
    I was contacted by a man in the New York publishing industry who requests anonymity -- he wants to keep his job -- and he wrote quite firmly that Carlos's work called for "very heavy editing." Perhaps this would explain the widely differing literary quality of Carlos' books -- different editors. Using a single mentor worked as a moving, forceful literary device, as most readers agree -- whether or not they agree with my conclusions.
    2. What of the sorcery "tough love" technique? Did it work?
    It did not work for me -- I found it cruel and hurtful. But we are all different -- for others, verbal abuse may have been an effective way of blunting the ego. Carlos often said, "The time to be worried is when I'm nice to you," and "I only give it to the strong ones who can take it." One male practitioner asked Carlos why he was never insulted. Carlos replied: "Because you couldn't take it." By way of compliment, he told a friend of mine (whom he knew would report to me) that I was the dark horse, who could take insult. Once he told me, "It's the only way I know. If I knew a better one, I'd use it." Sadly, it left me with nightmares and much self-loathing, which I am working to lose.
    3. Can you address the topic of "sex magic"?
    That is a book in itself! Carlos always told me that his sperm would reach my brain and alter it, make it non-human -- and that I should will this during sex. Then my brain would become a superior organ.
    He also insisted I remain celibate "if we don't leave together," and said anyone I had sex with was a Flyer. Alternately, he said that anyone I had sex with was magically linked to his intent, and would live on in Infinity. I joked that this was "a Mileage Plus Program," but he didn't find this amusing.
    4. What caused your final break with Cleargreen?
    There are many ways to answer this, so I'll pick one of the most poignant anecdotes, for me, anyway. It's illustrative.
    In the last weeks before Carlos death, when I was Carol and I were together daily, I reached an internal crisis.
    I asked her to stop giving me "sorceric advice," and seeking mothering from me, something she freely admitted. She claimed she had never given me advice, however, and promised not to do it again, if she had been. We lasted a single lunch before falling back into our old patterns.
    I told her I didn't believe in "a hierarchy of emptiness," where she reigned supreme, above me. I said that if she wanted to give friendship a try, I would like that. She said she'd be happy to do that.
    However, she insisted "a hierarchy of emptiness DOES exist -- maybe someday you'll catch up." It was the eternal dangling carrot.
    In a recent conversation with "Tony Lama" [Antonio Karam, head of Casa Tibet] in Mexico, he told me why he had turned down the questionable gift of being the next nagual in the lineage. He explained he would always love Carlos dearly, but he never saw the much vaunted magic that was forever being promised, and he was asked to tell lies. Do I ever respect that man!
    Carol, I felt, was never going to relinquish her seat of power -- and she seemed lonely, and no wonder. It's lonely if you believe you're at he top.
    I found the carrot-dangling excruciating and crazy-making. Finally I had come into my own sense of power, no greater than anyone else's. I had to leave a hierarchical group -- it was junior high redux. My publisher said, "Could we have less Ridgemont High here? But that was daily life, to some degree. I could go on, but this incident carries the core reason for my departure.
    A P.S. -- Some days previous to the talk, the nagual woman and I had a horrible moment in my pool, where we swam daily. She floated, relaxed, wiggled her toes, and bragged, "Now I have all the power! They have to come to me! Only I know what really happened!" It sent proverbial shivers down my spine. This was not a woman free of ego, in my opinion.

    5. What do you think will become of Cleargreen?

    After Carlos died, Lorenzo [Bruce Wagner] told me he felt "the circus had packed up and gone away," and that he was "THROUGH WITH THE LIES AND THE SECRETS!" I gather he has recanted, since he periodically appears at workshops, or so I'm told.
    I have not attended a seminar in years, but have heard tales of "outer rung" students telling seminar attendees of their time as Carlos's disciples. Perhaps this is not true.
    In the last weeks of Carlos's life, I saw Carol Tiggs daily. When the others "left," and she chose to say behind, a worried Lorenzo told me, "She is no more fit to take on the job of leader than I am to redo the plumbing in your house " -- that is, she lacks the requisite skills. He hoped I would take care of her.
    When the Witches & co. disappeared, she told me repeatedly that they were "Dead, dead, dead!" and that "I don't like what left, and I don't like what stayed either."
    Kylie, shortly before disappearing, told me she had warned Carlos that there might be suicides among the followers, if he didn't give tasks for the people in the group.
    He seemed surprised, she said, and replied that he didn't care in the least if Cleargreen continued or closed shop. Kylie persuaded him to give out these tasks, so his group would have a reason to go on.
    There have been suicides, and attempts -- a woman in Santa Fe jumped off a carton into a ravine "to join the nagual." Alas, her body was found intact. At least one group member I know of attempted a suicide for the same reason.
    Cleargreen has lightened it's message about separating from family members, but some family members are approaching them, and apparently not getting satisfactory answers about what happened to their siblings and children. In Carlos's day, we were explicitly told to "send them to hell." Maybe "Cleargreen-Lite" will survive.

    To come: Did Carlos speak of his books, or the characters in them?
    Links:Introducing Amy Wallace
    Chapter 3 of Sorcerer's Apprentice by Amy WallaceChapter 4 of Sorcerer's Apprentice by Amy Wallace
    Chapter 12 of Sorcerer's Apprentice by Amy Wallace

    Key Profiles, Bios & Links Blog

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