High Times Greats: Carlos Castaneda

Who don Juan was, what he did, when he did it, where he did it, why he did it and if he did it.
High Times Greats: Carlos Castaneda
T. Evans

For the April, 1977 issue, High Times excerpted Richard de Mille’s 1976 book, Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory. In conjunction with the December 25th birthday of Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998), we’re republishing it below.

Carlos Castaneda has written four best sellers about his 12-year apprenticeship in the Sonoran desert under a Yaqui Indian sorcerer named don Juan Matus. There his head turned into a crow and flew away, he became brother to the coyote and he learned to erase his personal history.

That erasure makes sifting rumors a major task:

Castaneda was killed in a Mexican bus crash.

Castaneda is alive and well at his grandfather’s farm in Brazil.

Castaneda’s next book is the biography of an old Yaqui furniture maker.

Castaneda confessed to a Harvard class that his don Juan books were a hoax.

Castaneda is controlling other people’s dreams in a UCLA research project.

Castaneda spent months in 1966 as a psychiatric patient at the UCLA Medical Center. George Olduvai was a UCLA student at the time and he knew all about it. Did George see Castaneda in the hospital? No. Did he talk to the doctors? No—but it was common knowledge.

Benita Zorro knows the man who introduced Carlos to don Juan. Benita lives at no particular address in the Topa Topa Valley. I call the man who knows Benita, and he takes my number. She doesn’t call.

Al Egori has a photo of don Juan. I call him in Los Angeles.

“I understood don Juan didn’t allow pictures.”

“That’s right. This picture was taken surreptitiously.”

“Who took it?”

“I can’t discuss that.”

“Could I publish it in my book?”

“No, no. It can’t be shown to anybody.”

“Who has seen it besides you?”


“You must have taken it, then.”

“I can’t discuss that.”

Al goes on to say that I shouldn’t even begin to write my book until I have taken at least 500 LSD trips. I tell him I’m fighting a deadline.

Reactions to Castaneda and his works range from visionary enthusiasm, through angry rejection, to complete lack of interest. My own opinions are just as well balanced but not so extreme. I bring some good news and some bad news, some praise and some blame, some affirmations and some refutations. While I have not joined the Castaneda Idolaters’ Club, neither can I claim membership in the League of Outraged Skeptics—and I certainly do not belong to the Committee to Stamp Out Sorcery. Far from it. Sorcery lives. Magic is all around us. Swedenborg sees a fire burning 300 hundred miles away. D. D. Home floats in and out of hotel windows. A vacuum-physics experiment implodes just as the Subatomic jinx is passing through town on a train. A soldier is wounded and his mother bleeds. Mild-mannered bumpkins turn into murdering satanic beasts. A sexy dolphin tries to make it with an off-duty restaurant hostess. Lionel Tiger prowls Manhattan shoulder to shoulder with Robin Fox. And crows haunting the Irvine campus are taken for don Juan and Carlos Castaneda. This is a deep, multifaceted subject, having both comic and sober sides. Like the dreamer and the dreamed. I expect to be on all sides at once.

To begin with, Carlos Castaneda must not be mistaken for Margaret Mead, J. R. R. Tolkien. Swami Vivekananda, P.T. Barnum, Plato or the Great Pretender—though he has something in common with each of them. Castaneda is an original: there is nobody else quite like him. And he is controversial. I will not waste any time trying to be neutral about him, but I will not be for him or against him, either: I will be for him and against him.

I shall not be alone. Legions betray mixed feelings about Castaneda. Those he has tricked laugh wryly at his slyness. Those he has betrayed forgive him through their tears. Critics boo him for one thing and applaud him for another. Myriads adore him, but no one simply despises him. His former wife told me with cheery regret: “Carlos is one of those people you can love and hate at the same time.” Exactly. One ferocious, bearded fellow, whose name escapes me now, told me a tale of Carlos Coyote, Trickster Teacher.

“I had this kilo of grass,” he said, “and my stupid cat pissed on it. Carlos was there, and I asked him what I ought to do. He said to take a sharp knife and carefully cut out just the part the cat had pissed on—and save it. He said to throw the rest away. Well, he got that peyote-chewing grin on his face, so I knew he was kidding. But then he came around later when I was separating the seeds (which I keep) from the stems (which I throw out). ‘Hey!’ he said. ‘Don’t throw the stems away. Don Juan told me they’re the best part for seeing.’ Hell, everybody knows better than that, but I was really into The Teachings at that time, so I thought, don Juan must know a lot more about grass than the rest of us. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll save them.’ ‘Just make tea out of them,’ says Carlos. ‘You’ll be surprised.’ Right. But that time he wasn’t smiling. So I made tea out of them. I didn’t see anything, but I sure got a helluva headache.” Chuckling through clenched teeth, my friend refilled his shot glass till it ran over on the table. “Carlos is one funny falcon coyote,” he said.

One thing I learned from reading Castaneda was that there were two funny little old guys out there in the desert who were a real kick in the head. I wanted to go out there and talk to them—which I could easily have done, since both of them spoke excellent Spanish, a language I can understand tolerably well if people don’t speak too fast. I hadn’t learned any Yaqui yet. of course—hupa hu’upat kateka upaupatia (skunk sitting on a stump making a noise like a skunk)—but that wasn’t necessary. The only obstacle between me and Carlos’s playmates was Carlos himself. He wouldn’t give out their address.

Another thing I learned was that Castaneda was kicking some very big true ideas around: There is more than one kind of reality. There is magic that is not illusion. The world is what comes out of what can be. The world we know is something we are doing. Part of you is not in this world. Part of you knows what the rest of you doesn’t. If you trust your silent self, your talking self won’t have to stay so ignorant. A wise man knows his time to act is short. Say hello to Death: He has some good advice for you. Responsibility gives power. But greater than power—is knowledge.

Wow! I thought. This young UCLA anthropologist is plugged into the right channel. But he has a very noisy receiver. Along with the good stuff, it keeps giving out interference like: On the other hand, greater than knowledge—is sometimes power.

A man with a past is weak and helpless. Woman is the scariest thing on earth. Nothing really matters. Nobody can be happy. Nobody can get close to anybody. You can love the world but not the people in it. Laughing is always better than crying. If your kid is dying, see him as a fog of crystals, and you’ll feel a whole lot better. A man of knowledge walks on the river of life without getting his feet wet. And there is no way to tell one kind of reality from another.

What a mess! The wisdom of the ages folded into an omelet with the neurosis of the century. It didn’t help that Carlos was always badmouthing himself as a neurotic. I had to agree with him. Like the psychiatrist who told his patient: Don’t worry about having an inferiority complex. You’re inferior.

But he was superior too. I mean—how many anthropology graduate students would have the gall to tackle the world outside the world and the man inside the man while leaping into oblivion and bouncing back a celebrity? You have to give Castaneda plenty of credit for effrontery.

And for talent. Joseph Conrad grew up speaking Polish and became a master of English prose. Vladimir Nabokov did the same from Russian. Castaneda started out with Spanish (or maybe Portuguese or Italian—we’ll get to those later) and wrote 1,000 pages of quite readable, mostly entertaining colloquial American narrative and 90 pages of utterly unreadable but logically self-consistent social science jargon. That’s pretty good.

One fervent follower of don Juan told me: “The reason you can’t grasp the fact that don Juan really exists is that you can’t believe a Yaqui Indian could express himself with clarity and elegance. What you don’t realize—and what many anthropologists don’t realize—is that the oral tradition of sorcery cuts across local tribal cultures, going back for thousands of years and displaying an eloquence far above the tribal cultural level.” “Shamans everywhere,” Gwyneth Cravens wrote, “have been found to have unusually large and poetic vocabularies.” I admit that don Juan often waxes poetic, but his shamanistic vocabulary also supports discourses that sound like this:

To recapitulate my teachings, little Carlos—I first taught you the routines of the game we were hunting, then I taught you to test your traps against those routines. When you indulged in your self-pity, I taught you to assume responsibility for the acts that brought you to the state that elicited that self-pity. By altering your use of those acts or elements, you changed the facade of your tonal. But changing the facade meant only that you assigned a secondary place to a formerly important element. After that I taught you to stop your internal dialog and to account for everything that was accountable.

Other shamans, not so well traveled or educated as don Juan, sound more like this:

I am the mushroom that speaks, it says. I am a mouth awaiting the voice of heaven. I am a wind that blows on the mountain, it says. I am star, moon, cloud and dew on the grass. I am the one that goes to meet the day, it says. I am the one that holds up the world. I search out sickness, it says. I am the one that cures. All things that should be together I bring together and all things that should be apart I separate. I am the one that speaks in the silence, that shines in the darkness, that talks with those who live in the sky. I am the one that brings truth to the asker, it says.

Castaneda was lucky to find a shaman who could lecture like a university professor and not one of those monotonous mountain poets. We have to score a big plus for his finding such a sophisticated informant—or for inventing one, if it turns out that don Juan doesn’t really exist.

The first contradiction we must unravel is the one between Carlos and Castaneda.

Carlos and Castaneda

In those days Carlos was known as Carlos Aranha, which is sometimes spelled Aranja. He told me that his uncle, the ruler of the household, Oswaldo Aranha, ran for president of Brazil in 1960.
—Margaret Castaneda

If Oswaldo Aranha ran for president of Brazil in 1960, it was a short campaign, because he died on the 27th of January. Having been minister of justice, of finance and of foreign affairs, ambassador to the United States and president of the U.N. General Assembly, Oswaldo was the most famous member of a great Brazilian-Portuguese family and undoubtedly ruled the household, but he was definitely not Carlos Castaneda’s uncle or any other relative. His mother was Luisa de Freitas-Valle, while Castaneda’s grandmothers came from the families Burungaray and Novoa. They didn’t live in Brazil either. They lived in Peru.

Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda was born on Christmas day 1925 in the historic Andean town of Cajamarca, where on 29 August 1533 night fell at noon as Pizarro’s soldiers strangled Atau Huallpa. The unlucky 13th Royal Inca, whose name meant Turkey Fortunate in War, had consented at the last minute to be baptized Juan, in return for which the Spaniards had promised not to burn him at the stake. The bargain brought a double benefit, qualifying an Indian soul to enter a European heaven and saving Atau Huallpa’s body from destruction by earthly fire, which would have made him unacceptable after death to his divine father, the sun.

Cajamarca is also known for its gold and silver industry. Baby Arana’s father was a goldsmith and watchmaker named Cesar Arana Burungaray, while his mother was Susana Castaneda Novoa. Arana and Castaneda are Spanish names; Burungaray is Basque; Novoa, Portuguese. Though Indians and mestizos make a majority in Peru, none of these names suggest any Indian or mixed heritage.

Young Arana went to high school in Cajamarca, but in 1948 the family moved to Lima, where some members still live and where the family jewelry store was doing business in 1973. After graduating from the Colegio Nacionál de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, he studied at the National Fine Arts School of Peru. José Bracamonte, a fellow student and now a well-known illustrator, remembered him as a resourceful blade who lived mainly off the horses, dice and cards and harbored “like an obsession” the wish to move to the United States. “We all liked Carlos,” Bracamonte told Time’s Peruvian reporter Tomás Loayza. ”He was witty, imaginative, cheerful—a big liar and a real friend.”

In 1949, when his mother died, Carlos Arana declared he was going to leave home. He entered the United States at San Francisco in 1951. After a four-year gap we find him enrolled as Carlos Castaneda at Los Angeles City College. Between 1955 and 1959, while following a prepsychology curriculum, he took two courses in creative writing and one in journalism.

On 17 December 1955 he met Damon Runyon’s very distant cousin Margaret, four years older than he, unattached and deeply interested in popular metaphysics. Six months later they began to see a lot of each other, attending occasional metaphysical lectures, going to City College together and spending hours talking about philosophy, mysticism and spiritualism. According to Margaret he took his U.S. citizenship in 1959 as Carlos Castaneda. One day on the spur of the moment they went to Tijuana to get married; the certificate, dated 27 January 1960, shows his name as Carlos Aranha Castaneda. At home he did the cooking. Margaret thought his spaghetti was wonderful. Though they stayed together only six months as man and wife, they remained good friends after the separation and saw each other often. The marriage was not legally terminated until 17 December 1973. At UCLA Castaneda kept the marriage a secret, but sometimes he showed up on campus mysteriously holding a towheaded youngster by the hand. The little boy, mentioned in Chapter 11 of A Separate Reality, is Margaret’s child of another marriage.

Castaneda entered UCLA as an undergraduate in 1959 and received a B.A. in anthropology September 1962. He was enrolled on and off as a graduate student until 1971, receiving a Ph.D. in anthropology March 1973. His scholarly publications are limited to his dissertation and one paper read at an anthropological meeting in 1968.

Students at the Irvine campus of the University of California, empowered to select and hire two percent of the faculty, appointed Castaneda to lecture during the spring quarter of 1972. His graduate seminar. “The Phenomenology of Shamanism,” drew over 50 persons, some of whom were faculty visitors curious to see the young anthropologist who had supposedly gotten inside the head of an authentic, preliterate Mesoamerican witch doctor. His undergraduate class in primitive religions was packed to the rafters and turned away hundreds. Occasionally he lectured at other institutions of learning or sat briefly in other professors’ classrooms like a glowing mushroom stone.

Such engagements were prompted by his growing celebrity as a popular writer. His first book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, had been published by the University of California Press in 1968, then commercially marketed by Ballantine Books in 1969. A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan followed from Simon and Schuster in 1971 and 1972. Sales were climbing rapidly, and media scribes were bestirring themselves to interview the new star shining so remotely in the documentary sky, hoping to bring him close enough for everybody to get a good look. The first thing they found out was that he didn’t like to have his picture taken.

Castaneda stands a stocky five-foot-five, weighing 140 to 150 pounds. “From his waist to the top of his thick, curly, black hair,’’ said Margaret, “his body is that of a man six feet tall. His legs… are disproportionately short.” His hands, Time said, are stubby and calloused. Characteristically he wears unassuming sport shirts or business suits. Sometimes he wears or carries a hat. His hair is cut short. People have said he blends into the woodwork, or resembles a Cuban waiter. One of Margaret’s snapshots shows a man surprisingly youthful for his 40 years, whose skin is dark but whose features are quite European—an impression worth mentioning since some people have said Castaneda looks like an Indian. Though his skin has been judged nut brown, pale and even gray, nobody has said it was red, copper or bronze. I suspect Bruce Cook hit the right formula with his “sallow-swarthy,” a paradoxical combination that brings to mind the olive skin of Spaniards, which is what I would call Castaneda: a Basquish Peruvian Spaniard.

The foregoing sketch includes the major established and presumptive facts about Carlos Castaneda. It is a short sketch, because convincing facts are few. Almost nothing credible is known about his childhood, family relations, early schooling, jobs, friends, women (beyond Margaret) or daily routines. “Neither Margaret nor I ever knew where Carlos was living,” wrote Margaret’s cousin Sue. “He came to us; we did not go to him.” Though he wrote Margaret romantic letters, he didn’t sign them. That erasure of personal history, identity and character has been blamed on don Juan, but Margaret said: “Carlos was elusive before he learned this from don Juan.”

In order to comb out this informational spaghetti I am going to split our central figure into several parts, to which cohesive sets of data can be assigned. The first of these splits will separate Carlos from Castaneda.

From here on, established and presumptive facts will be assigned to “Castaneda,” nonfacts to “Carlos.” Castaneda is the writer of books, born Carlos Arana in Peru. Carlos is an imaginary person appearing in the books Castaneda has written.

Unlike Castaneda (though according to him), Carlos was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1935 (or. as Margaret heard it, 1931—which made her seem only ten years older than he, instead of 14). Grandfather Aranha had come from Italy (or, in one version, Sicily), bringing his Portuguese name with him. Another grandfather (or maybe the same one) was a short-statured, red-haired, blue-eyed inventor, who married grandmother Margarita, nearly six feet tall (as Castaneda told Margaret, whom he sometimes called Margarita). Father Cesar (Aranha, or, as R. Gordon Wasson was told, Castaneda), who later became a professor of literature, was only 17 when Carlos was born, while mother Susana (Castaneda, or, to Wasson, Aranha) was 15. Tragically, she died when Carlos was only six.

Because of his parents’ extreme youth, little Carlos was raised from the start by his grandparents on their chicken farm in the Brazilian back country (or, as Margaret heard, by an aunt who lived in Peru), where he fought constantly during preschool years with 22 cousins, until they finally left him alone, and where he inadvertently broke the collarbone of a first-grader answering to the Spanish name Joaquin.

Having learned both Italian and Portuguese on the farm (languages no one has reported hearing Castaneda speak), Carlos acquired Spanish (and, presumably, his taste for the poetry of César Vallejo, born Peru, 1892, died Paris, 1938) at the “very proper” Nicolas Avellaneda boarding school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he stayed until he was 15. By 1951 he had grown so unruly that his uncle, the family patriarch, shipped him out to Los Angeles—California, that is—to live with a foster family. Besides Spanish he must have learned plenty of English at Nicolas Avellaneda, because he enrolled immediately at Hollywood High School, whence he graduated in two years. While there he met his friend Bill, who seven years later would introduce him to don Juan.

After high school Carlos journeyed to Italy, where he studied sculpting in Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts, accomplishing little because he lacked “the sensitivity or openness to be a great artist.” Despite this feeling of inadequacy. Margaret mentions beautiful sculptures and contest-winning poems created during the City College period. She and a friend were taken by Castaneda to see an architectural sculpture (of a goddess, the friend told me) which Carlos had done for the front of an office building on Wilshire Blvd. near Vermont Avenue.

Sometimes, Margaret says, Castaneda told her things about Carlos that probably weren’t true, like his marriage to a gypsy girl, which may have been trumped up to make her jealous, or his U.S. Army wartime service in Spain. Margaret wondered just which war that possibly could have been.

Castaneda told Margaret about Carlos’s sister Lucia, while down in foggy Lima, Castaneda’s cousin Lucia, raised with him “like a sister,” was saving his infrequent letters. One of them described a tour in the U.S. Army, from which Carlos was discharged after some trauma—mental or physical, Lucia was not sure. As befits one of the nation’s great bureaucracies, the Defense Department says it can’t find Carlos’s service record anywhere.

Students at Irvine scribbled a primitive-religions note about Carlos’s blond Scandinavian wife (the right sort of mom for a towheaded youngster whose dad is a sallow-swarthy Spaniard married to an Anglo-French brunette). The furry gent with the micturated kilo heard about Carlos’s wife and child languishing in Buenos Aires. Two women in a Sacramento bookstore sighed for a little Carlos who never had any real home because he was an “army brat,” whose father continually dragged the family from one military post to another.

Until don Juan tricked him into it, Carlos knew little and cared less about metaphysics. “I’m no mystic,” Lila Freilicher was told, “not a searcher of any sort. I’m an anthropologist, and this thing just happened to me without my looking for it.”

“How often did you talk about mysticism and philosophy?” I asked Margaret.

“That’s all we ever talked about,” she said.

No one has imputed violence to Castaneda, but don Juan told Carlos he was “a violent fellow,” and Gwyneth Cravens heard Carlos got so fed up being followed around by a nutty would-be disciple that he hurled him over a park bench. “The only way to deal with a psychotic is to be one yourself,” Castaneda explained. Well, what would you expect from the 22-cousin vanquisher and collarbone smasher of the Brazilian (or Peruvian) backwoods?

Early in 1973 Carlos had “completed a book on the formation of perceptual glosses,” which Castaneda has not published to date.

Of course, there are many similarities. Carlos and Castaneda are physically alike. Both enjoy running around in the countryside picking plants. One has a beach house, while the other lives at Malibu. And so on.

At least six professional interviewers have reported what they learned by talking at length—some for days—with Castaneda. Most of what they learned was not true. Bruce Cook was so dismayed by Castaneda’s credibility gap that he delayed publishing his interview for more than a year. “I wasn’t sure he was completely on the level,” Cook recalled. “I don’t believe he is who he says he is.” The name “Castaneda,” Cook observed, is not Italian, though Carlos’s grandfather came from Italy; nor is it Portuguese, though Carlos was born in Brazil. It is Spanish.

I’m surprised more journalists didn’t make the same comment early in the game. Suppose a certain Karlus Kastaniebaum. who is studying anthropology at the University of China, Fu Kien, publishes a bestseller called The Teachings of Swami Goanananda: A Jhansi Way of Knowledge, Jhansi being a district of India—right next door, so to speak.

“Where were you born, Karlus?” asks ace reporter Broo Skuk of the Foochow Observer.

“Scotland,’’ says Karlus with a mischievous twinkle in his big, blue, Occidental eye, “where my grandfather Magnus Kastaniebaum immigrated in 1891 from Marseille, which is how I grew up speaking both Provencal and Gaelic.”

“I notice,” probes Skuk, “that Swami Goanananda always spoke to you in perfect German. Where did you learn that?” “I learned perfect German,” Karlus explains, “when my Scottish uncle, Ossian McFingal, the ruler of our clan, packed me off to the very proper Ferdinand Maximilian boarding school in Vienna. I learned plenty of Chinese there, too.”

It shouldn’t take a professor of linguistics at UCFK to find a flaw or two in that story.

Fact or Fiction

It makes no difference whether the books are a record of an actual encounter or Castaneda is the author of a clever fiction.
—Joseph Margolis

When Joseph Margolis wrote that, he didn’t mean it makes no difference. He meant (and said) it would not affect don Juan’s potency as a fountain of philosophy or an instrument of our instruction. And there are other ways in which the factuality or fictive-ness of Castaneda’s books makes no difference. If we care solely for entertainment or inspiration, if we seek only an allegoric truth behind the fantasy, if we believe every story is true in its own way, then we may not care at all whether Castaneda actually interviewed anybody or whether the person he interviewed was anything like the don Juan we have come to know.

What I want to know is, whom did Castaneda meet in the Nogales bus station? Where have the Spanish field notes been deposited? When can we listen to the tape recording of the conversation that took place in Lucio’s house on the night of 4 September 1968?

Castaneda has contributed something of value to society by writing his books. At the least, he has widely popularized certain metaphysical propositions that some people, including me, think are both important and defensible. Many people also credit him with being a scientific anthropologist, an original philosopher, a master teacher, a psychic visionary, a literary genius or a practical sorcerer. To judge these additional qualifications, particularly his status as a scientific anthropologist, we need to know whether his books are fact or fiction.

A majority of the professional anthropologists who have rendered public judgments on Castaneda’s works have either questioned or denied their factually. Francis Hsu compared them to Gulliver’s Travels. Jesús Ochoa thought they contained “a very high percentage of imagination.” Marvin Harris doubted the existence of don Juan. Edmund Leach said The Teachings was “a work of art rather than of scholarship,” while Weston La Barre called it “pseudo-ethnography” and ethnobotanist R. Gordon Wasson “smelled a hoax” on the first reading. Beyond Castaneda’s solitary word there has been no evidence whatsoever that don Juan existed or that any field work was ever carried out. Scientifically, this is not an entirely satisfactory situation.

My dictionary defines hoaxing as “deceiving by a fiction.” In this article. I shall prove to my satisfaction—and, perhaps, to yours—that Castaneda’s books, though they may contain a fact here or there, are abundantly and essentially fictive and must be classified as fiction if we are going to classify them at all.

While Castaneda’s books treat a non-ordinary reality, they depend on ordinary reality for their acceptance as factual reports. The author implicitly agreed to that when he offered them as conventional reports of anthropology field work conducted on particular occasions dated by the ordinary calendar. “In the summer of 1960,” he wrote, “while I was an anthropology student at the University of California. Los Angeles, I made several trips to the Southwest.” He did not say, “Don Juan told me that in the summer of 1960 I made several trips,” or “After smoking the mushroom mixture, I found I was a student at the University of California,” or “When I crossed my eyes, I saw a white-haired old Indian sitting in the bus station.” Castaneda the anthropologist may have had his left foot in the other world, but he had his right foot in this world. My task here is to pry up the sole of his this-world shoe to see whether there is a banana skin under it. My test of fact or fiction will be whether the ordinary events reported in his books would be possible in this ordinary world. If not, the books must be fiction.

One night Carlos and don Juan were sitting in don Juan’s room chatting in the dark, when don Juan asked Carlos what he used the darkness for when he was in Los Angeles. Carlos admitted he used it for sleeping. Don Juan said the darkness of the day was the best time to “see.” “He stressed the word ‘see,’” Castaneda wrote, “with a peculiar inflection. I wanted to know what he meant by that.” “What’s it like to see, don Juan?” Carlos asked four days later.

Don Juan said he couldn’t tell him. Carlos would have to see for himself. “Is it a secret I shouldn’t know?” Carlos persisted. No, don Juan reassured him, but he must do it to know it.

In the next book, we find don Juan and Carlos on a hilltop, when don Juan tells Carlos to run over and get some leaves from a certain bush. From where he stands Carlos can see a large green bush growing on the near slope of the next hill. He runs down one hill and up the other, but when he gets to the right spot the bush has disappeared. He returns and reports his mistake. Don Juan says there has been no mistake. He leads Carlos around to the far slope, out of the direct line of sight, where they find the bush, the only one of its kind within a mile. The bumbling apprentice doesn’t grasp what has happened, of course, but don Juan is delighted and calls it an omen.

Later in the day, Carlos finds a place he will return to in his dreams, a place don Juan will give him as his own nonordinary domain, “not to use but to remember.” “This spot,” don Juan tells him, “is yours. This morning you saw, and that was the omen. You found this spot by seeing.”

How gratifying that Carlos has finally achieved in this second episode the personal experience of seeing, about which he could only wonder in the first. What would you say, though, if I told you I have given you these two episodes in the wrong order? Granted, they are in the right order for seeing. They are in the normal order for learning. They are in sequence as they were published, the first from A Separate Reality, the second from Journey to Ixtlan. But according to the author’s meticulous chronology, the two men were chatting in the dark on 21 May 1968, while Carlos saw the bush on the wrong side of the hill and found his spot by seeing on 29 January 1962. Carlos first heard of seeing 6 years after he saw.

Carlos One and Carlos Two

All the evidence ever needed to prove a case of big-time fictioneering can be found in Castaneda’s first three books. The secret is to make a chronological list of the events.

Carlos’s 22 drug experiments are confined to the first two books. Introducing the third book, Castaneda begs the reader’s pardon for having erroneously assumed that drug states were the only avenue to don Juan’s knowledge. The mistake, he says, was forced upon him by the fact that Carlos’s drugged perceptions had been “so bizarre and impressive.” Though don Juan had actually tried to give Carlos the core of the teachings in the first two years through nondrug techniques, and though Carlos had doggedly written those nondrug lessons into his field notes along with the drug lessons, he had neither found them so unusual nor been so impressed by them that Castaneda could not systematically eliminate them while writing The Teachings.

Before one has read Journey to Ixtlan, this rationale sounds quite reasonable. Afterwards, the reflective reader may notice a contradiction. Despite the rationale, some of the nondrug experiences have been strange indeed, and Carlos has certainly been impressed by them. But while the Carlos of Ixtlan finds these lessons intensely moving and wholly relevant to don Juan’s teaching, the Carlos of The Teachings apparently did not. (A Separate Reality, the transition volume, describes 15 such incidents without calling attention to their nondrug character.) It seems we are dealing here with two different Carloses, who lived through 1961 and 1962 in the same places with the same teacher but felt and understood it all quite differently.

Carlos Two, of Ixtlan, the Carlos we met second, saw a falcon in don Juan’s features, saw a bridge and slept in a cave that did not exist in the ordinary world, spied a bush on one side of a hill whose ordinary location was on the other, had a fleeting vision of a vast world in the surface of a rock, saw a range of mountains as a web of light fibers and attended a magical demonstration where don Juan appeared simultaneously to five apprentices in five different guises. Reacting to these extraordinary events, Carlos Two felt his heart had stopped, stared dumbfounded, was nearly paralyzed by the shock of seeing his surroundings, went through a moment of unparalleled confusion, refused to believe what he was witnessing, grappled for any kind of an explanation, felt a chill run up his spine, felt a hand grabbing his stomach and screamed involuntarily. Carlos One, in contrast, found these events so commonplace that Castaneda felt no need even to allude to them in The Teachings.

The Teachings seldom mentioned nonordinary seeing, only once without linking it to drugs. Ixtlan mentioned it at least a dozen times, identifying it as an important aspect of don Juan’s nondrug teaching. Carlos Two was formally introduced to seeing on 28 December 1961, when don Juan said, “Look without blinking until you see.” Carlos One first encountered it on 2 April 1968, when don Juan said, “The little smoke will help you to see men as fibers of light.” “Fibers of light?” The phrase came unfamiliar to Carlos One’s ear, though Carlos Two had seen a range of mountains as fibers of light in 1962, after don Juan had instructed him at some length in that particular kind of seeing.

Manifestly, these books are describing parallel universes, one inhabited by Carlos Two, the other by Carlos One. The conventional rules, by which Castaneda bound himself when he dated Carlos’s field notes, tell us these two universes cannot both be our daily world, where graduate students do tangible field work and become doctors of anthropology.

Compelling as this evidence is, a more startling anachronism remains to be described. In October 1965 Carlos One went through an ordeal so unexpected and disturbing that he sadly withdrew from his apprenticeship and avoided Don Juan for more than two years. The ordeal was a night-long confrontation with a powerful enemy who had assumed don Juan’s bodily form, though not his accustomed gait or speech. It disturbed Carlos deeply, because for the first time he entered a vivid and extended state of nonordinary reality that did not result from using a drug. This unique event confirmed his growing suspicion that the nonordinary reality could, without drugs, break through his comfortable daily certainties and flood his sober consciousness. Rather than be overwhelmed by that other world, he fled in terror back to Los Angeles. where Castaneda wrote a book featuring the special event not only as the climax of its story but as the crowning exhibit in an academic analysis of “special consensus.”

The reader of The Teachings found this development disappointing but plausible. In contrast, anyone who lists the events in proper order discovers that the “special” event was not so special after all, since it was preceded by 21 earlier nondrug nonordinary events, in many of which even stranger visions or more menacing confrontations had invaded Carlos Two’s sober consciousness. Reacting to these earlier events, Carlos Two had been terrified, angered, saddened, horrified, dumbfounded, deprived of speech, suffocated, borne up by exquisite warmth and supreme well being or gripped by abdominal pains. He could hardly have forgotten about them, but if he had, his field notes would have reminded Castaneda.

Curiously, when Carlos One begged don Juan to explain what had happened during the “special” event, “the conversation began with speculations about the identity of a female person” (italics in the original) who had snatched Carlos’s soul and borrowed don Juan’s form. The lady was not named, and the reader was left to wonder whether the galvanizing impersonatress was in fact a certain “fiendish witch,” called la Catalina, who had been mentioned briefly on 23 November 1961—four years earlier. At that time don Juan had said he was harboring certain plans for finishing her off, about which he would tell Carlos One “someday.” Poor Carlos One had to wait ten years to learn about those plans in Tales of Power; but Carlos Two, traveling on a parallel time track, carried out those plans with moderate success in the fall of 1962, when he met the magic lady six times in a row—once as a marauding but indistinct blackbird, once as a sailing silhouette and four times face-to-face “in all her magnificent evil splendor” as a beautiful but terrifying young woman. Reacting to those encounters, he felt his ears bursting, his throat choking, his hands frozen, his body chilled and his arms and legs rigid. The hair on his body literally stood on end. He shrieked and fell down to the ground. He was paralyzed. He began to run. And he lost his power of speech.

Here we are asked to believe that a flesh-and-blood anthropologist who enjoyed this tumultuous supernatural affair with a glorious witch in 1962 did not recall her name in 1965, did not make the connection between the last meeting and the previous six when sorting through his field notes in the safety of his apartment, did not put it all together when naming her in his first book, but found the memory “as vivid as if it had just happened” on 22 May 1968, a few pages into his second book. Even if we could credit this uncharacteristic amnesia, we would still have to account for don Juan’s equal failure to name la Catalina in 1965.

The puzzle is easily solved by switching from the factual to the fictive model. The abrupt, unsatisfying ending of The Teachings is not a symptom of ethnographic battle fatigue, for our campaigner has already survived six such battles with colors flying. It is only a serialist’s preparation for the next episode, a cliffhanger that makes us hungry for another book. Tune in to my next nonordinary volume and hear la Catalina say: “Oye muchacho! If you theenk thees blackbirding, boar-dodging, car-stalking, sky-sailing, road-hopping, doorway-standing stuff ees bad, just wait three years till I eempersonate don Juan.”

On these showings, one thing is certain. The Teachings of Don Juan and Journey to Ixtlan cannot both be factual reports. One of them, at least, is fiction.

At this point one may well ask why Castaneda did not save himself a lot of trouble by telling his story in a straight line right from the beginning. Why did he start off with drug experiments if he or don Juan thought that was the wrong way to go? Having made the false start, why couldn’t he change his course gradually, as he was doing in A Separate Reality, without going back to Day One?

I don’t know what Castaneda’s explanation will be when he writes his confessions, but my theory runs like this: Many people who have known Castaneda describe him as consistently opposed to the use of drugs, and his four books taken together support that judgment. The 1960s, however, were not the right time for a nondrug visionary book. The market belonged to Timothy Leary. If Castaneda wanted to teach young people a better way, or even if he just wanted to sell them a lot of books, he had to meet them where they were, which was dropping acid in strawberry fields. As soon as he got a firm grip on his readers, or the market veered away from drugs, he could alter his course. By 1970, when the market was looking better for nondrug books, Castaneda realized he had unwittingly torpedoed his message by allowing many of his readers to believe nobody could get high enough to enter the other world without a powerful boost from the psychotropic rockets. To rescue the teachings he had to go back over the old ground, illustrating in convincing detail don Juan’s distaste for drugs and his capacity to teach any but the most inept apprentice how to see without them. To accomplish that rescue, Ixtlan had to be back-dated.

Or did it? Carlos “had the feeling don Juan was capable of arguing his way out of anything.” Why not let him argue his way out of the mess Castaneda had gotten him into? He could blame everything on Carlos’s stupidity or stubbornness, and Ixtlan could follow A Separate Reality in narrative time as well as in calendar time. That way, the contradictions would have been avoided, and this analysis could never have been written. But that option was closed, because the author had run out of calendar time.

In the flush of first success, Castaneda had been grinding out magical events faster than the earth was turning, and his readers (and presumably his agent and his publisher) were already howling for more. A Separate Reality had carried us all the way to October 1970, narrative time. Ixtlan would be published just two years later, calendar time, and Castaneda had to write a book about them, saving at least six months—and, more likely, a year—for the publisher’s manufacturing and premarketing. To make matters worse, during the first of those two years, Castaneda was actively enrolled as a student at UCLA, presumably doing visible things on campus. In the spring of the second year he was lecturing regularly at U. C. Irvine. Even for a sorcerer, that’s a pretty tough schedule. Anybody who did not believe a flesh-and-blood anthropologist could pop back and forth between UCLA and Mexico in the blink of a lizard’s eyelid would not buy it.

Summing up my theory, the vicissitudes of the literary market, the pressures of success and commercialism, the author’s productivity and the passage of ordinary time (which don Juan told us was relentless) combined to trap Castaneda, compelling him to leave in his books some well-hidden but ultimately discoverable clues that would someday betray what he had been up to. I don’t suppose he worried much about leaving them. A warrior does not wait around to be clobbered. Though he saw that I would find his clues in 1975 and publish them in 1977, he also saw that he would be flying much too high by that time to be brought to earth again by mere 12-gauge conclusive proofs of fictioneering.

R. Gordon Wasson was bothered by Castaneda’s language. Why, he asked, did we get no flavor of Spanish discourse in The Teachings? Why, in A Separate Reality, did don Juan spout so much American slang, when he had spoken standard English before? Why, in Journey to Ixtlan, did Castaneda give us Spanish we didn’t need but fail to tell us what Spanish phrases don Juan used for critical terms like “ally,” “not doing” and “stop the world?” “Any careful reader,” he concluded, “would say the original language of the conversations with don Juan was English.”

In 1968 Wasson sent a letter expressing misgivings. Castaneda replied “fully and frankly,” even sending Xerox copies of 12 large, ruled pages of worked-up field notes (not the kind Carlos had scribbled in the heat of the action, but a second generation, prepared in quieter moments). “They were in Spanish and carried questions, which Castaneda put to Don Juan, and replies, written in legible handwriting.” Their substance appeared in The Teachings “satisfactorily rendered into English” for 8 and 15 April 1962, when Carlos and don Juan were talking about the four enemies of a man of knowledge. Within a year, Wasson met Castaneda twice and was favorably impressed. “He was obviously an honest and serious young man. ”

Despite those assurances, Wasson’s estimate of Castaneda as a factual reporter steadily declined, reaching its nadir in 1973, when he saw Castaneda vacillating between science and romance, “a poor pilgrim lost on his way to his own Ixtlan.” The following year Tales of Power resolved the quandary and tipped the scale. Castaneda had abandoned science and was writing frank romance.

“For me the best is the latest,” Wasson said. The meaning of the tetralogy had at last come clear. The four books were an extended parable, an allegory revealing an alien, preliterate world. Though some doubts lingered about where ancient traditions left off and idiosyncratic science fiction began, Wasson felt Castaneda’s artistic truth, whatever its details might prove to be, finally outweighed the fumbling pseudoscience of the first three of his books.

Though Carlos itched to snap photos and spin tapes, don Juan wouldn’t stand for anything more evidential than notebooks. Luckily Carlos was an outstanding note taker, a speedwriter “capable of writing down most of what [don Juan] said in the beginning… and everything that was said… later.”

“You really write everything?” Don Juan could hardly believe it. Later he complimented Carlos on the sorcery of writing without concentrating. Carlos admitted he paid no attention to the scribbling, which seemed to him a separate activity he had nothing to do with. To be sure, the conversations are so full and lively that only an automatic writer could have written them down while participating in them. Years of this writing produced volumes of notes, which had to be organized and edited, but Castaneda assured us his editing was only selecting, not rewriting. If, as I believe, no other anthropologist has used automatic writing to take notes in the field, Carlos’s volumes of scribbled notes should without fail be deposited in some scholarly library, not merely to show that the interviews actually occurred, but also to illustrate a remarkable recording technique. If Castaneda could demonstrate the technique in person, that would be even better, methodologically.

Carlos’s literal transcription of “everything that was said’’ and Castaneda’s faithful reproduction of intact passages from Carlos’s notes tempt us to believe only simple translation stands between us and don Juan’s actual speech. How odd then to note, as Wasson did, that don Juan spoke standard English in The Teachings but slang in the later books. Granted, the don Juan of The Teachings did say, “Accident, my eye!” and repeated Carlos’s judgment that a girl named H. was “off her rocker,” but those were rare lapses. In A Separate Reality don Juan switched openly to slang, and in Journey to Ixtlan he called the wind “sneaky,” told Carlos he was “truly a pill” and said things like “Cut the guff,” “Come on, beat your gums.” “Some clown brought you to me,” “Don’t lose your marbles” and “Golly! We’re in a fix.” In Tales of Power don Juan told Carlos a warrior had to “prepare his tonal not to crap out,” praised Carlos with a BBCdy “Good show,” called him a “greenhorn,” but acknowledged that “We all go through the same shenanigans.” Don Genaro he dubbed “the real McCoy.” Not only did don Juan speak standard English in 1965, slang in 1968; but throughout 1961 and 1962 he spoke standard English in The Teachings, slang in Journey to Ixtlan.

How can we explain such foreign and capricious speech in an aging Yaqui recluse? Wasson, a former English instructor and magazine editor, laid the blame on delinquent editors at Simon and Schuster. Having found but a single error in The Teachings (where “all right” was consistently spelled “alright”), he judged the later books to be editorial disasters, where one would meet such clumsy mistakes as “the reason… is because.” “I… recuperated my balance” or “I wanted to adapt [adopt in The Teachings] a fighting position.” “What good,” Wasson asked, “is an editor who… does not edit?” No good, surely—but I think we have to excuse Simon and Schuster’s editors. Castaneda refused to cooperate with editors from the moment he escaped the University of California Press, where his undisciplined, eclectic, anachronistic colloquialisms had been expunged for the sake of academic dignity and ethnographic plausibility. In other words, don Juan’s habitual, authentic, uncensored speech is either American slang or some kind of Spanish that is more appropriately translated into American slang than into standard or Hispanicized English. One wonders what kind of Spanish that could be.

The foregoing observations convince me that except for a handful of names and phrases the conversations with don Juan never existed, spoken or written, on tape or in notebooks, in any language but English until Juan Tovar translated one of the bestsellers into Spanish in 1974.

What about the 12 pages of Spanish handwriting Castaneda sent to Gordon Wasson? They don’t change anything. Subject to refutation by long-awaited proofs from Castaneda, it is my conviction that those 12 pages did not exist before Wasson wrote his letter, that they were manufactured for the occasion and that they are the only pages of Spanish field notes to come out of Carlos’s dozen years in the desert. I shall not be surprised if some fat volume of Spanish scribbling shows up somewhere purporting to haul Carlos’s field work back into the ordinary reality. What would surprise me would be a careful examination of such a volume that did not find it to be just another linguistic leg-pull by those wonderful folks who brought you “Yaqui Shenanigans,” those incredible cactus conjurers Carlos McCoy and His Sonora Spoofers.

What Happened at UCLA?

Castaneda, as one professor put it, is “a native genius,” for whom the usual red tape and bureaucratic rigmarole were waived; his truth as a witness is not in question.
Time magazine

After a wild-coyote chase across Italy, Argentina and Brazil, where no trace was found of the quadralingual, multinational Carlos, Time dug up a dusty immigration record for one Carlos Arana C. and read at last the facts of Castaneda’s Peruvian origin. Seeing the case so deftly cracked, we wondered if any secret could be kept from the global reach, the massed bushbeating, the skillful probing of The Weekly Newsmagazine. Indeed, it could. Hot on the Westwood trail, Time’s Sandra Burton hit a stone wall of silence whose pleasant ivy mantle was all that saved her a sore nose as cordial professors chatted amiably with her but told her nothing that could explain Castaneda’s unusual academic career. “A native genius,” sighed one. “The type of student a teacher waits for,” marveled another.

Burton and her campus informants went round and round the subject, but nary a chink opened in the faculty facade through which an outsider might glimpse the forbidden Dance of the Dreaming Dissertator, in which for seven long years a tireless storyteller brings fairy tales to the learned elders, offering them as factual reports, until without warning the Men of Knowledge call him Earth Doctor and World Stopper, hoist him to their crumbling shoulders, bear him in stately procession out of the gloomy Graduate Limbo, through the narrow Gate of Power, onto the limitless tundra of professional anthropology, where they hand him a scroll and bid him good-by.

Perhaps I assume too much. Who among us has seen the official document? Time said Castaneda received his Ph.D. for Journey to Ixtlan, but Castaneda told his Irvine students Ixtlan would have “an academic analysis appended to it for his dissertation.” Perhaps the formal work he submitted contains both validating exhibits and scholarly apparatus going far beyond his popular writings.

Dissertation Abstracts International lists nearly every dissertation in the country. There I found a 500-word abstract by Castaneda under the promising title Sorcery: A Description of the World. “The data that comprises the present work,” Castaneda wrote, “was gathered over a period of ten years of sporadic field work in northwestern Mexico under the guidance and tutelage of a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, don Juan Matus, who in 1961 took me as his apprentice.” Since Journey to Ixtlan covers only 1960-62 and a brief episode in 1971, the abstract implies the dissertation was a more inclusive study.

Dissertations listed in the Abstracts can ordinarily be purchased directly from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, unless the author has prohibited such distribution. Of 30,000 new works listed in one recent year, fewer than 50 were so restricted. The rare author (1 in 600) who does not want us to order his dissertation typically plans to publish it in a more profitable commercial form or in an improved edition that will instruct us more effectively. Seeing his notice was already two years old, I ordered a copy from Ann Arbor anyway. Sorry, answered Xerox’s computer, input codes forbid me to bill out dissertation 73-13132. Please contact the author for copies.

I did, and I am still waiting for his reply. But while the author may control Xerox distribution, he has nothing to say about the two copies of his dissertation that must be deposited in the library. Except for its title, five faculty signatures endorsing the field work, a five-line vita, a four-item list of Castaneda’s prior publications, the 500-word abstract and a few editorial changes in the text, Sorcery: A Description of the World was indeed Journey to Ixtlan, and nothing more. No appended academic analysis, no reference list, no archival deposits, no referee’s testimony. Carlos Castaneda had gotten a Ph.D. in anthropology for interviewing an imaginary Indian. The record indicated no scholar outside of UCLA had borrowed the thesis.

Laymen of different stripes have offered various explanations of what happened at UCLA: professors are pointy-headed poltroons, UCLA is an ass, anthropology is no science, science is out and magic is in or something is missing.

Judging Castaneda’s career to have been a rare aberration, I find the last explanation most appealing. But what more can be missing? How did a fabrication like The Teachings, with its Yaqui-less Yaqui, its gratuitous Spanish, its anonymous actors, its vague setting, its parodic analysis and its spurious subtitle, attract faculty sponsors who would urge the university press to publish it? “When [the book] was originally submitted to us,” a press spokesman declared, “we realized the treatment was unorthodox, but all the eminent anthropologists we consulted recommended publication.” Those eminent consultants must have been rather carefully selected. Stranger still, how did Journey to Ixtlan, easily shown to be logically incompatible with The Teachings, get by as a dissertation after so many critics had said Castaneda was writing fiction?

Did the genius dazzle his less gifted mentors? Did the Dreamer hypnotize the Learned Elders or cast a spell on them? Brilliant, magnetic, thaumaturgic though he is, I cannot believe Castaneda could outfox, mesmerize or bewitch half a dozen tenured doctors of philosophy 13 years running. If he couldn’t fool La Barre, Leach, Harris, Hsu, Ochoa or Oates, who bore no grave responsibility for critically judging his work, it defies common sense to suppose he could bamboozle five dissertation signers and one or two other faculty members who did bear such responsibility. Rejecting the rumor that Castaneda duped his professors, I do suspect he seduced them.

The theory I propose here can be tested against the special information insiders possess. To wit: Certain schismatic culturologists at UCLA, feeling powerless to persuade their theoretical opponents by the tedious process of rational disputation, feeling shunted onto a sidetrack of scholastic history, feeling oppressed by the academic majority, feeling at the same time the surging rebellion of the 1960s, the boiling upheaval of dissent, greening and expanding consciousness, suddenly finding themselves challenged by a uniquely talented and picaresque accomplice, could simply not resist the temptation to pull a fast one on their opponents. They sanctified The Teachings spurious subtitle, parodic analysis and all—not because they thought it was ethnography or even a factual memoir, but because they felt it would be a well-deserved kick in the pants for certain ethnocentric, arrogant, academic mossbacks. On this view, university publication of The Teachings as ethnography was a private joke on, about, among and for culturologists. Laymen were not supposed to get in on it.

The university press had bigger ideas. Teachings would appeal to youth, especially in the drug culture. Perhaps the book would persuade acid droppers and speed freaks that more discipline was needed on the road to enlightenment, but, disciplinary or not, it would sell like penny uppers. It was a master stroke.

University press editions generally run pretty small; The Teachings had an oversized first printing and was advertised as “nothing less than a revelation.” The advance copy that hit the New York Times Book Review trailed a long fuse. The reviewer placed his charges well: young anthropologist, Indian sorcerer, peyote and other hallucinogenic plants, power over demons, science confronted by magic, spirituality stunted by rationalism, moving personal experience, turn-on, terror, danger, ecstasy, sinister guru, nervous breakdown. April 1969 saw Ballantine’s mass edition explode the private prank into a national fad. In three years The Teachings sold 300,000 copies—transforming an obscure graduate student into a pop-litt, quasi-scientific, neomystical cult figure as he pressed on to publish his second, more novelesque adventure and to talk about his third.

Back at the village, the elders realized they had let loose a monster. Though he had done nothing that would ordinarily merit such advancement, the Dreaming Dissertator made no secret of his aspiration to doctorhood. The pranksters had three choices. They could repudiate The Teachings, claiming Castaneda had deceived them, which would make them look like fools. They could boldly admit their prank, which would set off an endless professional wrangle wherein they would suffer sorely and which might provoke administrative reprisals. Or they could stonewall, thumbing a collective nose at critics, handing the prodigy his scroll and closing the village gate behind him. Of three bad choices, the last was least.

It might be thought Castaneda’s degree would secure his place in the world of the professors. The opposite is true. Between doctorhood and professorship yawns a chasm wide and deep. Prospective junior professors whose theses are known or suspected to be hoaxes will compete with difficulty against sober, earnest candidates whose work is conventional and whose appointment will invite no ridicule or censure. If the Dreamer made an ass of the university, the university got even by making him invisible, at least within the groves of academe. The transparent doctor must have cried all the way to the bank; at 16,000 copies a week, who needs students or university committee assignments?

Could no one have held the ethnoscientific toboggan back from its perilous plunge? “What about committee members who felt misgivings?” I asked a learned elder of a neighboring tribe. “They may have used the Whiteball system,” he replied. Whiteballing, I learned, was the opposite of blackballing, where one negative vote excludes a candidate from a private club. In whiteballing, one positive vote outweighs all negative votes. Whiteballing professors live in a world of mutual back scratching; when you are scratching somebody’s back, you are in no position to step on his toes. If a professor with status or prestige sponsors a dubious candidate, other professors do not voice their objections loud enough to prevent the candidate’s advancement. “I have been quite embarrassed at some of the people who have gotten through this way,” my informant said, “and I would guess one or two members of Castaneda’s committee were pretty uncomfortable about what they were doing. I understand somebody asked him in his final oral, ‘You don’t really mean you became a crow, do you, Carlos?’ ’Oh yes,’ he says, ’I was a crow. I flew.’”

Who whiteballed the man who had been a crow? Thus far I have not given actual names. One reason is that my theory of what happened at UCLA is only a theory, while names are facts. Another is that I am not sure how to assign individual responsibility for what was done. A third is that the responsible persons have been sufficiently embarrassed by now to satisfy anyone. If despite all this I now mention Professor Harold Garfinkel, UCLA sociologist and signer of Castaneda’s dissertation, it is because he has already been identified by Time as Castaneda’s thesis supervisor, nominated by U.C. San Diego psychiatry professor Arnold Mandell as Castaneda’s putative sponsor and described by MIT political scientist Christopher Schaefer as Castaneda’s adviser.

Some years ago, Mandell endured an arduous postdoctoral apprenticeship under Garfinkel, whom he later recognized as his own don-Juan-in-the-mind, an academic rebel who held that social scientists found no truth in nature but fabricated all. Mandell suspected that in making Castaneda rewrite an intended thesis three times, Garfinkel had imposed his ethnographic nihilism so ruthlessly that the wily graduate student had determined to go him one better, to out-Garfinkel Garfinkel, to prepare a beautifully wrapped empty package, a bogus thesis, a fake ethnography, which would achieve continuity and a sense of reality, thereby demonstrating the student’s capacity to manipulate ethnomethodologic tools without contradicting the master’s teaching that all reality in social science was manufactured by social scientists. “It has to be the only way to work with this scrambler of tenets,” Mandell wrote.

In suggesting Garfinkel forced Castaneda to tell tall tales, I think Mandell went a step too far. If Carlos met don Juan in the summer of 1960 and Margaret Castaneda heard about it shortly thereafter, when Castaneda still had two years to go as an undergraduate, the tales must have begun to grow tall long before any thesis supervisor could have applied any pressure. Seeing the didactic relationship as symbiotic rather than exploitative, I suspect the two men found each other perfect partners, whose respective needs, interests and talents were mutually sustaining. It may have been a beautiful collaboration.

When a coyote sees shadow of a roosting chicken by moonlight he pounces on the shadow and brings down the bird. When a Coyote Ethnographer sees the shadow of a sorcering mind he pounces on it and brings down the Temple of Learning. Out of the rubble will rise a new construction of the relation between art and science in anthropology. Amid the groans of dying illusion we hear a Yaquity-Iberian laugh. Through the dust of collapsing confidence we spy an impish, stocky man wearing a naughty, wolfish head, and we know at once it is he. Trickster Academe, the Rogue Who Teaches. Well pleased with himself, Coyote Ph.D. is going on his way now, leaving us to pick up the pieces.

Under the world where Earthmaker lives there is another world just like it, and of this world, he, Trickster, is in charge.

1 comment
  1. At one time we believed these Bullshit stories because we wanted too but what we found was something way deeper the occult is nothing to fuck with.

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