Interviewer: For six years from 1960-66 Carlos Castaneda
served as an apprentice to a Yaqui Indian brujo, or sorcerer named
don Juan. During those years, Mr. Castaneda was a graduate student
in Anthropology at UCLA. His experiences with don Juan lead him
into a strange world of shamanistic lore and psychedelic experience
and adventures in what Mr. Castaneda calls states of non ordinary
reality, some of which were frightening in the extreme, and all
of which are fascinating in the extreme. His experiences with
don Juan are recounted in a book which has been published this
year by the University of California Press called "The Teachings
of don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge". Mr. Castaneda is
with us here at KPFA today and has agreed to discuss the book
and his experiences with don Juan. Let me begin by asking you
how you managed to meet this remarkable personality, don Juan,
and can you give us some idea what sort of a person he is?
CC: I met don Juan in a rather fortuitous manner. I was doing,
at the time in 1960, I was doing, I was collecting ethnographic
data on the use of medicinal plants among the Arizona Indians.
And a friend of mine who was my guide on that enterprise knew
about don Juan. He knew that don Juan was a very learned man in
the use of plants and he intended to introduce me to him, but
he never got around to do that. One day when I was about to return
to Los Angeles, we happened to see him at a bus station, and my
friend went over to talk to him. Then he introduced me to the
man and I began to tell him that my interests was plants, and
that, especially about peyote, because somebody had told me that
this old man was very learned in the use of peyote. And we talked
for about 15 minutes while he was waiting for his bus, or rather
I did all the talking and he didn't say anything at all. He kept
on staring at me from time to time and that made me very uncomfortable
because I didn't know anything about peyote, and he seemed to
have seen through me. After about 15 minutes he got up and said
that perhaps I could come to his house sometime where we could
talk with more ease, and he just left. And I thought that the
attempt to meet him was a failure because I didn't get anything
out of him. And my friend thought that it was very common to get
a reaction like that from the old man because he was very eccentric.
But I returned again perhaps a month later and I began to search
for him. I didn't know where he lived, but I found out later where
his house was and I came to see him. He, at first, you know, I
approached him as a friend.
I liked, for some reason, I liked the way he looked at me at the
bus depot. There was something very peculiar about the way he
stares at people. And he doesn't stare, usually he doesn't look
at anybody straight in the eye, but sometimes he does that and
it's very remarkable. And it was more that stare which made me
go to see him than my interest in anthropological work.
So I came various times and we developed a sort of friendship.
He has a great sense of humor and that eased the things up.
Q: About how old a man was he when you met him?
CC: Oh he was in his late 60's, 69, or something like that.
Q: Now, you identify him in the book as a brujo. Can you give
us some idea of what this means and to what extent don Juan is
connected, if at all, with some sort of an ethnic background,
a tribal background or is he pretty much of a lone wolf?
CC: The word brujos, the Spanish conception, it could be translated
in various ways, in English could render a sorcerer, witch, medicine
man or herbalist or curer, and, of course, the technical word
shaman. Don Juan does not relate, or does not define himself in
any of those ways. He thinks of himself, perhaps he is a man of
Q: That's the term he uses, man of knowledge?
CC: He uses man of knowledge or one who knows. He uses that interchangeably.
In as far as his tribal allegiances, I think he, don Juan, is
very much, I think his emotional ties are with the Yaquis of Sonora
since his father was a Yaqui from one of the towns in Sonora,
one of the Yaqui towns. But his mother was from Arizona. Thus
he has sort of a divided origin which makes
him very much a marginal man. At the present he has family in
Sonora, but he doesn't live there. He lives there part of the
time, perhaps I should say.
Q: Does he have any formal livelihood? How does he earn his way
in the world?
CC: I wouldn't be able to, to, to discuss that, rather I don't
think that I could at the moment.
Q: One point I'd like to clear up - it's something that I wondered
about as I read the book. The book consisted in large part of
recordings of your own experiences in using the herbs and mushrooms
and so on that don Juan introduced you to, and long conversations
with don Juan. How were you able, just as a technical problem,
how were you able to keep track of your experiences over such
a long period of time. How were you able to record all of this?
CC: It seems difficult, but since one of the items of the learning
process of recapitulation of whatever you experience, in order
to remember everything that happened, I had to make mental notes
of all the steps, of all the things that I saw, all the events
that occurred during the states of, let's say, expanded consciousness
or whatever. And then it was easy to translate them into writing
after, because I had them all meticulously filed, sort of, in
my mind. That's as the experience itself goes, but then the questions
and answers I simply wrote them down.
Q: You were able to take notes while you were....
CC: Not at the very beginning of our relationship I never took
any notes. I took notes in the covert manner. I had a pad of paper
inside my pockets, you know, big pockets on my jacket. I used
to write inside my pockets. It's a technique ethnographers use
sometimes that they convert notes and then, of course. you have
to work very hard to decipher the way they're written. But
it has to be done very quickly, very fast. As soon as you have
time; you cannot postpone anything. You cannot let it go for the
next day, cause you lose everything. Since I think I work compulsively,
I was capable of writing down everything that took place very,
very shortly after the events themselves.
Q: I must say that many of the dialogues are extremely fascinating
documents. Don Juan, as you record his remarks has a certain amount
of eloquence and imagination.
CC: Well one thing, he's very artful with usual words and he
thinks of himself as a talker, although he doesn't like to talk.
But he thinks that talking is his predilection, as other men of
knowledge have all the predilections like movement, balance. His
is talking. That is my good fortune to find a man that would have
the same predilection that I have.
Q: Now, one of the things that's most impressive about the book
is the remarkable chances that you seem to have taken under don
Juan's tutelage; that is, he introduced you to various chemicals,
substances, some of which, clearly I suppose could have been fatal
if they had not been used carefully. How did you manage to work
up sufficient trust in this man to down all of the concoctions
that he put before you?
CC: The way the books present it seems to heighten some dramatic
sequences, which is, I'm afraid, not true real life. There are
enormous gaps in between in which ordinary things took place,
that are not included. I didn't include in the book because they
did not pertain to the system I wanted to portray, so I just simply
took them away, you see. And that means that the gaps
between those very height states, you know, whatever, says that
I remove things that are continuous crescendos, in kind of sequence
leading to a very dramatic solution. But in real life it was a
very simple matter because it took years in between, months pass
in between them, and in the meantime we did all kinds of things.
We even went hunting. He told me how to trap
things, set traps, very old, old ways of setting a trap, and how
to catch rattlesnakes. He told me how to prepare rattlesnakes,
in fact. And so that eases up, you see, the distrust or the fear.
Q: I see. So there was a chance for you to build up a tremendous
amount of confidence in this man.
CC: Yes, we spent a lot of time together. He never told me what
he was gonna do, anyways. By the time I realized, I was already
too deep into to turn back.
Q: Now, the heart of the book, at least as far as my reading
was concerned, certainly the most fascinating part of the book,
has to do with your experiences with what you term non-ordinary
reality, and many of these experiences as you recount them have
a great deal of cogency to them; that is, they are experiences
that seem to come very close to demonstrating the validity of
practices like divination, and then on the other hand you have
experiences that, at the time, seemed to have been tremendously
vivid experiences of flight and of being transformed into various
animal forms, and often you suggest a sense of some ultimate revelation
taking place. What sense do you make of these experiences now
as you look back on them all? What seems to have been valid about
them and how was don Juan, do you feel, seem able to control or
predict what these experiences would be?
CC: Well, in as far as making sense out of them, I think as an
anthropologist, I think, the way I had done it, I could use them
as grounds for, say, set up a problem in anthropology, but that
doesn't mean that I understand them or use them in any way. I
could just employ them to construct a system, perhaps. But if
I will view them from the point of view of a non-European man,
shaman or perhaps a Yaqui, I think the experiences are, they are
designed to produce the knowledge that reality of consensus is
only a very small segment of the total range of what we could
feel as real. If we could learn to code reality or stimuli the
way a shaman does, perhaps we could elongate our range of what
we call real.
Q: What do you mean by that, how does a shaman like don Juan
CC: For instance, in the idea that a man could actually turn
into a cricket or a mountain lion or a bird, is to me, this is
my personal conclusion, it's a way of intaking a stimuli and readapting
it. I suppose the stimuli is there, anybody who would take a hallucinogenic
plant or a chemical produced in a laboratory, I think will experience
more or less the same distortion. We call
it distortion of reality. But the shamans, I think, have learned
through usage in thousands of years, perhaps, of practice, they
have learned to reclassify the stimuli encoded in a different
way. The only way we have to code it is as hallucination, madness.
That's our system of codification. We cannot conceive that one
could turn into a crow, for instance.
Q: This was your experience under don Juan's tutelage?
CC: Yes. As a European I refuse to believe that one could do
it, you see. But...
Q: But it was a tremendously vivid experience when you had it...
CC: Well it was hard to say, it was real, that's my only way
of describing it. But now you see the things over, if I would
be allowed to analyze it, I think, you know, what he was trying
to do was to teach me another way of coding reality, another way
of putting it into a propitious frame that could turn into a different