Carlos Castaneda Speaks, An interview by Keith Thompson


Magazine: New Age Journal
Issue: March/April 1994
Title: Carlos Castaneda Speaks, An interview by Keith Thompson
Author: Keith Thompson


        Literary agents are paid to hype their clients, but when the 
agent for Carlos Castaneda claimed that he was offering me "the 
interview of a lifetime," it was hard to disagree. After all, 
Castaneda's nine best-selling books describing his 
extraordinary apprenticeship to Yaqui Indian sorcerer don Juan 
Matus had inspired countless members of my generation to 
explore mysticism, psychedelic drugs, and new levels of 
consciousness. Yet even as his reputation grew, the author had 
remained a recluse, shrouding himself in mystery and intrigue. 
Aside from a few interviews given seemingly at random over 
the years, Castaneda never ventured into the public spotlight. 
Few people even know what he looks like. For this interview, 
his agent told me, there could be no cameras and no tape 
recorders. The conversation would have to be recorded by a 
stenographer, lest copies of Castaneda's taped voice fall into the 
wrong hands.

The interview -- perhaps timed to coincide with the publication 
of Castaneda's latest and most esoteric book, The Art of 
Dreaming -- took place in the conference room of a modest 
office in Los Angeles, after weeks of back-and-forth 
negotiations with Castaneda's agent. The arrangements were 
complicated, the agent said, by the fact that he had no way of 
contacting his client and could only confirm a meeting after 
speaking with him "whenever he decides to call . . . I never 
know in advance when that may be."

Upon my arrival at noon, an energetic, enthusiastic, broad-
smiled man walked across the room, extended his hand, and 
greeted me unassumingly: "Hello, I am Carlos Castaneda. 
Welcome. We can begin our conversation when you are ready. 
Would you like coffee, or perhaps a soda? Please make yourself 
comfortable."

I had heard that Castaneda blends into the woodwork, or 
resembles a Cuban waiter; that his features are both European 
and Indian; that his skin is nut-brown or bronze; that his hair 
is black, thick, and curly. So much for rumor. His mane is now 
white, or largely so, short and mildly disheveled. If asked to 
guide a police artist in making a sketch, I would emphasize the 
eyes --  large, bright, lucid. They may have been gray.

I asked Castaneda about his schedule. "The entire afternoon is 
available. I should think we'll have all the time we need. When 
it's enough, we'll know." Our conversation lasted four hours, 
continuing through a meal of deli sandwiches that arrived 
midway.



My first exposure to Castaneda's work had been as much 
initiation as introduction. It was 1968. Police officers were 
clubbing demonstrators in the streets of Chicago. Assassins had 
taken Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Aretha 
Franklin's "Chain of Fools" topped the charts. All of this amidst 
an ocean of sandals, embroidered caftans, bell-bottoms, 
jangling bracelets, beads, and long hair for men and women 
alike.

Into all this stepped an enigmatic writer named Carlos 
Castaneda, toting a book called The Teachings of Don Juan: A 
Yaqui Way of Knowledge. I remember how it transformed me. 
The book I began reading was a curiosity; the book I held when 
I finished had become a manifesto, the kind of delirious cause 
celebre for which my psyche had been secretly training. What 
Castaneda seemed to be affirming  -- the possibility of 
awesome personal spiritual experience -- was precisely what 
the Sunday-morning-only religion of my childhood had done its 
best to vaccinate me against.

Believing in Castaneda gave me faith that someday, some way, 
I might meet my very own don Juan Matus (don is a Spanish 
appellative denoting respect), the old Indian wise 
man/sorcerer who implores his prot^Bg^B Carlos to get beyond 
looking -- simply perceiving the world in its usually accepted 
forms. To be a true "man of knowledge," Carlos has to learn the 
art of seeing, so that for the first time he can truly perceive the 
startling nature of the everyday world. "When you see," don 
Juan says, "there are no longer familiar features in the world. 
Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The 
world is incredible!"

But, really -- who was this Castaneda? Where did he come from 
and what was he trying to prove, with his mysterious account 
of a realm that seemed to be of an entirely different order of 
reality?

Over the years, various answers to that question have been 
offered. Take your pick: (a) dissenting anthropologist; (b) 
sorcerer's apprentice; (c) psychic visionary; (d) literary genius; 
(e) original philosopher; (f) master teacher. For balance, let's 
not forget (g) perpetrator of one of the most spectacular hoaxes 
in the history of publishing.

Castaneda has responded to the bestowal of these conflicting ID 
tags with something like ironic amusement, as though he were 
an audience member enjoying the spectacle of a Chekhov 
comedy in which he himself may or may not be a character. 
The author has consistently declined -- over a span of nearly 
three decades -- to engage in the war of words about whether 
his books are authentic accounts of real-world encounters, as 
he maintains, or (as numerous critics have argued) fictional 
allegories in the spirit of Gulliver's Travels and Alice in 
Wonderland.

This strategic reticence was learned from don Juan himself. "To 
slip in and out of different worlds you have to remain 
inconspicuous," says Castaneda, who is rumored (his preferred 
status) to divide his time nowadays between Los Angeles, 
Arizona, and Mexico. "The more you are identified by people's 
ideas of who you are and how you will act, the greater the 
constraint on your freedom. Don Juan insisted upon the 
importance of erasing personal history. If little by little you 
create a fog around yourself, then you will not be taken for 
granted, and you will have more room for change."

Even so, scattered clearings in the fog offer glimpses of tracks 
left by the sorcerer's apprentice in the years before his life 
faded to myth.



The scholarly consensus, unconfirmed by the author himself, is 
that Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda was born in Peru on 
Christmas day 1925 in the historic Andean town of Cajamarca. 
Upon graduating from the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Senora 
de Guadalupe, he studied briefly at the National Fine Arts 
School of Peru. In 1948 his family moved to Lima and 
established a jewelry store. After the death of his mother a 
year later, Castaneda moved to San Francisco and soon enrolled 
at Los Angeles City College, where he took two courses in 
creative writing and one in journalism. 

Castaneda received a B.A. in anthropology in 1962 from the 
University of California at Los Angeles. In 1968, five years 
before Castaneda received his Ph.D. in anthropology, the 
University of California Press published The Teachings of Don 
Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, which became a national best 
seller following an enthusiastic notice by Roger Jellinek in the 
New York Times Book Review:

"One can't exaggerate the significance of what Castaneda has 
done. He is describing a shamanistic tradition, a pre-logical 
cultural form that is no-one-knows how old. It has been 
described often. . . . But it seems that no other outsider, and 
certainly not a 'Westerner,' has ever participated in its 
mysteries from within; nor has anyone described them so well."

The fuse was lit. The Teachings sold 300,000 copies in a 1969 
Ballantine mass edition. A Separate Reality and Journey to 
Ixtlan followed from Simon & Schuster in 1971 and 1972. The 
saga continued in Tales of Power (1974), The Second Ring of 
Power (1977), The Eagle's Gift (1981), The Fire from Within 
(1984), The Power of Silence (1987), and The Art of Dreaming 
(1993). (Bibliophiles may be interested to learn that Castaneda 
says he actually wrote a book about don Juan before The 
Teachings, titled The Crack Between Worlds, but lost the 
manuscript in a movie theater.)

In assessing the impact of his work, Castaneda's admirers 
credit him with introducing to popular culture the rich and 
varied traditions of shamanism, with their emphasis on 
entering nonordinary realms and confronting strange and 
sometimes hostile spirit-powers, in order to restore balance 
and harmony to body, soul, and society. Inspired by don Juan's 
use of peyote, jimsonweed, and other power plants to teach 
Castaneda the "art of dreaming," untold numbers of pioneers 
extended their own inner horizons through psychedelic inquiry 
-- with decidedly mixed results.

For their part, critics of Castaneda's "path of knowledge" 
dismiss his work as an ongoing pseudo-anthropological 
shenanigan, complete with fabricated shamans and 
sensationalized Native American religious practices. The 
writings, they claim, have netted an unscrupulous author 
tremendous wealth at the cost of denigrating the sacred 
lifeways of indigenous peoples through commercial 
exploitation. Castaneda's presentation, writes Richard de Mille 
in Castaneda's Journey, "appeals to the reader's hunger for 
myth, magic, ancient wisdom, true reality, self-improvement, 
other worlds, or imaginary playmates."



Appropriately, the Castaneda I encountered was a study in 
contrasts. His presence was informal, spontaneous, warmly 
animated, and at times contagiously mirthful. At the same time, 
his still heavily accented (Peruvian? Chilean? Spanish?) diction 
conveyed the patrician formality of an ambassador at court: 
deliberate and well-composed, serious and poised, earnest and 
resolute. Practiced. 

The contradiction, like so much about the man, may strike 
some as a bothersome inconsistency. But it shouldn't. To reread 
Carlos Castaneda's books (as I did, astonishingly, all nine of 
them) is to see clearly -- perhaps for the first time -- that 
contradiction is the force that ties his literary Gordian knot. As 
the author had told me, intently, during our lunch break: "Only 
by pitting two views against each other can one weasel 
between them to arrive at the real world."

I had the sense he was letting me know his fortress was well 
guarded -- and daring me to storm it anyway. 

Keith Thompson: As your books have made a character named 
Carlos world-famous, the author called Castaneda has retreated 
further and further from public view. There have been more 
confirmed sightings of Elvis than of Carlos Castaneda in recent 
years. Legend has you committing suicide on at least three 
occasions; there's the persistent story of your death in a 
Mexican bus crash two decades ago; and my search for a 
confirmed photo and audio tapes was fruitless. How can I be 
sure that you're truly Castaneda and not a Carlos impersonator 
from Vegas? Have you got any distinguishing birthmarks?

Carlos Castaneda: None! Just my agent vouches for me. That's 
his job. But you are free to ask me your questions and shine a 
bright light in my eyes and keep me here all night -- like in the 
old movies. 

You're known for being unknown. Why have you agreed to talk 
now, after declining interviews for so many years? 

Because I'm at the end of the trail that started over thirty 
years ago. As a young anthropologist, I went to the Southwest 
to collect information, to do fieldwork on the medicinal plants 
used by the Indians of the area. I intended to write an article, 
go on to graduate school, become a professional in my field. I 
hadn't the slightest interest in meeting a weird man like don 
Juan.

How exactly did your paths cross?

I was waiting for the bus at the Greyhound station in Nogales, 
Arizona, talking with an anthropologist who had been my guide 
and helper in my survey. My colleague leaned over and 
pointed to a white-haired old Indian across the room -- "Psst, 
over there, don't let him see you looking"  -- and said he was 
an expert about peyote and medicinal plants. That was all I 
needed to hear. I put on my best airs and sauntered over to 
this man, who was known as don Juan, and told him I myself 
was an authority about peyote. I said that it might be worth his 
while to have lunch and talk with me -- or something 
unbearably arrogant to that effect.

The old power-lunch ploy. But you weren't really much of an 
authority, were you?

I knew next to nothing about peyote! But I continued rattling 
on -- boasting about my knowledge, intending to impress him. 
I remember that he just looked at me and nodded occasionally, 
without saying a word. My pretensions melted in the heat of 
that day. I was stunned at being silenced. There I stood in the 
abyss, until don Juan saw that his bus had come. He said good-
bye, with the slightest wave of his hand. I felt like an arrogant 
imbecile, and that was the end.

Also the beginning.  

Yes, that's when everything started. I learned that don Juan 
was known as a brujo, which means, in English, medicine man, 
curer, sorcerer. It became my task to discover where he lived. 
You know, I was very good at doing that, and I did. I found out, 
and I came to see him one day. We took a liking to each other 
and soon became good friends. 

You felt like a moron in this man's presence, but you were 
eager to seek him out? 

The way don Juan had looked at me there in the bus station 
was exceptional -- an unprecedented event in my life. There 
was something remarkable about his eyes, which seemed to 
shine with a light all their own. You see, we are -- 
unfortunately we don't want to accept this, but we are apes, 
anthropoids, simians. There's a primary knowledge that we all 
carry, directly connected with the two-million-year-old person 
at the root of our brain. And we do our best to suppress it, 
which makes us obese, cardiac, cancer-prone. It was on that 
archaic level that I was tackled by don Juan's gaze, despite my 
annoyance and irritation that he had seen through my pretense 
to expertise in the bus station. 

Eventually you became don Juan's apprentice, and he your 
mentor. What was the transition? 

A year passed before he took me into his confidence. We had 
gotten to know each other quite well, when one day don Juan 
turned to me and said he held a certain knowledge that he had 
learned from an unnamed benefactor, who had led him through 
a kind of training. He used this word "knowledge" more often 
than "sorcery," but for him they were one and the same. Don 
Juan said he had chosen me to serve as his apprentice, but that 
I must be prepared for a long and difficult road. I had no idea 
how astonishingly strange the road would be.

That's a consistent thread of your books --  your struggle to 
make sense of a "separate reality" where gnats stand a 
hundred feet tall, where human heads turn into crows, where 
the same leaf falls four times, where sorcerers conjure cars to 
disappear in broad daylight. A good stage hypnotist can 
produce astonishing effects. Is it possible that's what don Juan 
was up to? Did he trick you?

It's possible. What he did was teach me that there's much more 
to the world than we usually acknowledge -- that our normal 
expectations about reality are created by social consensus, 
which is itself a trick. We're taught to see and understand the 
world through a socialization process that, when working 
correctly, convinces us that the interpretations we agree upon 
define the limits of the real world. Don Juan interrupted this 
process in my life by demonstrating that we have the capacity 
to enter into other worlds that are constant and independent of 
our highly conditioned awareness. Sorcery involves 
reprogramming our capacities to perceive realms as real, 
unique, absolute, and engulfing as our daily so-called mundane 
world. 

Don Juan is always trying to get you to put your explanations of 
reality and your assumptions about what's possible inside 
brackets, so you can see how arbitrary they are. Contemporary 
philosophers would call this "deconstructing" reality. 

Don Juan had a visceral understanding of the way language 
works as a system unto itself -- the way it generates pictures 
of reality that we believe, mistakenly, to reveal the "true" 
nature of things. His teachings were like a club beating my 
thick head until I saw that my precious view was actually a 
construction, woven of all kinds of fixated interpretations, 
which I used to defend myself against pure wondering 
perception.

There's a contradiction in there, somewhere. On the one hand, 
don Juan desocialized you, by teaching you to see without 
preconceptions. Yet it sounds like he then resocialized you by 
enrolling you in a new set of meanings, simply giving you a 
different interpretation, a new spin on reality -- albeit a 
"magical" one. 

That's something don Juan and I argued about all the time. He 
said in effect that he was despinning me and I maintained he 
was respinning me. By teaching me sorcery he presented a new 
lens, a new language, and a new way of seeing and being in the 
world. I was caught between my previous certainty about the 
world and a new description, sorcery, and forced to hold the 
old and the new together. I felt completely stalled, like a car 
slipping its transmission. Don Juan was delighted. He said this 
meant I was slipping between descriptions of reality -- 
between my old and new views. 

Eventually I saw that all my prior assumptions were based on 
viewing the world as something from which I was essentially 
alienated. That day when I encountered don Juan in the bus 
station, I was the ideal academic, triumphantly estranged, 
conniving to prove my nonexistent expertise concerning 
psychotropic plants. 

Ironically, it was don Juan who later introduced you to 
"Mescalito," the green-skinned spirit of peyote.

Don Juan introduced me to psychotropic plants in the middle 
period of my apprenticeship, because I was so stupid and so 
cocky, which of course I considered evidence of sophistication. 
I held to my conventional description of the world with 
incredible vengeance, convinced it was the only truth. Peyote 
served to exaggerate the subtle contradictions within my 
interpretative gloss, and this helped me cut through the typical 
Western stance of seeing a world out there and talking to 
myself about it. But the psychotropic approach had its costs -- 
physical and emotional exhaustion. It took months for me to 
come fully around. 

If you could do it over again, would you "just say no"?

My path has been my path. Don Juan always told me, "Make a 
gesture." A gesture is nothing more than a deliberate act 
undertaken for the power that comes from making a decision. 
Ultimately, the value of entering a nonordinary state, as you do 
with peyote or other psychotropic plants, is to exact what you 
need in order to embrace the stupendous character of ordinary 
reality. You see, the path of the heart is not a road of incessant 
introspection or mystical flight, but a way of engaging the joys 
and sorrows of the world. This world, where each one of us is 
related at molecular levels to every other wondrous and 
dynamic manifestation of being -- this world is the warrior's 
true hunting ground.

Your friend don Juan teaches what is, how to know what is, and 
how to live in accord with what is -- ontology, epistemology, 
and ethics. Which leads many to say he's too good to be true, 
that you created him from scratch as an allegorical instrument 
of wise instruction.  

The notion that I concocted a person like don Juan is 
preposterous. I'm a product of a European intellectual tradition 
to which a character like don Juan is alien. The actual facts are 
stranger: I'm a reporter. My books are accounts of an 
outlandish phenomenon that forced me to make fundamental 
changes in my life in order to meet the phenomenon on its own 
terms. 

Some of your critics grow quite livid in their contention that 
Juan Matus sometimes speaks more like an Oxford don than a 
don Indian. Then there's the fact that he traveled widely and 
acquired his knowledge from sources not limited to his Yaqui 
roots. 

Permit me to make a confession: I take much delight in the 
idea that don Juan may not be the "best" don Juan. It's 
probably true that I'm not the best Carlos Castaneda, either. 
Years ago I met the perfect Castaneda at a party in Sausalito, 
quite by accident. There, in the middle of the patio, was the 
most handsome man, tall, blond, blue-eyed, beautiful, barefoot. 
It was the early '70s. He was signing books, and the owner of 
the house said to me, "I'd like you to meet Carlos Castaneda." 
He was impersonating Carlos Castaneda, with an impressive 
coterie of beautiful women all around him. I said, "I am very 
pleased to meet you, Mister Castaneda." He responded, "Doctor 
Castaneda." He was doing a very good job. I thought, He 
presents a good way to be Castaneda, the ideal Castaneda, with 
all the benefits that go with the position. But time passes, and 
I'm still the Castaneda that I am, not very well suited to play 
the Hollywood version. Nor is don Juan. 

Speaking of confessions: Did you ever contemplate downplaying 
the eccentricity of your teacher and presenting him as a more 
conventional character, to make him a better vehicle for his 
teachings?

I never considered such an approach. Smoothing rough edges to 
advance an agreeable plot is the luxury of the novelist. I'm not 
unfamiliar with the spoken and unspoken canon of science: "Be 
objective." Sometimes don Juan spoke in goofy slang -- the 
equivalent of "By golly!" and "Don't lose your marbles!" are two 
of his favorites. On other occasions he showed a superb 
command of Spanish, which permitted me to obtain detailed 
explanations of the intricate meanings of his system of beliefs 
and its underlying logic. To deliberately alter don Juan in my 
books so he would appear consistent and meet the expectations 
of this or that audience would bring "subjectivity" to my work, 
a demon that, according to my best critics, has no place in 
ethnographic writing. 

Skeptics have challenged you to exorcise that demon once and 
for all, by presenting for public inspection the field notes based 
on your encounters with don Juan. Wouldn't that alleviate 
doubts about whether your writings are genuine ethnography 
or disguised fiction?

Whose doubts?

Fellow anthropologists, for starters. 

The Senate Watergate Committee. Geraldo Rivera . . .

There was a time when requests to see my field notes seemed 
unencumbered by hidden ideological agendas. After The 
Teachings of Don Juan appeared I received a thoughtful letter 
from Gordon Wasson, the founder of the science of 
ethnomycology, the study of human uses of mushrooms and 
other fungi. Gordon and Valentina Wasson had discovered the 
existence of still-active shamanic mushroom cults in the 
mountains near Oaxaca, Mexico. Dr. Wasson asked me to clarify 
certain aspects of don Juan's use of psychotropic mushrooms. I 
gladly sent him several pages of field notes relevant to his area 
of interest, and met with him twice. Subsequently he referred 
to me as an "honest and serious young man," or words to that 
effect. 

Even so, some critics proceeded to assert that any field notes 
produced by Castaneda must be assumed to be forgeries 
created after the fact. At that point I realized there was no way 
I could satisfy people whose minds were made up without 
recourse to whatever documentation I might provide. Actually, 
it was liberating to abandon the enterprise of public relations 
-- intrinsically a violation of my nature -- and return to my 
fieldwork with don Juan.

You must be familiar with the claim that your work has 
fostered the trivialization of indigenous spiritual traditions. The 
argument goes like this: A despicable cadre of non-Indian 
wannabees, commercial profiteers, and self-styled shamans has 
read your books and found them inspiring. How do you plead? 

I didn't set out to write an exhaustive account of indigenous 
spirituality, so it's a fallacy to judge my work by that criterion. 
My books are instead a chronicle of specific experiences and 
observations in a particular context, reported to the best of my 
ability. But I do plead guilty to knowingly committing willful 
acts of ethnography, which is none other than translating 
cultural experience into writing. Ethnography is always writing. 
That's what I do. What happens when spoken words become 
written words, and written words become published words, 
and published words get ingested through acts of reading by 
persons unknown to the author? Let's agree to call it complex. 
I've been extremely fortunate to have a wide and diverse 
readership throughout much of the world. The entry 
requirement is the same everywhere: literacy. Beyond this, I'm 
responsible for the virtues and vices of my anonymous 
audience in the same way that every writer of any time and 
place is so responsible. The main thing is, I stand by my work.

What does don Juan think of your global notoriety?

Nada. Not a thing. I learned this definitively when I took him a 
copy of The Teachings of Don Juan. I said, "It's about you, don 
Juan." He surveyed the book --  up and down, back and front, 
flipped through the pages like a deck of cards --  then handed 
it back. I was crestfallen and told him I wanted him to have it 
as a gift. Don Juan said he had better not accept it, "because you 
know what we do with paper in Mexico." He added, "Tell your 
publisher to print your next book on softer stock."

Earlier you mentioned that don Juan deliberately made his 
teaching dramatic. Your writings reflect that. Much 
anthropological writing gives the impression of striving for 
dullness, as if banality were a mark of truth.

To have made my astonishing adventures with don Juan boring 
would have been to lie. It has taken me many years to 
appreciate the fact that don Juan is a master of using 
frustration, digression, and partial disclosure as methods of 
instruction. He strategically blended revelation and 
concealment in the oddest combinations. It was his style to 
assert that ordinary and nonordinary reality aren't separate, 
but instead are encompassed in a larger circle -- and then to 
reverse himself the next day by insisting that the line between 
different realities must be respected at all costs. I asked him 
why this must be so. He answered, "Because nothing is more 
important to you than keeping your personal world intact." 

He was right. That was my top priority in the early days of the 
apprenticeship. Eventually I saw -- I saw -- that the path of 
the heart requires a full gesture, a degree of abandon that can 
be terrifying. Only then is it possible to achieve a sparkling 
metamorphosis. 

I also realized the extent to which the teachings of don Juan 
could and would be dismissed as "mere allegory" by certain 
specialists whose sacramental mission is to reinforce the limits 
that culture and language place on perception. 

This approaches the question of who gets to define "correct" 
cultural description. Nowadays some of Margaret Mead's critics 
declare she was "wrong" about Samoa. But why not say, less 
dogmatically, that her writings present a partial picture based 
on a unique encounter with an exotic culture? Obviously her 
discoveries mirrored the concerns of her time, including her 
own biases. Who has the authority to cordon off art from 
science?

The assumption that art, magic, and science can't exist in the 
same space at the same time is an obsolete remnant of 
Aristotelian philosophical categories. We've got to get beyond 
this kind of nostalgia in the social science of the twenty-first 
century. Even the term ethnography is too monolithic, because 
it implies that writing about other cultures is an activity 
specific to anthropology, whereas in fact ethnography cuts 
across various disciplines and genres. Furthermore, even the 
ethnographer isn't monolithic -- he or she must be reflexive 
and multifaceted, just like the cultural phenomena that are 
encountered as "other." 

So the observer, the observed phenomenon, and the process of 
observation form an inseparable totality. From that 
perspective, reality isn't simply received, it's actively captured 
and rendered in different ways by different observers with 
different ways of seeing. 

Just so. What sorcery comes down to is the act of embodying 
some specialized theoretical and practical premises about the 
nature of perception in molding the universe around us. It took 
me a long time to understand, intuitively, that there were three 
Castanedas: one who observed don Juan, the man and teacher; 
another who was the active subject of don Juan's training -- the 
apprentice; and still another who chronicled the adventures. 
"Three" is a metaphor to describe the sensation of endlessly 
changing boundaries. Likewise, don Juan himself was 
constantly shifting positions. Together we were traversing the 
crack between the natural world of everyday life and an 
unseen world, which don Juan called "the second attention," a 
term he preferred to "supernatural." 

What you're describing isn't what comes to mind for most 
anthropologists when they think about their line of work, you 
know.

Oh, I'm certain you're right about that! Someone recently asked 
me, What does mainstream anthropology think of Carlos 
Castaneda? I don't suppose most of them think about me at all. 
A few may be a little bit annoyed, but they're sure that 
whatever I'm doing is not scientific and they don't trouble 
themselves. For most of the field, "anthropological possibility" 
means that you go to an exotic land, arrive at a hotel, drink 
your highball while a flock of indigenous people come and talk 
to you about the culture. They tell you all kinds of things, and 
you write down the various words for father and mother. More 
highballs, then you go home and put it all in your computer 
and tabulate for correlations and differences. That to them is 
scientific anthropology. For me, that would be living hell.

How do you actually write?

My conversations with don Juan throughout the apprenticeship 
were conducted primarily in Spanish. From the outset I tried to 
persuade don Juan to let me use a tape recorder, but he said 
relying on something mechanical only makes us more and more 
sterile. "It curtails your magic," he said. "Better to learn with 
your whole body so you'll remember with your whole body." I 
had no idea what he meant. Consequently I began keeping 
voluminous field notes of what he said. He found my 
industriousness amusing. As for my books, I dream them. I 
gather myself and my field notes -- usually in the afternoon 
but not always -- and go through all my notes and translate 
them into English. In the evening I sleep and dream what I 
want to write. When I wake up, I write in the quiet hours of 
the night, drawing upon what has arranged itself coherently in 
my head. 

Do you rewrite?

It's not my practice to do so. Regular writing is for me quite 
dry and labored. Dreaming is best. Much of my training with 
don Juan was in reconditioning perception to sustain dream 
images long enough to look at them carefully. Don Juan was 
right about the tape recorder --  and in retrospect, right about 
the notes. They were my crutch, and I no longer need them. By 
the end of my time with don Juan, I learned to listen and watch 
and sense and recall in all the cells of my body.

Earlier you mentioned reaching the end of the road, and now 
you're talking about the end of your time with don Juan. Where 
is he now?

He's gone. He disappeared.

Without a clue? 

Don Juan told me he was going to fulfill the sorcerer's dream of 
leaving this world and entering into "unimaginable 
dimensions." He displaced his assemblage point from its 
fixation in the conventional human world. We would call it 
combusting from the inside. It's an alternative to dying. Either 
they bury you six feet deep in the poor flowers or you burn. 
Don Juan chose burning.

I guess it's one way to erase personal history. Then this 
conversation is don Juan's obituary notice? 

He had come to the end, deliberately. By intent. He wanted to 
expand, to join his physical body with his energy body. His 
adventure was there, where the tiny personal tide pool joins 
the great ocean. He called it the "definitive journey." Such 
vastness is incomprehensible to my mind, so I can only give up 
explaining. I've found that the explanatory principle will 
protect you from fear of the unknown, but I prefer the 
unknown. 

You've traveled far and wide. Give it to me straight: Is reality 
ultimately a safe place?

I once asked don Juan something quite similar. We were alone 
in the desert --  nighttime, billions of stars. He laughed in a 
friendly and genuine way. He said, "Sure, the universe is 
benign. It may destroy you, but in the process it will teach you 
something worth knowing." 

What's next for Carlos Castaneda?

I'll have to let you know. Next time.

Will there be a next time?

There's always a next time. 
        ###


    
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