Books by Carlos Castañeda

Released: Jan. 1, 1999

Dense, narcissistic musings on death and the shaman's life. Onetime anthropologist Castaneda has built a three-decade career out of relaying the teachings of his Yaqui Indian mentor, Juan Matus, in works ranging from The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) to 1993's The Art of Dreaming. Apparently, Castaneda feels that he has yet more wisdom to impart. Still, this vague assortment of personal vignettes offers little in the way of spiritual guidance. Paradoxically, although Don Juan often tells Castaneda that a sorcerer must be emptied of self to accept infinity (annoyingly, this latter word is always italicized in the text), the book seems self-absorbed from the start. In preparation for accepting infinity, true, Castaneda must revisit some of the most pivotal events in his life. A few of the stories are hopelessly sad (and one relentlessly misogynist). One of the most touching occurs when Don Juan urges Castaneda to track down the two women who helped him when he was a very young man. Castaneda is instructed to reward them—while rendering himself penniless—with an extravagant gift. And one of the women, now a homemaker with three kids, is indeed overjoyed to receive a top-of-the-line station wagon. Yet it's hard to find a larger meaning in the stories. We wind up learning something more of Castaneda but not much at all about the active side of infinity, which is mystically translated as "intent." It appears that we ought to live with intent, never forgetting that we will die, regardless. Death (and the knowledge of it) should thus inform all of our actions and relationships, providing a perspective and enforcing our humility. This is hardly an original idea, and it can—t justify wading through Castaneda's welter of self-indulgence, which might translate better to a bumper-sticker adage. Read full book review >
THE ART OF DREAMING by Carlos Castañeda
Released: Aug. 4, 1993

The eighth—and one hopes the last—book about Castaneda's apprenticeship with the Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan Matus. By now, Castaneda's bestselling engine is running on empty, at least to judge by this lackluster entry, which adds fuel to the argument that the Don Juan books are fiction and that their author has passed his creative prime. Gone is the vivid sense of wonder as Don Juan escorts Castaneda into a new world of mystery and magic; gone the crisp presentation of esoteric ideas; gone the crackling tension between teacher and student. What remains is a token representation of Don Juan, guffawing at Castaneda or smacking him on the back, and a cloud of confused teachings about the world of dreams. Taking control of one's dreams, says Don Juan, is the key to a sorcerer's power. But what kind of sorcerer? Don Juan makes a distinction between the ancients, who manipulated the world for personal power, and moderns—such as himself—who ``search for freedom.'' Castaneda must thread his way between these two opposing camps, balancing his thirst for truth and his personal ambition. In so doing, he passes through three ``gates of dreaming'': becoming aware of falling asleep; waking from one dream into another; seeing yourself asleep. Castaneda barges through these portals in his typically bumbling fashion, all the while communicating with—and being used by—``inorganic beings'' that look like thin tree trunks and give the sorcerers their secret knowledge. His journey ends with a perilous confrontation with a ``death defier,'' a Methuselah-like male sorcerer in the guise of a woman. Castaneda is rescued from this and other dangerous encounters by his fellow apprentice, the beautiful Carol Tiggs, who at book's close vanishes into the world of dreaming. Will Castaneda rescue her in the next volume, playing Orpheus to her Eurydice? Tune in, if you care. The Art of Dozing is more like it. Read full book review >