How Carlos Castaneda became a legend

Carlos Castaneda was an anthropologist who became world-famous with books describing his experiences with the shaman Don Juan. During a study trip in Mexico he met Don Juan who then inaugurated him in the mystic world of the Yaqui Indians. Psychedelic substances were frequently used during this inauguration. Carlos Castaneda claimed to have been his apprentice for ten years.

Carlos Castaneda autobiographic or fictitious?

At first his work was considered autobiographic, but soon critics claimed that much of Castaneda's claims were incorrect. For example, Don Juan would use English puns while he only spoke Spanish. The chronology of the books also was suspect. The botanic knowledge of the Yacui Indians did not correspond with their real knowledge. Fans say that this does not matter. According to them Castaneda's insights are important.

Carlos Castaneda's first wife

Margaret Runyan, his first wife, wrote a book A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda. In this book she explains how Castaneda longed to be famous before his breakthrough. At that time Timothy Leary was surrounded by fans at every party. During the same period the books of Aldous Huxley were devoured by students. According to his wife Castaneda longed for the same sort of recognition.

Castaneda's impact on the Western world

Castaneda lived in a time in which people were frantically looking for new insights. The church had lost its power, resulting in a spiritual vacuum. Castaneda made use of the zeitgeist. His books are compelling because he presents himself as a pupil searching for knowledge who then has special and exciting experiences. In this way he reached a large public.

Castaneda on cover of Time magazine


He found most of his knowledge at the university library and not through the shaman Don Juan. He also gathered information from books on Eastern mysticism and held a lot of conversations with kindred spirits. His anthropological knowledge came in handy and he did have a large number of psychedelic experiences. His books are undoubtedly filled with captivating insights. For this reason Carlos Castaneda is also considered a founder of the New Age movement. Moreover he contributed much to the psychedelic revolution.

Carlos Castaneda as a cult leader

However, Castaneda did not live as he prescribed in his books. For instance, he claimed that sexual abstinence was important. Ironically he was polygamous. Castaneda lived with five women who formed the inner circle of a mysterious cult of which he was the leader. These women had severed all ties with their family and friends and took on new names. When Castaneda died they disappeared in a mysterious manner. Only one has been found dead in the desert. Nobody knows what happened to the other women.

In what perspective can we place the books of Carlos Castaneda?

Reading books by Castaneda can certainly inspire. He discusses psychedelic experiences in depth and the mysticism which is an aspect of them. However do not take everything literally, because he apparently didn't do the same. ;)

Do you do want know more about Carlos Castaneda books and his strange life? Read the new encyclopedia entry on the legend Carlos Castaneda.

By Sophie