Castaneda withdrew from public view in 1973 to work further on his inner development, living in a large house in Westwood, California with three colleagues whom he called "Fellow Travellers of Awareness." He founded Cleargreen, an organization that promotes Tensegrity, which Dr. Castaneda described as the modern version of the “magical passes” of the shamans of ancient Mexico. Magical Passes comprise bodily movements discovered in dream states by shamans of don Juan’s lineage, expanding their powers of perception.
Castaneda moved to the United States in the early 1950s and became a naturalized citizen on June 21, 1957. He was educated at UCLA (B.A. 1962; Ph.D. 1973). Castaneda married Margaret Runyan in Mexico in 1960, according to Runyan's memoirs. Castaneda is listed on the birth certificate of Runyan's son C.J. Castaneda as his father even though his biological father was a different man. It is unclear whether Carlos and Margaret were divorced in 1960, 1973, or not at all, and his death certificate even stated he had never been married.
Castaneda's first three books – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality; and Journey to Ixtlan – were written while he was an anthropology student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He wrote these books as his research log describing his apprenticeship with a traditional "Man of Knowledge" identified as don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico. Castaneda was awarded his bachelor's and doctoral degrees based on the work described in these books.
In 1974 his fourth book, Tales of Power, was published and chronicled the end of his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Matus. Castaneda continued to be popular with the reading public with subsequent publications that unfolded further aspects of his training with don Juan.
Castaneda wrote that don Juan recognized him as the new nagual, or leader of a party of seers of his lineage. Matus also used the term nagual to signify that part of perception which is in the realm of the unknown yet still reachable by man, implying that, for his own party of seers, Matus was a connection to that unknown. Castaneda often referred to this unknown realm as "nonordinary reality."
The term nagual has been used by anthropologists to mean a shaman or sorcerer who claims to be able to change into an animal form, or to metaphorically "shift" into another form through magic rituals, shamanism and experiences with psychoactive drugs (e.g., peyote and jimson weed – Datura innoxia).
While Castaneda was a well-known cultural figure, he rarely appeared in public forums. He was the subject of a cover article in the March 5, 1973 issue of Time which described him as "an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tortilla". There was controversy when it was revealed that Castaneda may have used a surrogate for his cover portrait. When confronted by correspondent Sandra Burton about discrepancies in his personal history, Castaneda responded:
To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics ... is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all.
The interviewer wrote:
Castaneda makes the reader experience the pressure of mysterious winds and the shiver of leaves at twilight, the hunter's peculiar alertness to sound and smell, the rock-bottom scrubbiness of Indian life, the raw fragrance of tequila and the vile, fibrous taste of peyote, the dust in the car, and the loft of a crow's flight. It is a superbly concrete setting, dense with animistic meaning. This is just as well, in view of the utter weirdness of the events that happen in it.
Following that interview, Castaneda completely retired from public view.
In the 1990s, Castaneda once again began appearing in public to promote Tensegrity®, the modernization of a group of movements that he claimed had been passed down by 25 generations of Toltec shamans. On 16 June 1995, Cleargreen Incorporated was created. The Cleargreen statement of purpose says in part:
Cleargreen is a corporation that has a twofold purpose. First, it sponsors and organizes Tensegrity® workshops and seminars, and second, it is a publishing house.
Cleargreen published three Tensegrity® movement videos while Castaneda was alive. Castaneda himself did not appear in the videos. Cleargreen continues to give workshops online and around the world. It also trains and certifies teachers.
Castaneda died on April 27, 1998 in Los Angeles due to complications from hepatocellular cancer. There was no public service; Castaneda was cremated and the ashes were sent to Mexico. His death was unknown to the outside world until nearly two months later, on 19 June 1998, when an obituary entitled "A Hushed Death for Mystic Author Carlos Castaneda" by staff writer J. R. Moehringer appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Four months after Castaneda's death, C. J. Castaneda, also known as Adrian Vashon, whose birth certificate shows Carlos Castaneda as his father, challenged Castaneda's will in probate court. Carlos' death certificate states metabolic encephalopathy for 72 hours prior to his death, yet the will was supposedly signed 48 hours before Castaneda's death. C.J. challenged its authenticity. The challenge was ultimately unsuccessful.
After Castaneda stepped away from public view in 1973, he bought a large multi-dwelling property in Los Angeles which he shared with some of his fellow students of don Juan Matus. Among those who lived there were Taisha Abelar (formerly Maryann Simko) and Florinda Donner-Grau (formerly Regine Thal). Like Castaneda, Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau were students of anthropology at UCLA. Each went on to write books that explored the experience of being students of don Juan Matus and his world from a feminist perspective. Cf. “Related Authors”
Around the time Castaneda died in April 1998, his companions Donner-Grau, Abelar and Patricia Partin informed friends they were leaving on a long journey. Amalia Marquez (also known as Talia Bey) and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl also left Los Angeles. Weeks later, Partin's red Ford Escort was found abandoned in Death Valley.
Luis Marquez, the brother of Talia Bey, went to police in 1999 over his sister's disappearance, but was unable to convince them that it merited investigation.
In 2006, Partin's sun-bleached skeleton was discovered by a pair of hikers in Death Valley's Panamint Dunes area and was identified by DNA testing. The investigating authorities ruled Partin's death as undetermined.
Since his death, Carol Tiggs, a colleague of Castaneda, and also a student of don Juan Matus, has spoken at workshops throughout the world, including at Ontario, California in 1998, Sochi, Russia in 2015 and Merida, Yucatan in 2016. Tiggs had the longest association with Castaneda and is written about in some of his books. Today, she serves as a consultant for Cleargreen.
At first, and with the backing of academic qualifications and the UCLA anthropological department, Castaneda's work was critically acclaimed. Notable anthropologists like Edward Spicer (1969) and Edmund Leach (1969) praised Castaneda, alongside more alternative and young anthropologists.
Castaneda’s books and the man himself became a cultural phenomenon [cf. Legacy]. The story of his apprenticeship to a shaman, a kind of hero’s journey, touched a cord in the counterculture generation and resonated as a myth of adventure and self-discovery.
Despite the widespread popularity of his works, some critics questioned the validity of Castaneda's books as early as 1969. In a series of articles, R. Gordon Wasson, who had made psychoactive mushrooms famous, and had originally praised Castaneda's work, questioned the accuracies of Castaneda's botanical claims.
The authenticity of Don Juan was accepted for six years, until Richard de Mille and Daniel Noel both published their critiques of the Don Juan books in 1976. Later anthropologists specializing in Yaqui Indian culture (William Curry Holden, Jane Holden Kelley and Edward H. Spicer), who originally supported Castaneda's account as true, questioned the accuracy of Castaneda's work. Other criticisms of Castaneda's work include the total lack of Yaqui vocabulary or terms for any of his experiences, and his refusal to defend himself against the accusation that he received his PhD from UCLA through deception. Stephen C. Thomas notes that in her book With Good Heart: Yaqui Beliefs and Ceremonies in Pascua Village, Muriel Thayer Painter gives examples of Yaqui vocabulary associated with spirituality: "morea," an equivalent to the Spanish brujo; "saurino," used to describe persons with the gift of divination; and "seataka," or spiritual power, a word which is "fundamental to Yaqui thought and life." Thomas further states:
It is hard to believe that Castaneda's benefactor, a self-professed Yaqui, would fail to employ these native expressions throughout the apprenticeship. In omitting such intrinsically relevant terms from his ethnography, Castaneda critically undermines his portrait of Don Juan as a bona fide Yaqui sorcerer.
Dr. Clement Meighan and Stephen C. Thomas, point out that the books largely, and for the most part, do not describe Yaqui culture at all with its emphasis on Catholic upbringing and conflict with the Federal State of Mexico, but rather focus on the international movements and life of Don Juan who was described in the books as traveling and having many connections, and abodes, in the Southwestern United States (Arizona), Northern Mexico, and Oaxaca. Don Juan was described in the books as a shaman steeped in a mostly lost Toltec philosophy and decidedly anti-Catholic. Dr. Clement Meighan, one of Castaneda's professors at UCLA, and an acknowledged expert on Indian culture in the U.S., Mexico, and other areas in North America, up to his death, never doubted that Castaneda's work was based upon authentic contact with and observations of Indians. Later, Don Miguel Ruiz also verified the existence of Indian "Brujos" in Mexico with native teachings much like Don Juan's.
A March 5, 1973 Time article by Sandra Burton, looking at both sides of the controversy, stated:
... the more worldly claim to importance of Castaneda's books: to wit, that they are anthropology, a specific and truthful account of an aspect of Mexican Indian culture as shown by the speech and actions of one person, a shaman named Juan Matus. That proof hinges on the credibility of Don Juan as a being and Carlos Castaneda as a witness. Yet there is no corroboration beyond Castaneda's writings that Don Juan did what he is said to have done, and very little that he exists at all.
A strong case can be made that the Don Juan books are of a different order of truthfulness from Castaneda's pre-Don Juan past. Where, for example, was the motive for an elaborate scholarly put-on? The Teachings were submitted to a university press, an unlikely prospect for best-sellerdom. Besides, getting an anthropology degree from U.C.L.A. is not so difficult that a candidate would employ so vast a confabulation just to avoid research. A little fudging perhaps, but not a whole system in the manner of The Teachings, written by an unknown student with, at the outset, no hope of commercial success.
David Silverman sees value in the work even while considering it fictional. In Reading Castaneda he describes the apparent deception as a critique of anthropology field work in general – a field that relies heavily on personal experience, and necessarily views other cultures through a lens. According to Silverman, not only the descriptions of peyote trips but also the fictional nature of the work are meant to place doubt on other works of anthropology.
Donald Wieve cites Castaneda to explain the insider/outsider problem as it relates to mystical experiences, while acknowledging the fictional nature of his work.
Related authorsOctavio Paz, Nobel Prize in Literature, Mexican poet and diplomat. Paz and Castaneda were friends and mutually influenced one another’s work. Paz wrote the prologue to the Spanish language edition of The Teachings of Don Juan: “La Mirada Anterior” (The Anterior Gaze), Fondo de Cultura, 1974
Michael Korda—writer, novelist, editor-in-chief, Simon & Schuster. Castaneda’s editor for his first eight books. Wrote essay on Castaneda in, Another Life: A Memoir of Other People, Random House, 1999 ISBN 0-679-45659-7
George Lucas, Star Wars. Yoda and Luke were inspired in part by don Juan and Castaneda
Taisha Abelar and Florinda Donner-Grau, both students of don Juan Matus and colleagues of Castaneda, wrote memoirs of their experiences (Sorcerers' Crossing by Taisha Abelar and Shabono, and Being-in-Dreaming by Florida Donner-Grau. Their books were endorsed by Castaneda as authentic works. He dismissed others who claimed to share a history with don Juan Matus as pretenders. The two women, along with Carlos Tiggs, were part of Castaneda's inner circle, and he insisted that, along with him, they were the only legitimate students of Matus. They were both graduate students in anthropology at UCLA.
Felix Wolf, one of Castaneda's followers and translators, wrote The Art of Navigation: Travels with Carlos Castaneda and Beyond. In his book Wolf details how his life had been transformed by his association with Castaneda. While touching on all aspects of the teachings, Wolf highlights what he perceives to be the overriding and essential transmission that came through Castaneda's work: The Art of Navigation.
Amy Wallace wrote Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda, an account of her personal experiences with Castaneda and his followers. She died in August, 2013
In Carlos Castaneda e a Fenda entre os Mundos – Vislumbres da Filosofia Ānahuacah no Século XXI Brazilian writer Lui Morais analyzes the work of Castaneda, its cultural implications, and its continuation in other authors.
Victor Sanchez's first book, The Teachings of Don Carlos: Practical Applications of the Works of Carlos Castaneda (1995). Though he was never a student of Castaneda, his book provides in-depth techniques and commentary on a path of "self-growth" based on the wisdom of the Toltec descendants. His approach in this book is bringing the proposals of Castaneda down to the earth focusing on those parts of Castaneda's book that can be applied in everyday life and used for personal development.
"For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel - looking, looking, breathlessly." ~The Teachings of Don Juan
“Power rests on the kind of knowledge that one holds. What is the sense of knowing things that are useless? They will not prepare us for our unavoidable encounter with the unknown.” ~The Teachings of Don Juan
“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” ~Journey to Ixtlan
“A warrior must cultivate the feeling that he has everything needed for the extravagant journey that is his life. What counts for a warrior is being alive. Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory and complete.” ~Tales of Power/ Wheel of Time
The world of everyday life cannot ever be taken as something personal that has power over us, something that could make us, or destroy us, because man’s battlefield is not in his strife with the world around him. His battlefield is over the horizon, in an area which is unthinkable for an average man, the area where man ceases to be a man.” ~Author’s Commentary to 30th Anniversary Edition of The Teachings of don Juan
"The only alternative left for mankind…is discipline…But by discipline I don't mean harsh routines. I don't mean waking up every morning at five-thirty and throwing cold water on yourself until you're blue. Sorcerers understand discipline as the capacity to face with serenity odds that are not included in our expectations. For them, discipline is an art: the art of facing infinity without flinching, not because they are strong and tough but because they are filled with awe." ~The Active Side of Infinity