Carlos Castaneda Speaks,
An interview by Keith Thompson
From New Age Journal
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
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 protégé 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
© Copyright New Age Journal
Publication Date: March/April 1994