CASTANEDA: It was a very good friend. A man can
learn to call snakes. But you have to be in very good shape, calm,
collected--in a friendly mood, with no doubts or pending affairs.
KEEN: My snake taught me that I had always had paranoid feelings
about nature. I considered animals and snakes dangerous.
After my meeting I could never kill another snake and it began
to be more plausible to me that we might be in some kind of living
nexus. Our ecosystem might well include communication between
different forms of life.
CASTANEDA: Don Juan has a very interesting theory about this.
Plants, like animals, always affect you. He says that if you don't
apologize to plants for picking them you are likely to get sick
or have an accident.
KEEN: The American Indians had similar beliefs about animals
they killed. If you don't thank the animal for giving up his life
you may live, his spirit may cause you trouble.
CASTANEDA: We have a commonality with all life. Something is
altered every time we deliberately injure plant life or animal
We take life in order to live but we must be willing to give up
our lives without resentment when it is our time. We are so important
and take ourselves so seriously that we forget that the world
is a great mystery that will teach us if we listen.
KEEN: Perhaps psychotropic drugs momentarily wipe out the isolated
ego and allow a mystical fusion with nature. Most cultures
that have retained a sense of communion between man and nature
also have made ceremonial use of psychedelic drugs. Were you using
peyote when you talked with the coyote?
CASTANEDA: No. Nothing at all.
KEEN: Was this experience more intense than similar experiences
you had when don Juan gave you psychotropic plants?
CASTANEDA: Much more intense. Every time I took psychotropic
plants I knew I had taken something and I could always question
the validity of my experience. But when the coyote talked to me
I had no defenses. I couldn't explain it away. I had really stopped
the world and, for a short time, got completely outside my European
system of glossing.
KEEN: Do you think don Juan lives in this state of awareness
most of the time?
CASTANEDA: Yes. He lives in magical time and occasionally comes
into ordinary time. I live in ordinary time and occasionally
dip into magical time.
KEEN: Anyone who travels so far from the beaten paths of consensus
must be very lonely.
CASTANEDA: I think so. Don Juan lives in an awesome world and
he has left routine people far behind. Once when I was with don
Juan and his friend don Genaro I saw the loneliness they shared
and their sadness at leaving behind the trappings and points of
reference of ordinary society. I think don Juan turns his loneliness
into art. He contains and controls his power, the wonder and the
loneliness, and turns them into art. His art is the metaphorical
way in which he lives. This is why his teachings have such a dramatic
flavor and unity. He deliberately constructs his life and his
manner of teaching.
KEEN: For instance, when don Juan took you out into the hills
to hunt animals was he consciously staging an allegory?
CASTANEDA: Yes. He had no interest in hunting for sport or to
get meat. In the 10 years I have known him don Juan has killed
only four animals to my knowledge, and these only at times when
he saw that their death was a gift to him in the same way his
death would one day be a gift to something. Once we caught a rabbit
in a trap we had set and don Juan thought I should kill it because
its time was up. I was desperate because I had the sensation that
I was the rabbit. I tried to free him but couldn't open the trap.
So I stomped on the trap and accidentally broke the rabbit's neck.
Don Juan had been trying to teach me that I must assume responsibility
for being in this marvelous world. He leaned over and whispered
in my ear: "I told you this rabbit had no more time to roam
in this beautiful desert." He consciously set up the metaphor
to teach me about the ways of a warrior. The warrior is a man
who hunts and accumulates personal power. To do this he must develop
patience and will and move deliberately through the world. Don
Juan used the dramatic situation of actual hunting to teach me
because he was addressing himself to my
KEEN: In your most recent book, __Journey to Ixtlan__, you reverse
the impression given in your first books that the use of
psychotropic plants was the main method don Juan intended to use
in teaching you about sorcery. How do you now understand the place
of psychotropics in his teachings?
CASTANEDA: Don Juan used psychotropic plants only in the middle
period of my apprenticeship because I was so stupid,
sophisticated and cocky. I held on to my description of the world
as if it were the only truth. Psychotropics created a gap in my
system of glosses. They destroyed my dogmatic certainty. But I
paid a tremendous price. When the glue that held my world together
was dissolved, my body was weakened and it took months to recuperate.
I was anxious and functioned at a very low level.
KEEN: Does don Juan regularly use psychotropic drugs to stop
CASTANEDA: No. He can now stop it at will. He told me that for
me to try to see without the aid of psychotropic plants would
useless. But if I behaved like a warrior and assumed responsibility
I would not need them; they would only weaken my body.
KEEN: This must come as quite a shock to many of your admirers.
You are something of a patron saint to the psychedelic revolution.
CASTANEDA: I do have a following and they have some strange ideas
about me. I was walking to a lecture I was giving at California
State, Long Beach the other day and a guy who knew me pointed
me out to a girl and said: "Hey, that is Castaneda."
She didn't believe him because she had the idea that I must be
very mystical. A friend has collected some of the stories that
circulate about me. The consensus is that I have mystical feet.
KEEN: Mystical feet?
CASTANEDA: Yes, that I walk barefooted like Jesus and have no
callouses. I am supposed to be stoned most of the time. I have
also committed suicide and died in several different places. A
college class of mine almost freaked out when I began to talk
about phenomenology and membership and to explore perception and
socialization. They wanted to be told too relax, turn on and blow
their minds. But to me understanding is important.
KEEN: Rumors flourish in an information vacuum. We know something
about don Juan but too little about Castaneda.
CASTANEDA: That is a deliberate part of the life of a warrior,
To weasel in and out of different worlds you have to remain
inconspicuous. The more you are known and identified, the more
your freedom is curtailed. When people have definite ideas about
who you are and how you will act, then you can't move. One of
the earliest things don Juan taught me was that I must erase my
personal history. If little by little you create a fog around
yourself then you will not be taken for granted and you will have
more room for change. That is the reason I avoid tape recordings
when I lecture, and photographs.
KEEN: Maybe we can be personal without being historical. You
now minimize the importance of the psychedelic experience connected
with your apprenticeship. And you don't seem to go around doing
the kind of tricks you describe as the sorcerer's stock-in-trade.
What are the elements of don Juan's teachings that are important
for you? Have you been changed by them?
CASTANEDA: For me the ideas of being a warrior and a man of knowledge,
with the eventual hope of being able to stop the world and see,
have been the most applicable. They have given me peace and confidence
in my ability to control my life. At the time I met don Juan I
had very little personal power. My life had been very erratic.
I had come a long way from my birthplace in Brazil. Outwardly
I was aggressive and cocky, but within I was indecisive and unsure
of myself. I was always making excuses for myself. Don Juan once
accused me of being a professional child because I was so full
of self-pity. I felt like a leaf in the wind. Like most intellectuals,
my back was against the wall. I had no place to go. I couldn't
see any way of life that really excited me. I thought all I could
do was make a mature adjustment to a life of boredom or find ever
more complex forms of entertainment such as the use of psychedelics
and pot and sexual adventures. All of this was exaggerated by
my habit of introspection. I was always looking within and talking
to myself. The inner dialogue seldom stopped. Don Juan turned
my eyes outward and taught me to accumulate personal power. I
don't think there is any other way to live if one wants to be
KEEN: He seems to have hooked you with the old philosopher's
trick of holding death before your eyes. I was struck with how
classical don Juan's approach was. I heard echoes of Plato's idea
that a philosopher must study death before he can gain any access
to the real world and of Martin Heidegger's definition of man
CASTANEDA: Yes, but don Juan's approach has a strange twist because
it comes from the tradition in sorcery that death is physical
presence that can be felt and seen. One of the glosses in sorcery
is: death stands to your left. Death is an impartial judge who
will speak truth to you and give you accurate advice. After all,
death is in no hurry. He will get you tomorrow or the next week
or in 50 years. It makes no difference to him. The moment you
remember you must eventually die you are cut down to the right
size. I think I haven't made this idea vivid enough. The gloss--"death
to your left"--isn't an intellectual matter in sorcery;
it is perception. When your body is properly tuned to the world
and you turn your eyes to your left, you can witness an extraordinary
event, the shadowlike presence of death.
KEEN: In the existential tradition, discussions of responsibility
usually follow discussion of death.
CASTANEDA: Then don Juan is a good existentialist. When there
is no way of knowing whether I have one more minute of life. I
must live as if this is my last moment. Each act is the warrior's
last battle. So everything must be done impeccably. Nothing can
be left pending. This idea has been very freeing for me. I am
here talking to you and I may never return to Los Angeles. But
that wouldn't matter because I took care of everything before
KEEN: This world of death and decisiveness is a long way from
psychedelic utopias in which the vision of endless time destroys
the tragic quality of choice.
CASTANEDA: When death stands to your left you must create your
world by a series of decisions. There are no large or small
decisions, only decisions that must be made now. And there is
no time for doubts or remorse. If I spend my time regretting what
I did yesterday I avoid the decisions I need to make today.
KEEN: How did don Juan teach you to be decisive?
CASTANEDA: He spoke to my body with his acts. My old way was
to leave everything pending and never to decide anything. To me
decisions were ugly. It seemed unfair for a sensitive man to have
to decide. One day don Juan asked me: "Do you think you and
I are equals?" I was a university student and an intellectual
and he was an old Indian but I condescended and said: "Of
course we are equals." He said: "I don't think we are.
I am a hunter and a warrior and you are a pimp. I am ready to
sum up my life at any moment. Your feeble world of indecision
and sadness is not equal to mine." Well, I was very insulted
and would have left but we were in the middle of the wilderness.
So I sat down and got trapped in my own ego involvement. I was
going to wait until he decided to go home. After many hours I
saw that don Juan would stay there forever if he had to. Why not?
For a man with no pending business that is his power. I finally
realized that this man was not like my father who would make 20
resolutions and cancel them all out. Don Juan's decisions were
irrevocable as far as he was concerned. They could be canceled
out only by other decisions. So I went over and touched him and
he got up and we went home. The impact of that act was tremendous.
It convinced me that the way of the warrior is an exuberant and
powerful way to live.
KEEN: It isn't the content of decision that is important so much
as the act of being decisive.
CASTANEDA: That is what don Juan means by having a gesture. A
gesture is a deliberate act which is undertaken for the power
that comes from making a decision. For instance, if a warrior
found a snake that was numb and cold, he might struggle to invent
a way to take the snake to a warm place without being bitten.
The warrior would make the gesture just for the hell of it. But
he would perform it perfectly.
KEEN: There seem to be many parallels between existential philosophy
and don Juan's teachings. What you have said about
decision and gesture suggests that don Juan, like Nietzsche or
Sartre, believes that will rather than reason is the most fundamental
faculty of man.
CASTANEDA: I think that is right. Let me speak for myself. What
I want to do, and maybe I can accomplish it, is to take the
control away from my reason. My mind has been in control all of
my life and it would kill me rather than relinquish control. At
one point in my apprenticeship I became profoundly depressed.
I was overwhelmed with terror and gloom and thoughts about suicide.
Then don Juan warned me this was one of reason's tricks to retain
control. He said my reason was making my body feel that there
was no meaning in life. Once my mind waged this last battle and
lost, reason began to assume
its proper place as a tool of the body.
KEEN: "The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing
of" and so does the rest of the body.
CASTANEDA: That is the point. The body has a will of its own.
Or rather, the will is the voice of the body. That is why don
consistently put his teachings in dramatic form. My intellect
could easily dismiss his world of sorcery as nonsense. But my
body was attracted to his world and his way of life. And once
the body took over, a new and healthier reign was established.
KEEN: Don Juan's techniques for dealing with dreams engaged me
became they suggest the possibility of voluntary control of dream
images. It is as though he proposes to establish a permanent,
stable observatory within inner space. Tell me about don Juan's
CASTANEDA: The trick in dreaming is to sustain dream images long
enough to look at them carefully. To gain this kind of control
you need to pick one thing in advance and learn to find it in
your dreams. Don Juan suggested that I use my hands as a steady
point and go back and forth between them and the images. After
some months I learned to find my hands and to stop the dream.
I became so fascinated with the technique that I could hardly
wait to go to sleep.
KEEN: Is stopping the images in dreams anything like stopping
CASTANEDA: It is similar. But there are differences. Once you
are capable of finding your hands at will, you realize that it
only a technique. What you are after is control. A man of knowledge
must accumulate personal power. But that is not enough to stop
the world. Some abandon also is necessary. You must silence the
chatter that is going on inside your mind and surrender yourself
to the outside world.
KEEN: Of the many techniques that don Juan taught you for stopping
the world, which do you still practice?
CASTANEDA: My major discipline now is to disrupt my routines.
I was always a very routinary person. I ate and slept on schedule.
In 1965 I began to change my habits. I wrote in the quiet hours
of the night and slept and ate when I felt the neeed. Now I have
dismantled so many of my habitual ways of acting that before long
I may become unpredictable and surprising even to myself.
KEEN: Your discipline reminds me of the Zen story of two disciples
bragging about miraculous powers. One disciple claimed the
founder of the sect to which he belonged could stand on one side
of a river and write the name of Buddha on a piece of paper held
by his assistant on the opposite shore. The second disciple replied
that such a miracle was unimpressive. "My miracle,"
he said, "is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel
thirsty I drink"
CASTANEDA: It has been this element of engagement in the world
that has kept me following the path which don Juan showed me.
There is no need to transcend the world. Everything we need to
know is right in front of us, if we pay attention. If you enter
a state of nonordinary reality, as you do when you use psychotropic
plants, it is only to draw back from it what you need in order
to see the miraculous character of ordinary reality. For me the
way to live--the path with heart--is not introspection or mystical
transcendence but presence in the world. This world is the warrior's
KEEN: The world you and don Juan have pictured is full of magical
coyotes, enchanted crows and a beautiful sorceress. It's easy
to see how it could engage you. But what about the world of the
modern urban person? Where is the magic there? If we could all
live in the mountains we might keep wonder alive. But how is it
possible when we are half a zoom from the freeway?
CASTANEDA: I once asked don Juan the same question. We were sitting
in a cafe in Yuma and I suggested that I might be able to stop
the world and to see, if I could come and live in the wilderness
with him. He looked out the window at the passing cars and said:
"That, out there, is your world." I live in Los Angeles
now and I find I can use that world to accommodate my needs. It
is a challenge to live with no set routines in a routinary world.
But it can be done.
KEEN: The noise level and the constant pressure of the masses
of people seem to destroy the silence and solitude that would
be essential for stopping the world.
CASTANEDA: Not at all. In fact, the noise can be used. You can
use the buzzing of the freeway to teach yourself to listen to
outside world. When we stop the world the world we stop is the
one we usually maintain by our continual inner dialogue. Once
you can stop the internal babble you stop maintaining your old
world. The descriptions collapse. That is when personality change
begins. When you concentrate on sounds you realize it is difficult
for the brain to categories all the sounds, and in a short while
you stop trying. This is unlike visual perception which keeps
us forming categories and thinking. It is so restful when you
can turn off the talking, categorizing, and judging.
KEEN: The internal world changes but what about the external
one? We can revolutionize individual consciousness but still not
touch the social structures that create our alienation. Is there
any place for social or political reform in your thinking?
CASTANEDA: I came from Latin America where intellectuals were
always talking about political and social revolution and where
a lot of bombs were thrown. But revolution hasn't changed much.
It takes little daring to bomb a building, but in order to give
up cigarettes or to stop being anxious or to stop internal chattering,
you have to remake yourself. This is where real reform begins.
Don Juan and I were in Tucson not long ago when they were having
Earth Week. Some man was lecturing on ecology and the evils of
war in Vietnam. All the while he was smoking. Don Juan said, "I
cannot imagine that he is concerned with other people's bodies
when he doesn't like his own." Our first concern should be
with ourselves. I can like my fellow men only when I am at my
peak of vigor and am not depressed. To be in this condition I
must keep my body trimmed. Any revolution must begin here in this
body. I can alter my culture but only from within a body that
is impeccably tuned-in to this weird world. For me, the real accomplishment
is the art of being a warrior, which, as don Juan says, is the
only way to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder
of being a man.