Castaneda’s Journey – Richard de Mille

Castaneda’s Journey: The Power and the Allegory
Richard de Mille
Capra Press, 1977, et. al.
205 pages

I wanted to get some background on Carlos Castaneda before diving into his books. This may seem a bit like putting the cart before the horse; however, I’ve been exposed to a lot of commentary on him, both positive and negative, so the chances of my having an unbiased look were already shot. I had heard good things about this book as a balanced approach to Castaneda and his works, so I gave it a try.

The author did a fantastic job of rooting out sources, even going to UCLA and talking to the professors who were involved in Castaneda’s doctoral program and defense of his thesis. De Mille also went to the trouble of hunting down one of the few available copies of the thesis itself, which normally isn’t open to the public. However, upon looking at the copy that UCLA had in its library, the author discovered that, other than a few minor changes, it was the entirety of Castaneda’s third book, Journey to Ixtlan. Additionally, he shows where sources that Castaneda almost certainly had access to had material that “mysteriously” showed up later as events in his books.

While de Mille pretty much tears a huge hole in the theory that Castaneda literally went out and met don Juan Matus and learned Yaqui ways (by the way, the amount of actual Yaqui material in his works is just above zilch), he did paint the would-be shaman as a clever trickster and rogue, and not entirely terrible. So while Castaneda’s veracity as an anthropologist is quite damaged, his skill as a literary writer of allegory is quite well-honed. The blame of people believing his works literally is partly placed on his ability to tell a good yarn.

My only complaint with this book is that it’s occasionally hard to follow the author’s train of thought. He bounces back and forth between light academic writing, straight forward, and an odd narrative that leaps around like a coyote on stimulants. I found myself skipping a few chunks of the work because I simply couldn’t figure out what the author was trying to say.

Still, I think this is essential reading for anyone with any interest in modern shamanic texts. An entire selection of books that model themselves after Castaneda’s “allegorical spirit teacher” have cropped up, and are often (unfortunately) presented as literally true. This text gives interesting insight into the granddaddy of them all, and a new perspective on how to read Castaneda’s works, as well as derivatives thereof.

Four pawprints out of five.

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6 Comments

  1. Miss Lynx said,

    October 29, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Sounds very interesting – I haven’t read a lot of Castaneda myself, but I absorbed a certain amount of his influence growing up because my mother was a huge fan of his work (and still is, albeit not as uncritically any more).

    The ironic thing about what you say here about the difference between allegory and literalism is that there seems (at least judging from what my mom has said) to be a lot of emphasis within Castaneda’s works on the idea that “there’s more than one kind of real” — and yet, people reading them don’t seem to extend that to considering the possibility that his narratives don’t represent literal reality.

    And interestingly, a lot of what you’ve written here about De MIlle’s view of Castaneda sounds like it could apply equally well to Gerald Gardner. 🙂

  2. lupabitch said,

    October 29, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I think the problem is that most people have a default setting of “ordinary reality”–if you don’t mention that something is occurring in a different reality, most won’t even consider that option.

  3. Oaul Johnson said,

    February 10, 2008 at 3:03 am

    Richard de Mille is lost in the “World of Reason”-

    Castenedas works, more accurately, Presentations of his works – are Literally Correct and true only to individuals with a more expanded consciousness.

  4. infinite said,

    August 26, 2009 at 6:52 am

    i have read all castanedas works. regardless of the actual truth of this being his experience, the teachings are quite genuine. Let any debate on its validity lay to rest on that assumption.

  5. July 21, 2011 at 7:16 am

    I am always amazed and disappointed by seemingly intelligent people who fall for Castaneda’s crap. I could tell intuitively when I first read his work that it was a Very Tall Story indeed! When I came across De Mille’s book many years later I was utterly delighted that someone had gone to the trouble of exposing an egomaniacal liar. Correcting incorrect information is more important than making new discoveries. I have been abused and put-down, called a “non-believer” (no prob with that actually) and asked far more difficult questions than these gullible fools ever ask of the work itself, in order to justify my skepticism and disdain for Castaneda. There is absolutely NO WAY Castaneda actually experienced what he describes in the book, it is TOTALLY over the top and absurd and as de Mille points out, his theories are closer to Wittgenstein and other European philosophers to be found in the UCLA library than anything the Yaqui’s every believed. I am particularly frustrated by people who say it “doesn’t matter” if he made it up or not. Well yes it does actually, because “making it up” is not what anthropology is about, nor should he ever have received a degree for his fiction for which he provided zero proof. When I did an ethnography in the Brazilian Amazon, I came back with photos, recordings, artifacts, interviews, field notes and lots of other proof of my work. Castaneda had none of these items. WAKE UP GULLIBLE PEOPLE!

  6. Carlos Mejorado said,

    September 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Quiero preguntar, ¿que conocimiento les deja la lectura de Castaneda?, no muestra más que historias para mentes que pretenden escapar de una realidad y adentrarse en otra que solo creen que existe y que él nunca demostró. Aún la Fe debe sustentarse, por eso han convivido con nosotros personas realmente extraordinarias que fundamentan sus palabras y acciones a lo que predican. No confundan expandir la conciencia con explotar (fragmentar) la conciencia. Saludos.


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