Carlos Castaneda Magical Blend Interview (Part 2)
By Graciela Corvalan, translated by Larry Towler
Magical Blend Magazine Issue #15
During the planning stages for a book she is writing on mystical thinkers,
Graciela Corvalan wrote a letter to Carlos Castaneda requesting an interview.
She later received a phone call from Castaneda in which he accepted her request,
explaining that he was excited to be interviewed by her since she was not a
member of the established press. Castaneda asked her to meet him at a specified
time and date on the UCLA campus. When Graciela and a few colleagues arrived for
the interview, she was asked not to use the tape recorder she had brought along.
So, for seven hours, loaded with books and papers, Graciela kept notes as the
man, who some have credited as being the crucial catalyst of mainstream
awareness of metaphysics, explained his tutelage under the Yaqui Sorcerer, Don
Juan, his present tasks assigned to him by the fierce Toltec Woman, and the
nature of the Toltec teachings.
In the first part of this interview, published in Magical Blend issue #14,
Graciela explained that the interview was conducted in Spanish, noting that
although Castaneda is fluent in Spanish, his native language is obviously
English. Graciela found that Castaneda, though well read, was not intellectual
in a bookish sense. At no time, says Graciela, did he establish comparisons with
other traditions of the past or present. It was obvious that he did not wish to
contaminate his teaching with anything extraneous to it.
Graciela found Castaneda a master in the art of conversation as he talked at
length about his past and present.
At the time he met Don Juan, Castaneda's primary interest was anthropology, but,
upon encountering him I changed.
Graciela remembers that, Don Juan was present with us. Every time Castaneda
mentioned or remembered him, we felt his emotion.
From Don Juan, Castaneda learned the sorcerer's principle rule: Give your all in
each moment. And through Don Juan, Castaneda became involved in the long process
of freeing himself from his past, a process which included divesting himself of
both possessions and friends. According to Castaneda, the life of the Toltec
warrior requires an unshakeable desire to be free. In the course of the
interview, Castaneda revealed himself to be every bit the warrior showing a
distaste for pacifism and cheap sentiment. Without an adversary, he maintains,
we are nothing.
In questioning Castaneda about the Toltec tradition, Graciela found that, from
an anthropological perspective, the word Toltec makes reference to an Indian
culture of the center and south of Mexico that was already extinct at the time
of the conquest and colonization of America by Spain. But, according to
Castaneda, Toltec is descriptive not so much of hereditary characteristics but
rather of a way of life and a way of looking at life. Toltec, says Castaneda is
one who knows the mysteries of watching and dreaming. It is a tradition that has
been maintained for more than 3,000 years. Though Toltec colonies or
civilizations may have been destroyed by the white man, the Toltec nation could
not be destroyed, for it represented something incomprehensible to the white man
to whom the dream world remained cut off, mysterious and unapproachable.
According to Castaneda, the objective of the Toltec is to leave the living
world; to leave with all that one is, but with nothing more than what one is.
Don Juan succeeded in this activity, but it was not, emphasizes Castaneda,
death, because Toltecs don't die. In The Second Ring of Power, la Gorda says,
when the wizards learn to 'dream' they tie together their two attentions and,
therefore, there is no need for the center to push out...sorcerers...don't die.
Freedom, says Castaneda, is an illusion perpetrated by the snare of the senses.
The art of the wizard consists of bringing learning to discover and destroy that
perceptive prejudice. In transcending, or breaking, the tyranny of the senses, a
door to a magical universe is opened. Castaneda describes the universe as being
polarized between two extremes: the right side and the left side-The two halves
of the bubble of perception. On the left side is action. Here there are no
words. Here the mind does not conceptualize but rather the entire body realizes,
without thoughts and without words. The duty of a teacher such as Don Juan is to
move all vision of the world into the right side, so that the left side can
remain clear for the magical practice of will.
Presiding over the universe is the Eagle, an immense blackness representative of
all the beauty and all the bestiality in everything that's alive. According to
Castaneda, that which can be called human is very small in comparison to the
rest. As excessive mass, bulk, and blackness, the Eagle attracts and feeds on
all life force that is ready to disappear. It is, he says, like an immense
magnet that picks up all those beams of light that are the vital energy of that
which is dying.
The key to escaping the Eagle is recapitulation which involves going backward
from adult to infancy, clearing out the images of a lifetime, divesting oneself
of everything until only the task remains and one arrives at the crack between
the worlds. To arrive there, says Castaneda requires an indomitable desire, a
total dedication. But one must do it without the help of any power and of any
According to Toltec tradition, all living things have a mold. The mold of man is
the same for all human beings. In each individual it is developed and manifested
according to the development of the person. The human form, on the other hand,
impedes us from seeing the mold. In The Second Ring of Power, the form is
described as a luminous entity. According to Don Juan, it is the fount and
origin of man. The reason that Toltecs do not die is because, having lost the
human form, they have nothing that the Eagle can devour.
In The Second Ring of Power, la Gorda relates that when she succeeded in losing
the human form, she began to see an eye always in front of her which almost
ended up driving her crazy. But someday she says, when I arrive at being a real
being without form, I won't see that eye anymore; the eye will be one with me.
So, without further digression, we proudly present the second part of Graciela
Corvalan's interview with Carlos Castaneda.
[Beginning of Corvalan Interview - Part 2]
By Graciela Corvalan, Ph.D.
We continued talking about the Toltec Woman and Castaneda told us that she's
leaving soon. She's told us that in her place are going to come two women. The
Toltec Woman is very strict, her demands are terrible! Now, if the Toltec Woman
is fierce, it appears that the two who are coming are much worse. Let's hope
that she's not leaving yet! One can't stop wanting nor can prevent the body from
complaining and fearing the severity of the undertaking... Nevertheless, there's
no way of altering destiny. So, there it grabbed me!
I don't have more liberty, he continued, than the impeccable one because only if
I'm impeccable, I change my destiny; that is to say, I go on tiptoes by the left
side of the eagle. If I'm not impeccable, I don't change my destiny and the
eagle devours me.
The Nagual Juan Matos is a free man. He is free in fulfilling his destiny. Do
you understand me? I don't know if you understand what I want to say, he asked
Sure we understand! we retorted vehemently. We find a great similarity with what
we feel and live daily in so much in this last section as in many other things
that you have referred to us up to now.
Don Juan is a free man, he continued. He looks for liberty. His spirit looks for
it.. Don Juan is free from that basic prejudice; the perceptive prejudice that
prevent us from seeing reality.
The importance of all that which we came speaking about resides in the
possibility of destroying the circle of routines: Don Juan made him practice
numerous exercises so he would become conscious of his routines: exercises such
as 'walking in the darkness' and the 'power walk.'
How to break that circle of routines ? How to break that perceptive arc that
ties us to that ordinary vision of reality? That ordinary vision that our
routines contribute to establishing is, precisely, that which Castaneda
denominates the attention of the tonal or 'the first ring of attention.'
To break that perceptive arc isn't an easy task; it could take years. The
difficulty with me, he affirmed laughing, is that I am very pigheaded. Quite
unwillingly I went on learning: For this reason, in my case, Don Juan had to use
drugs...and so I ended up...with my liver in the stream!
In the line of not-doing is achieved the destroying of routines and becoming
conscious, explained Castaneda. While saying this he stood up and started to
walk backwards while he remembered a technique that Don Juan had taught him:
Walking backwards with the help of a mirror. Castaneda continued reporting to us
that to facilitate the task he devised an artifact of metal (like a ring that in
the style of a crown he bore on his head) in which the mirror was fastened. In
that way, he could practice the exercise and have his hands free. Other examples
of techniques of not-doing would be to put on your belt backwards and to wear
your shoes on the opposite feet. All these techniques have as an objective to
make one conscious of what one is doing at each moment. Destroying routines, he
said, is the way we have of giving the body new sensations. The body knows...
Immediately Castaneda related to us some of the games that the Toltec youth
practice for hours. They are games of not-doing, he explained. Games in which
there are no fixed rules but rather they are generated as they play.
It seems that by not having fixed rules, the behavior of the players isn't
foreseen and, consequently, everyone must be very attentive. One-of these games,
he continued, consists in giving the adversary false signs. It's a game of
As he said, in that game of pulling, three persons participate and two posts and
a rope are needed. With the rope you tie up one of the players and hang him from
the posts. The other two players must pull on the ends of the rope and try to
fool him giving him false signs. All have to be very attentive so that when one
pulls, the other also does it and the person who is tied doesn't get twisted.
The techniques and games of not-doing develop attention: You can say that they
are concentration exercises since they obligate those who practice them to be
fully conscious of what they are doing. Castaneda commented that old age would
consist in having remained shut in the perfect circle of routines.
The way of teaching of the Toltec Woman is to put us into situations. I believe
that it's the best way because in putting us in situations we discover that we
are nothing: The other way is that of self love, that of personal pride. The
former way transforms us into detectives, always attentive to all that could
happen or offend us. Detectives? Yes ! We spent time seeking evidence of love:
if they love me or they love me not. Thus, centered in our ego we don't do
anything but strengthen it. According to the Toltec Woman, the best is to begin
considering that nobody loves us.
Castaneda told us that for Don Juan, personal pride resembles a monster of 3,000
heads. One destroys and knocks down heads but others always rise up... It's that
one possesses all the tricks! he exclaimed. With the tricks it appears that we
fool ourselves believing we are somebody.
I then reminded him of the image of catching weaknesses, as rabbits are caught
in a trap, that appears in one of his books. Yes, he answered me, you constantly
have to be on the lookout.
Changing position, Castaneda began to give us the history of the past three
years. One of the many tasks was that of cook in those roadside cafes. La Gorda
accompanied me that year as a waitress. For more than a year we lived there as
Jose Cordoba and his wife! My complete name was Jose Luis Cordoba, at your
service, he, said with a profound reverence. Without a doubt, everyone knew me
as Joe Cordoba.
Castaneda didn't tell us the name or the location of the city in which they
lived. It's possible that they had been in different places. It appears that at
the beginning, he arrived with la Gorda and the Toltec Woman, who accompanied
them for a while. The first thing was to find housing and work for Joe Cordoba,
his wife, and his mother-in-law. That was how we presented ourselves, commented
Castaneda, otherwise, the people wouldn't have understood.
For a long time they looked for work, until finally they found it in a roadside
cafe. In that type of establishment you begin very early in the morning. At five
a.m. you have to be already working.
Castaneda told us, laughing, that in those places the first thing they ask you
is: Do you know how to make eggs? What could there be to making eggs? It appears
that he delayed enough time in figuring out what they were trying to say until
he finally discovered that they were talking about the diverse ways of preparing
eggs for breakfast. In restaurants or cafes for truck drivers. 'Egg making' is
They spent one year working there. Now I know how to 'make eggs', he affirmed
laughing. All that you would want! La Gorda also worked a lot. She was such a
good waitress that she ended up by taking care of all the girls there. At the
end of a year, when the Toltec Woman told them, That's enough, you're finished
with this task, the owner of the cafe didn't want us to leave. The truth is that
we worked very hard there. A lot! From morning till night.
During that year, they had a significant encounter. It relates to the story of a
girl named Terry who arrived at the cafe where they were asking for work
waitressing. By then, Joe Cordoba had gained the confidence of the owner of the
establishment and was the one in charge of contracting and watching over all the
staff. As Terry told them, she was looking for Carlos Castaneda. How could she
know that they were there? Castaneda didn't know.
This girl Terry, continued Castaneda with sadness and giving us to understand
that she looked dirty and messy, is one of those 'hippies' who take drugs...a
terrifying life. Poor thing! Later, Castaneda would tell us, that, even though
he could never tell Terry who he was, Joe Cordoba and his wife helped her a lot
during the months she spent with them. He told us that one day she came in very
excited from the street saying that she had just seen Castaneda in a Cadillac
parked in front of the cafe. He's there, she screamed to us; he's in the car,
writing. Are you sure it's Castaneda? How can you be so convinced? I told her.
But she continued, Yes, it's him, I'm sure.. . I then suggested to her that she
go out to the car and ask him. She needed to get rid of that immense doubt.
Hurry! Hurry! I insisted. She was afraid to speak to him because she said that
she was very fat and very ugly. I encouraged her. But you look divine, hurry!
Finally, she went, but came right back crying a river of tears. It seems that
the man in the Cadillac hadn't looked at her, and had thrown her out telling her
not to bother him. You can imagine that I tried to console her, said Castaneda
It gave me so much pain that I almost told her who I was. La Gorda didn't let
me; she protected me. Really, he couldn't tell her anything because he was
performing a task in which he was Joe Cordoba and not Carlos Castaneda. He
As Castaneda told it, when Terry arrived she wasn't a good waitress. With
passing months, without a doubt, they brought her to be good, clean and careful.
La Gorda gave much advice to Terry. We cared for her a lot. She never imagined
who she was with all that time.
In these last years they had passed moments of tremendous deprivation during
which people maltreated and offended them. More than once he was at the point of
revealing who he was, but... Who would have believed me! he said. Besides, the
Toltec Woman is the one who decides.
That year, he continued, there were moments in which we were reduced to the
minimum: we slept on the ground and we ate only one thing.
Hearing this, we wanted him to explain to us the ways of eating they had.
Castaneda told us that Toltecs only eat one type of food at a time, but that
they do it continually. Toltecs eat all day, he commented in a casual tone. (In
this affirmation of Castaneda one can see his desire to break the image that
people have of the sorcerer or wizard - beings with special powers who don't
have the same needs as the rest of mortals. In saying that they eat all day,
Castaneda united them with the rest of mankind.)
According to Castaneda, the mixing of foods, for example, eating meat with
potatoes and vegetables, is very bad for your health. This mixture is very
recent in the life of humanity, he affirmed. To eat one kind of food helps
digestion and is better for the organism.
One time Don Juan accused me of always feeling sick. You can imagine that I
defended myself! However, later I realized that he was right and I learned. Now
I feel well, strong and healthy.
Also the way of sleeping that they have is different from that of the majority
of us. The important thing is to realize that you can sleep in many ways.
According to Castaneda, we have learned to go to sleep and to get up at a
determined hour because that is what society wants from us. So, for example,
said Castaneda, parents put the children to bed to get rid of them. We all
laughed because there was some truth in his statement.
I sleep all day and all night, he continued, but if I add up the hours and
minutes I sleep, I don't believe they come to more than five hours a day. To
sleep in that way requires on the part of the person the ability to go directly
into deep sleep.
Returning to Joe Cordoba and his wife, Castaneda told us that one day the Toltec
Woman came and told them that they were not working enough. She ordered us, he
said, to organize a pretty big business in landscaping, something like designing
and arranging gardens. This new task of the Toltec Woman wasn't anything small.
We had to contract a group of people to help us to do the work during the week
while we were in the cafe. During the weekends we dedicated ourselves
exclusively to the gardens. We had a lot of success.
La Gorda is a very enterprising person. That year we worked really hard. During
the week we were in the Cafe and on the weekends always driving the truck and
pruning trees. The demands of the Toltec Woman are very large.
I remember, continued Castaneda, that at a certain opportunity we were in the
house of a friend when reporters arrived looking for Carlos Castaneda. They were
reporters from The New York Times. So as to pass unnoticed, la Gorda and I put
ourselves to planting trees in my friend's garden. In the distance we saw them
enter and leave the house. That was when my friend yelled at us and mistreated
us a lot in front of the reporters. It seemed that Joe Cordoba and his woman
could be yelled at without consequence. None of those who were present there
came to our defense. Who were we? There, only the poor people and dogs work in
So that was how between my friend and us we fooled the reporters. My body,
however, I couldn't fool it. For three years we were involved in the task of
giving experiences to the body to make it realize that, in truth, we are
nothing. The truth is that the body isn't the only thing that suffers. The mind
also is accustomed to constant stimuli. The warrior, however, doesn't have
stimuli from the media; he doesn't need them. The best place, therefore, is that
where we were! There nobody thinks!
Continuing with the story of his adventures, Castaneda commented that more than
once he and la Gorda were kicked out in the street. Other times, going by truck
down the highway, we were pushed to the edge of the road. What alternative did
we have? It's best to let them pass!
Through all that Castaneda came telling us, it appears that the task of those
years had to do with, learning to survive in adverse circumstances, and with
surviving the experience of discrimination. This last, something very difficult
to endure but very informative, he concluded with great calm.
The objective of the task consists in learning to remove oneself from the
emotional impact which discrimination provokes. The important thing is not to
react, not to get angry. If one reacts, he/she is lost One doesn't get offended
by a tiger when it attacks, he explained, you move to the side and let it pass.
In another opportunity, la Gorda and I found work in a house, she as a maid and
I as butler. You can't imagine how that ended! They kicked us out into the
street without pay. Even more! To protect themselves from us in case we were to
protest, they had called the local police. Can you imagine? We were jailed for
That year, la Gorda and I spent working very hard and suffering great
privations. Many times we didn't have anything to eat. The worst thing was that
we couldn't complain nor did we have the support of the group. In that task we
were alone and we couldn't escape. In whatever way, even though we might have
been able to say who we were, nobody would have believed us. The task is always
Truthfully, I am Joe Cordoba, continued Castaneda accompanying his words with
his whole body; and this is very beautiful because you can't fall lower. I have
already arrived at the bottom you can be. That is all that I am. And with these
last words he touched the ground with his hands.
As I told you before, every one of us has different tasks to perform. The
Genaros are quite bright; Benigno is now in Chiapas and he's doing very well. He
has a musical group. Benigno possesses a marvelous gift of imitation; he
imitates Tom Jones and many more. Pablito is the same as always; he's very lazy.
Benigno is he who makes the noise and Pablito celebrates it. Benigno is the one
who works and Pablito gathers the applause.
Now, he said in way of conclusion, we have all finished the tasks which we have
been doing and we are preparing ourselves for new tasks. The Toltec Woman is the
one who sends us.
The story of Joe Cordoba and his woman had impressed us a lot. It dealt with an
experience very different from those of his books. We were interested in knowing
whether he had written or was writing anything about Joe Cordoba.
I know that Joe Cordoba existed, said one of us; he had to exist. Why don't you
write about him? From all that you have come telling us, Joe Cordoba and his
woman is what has impacted me most.
I just brought a new manuscript to my agent, Castaneda answered us. In that
manuscript, the Toltec Woman is she who teaches. It couldn't be any other
way...The title might possibly be, The Stalking and the Art of Being in The
World. [This book was published in 1981 as The Eagle's Gift.] There is all her
teaching. She is the one responsible for that manuscript. A woman had to be the
one who taught about the art of stalking. Women know it well because they have
always lived with the enemy; that is to say, they have always walked 'on tiptoe'
in the masculine world. Precisely for that reason, because women have long
experience in that art, the Toltec Woman is she who has to give the principles
In that last manuscript, however, there is nothing concrete about the life of
Joe Cordoba and his woman. I can't write in detail about that experience because
nobody would understand nor believe it. I can speak of these things with very
few...Yes, the essence of the experience of the last three years is in the book.
Returning to the Toltec Woman and her nature, Castaneda told us that she was
very different from Don Juan. She doesn't love me, he insisted, la Gorda, on the
other hand, yes, she loves her! You can't ask the Toltec Woman anything. Before
you speak to her she already knows what she has to say. Besides, you have to
fear her; when she gets angry, she hits, he concluded making many gestures which
indicated his fear.
We stayed in silence for a while. The sun had gone down and its rays reached us
through the branches of the trees. I felt a little cold. It seemed to me that it
was around 7 p.m.
Castaneda appeared also to become aware of the time. It's already late, he told
us. What do you think about getting something to eat? I invite you.
We got up and began to walk. As one of those ironies, Castaneda took charge of
my notes and books for part of the way. The best thing was to leave everything
in the car. That's what we did. Free of our bundles, we walked for some blocks
in animated conversation.
All that they had achieved requires years of preparation and practice. One
example is the exercise of dreaming. That which seems so foolish, affirmed
Castaneda emphatically, is very difficult to achieve.
The exercise consists in learning to dream at will and in a systematic way. You
begin by dreaming about a hand that enters the visual field of the dreamer.
Then, you see the whole arm. You continue in a progressive way until you can see
yourself in the dream. The other step consists in learning to use dreams. That
is to say, once you have achieved control over them, you have to learn to act on
them. So, for example, Castaneda said, you dream about yourself that you leave
the body and that you open the door and go out into the street. The street is
something outrageous! Something in you leaves you; something that you achieve at
According to Castaneda, dreaming doesn't take much time. That is to say, dreams
don't occur in the time of our watches. The time of the dream is something very
Castaneda gave us to understand that in dreams an immense physical draining is
produced. In dreams, you can live a lot, he said, but the body resents it. My
body really feels it... Afterwards you feel like a truck has run over you.
Several times, touching upon that theme of dreaming, Castaneda would say that
that which they do in dreams has a pragmatic value. In Tales of Power, you read
that the experiences of dreams and those lived in one's waking hours acquire the
same pragmatic valence, and that for sorcerers the criteria to differentiate a
dream from reality becomes inoperative. (p. 18).
That of leaving or traveling outside of the physical body keenly caught our
interest, and we wanted to know more about those experiences.
He answered us explaining that every one of them had achieved different
experiences. La Gorda and I, for example, go together. She takes me by the
forearm and. . .we go.
He explained to us also that the group has common journeys. They are all in
constant training whose objective would be 'to become witnesses.' To arrive at
being witnesses means, affirmed Castaneda, that you can't judge any more. That
is to say, it relates to an internal sight which equals not having prejudices
Josefina seems to have great abilities to journey in the body of dreaming. She
wants to take you there and probes recounting marvels. La Gorda is the one who
always rescues her.
Josefina has a great facility to break that arch of being able to reflect upon
things. She's crazy, crazy! he exclaimed. Josefina flies very far, but she
doesn't want to go alone and always returns. She returns and looks for me... She
gives me reports that are marvelous.
According to Castaneda, Josefina is a being who cannot function in this world.
Here, he said, she would have ended up in some institution.
Josefina is a being who cannot be held to the concrete; she is ethereal. In
whatever moment she can definitively leave. La Gorda and he are, on the other
hand, much more cautious in their flights. La Gorda, particularly, represents
the stability and equilibrium that in some measure he lacks.
After a pause, I reminded him of that vision of an immense dome which in The
Second Ring of Power is presented as the place of meeting and where Don Juan and
Don Genaro would be waiting for them.
La Gorda also has that vision, he commented pensively. That which we see isn't
an earthly horizon. It's something very smooth and arid in whose horizon we see
rising an immense arch which covers all and which extends until it arrives at
the zenith. In that point in the zenith, you can see a large brightness. You
could say that it is something like a dome that emits an amber light.
We strove to press upon him questions so that he would give us more information
about that dome. What is it? Where is it? we inquired.
Castaneda answered that by the size of what they see, it could be a planet. In
the zenith, he added, there is like a great wind.
By the brevity of his answer, we realized that Castaneda didn't want to talk
much about that topic. It is possible, also, that he couldn't find adequate
words to express what they saw. No matter what, it is evident that those
visions, those flights in the body dreaming, are a constant training for the
definitive journey-that leaving through the left side of the eagle, that final
leap which is called death, that giving an end to the recapitulation; that being
able to say we are ready, in which we carry all that we are but nothing more
than that what we are.
According to the Toltec Woman, Castaneda conferred to us, those visions are my
aberrations: She thinks that that is my unconscious way of paralyzing my
actions; that is to say, the way I have of saying that I don't want to leave the
world. The Toltec Woman also says that with my attitude, I am detaining la Gorda
from the possibilities of a more fertile or more productive flight.
Don Juan and Don Genaro were great dreamers. They had an absolute control of the
art. I am surprised, immediately exclaimed Castaneda, raising his hand to his
forehead, at the fact that nobody notices that don Juan is an outrageous
dreamer. The same can be said of Don Genaro. Don Genaro, for example, is capable
of bringing his body of dream to the every day life.
The great control of Don Juan and Don Genaro is evidenced in that of not being
noted or passing by unnoticed. (In all his books, Castaneda has referred to that
of not being noted and to go by unnoticed. In The Second Ring of Power,
Castaneda records the times that Don Juan had ordered him to concentrate on not
being obvious. Nestor, also, says that Don Juan and Don Genaro learned to not be
noticed in the midst of all this. The two are masters of the art of stalking. Of
Don Genaro, la Gorda says that he was in the body of dreaming most of the time,
(p. 270). All that they do, he continued with enthusiasm, is worthy of praise.
Of Don Juan, I admire immensely his great control, composure and serenity.
Of Don Juan, it can never be said that he is a senile old man. He isn't like
other people. There is here on campus, for example, an old professor who when I
was a young man was already famous. At that time, he was at the peak of his
physical strength and intellectual creativity. Now, he's chewing his tongue of
cork! Now I can see him as he is, as a senile old man. Of Don Juan, on the other
hand, you will never be able to say something like that. His advantage in
respect to me is always abysmal.
In the interview with Sam Keen, Castaneda says that one time Don Juan asked him
if he thought the two were equals. Even though he really didn't think that they
were, in a condescending tone he said yes. Don Juan listened to him, but he
didn't accept his verdict. I don't think that we are, he said, because I am a
hunter and a warrior and you are more like a pimp. I am ready at any moment to
offer the recapitulation of my life. Your small world full of sadness and
indecision can never be equal to mine. (Sam Keen, Voices and Visions (New York:
Harper and Row, 1976), p. 122.)
In all that Castaneda had told us can be found parallels with other currents and
traditions of mystical thinking. In his own books are cited authors and works of
antiquity and of the present. I reminded him that, among others, there are
references to The Egyptian Book of the Dead, to Tractatus by Wittgenstein, to
Spanish poets like San Juan de la Cruz and Juan Ramon Jimenez, and to Latin
American writers like the Peruvian Cesar Vallejo.
Yes, he responded, in my car there are always books, many books. Things that
someone or another send me. He was accustomed to read sections of those books to
Don Juan. He likes poetry. It's clear that he only likes the four first lines!
According to him, that which follows is idiocy. He says that after the first
verse it loses force, that it's pure repetition.
One of us asked him if he had read of or if he knew the yoga techniques and the
descriptions of the different planes of reality which the sacred books of India
offer. All that is marvelous, he said. I have had, moreover, pretty intimate
relationships with people who work in Hatha Yoga.
In 1976, a doctor friend named Claudio Naranjo (Do you know him? he asked us.)
connected me with a yoga teacher. That's how we went to visit him in his
'ashram' here in California. We communicated by means of a professor who acted
as interpreter. I was trying to discover in that interview parallels with my own
experiences of traveling outside of the body. There, however, he didn't speak of
anything important. There was, yes, much show and ceremony, but he didn't say
anything. Towards the end of the interview, this character took in his hands a
metal watering can and began to wet me with a liquid whose color I didn't like
at all. No sooner had he withdrawn, when I asked him what he had just thrown at
me. Someone came near and explained to me that I should be very happy because he
had given me his blessing. I insisted on knowing the contents of the container.
Finally I was told that all the secretions of the teacher are saved: Everything
that comes from him is sacred. You can imagine, he concluded in a tone between
jocular and joking, that here concluded the conversation with the yoga master.
A year later, Castaneda had a similar experience with one of the disciples of
Gurdjieff. He met with him in Los Angeles upon the insistence of one of his
friends. It seems that the gentleman had imitated Gurdjieff in everything. He
had shaven his head and had a huge mustache, he commented, indicating with his
hands their size. We had just entered, when he energetically grabbed me by the
throat and gave me some tremendous blows. Immediately after he told me to leave
my master because I was wasting my time: According to him, in eight or nine
classes, he was going to teach me everything I needed to know. Can you imagine?
In a few classes he can teach someone everything.
Castaneda also told us that the disciple of Gurdjieff had mentioned the use of
drugs to accelerate the learning process.
The interview didn't last long. It seems that Castaneda's friend realized right
away the ridiculousness of the situation and the magnitude of his error. That
friend had insisted that he see the disciple of Gurdjieff because he was
convinced that Castaneda needed a teacher more serious than Don Juan. When the
interview ended, Castaneda told us that his friend felt full of shame.
We continued walking some six or seven blocks. For a while we talked about
circumstantial things. I remember that I commented to him that I had read in La
Gaceta an article by Juan Tovar in which he mentions the possibility of filming
the books. (See Juan Tovar. Encounter of Power, La Gaceta, F.C.E. (Mexico,
Yes, he said. At one time that possibility was spoken of. He later told us the
story of his encounter with the producer Joseph Levine, who would have
intimidated him from behind an immense desk. The size of the desk and the
producer's words hardly comprehensible because of the huge cigar he kept between
his lips, were the things that had made the biggest impression on Castaneda. He
was behind a desk like it was a dais, he explained, and I, there below, very
small. Powerful! With his hands full of rings with very large stones.
Castaneda had already said to Juan Tovar that the last thing he wanted to see
was an Anthony Quinn in the role of Don Juan. It seems that someone had proposed
Mia Farrow for one of the roles... To conceive of such a movie was very
difficult, he commented. It's neither ethnography nor fiction. The project in
the end fell apart. The sorcerer Juan Matos told me that it wouldn't be possible
to do it.
During that same time he was invited to participate in shows like Johnny Carson
and Dick Cavett. In the end I couldn't accept things like that. What would I say
to Johnny Carson, for example, if he asked me if I spoke to the coyote or not?
What would I say? I'd say, yes... and then? Indubitably, the situation could
have become very ridiculous.
Don Juan was the one who put me in charge of giving testimony of a tradition,
said Castaneda. He himself insisted that I accept interviews and give conference
to promote the books. Later he made me cut everything because that type of task
burns a lot of energy. If you're into those things you have to give them force.
Castaneda explained clearly that with the production of his books, he is in
charge of taking care of the expenses of the whole group. Castaneda allows
everyone to eat.
Don Juan, he insisted, gave me the task of putting in writing all that the
wizards and sorcerers said. My task doesn't consist in anything but in writing
until one day they tell me, Enough, here you stop. The impact or not of my
books, really is unknown to me because I'm not dealing with what's happening
here. To Don Juan before and to the Toltec Woman now belong all the material in
the books. They are responsible for all that is said there.
The tone of his voice and his gestures impressed us in a lively way. It was
evident that in that terrain the task of Castaneda consists of obeying. His
objective isn't anything but to be impeccable as receptor and transmitter of a
tradition and of a teaching.
Personally, he continued after a pause, I am working on a kind of journal; it's
something like a manual. For this work, yes, I am responsible. I would like a
serious publisher to publish it and to be in charge of distributing it to
interested persons and to centers of study.
He told us that he had worked out some 18 units in which he believes he has
summarized all the teaching of the Toltec nation. To organize the work, he has
made use of the phenomenology of E. Husserl as a theoretical framework to make
comprehensible what they taught him.
Last week, he said, I was in New York. I brought the project to the editors of
Simon and Schuster but I failed. It seems they got scared. It's that something
like that can't have success.
Of those 18 units I am the only one responsible, he continued in a meditative
tone, and, as you can see, I wasn't successful. Those 18 units are something
like the 18 falls in which I was bumped hard on the head. I agree with the
editors that it's a work of heavy reading, but there I am... Don Juan, Don
Genaro, all the others are different. They are fickle! (According to what
Castaneda communicated to us by telephone, Simon and Schuster finally decided to
accept the project of the journal that had seemed to worry him so much.)
Why do I call them units? he asked, moving ahead of us. I call them that because
each one of them claims to show one of the ways to break the unit of the
familiar. That unique perceptive vision can be broken in different ways.
Castaneda, trying once again to clarify this, gave us the example of the map.
Each time we want to arrive at some place we need a map with clear points of
reference to not get lost. We can't find anything without a map, exclaimed
Castaneda. What later occurs is that the only thing we see is the map. Instead
of seeing what there is to see, we finish seeing the map we carry inside.
Therefore, to break that arc of reflexibility, to constantly cut the bonds that
lead us to the known points of reference, is the ultimate teaching of Don Juan.
Many times during that afternoon, Castaneda had to insist that he was just a
contact to the world. All the knowledge of the books belongs to the Toltec
nation. In the presence of his insistence, I couldn't but react and tell him
that the labor of arranging the material from notes into coherent and well
organized book must have been immense and difficult.
No, responded Castaneda. I don't have any work. My task consists, simply, in
copying the page which is given me in dreams.
According to Castaneda, you can't create something from nothing. To pretend to
create like that is an absurdity. To explain this to us, he brought up an
episode in the life of his father. My father, he said, decided that he was going
to be a great writer. With that idea, he resolved to fix his office. He needed
to have an office that was perfect. He had to keep in mind the smallest detail,
from the decorations of the wall to the type of light on his work table. Once
the room was ready, he spent much time looking for a suitable desk for his task.
The desk had to be of a determined measurement, wood, color, etc. Another such
incident occurred with the selection of the chair on which he would sit. Later
he had to select the suitable cover so as to not ruin the desk's wood. The cover
could be plastic, glass, leather, cardboard. On this cover my father was going
to rest the paper on which he would write his masterpiece. Then, seated at his
chair, in front of the blank paper he didn't know what to write. That is my dad.
He wants to begin writing the perfect phrase. Surely you can't write that way!
One is always an instrument, an intermediary. I see each page in dreams, and the
success of each one of those pages depends on the degree of fidelity with which
I am capable of copying that model from the dream. Precisely, the page which
impresses or impacts most is that in which I have achieved reproducing the
original with most exactitude.
These commentaries of Castaneda reveal a particular theory of knowledge and of
intellectual and artistic creation. (I thought immediately of Plato and of St.
Augustine with his image of inner teacher. To know is to discover and to create
is to copy. Neither knowledge or creation can ever be an undertaking of a
While we ate dinner I mentioned to him some of the interviews which I had read.
I told him that I had enjoyed greatly that which Sam Keen had done and which had
been published first in Psychology Today. Castaneda was also satisfied with that
interview. He has much appreciation for Sam Keen. During those years, he said, I
knew many people with whom I would have liked to have continued being
friends...one example is the theologian Sam Keen. Don Juan, however, said,
With respect to the interview in Time, Castaneda related to us that first a male
reporter came to meet with him in Los Angeles. It seems it didn't go well, (he
used some Argentine slang) and so he left. They then sent one of those girls
that you can't turn down, he said making us all smile. It all came out well, and
they understood each other magnificently. Castaneda had the impression that she
understood what he had told her. In the end, however, she didn't do the article.
The notes which she had taken were given to a reporter that I think is now in
Australia, he added. It seems that this reporter did what he wanted with the
notes they gave him.
Every time that for one reason or another, the Time interview was mentioned, his
annoyance was evident. He had observed to Don Juan that Time was too powerful
and important a magazine. Don Juan, on the other hand, had insisted that the
interview be done. the interview was done, 'just in case' concluded Castaneda
informally using once again a typically port area (Argentinian) expression.
We also spoke of the critics and of that which had been written about him and
his books. I mentioned to him Richard deMille and others who had put in doubt
the veracity of his works and the anthropological value of them.
The work that I have to do, affirmed Castaneda is free from all that the critics
can say. My task consists of presenting that knowledge in the best way possible.
Nothing they can say matters to me because I no longer am Carlos Castaneda, the
writer. I am neither a writer, nor a thinker, nor a philosopher...in
consequence, their attacks don't reach me. Now, I know that I am nothing; nobody
can take anything from me because Joe Cordoba is nothing. There isn't in all
this, any personal pride.
We live, he continued, on a level lower than the Mexican peasants, which is
already saying a lot. We have touched ground and we can't fall lower. The
difference between us and the peasant is that he has hopes, wants things, and
works to one day have more than he has today. We, on the other hand, don't have
anything and each time we will have less. Can you imagine this? Criticisms can't
hit the target.
Never am I more full than when I am Joe Cordoba, he exclaimed vehemently
standing up and opening his arms in a gesture of plentitude. Joe Cordoba, frying
hamburgers all day with my eyes full of smoke...Do you understand me?
Not all the critics have been negative. Octavio Paz, for example, wrote a very
good preface for the Spanish edition of The Teachings of Don Juan. To me his
preface was most beautiful. Yes, Castaneda said feelingly, That preface is
excellent. Octavio Paz is a complete gentleman. Maybe he is one of the last who
The phrase, a complete gentleman doesn't refer to the undeniable qualities of
Octavio Paz as thinker and writer. No! The phrase points to the intrinsic
qualities of being, the value of a person as a human being. That Castaneda might
point out that he is one of the last ones who remain accented the fact that he
is relating to a species in danger of extinction.
Well, continued Castaneda trying to soften the impact, maybe there remain two
gentlemen. The other is an old Mexican historian friend of his whose name wasn't
familiar to us. He told us some anecdotes about him that reflected his physical
vitality and intellectual vivacity.
At this juncture in the conversation Castaneda explained to us how he selects
the letters that arrive to him. Do you want me to explain how I did it with
yours? he asked directing himself to me.
He told us that a young friend receives them, puts them in a bag and keeps them
until he arrives in Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, Castaneda always follows
the same routine: First he dumps all the correspondence into a large box, like a
toy box, and then he only takes out one letter. The letter he takes out is that
which he reads and answers. Clearly nothing is done in writing. Castaneda
doesn't leave tracks.
The letter I took out, he explained, was the first one that you wrote. Later I
looked for the other one. You can't imagine how many problems I had to get your
phone number! When I already believed that I wasn't going to have any luck, I
obtained it by the intervention of the university. I had really already thought
that I wasn't going to be able to speak with you.
I was very surprised to know all the inconveniences that he had had to get to
me. It appears that once he had my letter m his hands, he had to try to exhaust
all means. In the magical universe much importance is given to signs.
Here in Los Angeles, continued Castaneda casually, I have a friend who writes me
a lot. Each time I come I read all his letters, one after the other as if it
were a diary. One certain time, between the letters I bumped into another one
that without realizing I had opened. Even though I immediately realized that it
wasn't from my friend, I read it. The fact that it was in the pile was for me a
That letter put him in contact with two people who reported a very interesting
experience to him. It was night and they had to enter the San Bernardino
Freeway. They knew that to meet it they had to continue ahead until the end of
the street. Then they had to take a left and continue until they reached the
freeway. So they did it, but after some 20 minutes they realized that they were
in a strange place. It wasn't the San Bernardino Freeway. They resolved to get
off and ask, but nobody helped them. At one of the houses where they knocked
they were met with screaming.
Castaneda continued telling us that the two friends went back down the road
until they reached a service station where they asked for directions. There they
were told what they already knew. So they again repeated the same steps, and
without any inconveniences arrived at the highway.
Castaneda met with them. Of the two of them, it seems that only one is truly
interested in understanding the mystery.
On the earth, he said as means of explanation, there are sites, special places
or openings, through which you can enter and pass through to something else.
Here he stopped and offered to bring us. It's near here... in Los Angeles... If
you want, I can take you, he said. The earth is something alive. Those places
are the entrances from where the earth periodically receives force or energy
from the cosmos. That energy is that which the warrior must store up. Maybe, if
I am rigorously impeccable, I might get close to the eagle. May it be so!
Every 18 days a wave of energy falls upon the earth. Count, he suggested to us,
starting on the third of next August. You will be able to perceive it. This wave
of energy could be strong or not; it depends. When the earth receives very large
waves of energy, it doesn't matter where you might be, it always reaches us.
Before the magnitude of that force, the earth is small and the energy reaches
We were still animatedly conversing when the waitress approached and in a
cutting tone asked if we were going to order anything else. As nobody wanted
dessert or coffee, we had no other remedy than to get up. No sooner had the
waitress moved away when Castaneda commented, It seems we are being thrown out.
Yes, we were being thrown out and, maybe, with reason. It was late. In surprise
we checked the passing of time. We got up and left for the avenue.
It was night, the street and the people had the appearance of a fair. A mime
dressed in tails and top hat was clowning around behind our backs. Everything we
saw made us smile while our eyes searched for the plate that is always passed
during those representations. To our right, under the eaves of an old theater,
someone was trying another representation on a miniature stage. I believe I saw
a cat ready for its function. Really there you could see everything. In other
times; a man disguised as a bear tried to compete with a human orchestra. The
question is to look for alternatives each time more extravagant, someone
commented. While we walked, returning to the campus, Castaneda spoke about a
prospective trip to Argentina.
There a cycle is closed, he told us. To return to Argentina is very important
for me. I'm still not sure when I can do it, but I will go. For now I have
things to do here. Just in August three years of tasks will be accomplished, and
it's possible that then I might go.
That afternoon, Castaneda spoke to us a lot about Buenos Aires, about its
streets, neighborhoods and sports clubs. He remembered nostalgically Florida
Street with its elegant stores and the itinerant multitude. He was even reminded
with precision of the famous street of cinemas. Lavalle Street, he said making
Castaneda lived in Buenos Aires during his childhood. It seems he was enrolled
in a downtown school. Of that era he remembers with sadness that it had been
said that he was wider than he was tall words that when one is a child hurt a
lot. I always looked with envy, he commented, on those Argentinians so tall and
You know that in Buenos Aires you always have to belong to some club, continued
Castaneda. I was from Chacarita. To be from River Plate isn't surprising, right?
Chacarita, on the other hand, is always one of the last.
In those times, Chacarita always came out last. It was touching to see him
identified with those who lose, with the 'underdog.'
Surely La Gorda will come with me. She wants to travel. Clearly she wants to go
to 'Parice', he declared. La Gorda buys now in Gucci, is elegant and wants to go
to Paris. I always say to her, Gorda, why do you want to go to Paris? There
there is nothing. She has a certain idea about Paris, 'the city of light' you
Many times that afternoon, La Gorda was named. With her, Castaneda brought us to
an extraordinary person due to the fact that he, without a doubt, feels great
respect and admiration for her. What would be the sense then, of all that
circumstantial information that he gave us about her? I believe that with those
commentaries, as well as those in which he referred to the way of eating and
sleeping of the Toltecs, Castaneda tried to prevent us from forming a rigid
image of what they are. The work that they are doing is very serious and their
lives are austere, but they aren't rigid nor can they be squeezed into the
traditional norms of society. The important thing is to liberate oneself from
schemes, not to replace them with others.
Castaneda gave us to understand that he hasn't traveled much in Latin America,
if you exclude Mexico. Lately I've only been in Venezuela, he said. As I've
already told you, I have to go to Argentina soon. There a cycle is closed. After
that I will be able to leave. Well. . . the truth is that I don't know if I want
to leave yet. His last words were said smilingly, Who doesn't have things that
hold him down.
He has traveled through Europe several times for business related to his books.
In 1973, however, Don Juan sent me to Italy, he affirmed. My task consisted of
going to Rome to obtain an audience with the Pope. I didn't claim to obtain a
private audience but one of those audiences which are conferred on groups of
persons. All I had to do in the interview was to kiss the hand of the Supreme
Castaneda did everything that Don Juan had asked him. He went to Italy, arrived
in Rome and asked for the audience. It was one of those Wednesday audiences,
after which the Pope officiates at a public mass in the plaza of San Pedro. They
did confer on me an audience but.. . I couldn't go, he said. I didn't even
arrive at the door.
That afternoon, Castaneda referred several times to his family and to his
typically liberal and frankly anticlerical background education. In The Second
Ring of Power, Castaneda also makes reference to the anticlerical heritage that
he received. Don Juan, who doesn't seem to justify all his prejudices and
battles against the Catholic Church, says: To conquer our own foolishness
requires all our time and energy. This is the only thing that matters. The
others lack consistency. Nothing that your grandfather and your father have said
about the Church has made them happy. To be an impeccable warrior, on the other
hand, will give you force, youth and power. Thus, the appropriate thing for you
is to know how to choose. (p. 236) Castaneda didn't theorize about these themes.
With respect to the disjunctive 'clericalism-anticlericalism' he only wanted us
to receive a teaching with the example of his experience. That is to say, he
makes us understand that it is very difficult to break the schemes which have
been formed in youth.
© Copyright Magical Blend Magazine
Publication Date: 1985