Thursday, October 08, 2009

Carlos Castaneda and
Anthropological Fraud

Carlos Castaneda Cover on Time Magazine

Carlos Castaneda (1925-1998) was the author of various books, of “Anthropology”, including Castaneda, Carlos. Journey to Ixtlan, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, A Separate Reality, The Art of Dreaming, and many other books.1

The other thing to remember about Carlos Castaneda is that he was a fraud and a liar. He said that he was doing research on Yaqui Shamanism who he called Don Juan. It is now very clear that Don Juan did not exist and that Carlos books are clear frauds in that they are not in any sense Ethnographic accounts of Yaqui Shamanism but fiction.2

Rather than go into a long dissertation about why Carlos Castaneda’s books are fraudulent, I will just mention a few facts.

Carlos Castaneda claimed that he was born in Sao Paulo Brazil in either 1931 or 1935. It appears that in fact he was born in 1925 in the city of Cajamarca Peru. He also claimed to have served in the Korean War, also a false claim.3

Further it appears that Carlos claim to describe Yaqui shamanism is completely bogus and his Don Juan nothing but an invention.4 Further Carlos accounts have such absurdities as Carlos wondering about with Don Juan in the desert for days in June with no mention of the heat. Those description of hiking about in the desert when the temperature soars to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, are just stupid. We read descriptions of climbing up to the top of hills in August and resting in open spaces until noon. What!!5 We also learn that the Sonoran desert is crawling with Mountain lions (Pumas), despite that fact they have nearly been wiped out in the area and are solitary, among other absurdities.6

In 1973 When a lot of people were taking Carlos’ fantasies seriously even Time magazine in a generally positive cover story said:

However, with Castaneda's increasing fame have come increasing doubts. Don Juan has no other verifiable witness, and Juan Matus is nearly as common a name among the Yaqui Indians as John Smith farther north. Is Castaneda real? If so, did he invent Don Juan? Is Castaneda just putting on the straight world?

But such endorsements and parallels do not in any way validate 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.7
If the fraudulence of Carlos “research” and books is now well established how did he end up being so successful and getting a Phd from the University of California? I will explore that later.

Castaneda's books has been under sustained attack for many years, right from the beginning, the refusal of the University of California to openly acknowledge this is a reflection on them but I guess they want to preserve the rather profitable sales of Castaneda's books. Its always hard to acknowledge you've been had especially when it makes you money. I note that vast legion of "alternative" Anthropologists, etc., who have been boosting Castaneda's books have been if anything even more loath to admit they've been had.

If they had followed a few simple rules, that my Prof's in Anthropology were required, and required, to produce Castaneda would never have gotten a Phd.

1, Prove that you went to where you say you went. (tickets, photos, etc.)

2, Turn over your notes to the Phd. committee.

3, If you are working with people who speak a different language provide a vocabulary of some kind indicating a knowledge of said language.

4, Indicate in your bibliography a detailed knowledge of seminal and recent work on the "people" you are studying.

5, Have on your committee at least one person who has some detailed knowledge of the the area / people you are doing the Phd. on.

6, Have the manuscript properly vetted for errors, omissions etc.

It is my understanding that the Committee that awarded Castaneda the Phd., violated those norms.

The University of California is shamefully but not surprisingly refusing to publicly acknowledge this Phd board’s incompetence and negligence.

Carlos Castaneda was and remains a fraud because he invented Don Juan and his research on the Yaqui Indian Shamanism was bogus and false.

He claimed to the Phd., committee he was doing ethnographic research on a Yaqui Indian shaman. He was not. He told the Phd., committee he was doing research on Yaqui religious practice and he was not. He told vast number of people, (those who bought his books) that his books represented a picture of Yaqui shamanism and religious belief; it is not. The books were presented has non-fiction when they were fiction. Finally the books are peppered with absurdities, inaccuracies which indicate systematic falsehoods.It is shameful that Carlos got a Phd., and a further shame the University of California refuses to publicly acknowledge this shoddy episode for what it was.

Carlos was however very attuned to the wave of New Age idiocy that was coming and decided to cash in on that wave by producing works awash in New Age glop and it helped make him rich and famous. Meanwhile it produced works of virtually no Anthropological value whatsoever.8

Some try to excuse Carlos on the grounds that his writing impart a “higher” truth, however Time magazine got it right so long ago when it compared Carlos’ writings to fiction:

The difference is that Castaneda does not present his Don Juan cycle as fiction but as unembellished documentary fact.9

I might be able to discuss the merits of Castaneda's books, (in my opinion minimal) if they had been published as fiction, and not as fact.

1. Journey to Ixtlan, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, University of California Press, Berkeley CA., 1998, A Separate Reality, Pocket Books, New York, 1971, The Art of Dreaming, HarperCollins, New York, 1993.

2. See for example De Mille, Richard, Castaneda’s Journey, Capra Press, Santa Barbara CA., 1976, De Mille, Richard, Editor, The Don Juan Papers, Ross-Erikson Pub., Santa Barbara, Ca., 1980, Kikes, Jay Courtney, Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties, Millenia Press, Victoria BC., 1993, Churchill, Ward, Carlos Castaneda: The Greatest Hoax since Piltdown Man, in Fantasies of the Master Race, Common Courage Press, Monroe MA., 1992 pp. 43-64, Harris, Marvin, Return of the Witch, in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, Vintage Books, New York, 1974, pp. 208-222, and Cultural Materialism, Vintage Books, New York, 1979, pp. 319-324.

3. Churchill, p. 45, Wikipedia, Carlos Casteneda, Here.

4, De Mille, Richard, Sonoragate or Tales of Folly, in The Don Juan Papers, pp. 119-143, see also Harris, 1974.

5, Sebald, Hans, Roasting Rabbits in Tularemia or The Lion, the Witch, and the Horned Toad, in The Don Juan Papers, pp. 34-38, p. 35.

6. IBID, p. 36.

7, Time Magazine cover story, March 5, 1973, Don Juan and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, at Time, Here.

8, Gardner, Martin, Carlos Castaneda and New Age Anthropology, in Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?, W.W. Norton, New York, 2001, pp. 162-171, Harris, 1974 & 1979. For what Carlos was up too later in his life and its ill effects see Marshall, Robert, The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda, at Salon, Here.

9. Time.

Pierre Cloutier


  1. You may be interested in a book that came out last year - The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda - by William Patrick Patterson. His thesis is that Castaneda actually derived his ideas from G.I. Gurdjieff's teaching of the Fourth Way. Here's a web site where you can read more about it -

  2. Thank you for your comment. I will definitely check that out

  3. can't say as i'd be willing to accept his books as fraud, i'll never feel such impact from merely reading books again in my life...mere storytelling..?, personally, i can not agree on that, though i can understand why anyone might feel reassured by the concept..but then, i am a crazed castaneda fan after all...

  4. can't say as i'd be willing to accept his books as fraud, i'll never feel such impact from merely reading books again in my life...mere storytelling..?, personally, i can not agree on that, though i can understand why anyone might feel reassured by the concept..but then, i am a crazed castaneda fan after all...

  5. personally i cannot accept his books as mere fraud or allegory, i will never be impacted as deeply by a mere book again. I've read them all many times..they are a wonder and joy for me and though i no longer read them, they are my greatest possesion..maybe in this cynical age i am a minority voice and the rational mind has sway, well some things cannot be neatly arranged, ordered, put into boxes and shelved into the units of our lives..there is magic, there is wonder and there is bigger stuff out there.....

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Well Carlo's books have been put into a box alright the one with the fraud label. AS for wonder and light yes it is out there but in Carlo's books there are absurdities, nonsense, mystical woo-woo and out and out lies. Because we now know Carlos lied about doing ethnographic research on the Yaqui Indians like he lied about so much else. If you want to continue to live in woo-woo land go ahead.

  7. Anonymous4:32 am

    Mystical and religious belief requires no evidence or proof which is why people like Casteneda can get away with fraud. Same goes for all religions and religious leaders. The Pope is no better than Casteneda although much more famous, powerful, and wealthy.