Surviving Carlos Castaneda

I don’t know who it was, but someone called Castaneda the Ultimate Trickster.

In “Homage to a Sorcerer, Carlos Castaneda,” Michael Ventura wrote an event that had happened about 12 years before, which would have been 1986. He went to a bookstore where Castaneda made himself available to answer questions. Ventura’s impression:

It was Castaneda’s laughter, more than his skills as a storyteller, that convinced me of his sincerity and authenticity. He talked for free, had nothing to gain from us, spoke without artifice. People rarely laugh when they lie. At least, in my experience, they don’t laugh sweetly. And there was an irresistible sweetness to this man.

It must have been about a year after the incident described by Ventura, when another writer, Lane Sarasohn, encountered Castaneda. The meeting was later described in a 1994 issue of The Realist, in a memoir titled “No Out-of-Body Experience Necessary.”

The teacher had a favorite anecdote about a party he once went to that was also attended by a Carlos Castaneda imposter, pretending to be him. He seems to have told it again at the meeting Sarasohn caught. (I don’t imply that’s a bad thing. Of course, any speaker with a worthwhile message is going to say a lot of things more than once. Having a stock of polished anecdotes is part of the craft. He was just doing his job. I only mention that he seems to have really liked to tell that story.) Sarasohn remembers how the teacher was trying to get a weekly session going in a city park, where he could teach body movements…

…resembling Tai Chi. He’d learned these exercises somehow from Lo Ban, a Chinese Herbalist who became a brujo, part of don Juan’s ancient lineage.

Apparently the movement class was written off as a bad idea by Castaneda, after only a couple of weeks. (This must have been what later became Tensegrity, workout program of magical passes, taught by the inner circle.)

When speaking before a group of any size, Castaneda always maintained that he didn’t care about fame or fortune or even about having disciples. Not one little bit. Sarasohn wrote,

He’d devoted his life to trying to understand certain mysteries and he’d committed himself to the “warrior’s” path. It meant for him a life of total self-discipline and extreme austerity: no wife, no family, no high-profile academic career, no celebrity status as a best-selling author (no book tours, no groupies, no flattery, no drinking, no drugs).

The fact that Castaneda endured such an uncomfortable and deprived lifestyle, would prove to his followers that he couldn’t possibly be a con artist. That was the intention, anyway. Of course, it was necessary that the followers take his word for it that the self-portrait of the guru as an ascetic was indeed an accurate picture. It was not, and the inner circle knew it, but only one of them talked (Amy Wallace, Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Most of Castaneda’s significant others went off into the desert to die, unable or unwilling to survive without their leader.

Amy Wallace, reflecting on the passionate believers who attended Castaneda’s workshops and other events, said that she always admired the ones who “picked up their marbles and went home,” once they got a taste of the leader’s erratic and dictatorial ways. She says,

Best of all were those who took in a little philosophy here, a few techniques there, were enthralled by the marvelous speakers in the heyday of the lectures, and never wanted for more. These people, who did not upset the balance of their lives, appear to have benefited greatly… To this day I feel inspiration upon reading my favorite, Journey to Ixtlan. Take the beauty therein, and aspire as he and so many millions have. I would advise every reader to remember – you are the magical being.

After one of his meetings with Castaneda, Michael Ventura wrote something that could sum up the whole story:

His presence was an admission that every truth is fragile, that every knowledge must be learned over and over again, every night, that we grow not in a straight line but in ascending and descending and tilting circles, and that what gives us power one year robs us of power the next, for nothing is settled, ever, for anyone.

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About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website VirtualVenice.info and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for Earthblog.net
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