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Sunday, August 28, 2022

New book about Carlos Casteneda's (alleged) teacher


Well, here is something different for sombunall of you: A new book, Illuminating Don Juan, by Peter Marquis, an old hippie/shaman from northern California, about an old guy in Mexico who (it is claimed) was the real Don Juan, the shaman who taught writer  Carlos Casteneda in Casteneda's famous series of books. 

Also, in an interesting twist, this controversial book is put out by Pelorian Digital, i.e. the publishing and design company founded and run by Rasa, of Hilaritas Press fame.

Rasa explains,

"We have an old friend who has long been on something like a shamanic journey, enough so that he considers himself a shaman. He’s nearing 70, so he’s certainly had a lot of time to have experiences. I never know what that means when Westerners call themselves a shaman (we just don’t have that tradition, for the most part, unless you start talking about people like Crowley, I suppose), but since I’ve met a few indigenous shamans (one Russian and a couple of South Americans), I know that the calling can come from a deep internal struggle that I’m sure anyone from any culture can experience. 

"Okay, so Pete’s an old hippie, you might say. He’s said that about himself. He’s long had an interest in Mexican shamans. He devoured the Castaneda books, like many of us, and so he was surprised that just as the pandemic was starting, a friend of his told him that if he drove to Mexico, he would introduce him to the actual shaman who inspired the character of Don Juan in the Castaneda books. 

"Pete's book is the story of his travels from his home in Mt. Shasta, California back and forth to Mexico during two years of a pandemic, and his desire to figure out if this was actually the real guy, Castaneda’s Don Juan. 

"Pete’s Mexican girlfriend, Gloria, helps to pave the way in macho Mexican culture. It seems Don Juan, or Kata Kachora, as he is known, at 108 years old, is interested in acquiring wife number six, and Gloria was an attractive prospect, or at least the old guy was not shy about his affections. But that’s only a slight side note in a story that involves Pete attending shamanic ceremonies, arranging to put solar panels on Kata Kachora's house, buying land overlooking a sacred ceremonial site, evading bandits on some the more remote Mexican highways, smoking weed in seedy Mexican hotels and smoking weed in pristine mountain meadows – in short, it’s a cool story, and Pete is certain that his beliefs about the identity of Castaneda’s Don Juan will outrage what he sees as the “mainstream Castaneda community.” Already, mentioning that he was writing the book in a Facebook post, the post caught the attention of a Castaneda group where they proceeded to attack him. That’s probably good for his book sales.

"As an old friend, and knowing I was a publisher, Pete told me about the book when he was mostly finished and had already sent $2500 to a vanity press outfit, that honestly, when I looked them up online, they seemed okay. However, he was frustrated with their work. He sent me their proposed cover for the book and their edited “ready-for-ebook” MS Word file. The cover was immediately suspect because their design had a spine that was so wide it would be appropriate for a book of no less than 900 pages. Pete’s book is 174. The spine needed to be about a half an inch wide, at most, and their design had a spine that was a ridiculous inch and a half wide. The Word file was no better. It was very poorly formatted and would have resulted in a terrible eBook. I immediately felt bad for Pete, and since I was waiting for a couple of folks to finish up some work for upcoming Hilaritas Press projects, and I felt I had a bit of time, I told Pete that I would fix up the Word file and redesign a book cover for him."

This being the California New Age community, marketing and promotion has been an interesting process, Rasa further explains.

"So now, Pete begins his saga as a new book writer. He lives still in Mt. Shasta, and the New Age scene here could not be more stereotypically  'far out.' Sometimes that’s quite cool. There’s some very cool electronic and acoustic music for example, but there is also a large percentage of the people that RAW was thinking about when he quipped, 'My function is to raise the possibility, hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit.' Pete gave a printout of the book to a young guy he met at a drum circle who said, 'Yes! I’m really good with promotion and social networking! I can help promote your book!' A few days later Pete asked the guy if he finished the book. He said, “No, instead of reading it, I have it sitting next to me when I’m meditating. I’m absorbing the book.” 

More conventional folks are being pressed into service to design a website for the book and to promote it on social media. 

I haven't read the original Don Juan books, maybe someone could volunteer to write a review of the new book for me? I was given a Kindle of the title, I can lend it to anyone willing to read it and review it for me. 


Rarebit Fiend said...

I'd be happy to review it. Might be interesting to have both Oz and I look at it since we have different approaches to Don Juan Matus.

michael said...

I have to chime in here and steer some of you to Amy Wallace (of the Wallechinksy writer-family) and her book _Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life With Carlos Castaneda_(2003). 'Nuff said.

Also worth a look would be Richard DeMille's _The Don Juan Papers_. (I like this source, but to sweeten the situation: DeMille was the adopted son of Cecile B. DeMille, and are you ready for your close-up? Richard DeMille was L. Ron Hubbard's assistant at the birth of $cientology. I will leave further High Weirdness to others here..)

Peter Biskind, in his un-put-down-able history of 1970s Hollywood, _Easy Riders, Raging Bulls_, says yea, George Lucas read Joseph Campbell's _The Hero's Journey_ like a Talmud scholar, but also: Castaneda. And "Don Juan" came out as Obi-Wan-Kenobi...

Castaneda's PhD thesis became a best-seller, basically. That, I think, should tell us a lot about the book's time and place.

Castaneda got his PhD in Anthropology at UCLA, and one of his advisors was Harold Garfinkel, one of RAW's favorite Sociologists. Garfinkel was a student of Alfred Schutz, who studied Phenomenology under Edmund Husserl himself. Schutz effectively exported Phenomenology into Sociology, and in my weirdo take on such things, it's where Phenomenology was meant to be. Garfinkel invented Ethnomethodology out of that, while Berger and Luckmann wrote the _Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge_, one of the most psychedelic (to ME) non-fiction books I've ever read, and I am always returning to.


At present, my main model of Castaneda is that he never went to the Sonora Desert and probably wrote all the Don Juan books from sources in the library at UCLA. When he submitted his thesis, he was asked to show his field notes, and basically: the dog ate 'em, and they signed off on his degree anyway.

Joyce Carol Oates was one of the first to read Castaneda and detect that it's all fiction. I've got a letter from Douglas Hofstadter to Marcello Truzzi, in which Hofstadter has CC as "a fraud."

In the 1970s, Jacques Vallee thought Castaneda was sending "psychic images" of his allies into Vallee's dreams. (See _Forbidden Science 2_, p.508, note #37)

It's been fascinating to me to accumulate many years of notes on authors who bought Castaneda at his word; others who saw through him at some point, and then others who seemed to see the value in the work, even if it was a monumental put-on. I suspect RAW eventually caught on, but he never wrote about that. One of his acolytes, Adam Gorightly, has a stimulating take on CC, found in _The Beast of Adam Gorightly_, "The Trickster of Truths", pp.130-151.

As of 1974, RAW seemed to think Castaneda's work was authentic, at one point seeing the field of Anthropology as "BC": Before Castaneda. EX: Sir James Frazer was BC.

Now and finally: my main model may be wrong. WRONG!!! Of course! (However, for me: the Amy Wallace memoir was the coffin-nail.)

Oz Fritz said...

Yes, I'm willing to read it and review it as well. It sounds fascinating. Kudos to Rasa for bringing in a professional touch.

Anonymous said...

Despite the controversy of Castaneda's books I still like to correlate his Four Precepts of Stalking to Wilson/Leary's four circuit brain model:

Patience: Circuit One, biosurvival, fight/flight.
Sweetness: Circuit Two, emotional, territorial.
Cunning: Circuit Three, semantic, puzzle solving.
Ruthlessness: Circuit Four, adult, socio-sexual.

Castaneda was keen to remind us that being 'ruthless' does not have to be equated with being callous. It's more about being ruthless with our own self importance.
I prefer to have a more Jungian flavour to Circuit Four, rewriting it as the little ego (self importance) coming to terms with the broader totality of the psyche. I’m not all that keen on Wilson and Leary's interpretation. But each to their own.

Of course, the four circuit brain (or rather, what it alludes to) is rather archaic and I guess we're left wondering where old Carlos got his own four precepts from: watching The Wizard of Oz, or reading Gurdjieff, Leary...? Or perhaps it just bubbled up from his own psyche as part of his fiction?

Rasa's author friend and his book looks like a lot of fun. I look forward to reading it and revisiting fond memories of the original series (and the hilarious laughs we had discussing it).

Posted from Iain Spence
(who once played the Lion in his school production of The Wizard of Oz)

Pete Marquis said...

I am the author of Illuminating Don Juan. I think I got to the bottom of “who” they were. You decide.
But it is much larger that that subject. So while the readers are interested in such things, it is ultimately only a vehicle for our real message. We are “making sense of the world” for you, today. It isn’t about Carlos Castaneda. Please keep this in mind.
Pete Marquis

Rarebit Fiend said...

Thank you Michael! I'm trying to read Deleuze for Oz's video series while starting the year but this might be the kick in the pants to read "The Sorceror's Apprentice" I need.

michael said...

I'd like to add that, IF I'm correct about Castaneda, or some variation on that take of mine - look at what he did: a true trickster! A massively successful work of guerrilla ontology!

And it's way too easy from me to imply his mentors were Garfinkel and stacks of books on Taoism, hallucinogenic use of peyote and psilocybin, Heidegger, Zen, anthropological reports on shamans, Native American mythology, etc. (I do picture him holed up in a carrel in the library at UCLA, taking notes from books and inventing all that fiction), but who ELSE were his teachers?

Further complicating matters is Amy Wallace's testimony, which paints Carlos as a sort of Manson-lite (no random killing sprees).

I'm interested in reading Illuminating Don Juan, too, not only to challenge my current main model of WTF was going on with CC, but simply 'cuz I like narratives to get ever-weirder and more complex. Challenging.

Anonymous said...

Iain Spence again,

Thank you Michael for your list of books which challenged Carlos's charming myth.
I well remember the time I fell about laughing at Carlos's story of the sorcerer who walked up the wall in someone's house, and thinking, 'Oh no way! That's straight out of a Jerry Lewis comedy film...'
Much fascinated by your post Tom, and the comments.

Oz Fritz said...

According to Deleuze's logic of sense, the sense of Castaneda's writings appears the same whether it reads true or false. If the Profs who awarded the PhD placed the value of sense in his thesis over truth of it this could explain why they wouldn't care if they got duped or not.

I mentioned in a comment elsewhere of hearing an interview with Claudio Naranjo, a close friend of Castaneda when they both attended UCLA, saying he got invited to meet Don Juan but couldn't go because of something he felt equally important. Claudio wasn't known to bs, but if he did, that makes it a conspiracy.

I'm also interested in reading Wallace's book.

michael said...

Psychiatrist Arnold Mandel suspected that "Don Juan" was based on the founder of Ethnomethodology, Harold Garfinkel, who Castaneda studied under at UCLA. And soon, after Castaneda became a "star", Garfinkel - whose students competed against each other for his favors - felt something like remorse for signing off on his PhD. Another of the advisors was Anthropologist Robert Edgerton, whose book _Sick Societies_ I found really interesting.

Garfinkel died in 2011, and here's a "memory" of him by one of his students, and it mentions DeMille's book, _The Don Juan Papers_, which is a compendium of many authors weighing in on the veracity of CC's work:

I was happy to see that Chad Nelson's wonderful work in fortifying RAW's _Natural Law_, Nelson saw fit to included RAW's essay, "A New Writer: F.W. Nietzsche," which originally appeared in New Libertarian in 1984. In writing about Nietzsche, RAW's really writing about himself, as most of you know.

Anyway, in that piece, RAW suspects Garfinkel, "who was Castaneda's sociology teacher and the possible original of Don Juan." (p.132 in the Hilaritas Press edition)

BTW: RAW thought Garfinkel's treatment of the intersex female, "Agnes," in _Studies In Ethnomethodology_, was hilarious, because Garfinkel had to add an appendix to that chapter at the end of the book. During the 8 or so years of studying "Agnes" - who Garfinkel was interested in as a case of "passing", he and his colleague found out she wasn't passing at all: she'd started taking her mother's estrogen at age 12, and really wanted the surgery to become a full woman. She got it. Garfinkel and his colleague Stoller were taken for a ride. There's an audio talk of RAW out there somewhere where he talks about this case and has a hearty laugh about it. The "Agnes" case is seen by many as the first "study" of a transsexual's transition, and clearly, from 1959-1967, Garfinkel and Stoller were in over their heads with this stuff. A short film about this came out in 2018, "Framing Agnes" and anyone innarested can watch it here: (The film starts at around 7:50)

Anonymous said...

2015, So this man Kachora (Cachora) is active again, and a Facebook page has popped up about him, along with a crowdfunding effort for a movie. His crowdfunding page on IndieGogo doesn't seem to have made much money yet. Kachora Cachora claims to be the source for a lot of Castaneda's teachings in the first 4 books. Yet ... if one compares Richard's old article on him from 2000, a single particular question/answer makes it clear that Kachora Cachora couldn't possibly have been the source for Castaneda's early material:

'I asked what years Castaneda studied with Cachora. Bernyce responded, "In the early 70s." I asked again, "Not in the 60s?" [After all, The Teachings of Don Juan was first published in '68. How amazing for Castaneda to have created the don Juan character in anticipation of meeting Cachora!] Bernyce responded, after looking at Cachora, "Once maybe in '69." '

Castaneda said he met "don Juan" in 1960, and turned in to Clem Meighan the earliest material that appeared in book one around the same time. So whatever else of value Kachora Cachora may have learned in his alleged 101 years, he's either mistaken or lying about his influence on CC.

Why do I keep calling him "Kachora Cachora"? Because in 2000 when Richard saw him, he was advertising his name (in written invitations) as: "Tezlkac Matorral Cachora" and "Tezlcazi Guitimea Cachora" and "Cachora Guitimea", but on his new pages his name is represented as: "Tata Kachora". I'm sure they will come up with an explanation for that, but it made me suspect he changes his name so people won't find older info about him when they search. One more thing about all these names is... Carlos insisted unto death that don Juan's real first name was "Juan". Not necessarily true of course.

Kachora Cachora's life story, when published in 2000 for that event, said he was "born in approximately 1912". Castaneda wrote that "don Juan" was born in 1891. Go figure... Another guy selling himself as "don Juan". Quotes from Castaneda's first book:

"In the summer of 1960...I made several trips to the Southwest... The events I describe here began during one of my trips."
"All he said was that he had been born in the Southwest in 1891; that he had spent nearly all his life in Mexico; that in 1900 his family was exiled by the Mexican government to central Mexico..."

Mark Seven Smith, "real-life death defier" and one-time personal friend of mine (who finally did die), did visit Kachora Cachora, and found him impressive. He may well have impressive knowledge of plants and other things, but he's damn sure not a big part of CC's model for don Juan. One can tell by listening to how he speaks. Compare how Kachora Cachora speaks in the transcribed dialog of that 2000 event to the "don Juan" of the early books. There's no similarity whatsoever.

Thanks to Tim Mullis for tipping me off to the new developments.

Anonymous said...

Kachora is a fake embraced by the naive new age community. I met him in 1998 and he claimed he was 92 years old at that time, which would make him a phenomenal 117 now! In 1998, he looked to be in his 60s or early 70s. Don’t be fooled by this fraud who has found a way to support himself by taking advantage of white people.