In the summer of 1960, Carlos Casteneda, a UCLA anthropology student traveled to the southwest to do research on medicinal plants. While at a bus station, he met an extraordinary man. His name was don Juan Mateus, but I will refer to him as don Juan. Don Juan, a Yaqui “brujo” or shaman, decides to teach Carlos the “Yaqui way of knowledge.” It is not known if these stories are fiction or non- fiction and many critics still debate over his writings. I interpret his books as modern mythological stories for several reasons. The “Heroic Journey Archetype” and shamanistic ideologies, and also the general moral, explainative, and philosophical content of his writings indicate that these stories can be viewed as “modern myth”. Throughout Casteneda’s stories you can see the “Heroic Journey Archetype”. Carlos goes through a restless stage and breaks ties with his studies and professors at school.
He moves forward with the help of don Juan, whose shamanic wisdom enlightens and guides Carlos along his spiritual path. He also faces death many times in his quest to become a warrior. Finally, after many years, he “passes through”. This mythological archetype is one of the main reasons I believe his stories are mythical in nature. There are also many shamanistic idealogies that run throughout his stories. Views of the natural world including plant life, animal life, and elements are all personified. Everything is embodied with spirit. Concepts of reality are altered through drug induced states. Mushrooms and peyote are mainly used in rituals that don Juan uses to teach Carlos his way of knowledge: Mescalito, the “spirit” of the peyote plant, indicated to don Juan that Carlos was the “chosen” one, the person to whom don Juan should pass on his knowledge(CLC,87).
Don Juan speaks of many different spirits and separate realities. His teaching’s gave an explanation to man’s view of existence and his ignorance resulting from attachment to the material world. Mythological proof is also found in don Juan’s teachings, which compare Indian folklore, mysticism, and philosophy. Don Juan explains that there are many different planes of reality and that a warrior must detach himself with the aid of an ally. Carlos’s ally is “Mescalito” or the spirit of the peyote plant. Don Juan’s ally is “the little smoke”; a mixture made from hallucinogenic mushrooms. He explains that all life is made up of controlled folly and attachment to the material world causes ignorance and blindness. A warrior must learn to “see” and an ally helps achieve these states of non-ordinary “seeing.” Don Juan’s teachings are closely related to Buddhist philosophy.
By achieving these states of non-ordinary reality a warrior learns how to live correctly without any material distractions. Carlos Casteneda’s stories contain many mythical elements. “Heroic Archetype”, shamanistic ideals, and eastern philosophical ideals are just a few. His views of reality and the spiritual journey to true knowledge are remarkable. “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to transverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly.” -Don Juan
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12 The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge Carlos Casteneda Washington Square Press Copy. 1968 The Tall Candle, The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian Rosalio Moises, Jane Kelly, William Holden University of Nebraska Press Copy. 1971