Carlos Castaneda: Theories, Beliefs and Practices

The High Priestess of Backwordness used to attend “Get High on Dance,” accompanied by one little girl and sometimes two. These free-form sessions were held at Dance Home, upstairs from some store in Santa Monica. Imagine the High Priestess’ astonishment, decades later, upon discovering that Castaneda used to hold classes in that space. Corey Donovan’s notes from the 38th session (Sept. 22, 1996) are an example of the kind of thing a person was likely to hear, when the sorcerer Carlos Castaneda shared details of his home life in two adjoining apartments inhabited by female followers:

He told us that he sometimes stayed in the other half of Florinda’s place, where there was a tub that la Gorda supposedly used to use before she assertedly died from an aneurysm. Nobody would use her tub anymore, and he claimed he was the only one who would stay in that part of the place where she used to live. So they started setting stuff in the tub to use it as a place from which things could disappear.
Florinda had plumbing problems–they called it the “Day of the Yellow Shrimp” because the tub backed up with run off from the toilet. So the Bible that had been sitting there was literally “full of shit.” It also affected other things that had been sitting there for awhile, including “papers of the Leperchun,” meaning Tycho–the so-called Orange Scout. Those papers had supposedly not disappeared after ten years. “But there is something not human about the Leperchun anyway,” he asserted, so it somehow made sense that her stuff had not disappeared. Nyei had also placed a stack of her yearbooks there and they had supposedly disappeared.


These anecdotes come from Amy Wallace’s book, Sorcerer’s Apprentice:

In one of the classes Castaneda held in Santa Monica, the talk turned to colors. “If you want to kill yourself in six days, put turquoise sheets on your bed,” Castaneda is quoted as saying. (Wonder if anyone has ever tried? This would be good news for the Final Exit, Hemlock Society types, people who want to die on their own time schedule, but find guns too messy and plastic bag suffocation too grotesque.)

“Never eat onions. Sorcerers don’t touch them because they resemble the human form, layer upon layer. Eating onions will reinforce your humanity.” Castaneda, quoted by Amy Wallace.

Advice given to Wallace by one of the Tensegrity instructors, aka Chacmools:
“In the sorcerer’s world we must cover our knees.”
Advice given to Wallace by one of the witches:
“Never let hair grow on you knees, because bare knees perceive energy.”


Castaneda student Daniel Lawton summarized the belief system:

This planet is a gigantic chicken coop, run by beings from another dimension, who control our minds by replacing our normal circular brain rhythm with a side to side one. They control everything around us, even our movie stars, whom they transplant into another body at death… These minds live on, giving the feeling of re-incarnation… At night they lick our energy from our toes, making us unaware and submissive. You can escape this by hiding in a tree, because the fliers can’t climb trees. But they can hop over pyramids in Mexico, that’s another thing.


One of Castaneda’s doctrines was not so odd, really. This comes from Strawberry Woman, who went to a Tensegrity workshop.

One of the teachers told us that Carlos Castaneda had once said that after awhile, you realize that ‘it is all the same story.’

If he meant what the High Priestess thinks he meant, it’s what the Buddha said, about how we all face old age, suffering, and death. (And of course there’s birth and joy and life too, quite often.) Werner Erhard said the same thing in another way, “Everybody’s life is a soap opera.” That’s the bottom line of it.


Michael Ventura once wrote about a conversation with Castaneda, who had worked for a year as a short order cook in a Tucson diner. Some of the local good ol’ boys picked on him. Ventura related it like this:

Being very small, there was nothing he could do when these big guys threw food. He asked his boss for advice. ‘Duck,’ his boss told him. He thought this a profound lesson and worth his time.


Corey Donovan – notes from a Tensegrity workshop in 1995

Florinda digressed, claiming “Carlos doesn’t read anymore like an ordinary person–he sleeps on top of books all day, because his liver and spleen were taught to absorb heavy, philosophical type tomes. His legs down to his ankles read thrillers. Unfortunately, he has no spot on his body for reading letters. His penis doesn’t read at all; he can’t even read Playboy with it.” She said that she and Carol Tiggs “placed a batch of letters on his buttocks one day while he was sleeping, and when he woke he said he’d had the best sleep ever, but had felt alligators, snakes and barracudas biting into his back. His head is only good for reading magazines–Time, Der Speigel and Hola.” So Florinda read his letters to him.

This theme recurred in Corey Donovan’s notes of May 11, 1997. A woman named Laurel spoke in the class of a feeling she sometimes had that the ground was shifting under her feet.

Castaneda responded, “That’s very good. When you do feel the ground shifting like that, take off your shoes immediately and put down some paper that has something written on it and see if you can read it with your feet. Don’t just try it once. The ‘genius way’ is to just try something one time, and then abandon it if it doesn’t work. Keep trying it. That’s a time when you could be able to read with your feet.”


From Corey Donovan’s notes of May 11, 1997

“A mother, or an aged parent, should just be able to ‘say goodbye’ to the child and not beg for help. ‘Goodbye. I’m on my own now. Don’t be taking care of me.’ It takes a warrior to do that though. Most mothers are saying, ‘Help me! I need you to look after me.'”

“People think they have so many worries and that they need Prozac. Instead, if things are getting to be too much, it’s perfectly acceptable, in fact, you should, curl up in a fetal position and suck your left thumb. Well, not ‘suck’ it so much but ‘massage the palate.’ Twirling your hair is optional,” he joked (as he imitated this position).


Amy Wallace:

I employed the most pragmatic sorcery trick Carlos had given me: Should I ever want anyone to depart, he instructed me to sprinkle a little of my own urine in corners of rooms or in doorways. The urine trick had worked miracles for Simon at a famous Hollywood studio….. I have used this method to good effect several times; indeed it has never failed.

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