Mike Sager (Author)
“Castaneda wasn’t a common con man, he lied to bring us the
truth. His stories are packed with truth, though they are not true
stories, which he said they are . . . This is a shamman bearing gifts,
an ambiguous spellbinder dealing simultaneously in contrary
commodities—wisdom and deception”.
— Castaneda scholar Richard de Mille
Let me start by asking if you’ve ever heard of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. As was common with spiritual journeys discovered through the use of hallucinogenics, this book struck a chord in 1960s America.
I will surely struggle for words if I try to define who this type of book resonated with and why. But here in South America, the impact was enormous: people scoured the land for mushrooms and peyote, seeking the truth. Millions of copies were sold, making Castaneda a millionaire and expanding his teachings into a franchise comprising three associated companies, various seminars and workshops, several derivative books, and eleven additional books penned by Castaneda himself. It’s the book that made him a voice to follow, a shaman coming straight out of the Sonora Desert.
But who was he really?
Mike Sager has done a great journalistic job answering this one; not only has he read extensively about Carlos Castaneda—including reading all of Castaneda’s own output—but he also interviewed lots of people from his entourage. One of his first wives (he died married to two additional women known as the Witches), his son, people who followed him for years and ended up rummaging through his trash as a way to keep in touch with his teachings… the array of people portrayed in this book is incredibly interesting.
He also unpacks the lies, and, boy, there are lots of them: Castaneda was a Peruvian born in Cajamarca who said was born Brazilian and that had studied art in Italy sponsored by the nobility. He ended up studying anthropology at UCLA, where his third book, Journey to Ixtlan, served him as his doctoral thesis. He shied away from interviews and refused to have his photograph taken, and he said that Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian, really existed. He invented “Tensegrity”, a combination of martial art and magical passes complete with stances that could help you traverse through different realities… and did he have a lot to say about alternate universes and realities!
However, his teachings truly resonated with many. I lost a personal friend to this discourse (and to peyote) when I was a teenager because he became obsessed with these ideas and would not stop trying all types of plants. By book three, however, Castaneda himself said that hallucinogenic or “sacred” plants were no longer necessary because his own awareness had expanded. A wise move, I would have to say, because that way no one would be able to accuse him of promoting drug consumption afterward.
I found this book to be a good example of why we keep reading about “magical teachers.” (Ever heard of Osho? There’s a great documentary about him on Netflix called Wild, Wild Country.) In short, we need to create a compelling story about ourselves: that we are chosen, special, extraordinary. Religion used to fill this need, but somewhere in the 20th century the narrative shifted, and a path to being warriors, inspired by ancient Eastern mythology, became available.
Price: $7.99 Digital $2.99
Publisher: Sager Group LLC
Publish Date: September 04, 2020
Cultural, Ethnic & Regional – Hispanic & Latino Spiritualism – General Cults