SAM KEEN: As I followed don Juan through your three
books, I suspected, at times, that he was the creation of Carlos
Castaneda. He is almost to good to be true--a wise old Indian
whose knowledge of human nature is superior to almost everybody's.
CARLOS CASTANEDA: The idea that I concocted a person like don
Juan is inconceivable. He is hardly the kind of figure my European
intellectual tradition would have led me to invent. The truth
is much stranger. I wasn't even prepared to make the changes in
my life that my association with don Juan involved.
KEEN: How and where did you meet don Juan and become his apprentice?
CASTANEDA: I was finishing my undergraduate study at UCLA and
was planning to go to graduate school in anthropology. I was
interested in becoming a professor and thought I might begin in
the proper way by publishing a short paper on medicinal plants.
couldn't have cared less about finding a weirdo like don Juan.
I was in a bus depot in Arizona with a high-school friend of mine.
He pointed out an old Indian man to me and said he knew about
peyote and medicinal plants. I put on my best airs and introduced
myself to don Juan and said: "I understand you know a great
deal about peyote. I am one of the experts on peyote (I had read
Weston La Barre's __The Peyote Cult__) and it might be worth your
while to have lunch and talk with me." Well, he just looked
at me and my bravado melted. I was absolutely tongue-tied and
numb. I was usually very aggressive and verbal so it was a momentous
affair to be silenced by a look. After that I began to visit him
and about a year later he told me he had decided to pass on to
me the knowledge of sorcery he had learned from his teacher.
KEEN: Then don Juan is not an isolated phenomenon. Is there a
community of sorcerers that shares a secret knowledge?
CASTANEDA: Certainly. I know three sorcerers and seven apprentices
and there are many more. If you read the history of the
Spanish conquest of Mexico, you will find that the Catholic inquisitors
tried to stamp out sorcery because they considered it the
work of the devil. It has been around for many hundreds of years.
Most of the techniques don Juan taught me are very old.
KEEN: Some of the techniques that sorcerers use are in wide use
in other occult groups. Persons often use dreams to find lost
articles, and they go on out-of-the-body journeys in their sleep.
But when you told how don Juan and his friend don Genero made
your car disappear in broad daylight I could only scratch my head.
I know that a hypnotist can create an illusion of the presence
or absence of an object. Do you think you were hypnotized?
CASTANEDA: Perhaps, something like that. But we have to begin
by realizing, as don Juan says, that there is much more to the
world than we usually acknowledge. Our normal expectations about
reality are created by a social consensus. We are taught how to
see and understand the world. The trick of socialization is to
convince us that the descriptions we agree upon define the limits
of the real world. What we call reality is only one way of seeing
the world, a way that is supported by a social consensus.
KEEN: Then a sorcerer, like a hypnotist, creates an alternative
world by building up different expectations and manipulating cues
to produce a social consensus.
CASTANEDA: Exactly. I have come to understand sorcery in terms
of Talcott Parsons' idea of glosses. A gloss is a total system
of perception and language. For instance, this room is a gloss.
We have lumped together a series of isolated perceptions--floor,
ceiling, window, lights, rugs, etc.--to make a totality. But we
had to be taught to put the world together in this way. A child
reconnoiters the world with few preconceptions until he is taught
to see things in a way that corresponds to the descriptions everybody
agrees on. The world is an agreement. The system of glossing seems
to be somewhat like walking. We have to learn to walk, but once
we learn we are subject to the syntax of language and the mode
of perception it contains.
KEEN: So sorcery, like art, teaches a new system of glossing.
When, for instance, van Gogh broke with the artistic tradition
painted "The Starry Night" he was in effect saying:
here is a new way of looking at things. Stars are alive and they
whirl around in their energy field.
CASTANEDA: Partly. But there is a difference. An artist usually
just rearranges the old glosses that are proper to his membership.
Membership consists of being an expert in the innuendoes of meaning
that are contained within a culture. For instance, my primary
membership like most educated Western men was in the European
intellectual world. You can't break out of one membership without
being introduced into another. You can only rearrange the glosses.
KEEN: Was don Juan resocializing you or desocializing you? Was
he teaching you a new system of meanings or only a method of stripping
off the old system so that you might see the world as a wondering
CASTANEDA: Don Juan and I disagree about this. I say he was reglossing
me and he says he was deglossing me. By teaching me sorcery he
gave me a new set of glosses, a new language and a new way of
seeing the world. Once I read a bit of the linguistic philosophy
of Ludwig Wittgenstein to don Juan and he laughed and said: "Your
friend Wittgenstein tied the noose too tight around his neck so
he can't go anywhere."
KEEN: Wittgenstein is one of the few philosophers who would have
understood don Juan. His notion that there are many different
language games--science, politics, poetry, religion, metaphysics,
each with its own syntax and rules--would have allowed him to
understand sorcery as an alternative system of perception and
CASTANEDA: But don Juan thinks that what he calls seeing is apprehending
the world without any interpretation; it is pure wondering perception.
Sorcery is a means to this end. To break the certainty that the
world is the way you have always been taught you must learn a
new description of the world--sorcery--and then hold the old and
the new together. Then you will see that neither description is
final. At that moment you slip between the descriptions; you stop
the world and see. You are left with wonder; the true wonder of
seeing the world without interpretation.
KEEN: Do you think it is possible to get beyond interpretation
by using psychedelic drugs?
CASTANEDA: I don't think so. That is my quarrel with people like
Timothy Leary. I think he was improvising from within the
European membership and merely rearranging old glosses. I have
never taken LSD, but what I gather from don Juan's teachings is
that psychotropics are used to stop the flow of ordinary interpretations,
to enhance the contradictions within the glosses, and to shatter
certainty. But the drugs alone do not allow you to stop the world.
To do that you need an alternative description of the world. That
is why don Juan had to teach me sorcery.
KEEN: There is an ordinary reality that we Western people are
certain is 'the' only world, and then there is is the separate
of the sorcerer. What are the essential differences between them?
Castaneda: In European membership the world is built largely
from what the eyes report to the mind. In sorcery the total body
used as a perceptor. As Europeans we see a world out there and
talk to ourselves about it. We are here and the world is there.
Our eyes feed our reason and we have no direct knowledge of things.
According to sorcery this burden on the eyes in unnecessary. We
know with the total body.
KEEN: Western man begins with the assumption that subject and
object are separated. We're isolated from the world and have to
cross some gap to get to it. For don Juan and the tradition of
sorcery, the body is already in the world. We are united with
the world, not alienated from it.
Castaneda: That's right. Sorcery has a different theory of embodiment.
The problem in sorcery is to tune and trim your body to
make it a good receptor. Europeans deal with their bodies as if
they were objects. We fill them with alcohol, Bad food, and anxiety.
When something goes wrong we think germs have invaded the body
from outside and so we import some medicine to cure it. The disease
is not a part of us. Don Juan doesn't believe that. For him disease
is a disharmony between a man and his world. The body is an awareness
and it must be treated impeccably.
KEEN: This sounds similar to Norman O. Brown's idea that children,
schizophrenics, and those with the divine madness of the
Dionysian consciousness are aware of things and of other persons
as extensions of their bodies. Don Juan suggests something of
the kind when he says the man of knowledge has fibers of light
that connect his solar plexus to the world.
CASTANEDA: My conversation with the coyote is a good illustration
of the different theories of embodiment. When he came up
to me I said: "Hi, little coyote. How are you doing?"
And he answered back: "I am doing fine. How about you?"
Now, I didn't hear
the words in the normal way. But my body knew the coyote was saying
something and I translated it into dialogue. As an intellectual
my relationship to dialogue is so profound that my body automatically
translated into words the feeling that the animal was communicating
with me. We always see the unknown in terms of the known.
KEEN: When you are in that magical mode of consciousness in which
coyotes speak and everything is fitting and luminous it seems
as if the whole world is alive and that human beings are in a
communion that includes animals and plants. If we drop our arrogant
assumptions that we are the only comprehending and communicating
form of life we might find all kinds of things talking to us.
John Lilly talked talked to dolphins. Perhaps we would feel less
alienated if we could believe we were not the only intelligent
CASTANEDA: We might be able to talk to any animal. For don Juan
and the other sorcerers there wasn't anything unusual about my
conversation with the coyote. As a matter of fact they said I
should have gotten a more reliable animal for a friend. Coyotes
are tricksters and are not to be trusted.
KEEN: What animals make better friends?
CASTANEDA: Snakes make stupendous friends?
KEEN: I once had a conversation with a snake. One night I dreamt
there was a snake in the attic of a house where I lived when I
was a child. I took a stick and tried to kill it. In the morning
I told the dream to a friend and she reminded me that it was not
good to kill snakes, even if they were in the attic in a dream.
She suggested that the next time a snake appeared in a dream I
should feed it or do something to befriend it. About an hour later
I was driving my motor scooter on a little-used road and there
it was waiting for me--a four foot snake, stretched out sunning
itself. I drove alongside it and it didn't move. After we had
looked at each other for a while I decided I should make some
gesture to let him know I repented for killing his brother in
my dream. I reached over and touched his tail. He coiled up and
indicated that I had rushed our intimacy. So I backed off and
just looked. After about five minutes he went off into the bushes.