A Mexican Indian perspective on the writings of Carlos Castaneda and the teachings of Don Juan Matus.
In case you are not familiar with the works of Carlos Castaneda and the teachings of Don Juan, here is a good summary I found on a Google search written by Joe Kissell.
Over the years my indigenous colleagues and I have gotten asked by many people about our opinions regarding the writings of Castaneda. Did he make it all up either rationally, under the influence, or not under the influence but insanely, or is there any truth in any of the books? The following is my usual reply: "All of the above with an explanation." And here is the explanation:
Most everyone is familiar with the story of The Wizard of Oz, and have seen the original classic 1939 screen version starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. Now imagine for a moment that Dorothy had been a real person who had gotten knocked out as a result of the tornado, and later regained conciousness to give an account of what seemed to her a very real adventure she had to a land in another dimension named Oz during an altered state of conciousness; (in her case, unconsciousness). Most people who believe in other dimensions would at least be open to the possibility that what Dorothy had experienced might have been real. Rationalist skeptics in partiuclar and on the other hand would just brush off her account as having been a vivid dream or hallucination as a result of the temporary physical trauma to her head.
Most skeptical critiques about Castaneda have been written by non-Indians--mainly anthropologists. Many Yaqui Indians in both Sonora and Arizona have rebuked Castaneda as well, saying that they never heard of a Yaqui sorcerer of the past or present named Juan Matus, and like the anthros, say that the alleged teachings of "Don Juan" are alien to Yaqui spirituality.
The latter in particular is somewhat true. One of Castaneda's early mistakes, although perhaps not intentional at the time, was titling his first book, The Teachings of Don Juan--A Yaqui Way of Knowledge instead of A Yaqui's (single person) Way of Knowledge.
Back in the late 1800's there actually had been a powerful and revered Yaqui hechicero (sorcerer) from around the Río Yaqui region of Sonora named Juan Matus. However, Don Juan, as Castaneda respectfully called him, did not exercise conventional Yaqui shamanism even though he was well-versed in it. Don Juan's shamanic teacher was from an ancient lineage of shamans known as Nagual, which originated with the ancient Toltecs, but over time became a shamanic lineage made up of Mexican Indians from various tribes. You can sort of compare it to the various orders of the priesthood within the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits, Franciscans, etc. are made up of various nationalities.
The standard definition of nagual in Mexico is that of a shaman, hechicero, or brujo (witch) who has the ability to to transmigrate from a human being into a bird or animal. However, in ancient Toltec terminology, nagual also refers to a higher state of being and awareness beyond ordinary human mortal status. Ordinary human mortal status and awareness is referred to as the tonal.
Now if you're already familiar with those terminologies in their contexts from the Castaneda books, you now have an indication that he didn't make them up. The fact is, a lot of the terms, experiences, and people recorded in Castaneda's writings are authentic. So the question is now, was the Don Juan I speak of really Castaneda's teacher? The answer is "no." That Don Juan, using Castenada-recorded Nagual lineage terminology, departed for "The Third Attention" (an afterlife) via "the fire from within" (a form of spontaneous combustion) back in the early 1900's.
In the Roman Catholic religion, when a man is ordained a priest or a woman is ordained a nun, they take on a saint's name. Likewise, it is not uncommon among shamanic lineages for a shaman apprentice to take on the name of his or her teacher or that of another great shaman within the lineage, and that is exactly what Castaneda's teacher did, including some other shamans who took on the name of Juan Matus in his honor. Matus is a common Yaqui surname that means "root."
Like the Bible and a lot of other ancient religious texts, the writings of Carlos Castaneda are a mixture of historical fact, allegory, and myth. As far as Castaneda goes, the myth part consisted of him relating experiences in his books that he had while under the influence of psychotropic plants or while in "dreaming," but which he did not always reveal to his readers. This was especially true in The Art of Dreaming, where he was in an uncontrolled schizophrenic state most of the time. In his book Magical Passes, the movements illustrated are authentic in the way of being actual, ancient Mesoamerican techniques for protection and manipulating energy, although some of them as taught by Castaneda were slightly altered.
To most "westerners," schizophrenic experiences are purely uncontrolled halluciongenic fantasies, whereas to the indigenous, they are real but uncontrolled visions and mind journeys into abstract realms of existence. Medication, whether it be from a natural plant or a synthetic chemical is called for when people are constantly unable to control such journeys into separate realities.
Castaneda's doctoral dissertation was Journey to Ixtlan, for which he was awarded a Ph.D. Even prior to that, he had to write his two prevous books about his experiences with Don Juan like a screenplay in order for them to be entertaining and thus sell to the general public as opposed to just being dull, technical, anthropological texts. Why not make Don Juan and the other cast of characters in his books more colorful than they really were by paraphrasing their teachings and quotations? Castaneda had it in him to be a shrewd and creative businessman, and thus came up with a way to pay for his education and make a lucrative living afterwards with his unique brand of literary-like anthropological writings.
In the Wizard of Oz, the wizard turned out to be a humbug. He was really a fairly ordinary man who made himself appear more powerful than he really was.
In the works of Carlos Castaneda, it was the Peruvian Dorothy, Carlos, who was the humbug by portraying his experiences and the cast of brujos and brujas in his books, including his own personal wizard, Don Juan, as greater and more colorful than they really were.
Apart from that, one of the reasons why Castaneda was so elusive with the public most of his career as an author was because he had diseminated secret, sacred knowledge to the world that had never been revealed before, even to anthropologists. He was given permission to do so with restrictions from his "Don Juan" teacher, and that Don Juan himself ended up an outcast by indigenous elders in Sonora for sharing the sacred knowledge to an outsider that publicized it.
A lot of anthropolgists think that they end up knowing everything about an indigenous people they have studied, including their religion. But what they fall short of in many instances is knowledge of the sacred wisdom of an indigenous religion, which the indigenous do not share with outsiders.
As for the published writings of others who were cohorts of Castaneda and/or claim to have been students of Don Juan, they, like the works of Castaneda, are a mixture of truth, allegory, fantasy, and just plain old B.S.