Castaneda, Carlos

Castaneda, Carlos (1925–1998) – Anthropologist, neo-shaman, and author of the Don Juan series of books (14 in total with three published posthumously). Castaneda’s work has been immensely popular but has been exposed by scholars as an inauthentic ethnography of Mexican shamanism. There is considerable mystery surrounding Castaneda in all aspects of his life and career. He claimed to have been born in Brazil in 1931, but records of his immigration to the United States in the 1950s indicate his birth was in 1925 in Peru. Castaneda studied anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and received an M.A. and Ph.D. for his ethnographic work with Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer and the inspiration for his bestselling books, the first three of which are entitled The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, A Separate Reality, and Journey to Ixtlan. Interest in psychedelics peaked around the time Castaneda chronicled his use of peyote, datura, and other entheogens with Don Juan in the first two books, yet his third presents readers with non-entheogen shamanistic techniques suitable to a postpsychedelic New Age and neo-shamanic audience, indicating that Castaneda’s books were more tailored to the countercultural spirituality of the moment than any indigenous reality. Scholars, including Richard de Mille, Daniel Noel, and Jay Fikes, have exposed Castaneda’s ethnography as “fake,” while devotees of Castaneda argue that even if the ethnography is inauthentic, the teachings within it remain valid; some even claim they have met Don Juan and practiced shamanism with him.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

Castaneda, Carlos (1925?–1998)
Born in either Brazil in 1931 (by his own account) or Peru in 1925 (according to official documents), author Carlos Cesar Arana Castaneda wrote fourteen books, three published posthumously, that include supposedly true stories of sorcery, out-ofbody experiences, magic, and alternate realities. Castaneda claimed that these works were based on his experiences with a shaman, Don Juan Matus, of the Yaqui Indian tribe of Sonora, Mexico, whom he met at an Arizona bus stop in 1960. At this time, Castaneda was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and had gone to the Southwest to study the use of medicinal plants in Native American rituals. Matus supposedly taught Castaneda not only about these plants and the visions they could produce but also about alternate realities and other paranormal aspects of shamanism.

Castaneda first wrote about Matus’s teachings as part of his master’s thesis, but in 1968 his work was published as a book called The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. The writings he used to earn his doctorate in anthropology in 1970 were subsequently published as two additional books, A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972). These books, and Castaneda’s later works, were extremely popular and increased public interest in mysticism, the paranormal, and other aspects of what
eventually became known as the New Age movement. Castaneda’s critics, however, have argued that he invented Don Juan Matus and his teachings in order to gain his advanced degrees and subsequent acclaim. They note that Castaneda never offered definitive proof that Matus existed.


  • The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968) (Summer 1960 to October 1965.)
  • A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971) (April 1968 to October 1970.)
  • Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972) (Summer 1960 to May 1971.)
  • Tales of Power (1974) (Autumn 1971 to the ‘Final Meeting’ with don Juan Matus in 1973.)
  • The Second Ring of Power (1977) (Meeting his fellow apprentices after the ‘Final Meeting’.)
  • The Eagle’s Gift (1981) (Continuing with his fellow apprentices; and then alone with La Gorda.)
  • The Fire From Within (1984) (Don Juan’s ‘Second Attention’ teachings through to the ‘Final Meeting’ in 1973.)
  • The Power of Silence: Further Lessons of Don Juan (1987) (The ‘Abstract Cores’ of don Juan’s lessons.)
  • The Art of Dreaming (1993) (Review of don Juan’s lessons in dreaming.)
  • Magical Passes: The Practical Wisdom of the Shamans of Ancient Mexico (1998) (Body movements for breaking the barriers of normal perception.)
  • The Wheel of Time: Shamans of Ancient Mexico, Their Thoughts About Life, Death and the Universe (1998) ISBN 0-9664116-0-9. (Selected quotations from the first eight books.)
  • The Active Side of Infinity (1999) ISBN 0-06-019220-8. (Memorable events of his life.)


  • Burton, Sandra, Time Magazine, “Magic and Reality”. 1973.
  • Corvalan, Graciela, “Der Weg der Tolteken – Ein Gespräch mit Carlos Castañeda”, Fischer, 1987, ca. 100p., ISBN 3-596-23864-1

Critical works

  • Barthelme, Donald. The Teachings Of Don B.: A Yankee Way Of Knowledge. New York Times Magazine, 1973 (11 February), 14-15, 66-67. Reproduced in D.
  • Castaneda, Margaret Runyan. A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda. Victoria: Millenia Press 1996 ISBN 978-0-9696960-1-8
  • De Holmes, Rebecca B. Shabono: Scandal or Superb Social Science? American Anthropology [Vol. 85, p. 664]
  • de Mille, Richard. Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory. Santa Barbara: Capra Press. 1976. ISBN 0-88496-067-6
  • de Mille, Richard. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company. 1990. ISBN 0-534-12150-0 / Santa Barbara, California: Ross-Erikson. 1980 ISBN 0-915520-25-7
  • Fikes, Jay Courtney. Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties. Millenia Press (1993).
  • Noel, Daniel. Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the Don Juan Writings of Carlos Castañeda, Perigee Books (1976)
  • Silverman, David. Reading Castaneda. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

Associated authors

  • Florinda Donner-Grau. Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest by (1982,1992) ISBN 0-06-250242-5
  • Florinda Donner-Grau. The Witch’s Dream. 1st edition 1985 ISBN 0-671-55198-1; current re-print (1997) ISBN 0-14-019531-9
  • Florinda Donner-Grau. Being-In-Dreaming: An Initiation into the Sorcerers’ World (1992) ISBN 0-06-250192-5
  • Taisha Abelar. The Sorcerer’s Crossing. 1st hardback edition 1992. 1993 edition ISBN 0-14-019366-9

Related works

  • Victor Sanchez. The Teachings of Don Carlos ISBN 1-879181-23-1
  • Edward Plotkin The Four Yogas Of Enlightenment: Guide To Don Juan’s Nagualism & Esoteric Buddhism (2002) ISBN 0-9720879-0-7
  • Armando Torres Encounters with the Nagual: Conversations with Carlos Castaneda (2002) Spanish (2004) English ISBN 968-5671-04-4
  • Alice Kehoe, Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking. 2000. London: Waveland Press. ISBN 1-57766-162-1
  • Graham Kane: Toltec Dreamer: A Collection of Memorable Events from the life of a Man-of-Action (2002 UK) Little Big Press. ISBN 0-9543630-0-0
  • Martin J. Goodman: I was Carlos Castaneda: The Afterlife Dialogues (2001 New York) Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80763-3
  • Jon Whale: The Catalyst of Power: The Assemblage Point of Man (Paperback) ISBN 1-873483-21-X DragonRising Publishing (3rd Edition, 2009)
  • Merilyn Tunneshende: Don Juan and the Art of Sexual Energy; The Rainbow Serpent of the Toltecs (2001, Rochester, Canada, ISBN 1-879181-63-0)
  • William Patrick Patterson: The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda (2007, Arete Communications, ISBN 978-1-879514-97-3)
  • Al Black: Identity Crisis; The Song of the Nagual (2015, TillT, ISBN 978-1-311219-00-8)

SEE ALSO: mysticism; New Age; shamans


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning