Q: I thought the passage in the book where these
very different orientations toward reality that you had, and don
Juan had, the point at which it came through most clearly to me,
was the point in which you question him about
your own experience of apparent flight. And you finally came around
to asking if you had been chained to a rock, would don Juan feel
that you still had flown, and his answer was, in that case you
would have flown with the chain and the rock.
CC: He alludes, you know, that, I think what he means, what he
meant to say is that one never really changes. As a European my
mind is set, my cognitive units are set, in a sense. I would admit
only a total change. For me to change would mean that a person
mutates totally into a bird, and that's the only way I could understand
it. But I think what he means is something else,
something much more sophisticated than that. My system's very
rudimentary, you see, it lacks the sophistication that don Juan
has, but I cannot pinpoint actually what he means like, things
like what he means that one never changes really, there's something
else, another process is taking place.
Q: Yes, it is difficult to focus on this. I think I remember
don Juan's line was, you flew as a man flies. But he insisted
that you flew.
Q: There's another remarkable statement he makes. It is in a
discussion of the reality of the episode. He says, that is all
there is in reality, what you felt.
CC: Uh-huh. Yea, he, don Juan's a very sophisticated thinker,
really, it's not easy to come to grips with him. You see, I had
tried various times to wrestle with him intellectually and he
always comes the victor, you know. He's very artful. He posed
once the idea to me that the whole, the totality of the universe
is just perception. It's how we perceive things. And there are
no facts, only interpretations. And those are nearly, I'm merely
paraphrasing him as close as I can. And perhaps he's right, the
nothing else but interpretations that our brain makes of stimuli.
So that such whatever I felt was, of course, the important thing.
Q: Now, one of the aspects of what we normally call reality that
seems most important to us is that of coherence or consistency
from experience to experience, and I was impressed by the fact
that the experiences you had under peyote seemed to have in your
recordings a remarkable coherence from experience to experience.
I'd like to question you about this. There is an
image that appeared in the experiences which you called mescalito.
And it seems as if this image appears again and again with great
consistency, that the general sense of the experience, the sound
of it, the feel of it, is very much the same from time to time.
Am I accurate in saying that?
CC: Yes, very, very much.
Q: Well, how do you make sense of that fact?
CC: Well, I'd, its the, I'd have two interpretations. Mine being
it's the product of the indoctrination I went through, those long
periods of discussions, where instruction was given.
Q: Did don Juan every tell you how mescalito was to look?
CC: No, no not that level. Once I constructed, I think, the composite
in my mind, the idea that it was a homogenous and totally a protector
and a very sturdy deity, may have held me to maintain that, that
mental composite, or perhaps the deity exists outside of ourselves
as he says. Completely outside of me, as a man, as a feeler, and
all it does is manifest itself.
Q: Now, I thought your description of this image, of mescalito,
was very vivid and very impressive. Do you think you could possibly,
just to draw out one aspect of the book, describe what this figure
seemed like to you?
CC: It was truly an anthropomorphic composite as you say. It
was not truly a man, but it looked like a cricket, and it was
very large, perhaps larger than a man. It looked somehow like
the surface of a cactus, the peyote cactus. And that was the top
looked like a pointed head, but it had human features in the sense
of eyes and a face. But it was not quite human either. It was
something different about it and the movements, of course, were
quite extraordinary because it hopped.
Q: Now, when you described this experience to don Juan, how did
he deal with it, was this the right image.
CC: No, no. He didn't care at all about my description of the
form. He's not interested at all. I never told him what the form,
he discarded it all. I wrote it down because it was quite remarkable
for me as the man who experienced it. It was just extraordinary.
It was truly a shocking experience. And as I recalled everything
that I experienced, but insofar as telling him, he didn't want
to hear about it. He said that it was unimportant. All he want
to hear was whether I had, how close he let me come in this
anthropomorphic composite at the time I saw it, you know, let
me come very close and nearly touch him. And that, in don Juan's
system, I suppose, was a very good turn. And he was interested
in knowing whether I was frightened or not. And I was very frightened.
But insofar as the form, he never made any comment, or he didn't
even show any interest in it.
Q: I'd like to ask about one particular set of experiences. We
don't have to go into them in detail here. I think we might simply
tempt the listeners to look at the book, and read the actual details
of the experiences. But, your final experience with don Juan is
one of extreme fearfulness. Why do you think he lead you into
this final situation, at least final in your relationship with
him in which, I mean, he very literally just scared the hell out
of you. What was the purpose of that. It seemed almost as you
record it, it seemed at points almost deliberate cruelty. What
do you think he was up to when he did that?
CC: When he had previous to that last incident, or right before
it, he taught me some position that it's proper of shamans to
adopt at moments of great crises, the time of their death, perhaps.
It's a form that they would adopt. And it's something that they
would use, it's a sort of validation, a signature, or to prove
that they have been men. Before they die they will face their
death and do this dancing. And then they will yell at death and
die. And I asked don Juan what could be important, you know, since
we all have to die, what difference does it make whether we dance
or we cry or scream or yell or run, and he felt that the question
was very stupid because by having a form a man could validate
his existence, he could really reaffirm that he was a man, because
essentially that's all we have. The rest is unimportant. And at
the very last moment, you see, the only thing that a man could
do was to reassert that he was a man. So he taught me this form
and in the course of the event, this very frightening set of circumstances,
or actions, I was forced nearly to exercise this form and use
it. It brought a great amount of vigor to me. And the event ended
up there, "successfully". I was successful. And perhaps
staying away from death, or something like. The next day, the
next night he took me into the bushes, and what I was gonna do
was, he was gonna teach me how to perfect this form, I thought
was neat. And in the course of teaching me, I found myself alone.
And that's when the horrendous fear attacked me
really. I think what he had in mind was for me to use this form,
this position, this posture that he had taught me. And he deliberately
scared me, I suppose, in order for me to test that. And that was
my failure, of course, cause I really succumbed to fear instead
of standing and facing my death, as I was supposed to as a, let's
say apprentice of this way of knowledge, I
became a thorough European man and I succumbed to fear.
Q: How did things actually end then between you and don Juan?
CC: They ended that night I think, you know, I suffer a total
ego collapse because the fear was just too great for my resources.
And it took hours to pull me back. And it seems that we came to
an impasse where I never talk ever again about his knowledge.
That's almost 3 years ago, over 3 years ago.
Q: You feel then he had finally lead you up to an experience
that was beyond your capacity to grapple with?
CC: I think so. I exhausted my resources and I couldn't go beyond
that and its coherent with the American Indian idea that knowledge
is power. See you cannot play around with it. Every new step,
you see, is a trial and you have to prove that you're capable
of going beyond that. So that was my end.
Q: Yes, and over the 6 year period don Juan lead you through
a great number of terribly trying and difficult experiences.
CC: Yes, I should say, I would. But he does nothing that I haven't,
that I finished, I don't know, by some strange reason he has never
acted as though I'm through. He always thinks that this is a period
Q: Did he ever make it really clear to you what it was about
you that lead him to select you for this vigorous process.
CC: Well, he guides his acts by indications, by omens, if he
sees something that is extraordinary, some event that he cannot
incorporate into his, possibly his categorization scheme, if it
doesn't fit in it, he calls it a portentous event or an extraordinary
event and he considers that to be an omen. When I first took that
cactus, the peyote, I play with a dog. It was very remarkable
experience in which this dog and I understood each other very
well. And that was interpreted by don Juan as an omen, that the
deity, mescalito, peyote, had played with me, which was an event
that he had never witnessed in his life. Nobody has ever, in his
knowledge, nobody has ever played with the deity, he told me.
That was extraordinary, and something was pointing me out, and
he interpreted it as I was the right person to transmit his knowledge,
or part it or whatever.
Q: Well, now after spending six years in apprenticeship to don
Juan, what, may I ask, what difference this great adventure has
made to you personally?
CC: Well it has, certainly has given me a different outlook in
life. It's enlarged my sense of how important today is, I suppose.
I think, you know, I have, I'm the product of my socialization,
I, like any other person of the western world, I live very much
for tomorrow, all my life. I sort of save myself up for a great
future, something of that order. And it's only, it was only, with
the, of course, with the terrible impact of don Juan's teaching
that I came to realize how important it is to be here, now. And
the idea of entering into states of what I call non ordinary reality
instead of disrupting the states of ordinary reality, they render
them very meaningful. I didn't suffer any disruption or any disillusion
of what goes on today. I don't think its a farce. While I'll say
I tended to think that it was a farce before. I thought that I
was disillusioned as I was an artist to do some work in art, and
I felt, you know, that something was missing with my time, something
is wrong. But as I see it, you know, nothing is wrong. Today I
can't conceive what's wrong anymore. Cause it was vague to begin
with, I never thought exactly what was wrong. But I alluded that
there was a great area that was better than today. And I think
that has been dispelled completely.
Q: I see. Do you have any plans of ever seeking out don Juan
CC: No, I see him as a friend. I see him all the time.
Q: Oh, you still do see him?
CC: Yes I do. I'm with him, I have been with him lots of times
since the last experience that I write in the book. But as far
as seeking his teachings, I don't think I would. I sincerely think
that I don't have the mechanics.
Q: One final question: you make a heroic effort in the book to
make sense of don Juan's world view. Do you have any idea of whether
don Juan took any interest or takes any interest in your world,
the one you're calling that of a European man?
CC: Well, no I think he's versed, don Juan's very versed in what
we, the Europeans, stand for. He's not handicapped, in that sense,
he makes use, he's a warrior and he makes use of his, he sets
his life as in a strategic game, he makes use of everything that
he can, he's very versed in that. My effort to make sense of his
world is, it's my own way of, let's say, paying
back to him for this grand opportunity. I think if I don't make
the effort to render his world as coherent phenomena, he'll go
by the way he has for hundreds of years, as nonsensical activity,
when it is not nonsensical, it's not fraudulent, it's a very serious
Q: Yes. Well the outcome of your experiences with don Juan is
a really fascinating book and, after reading it myself, I can
certainly recommend it to the Pacific audience. It is an adventure
in a very different world than we ordinarily live in. I'd like
to thank you, Mr. Castaneda, for making this time available to
talk about the book and about your adventures. This is Theodore