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Carlos (Cesar Arana) Castaneda (1925-1998) - birthdate in this calendar: December 25, 1925; in Contemporary Authors: December 25, 1931 (in Sao Paolo, Brazil)


Anthropologist and author of a number of book describing the teaching of Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer and shaman. Castaneda kept himself out of the public eye and there has been much debate as to whether or not his books are documented fact or entirely fiction. Castaneda's ideas influenced deeply the New Age movement.

"Don Juan had told us that the human beings are divided in two. The right side, which he called the tonal, encompasses everything the intellect can conceive of. The left side, called the nagual, is a realm of indescribable features: a realm impossible to contain in words. The left side is perhaps comprehended, if comprehension is what takes place, with the total body; there its resistance to conceptualization." (from The Eagle's Gift, 1981)

According to immigration records, revealed by Time magazine, Carlos Castaneda was born in Cajamarca, Peru, the son of César Arana Burungaray, a goldsmith, and Susan Castaneda Navoa. The family moved to Lima in 1948 and Castaneda entered the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe. After graduation he studied painting and sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts. Castaneda himself has claimed that he was born at São Paulo, Brazil, into a well-known family of Italian descent. He has told that his grandmother was an anarchist, and his grandfather was sexually obsessed: "You can't fuck all the women in the world," was his teaching, "but you can try!"

Castaneda was raised by his grandparents in the isolated Brazilian outback. He was then placed in a Buenos Aires boarding school. At the age of fifteen or sixteen he moved to the United States (in some sources in 1951), where he settled with a foster family in Los Angeles. After graduating from Hollywood High School he studied parapsychology at Los Angeles City College from 1955 to 1959. At the University of California in Los Angeles he studied anthropology. In 1959 he became an American citizen and took the name Castaneda - his father's surname was Aranha. Some sources mention that Castaneda married in 1960 an American woman, Margaret Runyon, who was 14 years older. Their marriage lasted only for some months, although they separated officially in 1973. Castaneda has said that he'd had a vasectomy and their adopted son, named C.J., had been fathered by one of Castaneda's friends.

Later Castaneda's close friend was Florinda Donner, who met him in the 1970s. Her book, Being-in-Dreaming: An Initiation into the Sorcerer's World, appeared in 1991. Castaneda and Donner married in 1993. "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics, is like using science to validate sorcery," Castaneda once explained. "It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all."

In the summer of 1960 Castaneda met Don Juan Matus, an elderly Yaqui Indian, at a bus station in Nogales, Arizona. Castaneda had started to make trips to Mexico to study medinical plants. Margareta did not accompany him on these trips.

Don Juan has remained a mysterious figure, no one else has met him. After Castaneda's several visits from Los Angeles to the border regions of Mexico, Don Juan revealed that he was in fact a diablero, a sorcerer. Next year Castaneda became his apprentice, which continued the famous pupil-teacher relationship familiar from the history of philosophy and literature - fictional or real - starting from Plato and Socrates, Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, James Boswell and Dr. Johnson, to Stalin and Lenin. Don Juan also introduced him don Genaro Flores, a Mazatec Indian, who would serve as another tutor.

In his apprentice years Castaneda used peyote (called 'Mescalito'), datura (Jimson weed), and Psilocybe mexicana mushrooms to enlarge his vision of reality. This period of learning lasted from 1961 to the autumn of 1965, when Castaneda decided to terminate it - he feared a total psychic breakdown. These experiences were the basis for Castaneda's first book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), published by the University of California Press. The analysis of the beliefs of Don Juan, a drug-using sorcerer, was accepted as his master's thesis, although Castaneda did not show any field notes - he claimed he had lost them. An expression of the drug culture of the 1960s, The Teachings of Don Juan first gained reputation as an underground classic. After Simon and Schuster purchased the book for mass release, it turned into an international bestseller.

In 1968 Castaneda returned to Mexico, where he started his second period of learning, which lasted until 1971. This period produced A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971). Ted Hughes wrote in his review: "Castaneda becomes the guinea-pig hero of a modern quest as the weir glamour of the hypnotic, manipulating, profound, foxy old Indian carries him, with his notebooks and tape recorder, into regions where the words 'rational' and 'scientific' are violently redefined." Castaneda's third book, Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972) was accepted as his doctoral dissertation by the UCLA Anthropology Department in 1973. The mainstream anthropologists were outraged and his work was labelled as the greatest science hoax since the Piltdown Man.

In The Second Ring of Power (1978) Castaneda encountered Don Juan's women disciples. The popularity of his books also became a great burden for Castaneda. He was hounded by "very strange people" and he lived as a virtual recluse. In an interview he said: "I try to live the way Don Juan demands, using all my strengths and efficiency. The result is I work my head off."

In his later years, Castaneda started to lecture on Tensegrity, a combination of all kinds of New Age magic. Originally the term was coided by Buckmister Fuller, and related to structural tension and integrity in architecture. Castaneda died of liver cancer on April 27, 1998, at his home in Westwood. His cremated remains were taken to Mexico. Castaneda wrote 11 books, which have been translated into some 20 languages. Castaneda's last work was The Active Side of Infinity (1999), about entering life in the Next World. In Martin Goodman's novel I Was Carlos Castaneda (2001) the author comes back from the dead to tell about eternal life.

When the Italian film director Federico Fellini met Castaneda in Rome, he found nothing in the author's stocky physical appearance to suggest that he's a shaman. Castaneda told him that Don Juan had seen his film La Strada. Fellini continued: "Independently of don Juan, who is charming in a literary way and whom we are made to see as an old sage, I couldn't help being invaded at times by a feeling of strangeness. As if I were confronted with a vision of a world dictated by a quartz! Or a green lizard!" Fellini planned to make a film, a barely veiled satire, based on Castaneda's work. The screenplay, entitled Viaggio a Tulun, was adapted by the noted Italian cartoonist Milo Manera as Viaggio a Tulum and published in the magazine Corto Maltese in 1989.  

Critics have pointed out, that nobody except Castaneda has ever seen Don Juan. The absence of Yaqui terms and modest evidence of the existence of Don Juan undermine the credibility of Castaneda's works. According to the author, Don Juan was born in 1891 and was part of the diaspora of Yaquis all over Mexico. Castaneda has defended his use of drugs that they were part of his initial phase of apprenticeship. Don Juan taught him later to achieve the same results without drugs. "It's one, it's unity, it is ourselves," said a Huichol shaman, Ramón Medina Silva, to the anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff of the purpose of the peyote ceremony. Don Juan died in 1973.

For further reading: Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the 'Don Juan' Writing of Carlos Castaneda, ed. by Daniel Noel (1976); World Authors 1970-1975, ed. by John Wakeman (1980): Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience by Rosemary Ellen Guilley (1991); Conversaciones con Don Carlos by Carmina Fort (1995) ; Carlos Castaneda: Academic Opportunism and Psychedelic Sixties by Jay Courtney Fikes (1996); The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Amy Wallace (2003)

Selected works:

  • The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1968
    - Don Juanin opetukset: Yaqui-tietäjän tie (suom. Tuija Turpeinen, 1994)
  • A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan, 1971
    - Toinen todellisuus (suom. Tuija Turpeinen, 1997)
  • Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan, 1972
    - Matka Ixtlaniin: Don Juanin opit (suom. Raija Mattila, 1974)
  • Tales of Power, 1974
    - Tarinoita voimasta (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1982)
  • The Second Ring of Power, 1978
    - Noidan voimapiiri (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1983)
  • The Eagle's Gift, 1981
    - Kotkan lahja (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1984)
  • The Fire From Within, 1984
    - Tietoisuuden hehku (suom. Elina Hytönen)
  • The Power of Silence: Further Lessons of Don Juan, 1987
    - Hiljaisuuden voima: Don Juanin uusia opetusia (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1989)
  • The Art of Dreaming, 1993
    - Unennäön taito (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1994)
  • Magical Passes: The Practical Wisdom of the Shamans of Ancient Mexico, 1998
    - Maagiset liikkeet: shamaanien viisautta muinaisesta Meksikosta (suom. Elina Hytönen, 1998)
  • The Wheel of Time: Shamans of Ancient Mexico, Their Thoughts About Life, Death and the Universe, 1998
  • The Active Side of Infinity, 1999

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