Carlos Castaneda , full name Carlos César Salvador Arana Castañeda, was a prominent Peruvian writer and anthropologist, a citizen of the United States. He transcended the world of letters with the publication of mystical books. His works were translated into 17 languages.
These books were related to the New Age or New Age movement , and they quickly generated controversy. Despite the harsh criticism that enveloped his life and doubts about the authenticity of his work, Carlos Castaneda became a literary icon for an entire generation. His works are emblematic of the hippie era .
His work has its peak along with that of this counterculture; its sales numbers have exceeded 28 million copies. Little is known about his life: by his own decision he did not want it to be disclosed. However, it is implied that he was born in Peru, and that in his youth he emigrated to the United States, where he was nationalized and lived the rest of his life.
Carlos Castaneda himself was very reserved with any biographical information. However, he claimed to have been born in Brazil. He went on to say that his family later decided to move to Peru, and that in his youth he went through various schools and boarding schools. One of the schools was located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In addition, he said that his father was the owner of a jewelry store and that it was he who sent him to study sculpture in Milan, Italy.
According to the most accepted version of his biography , the writer is a native of Cajamarca, Peru. In 1951 he moved to Los Angeles, United States. He studied Anthropology at the University of California, and for a time he only dedicated himself to traveling through the southern United States.
It is said that he was a very womanizing man; married and divorced a couple of times. Some children were born from their relationships, not all of whom are recognized. He was also a person with a taste for the occult; hence his interest in wanting to learn witchcraft.
In addition, he was very interested in the hippie counterculture , its lifestyle and everything that was psychedelic.
Castaneda died on April 27, 1998 in Los Angeles due to complications from liver cancer. There was no public service, he was cremated and the ashes were sent to Mexico.
His death was unknown to the outside world until almost two months later, on June 19, 1998, when an obituary dedicated to Carlos Castaneda by writer JR Moehringer appeared in the Los Angeles Times .
In the 1970s, Castaneda was considered by some to be the creator of a new religion. It was implied that, through his work, he incited the use of psychotropic substances. Many people used to go to central Mexico in search of Don Juan, their mentor and inspiration.
Don Juan was a Yaqui sorcerer that Castaneda met in 1960, when he was doing field work in a town in Arizona. In the preface to one of his books, Castaneda presented the use of psychotropics as facultative.
However, the initiations that encourage the visions and the use of substances have generated controversies about the harmless nature of Castaneda’s works, some of which have come to be edited and others banned.
The first three books of the writer Carlos Castaneda were: The teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui path of knowledge , A separate reality and Journey to Ixtlan .
All of these were written while Castaneda was a student of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), United States. She wrote these books as a research journal describing her apprenticeship with a man identified as Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico.
Complete list of his works:
- The teachings of Don Juan ( The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge , 1968, which was also his thesis).
- A separate reality ( A Separate Reality , 1971).
- Journey to Ixtlán ( Journey to Ixtlan , 1973): with him he obtained his doctorate.
- Tales of Power ( Tales Of Power , 1975).
- The Second Ring of Power ( The Second Ring of Power , 1977)
- The gift of the eagle ( The Eagle’s Gift ‘ , 1981)
- The Fire ( The Fire From Within , 1984)
- Silent Knowledge ( The Power of Silence , 1987)
- The Art of Dreaming ( The Art of Dreaming , 1993)
- The inner silence ( Silent Knowlegde , 1996): also known as “The Purple Book”, and which was only sold in Tensegrity workshops.
- The active side of infinity ( The Active Side of Infinity , 1998)
- Magical Passes ( Magical Passes , 1999)
- The Wheel of Time ( The Wheel of Time , 2000)
Castaneda received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees based on the work described in these books. He wrote that Don Juan recognized him as the new nagual, or leader of a group of seers from his tribe.
Matus also used the term nagual to mean that part of perception that is in the realm of the unknown, but still achievable by man.
This implies that, for his own group of seers, Matus was a connection to that unknown world. Castaneda often referred to this mysterious realm as “non-ordinary reality.”
The term nagual has been used by anthropologists to refer to a shaman or sorcerer. This is capable of transforming into an animal form, or metaphorically changing to another form through magical rituals, shamanism and experiences with psychoactive drugs.
While Castaneda was a well-known cultural figure, he rarely appeared in public. Castaneda’s books and the man himself became a cultural phenomenon.
The story of his apprenticeship from a shaman, a kind of hero’s journey, struck a chord in the counterculture generation and resonated as a myth of adventure and self-discovery.
His books, supposedly based on meetings with the mysterious aboriginal shaman Don Juan, made the author a worldwide celebrity. His list of admirers included John Lennon, William Burroughs, Federico Fellini, and Jim Morrison.
Reality or fantasy?
Since Castaneda’s books first appeared, many critics doubted their authenticity. Books and articles have been published over the years attacking Castaneda’s claims from a variety of points of view.
For example, there are passages that have striking similarities to descriptions by other anthropologists. There are also descriptions of little flora and fauna that are likely to be found in the Sonoran desert.
Also, suspicion is raised that Castaneda’s supposed teacher, an unschooled Yaqui shaman, would be familiar with sophisticated philosophies that sound similar to those of Nietzsche and Gurdjieff, among others. Finally, there are basic internal inconsistencies in dates and events between the books.
Such criticism became so vociferous in the late 1970s and early 1980s that Castaneda began to avoid those who doubted his writing. He steadfastly refused to answer her various criticisms.
His work inspired many characters of the time, leaving a mark on his later works. For example, the characters Luke Skywalker and Yoda, from the Star Wars franchise directed by George Lucas, are inspired by Castaneda and the shaman who was his spirit guide.
Perhaps his most important legacy is this proliferation of stories in which spirit guides and their disciples were the main characters. His influence on these works becomes even more notable if a journey takes place in them on a difficult path to get to know this spirituality.
- BIO (2016). Castaneda Biographer Wins BIO’s Rowley Prize. Biograhpers International Organization. Recovered at: biographersinternational.org
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1998). Carlos Castaneda. The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Recovered at: britannica.com
- Woolcott, Ina (2015). Carlos Castaneda A Short Biograhpy. Shamanic Journey. Recovered at: shamanicjourney.com
- González, J. and Graminina, A. (2009). The anthropologist as an apprentice. On the subject of Carlos Castaneda and The teachings of don Juan, forty years later. Gazette of Anthropology. Recovered in: ugr.es
- Coehlo, P. (2013). Carlos Castaneda’s teachings: Learning to see things. Larevista.ec. Recovered in: larevista.ec