The Secret Life of Carlos Castaneda

Coyote with rodent meal

Because she was one of them, a lot of the information about the women in Castaneda’s life (and bed) comes from Amy Wallace’s book, Sorcerer’s Apprentice. More comes from an enormously comprehensive website, Sustained Action,  created by Richard Jennings (aka Corey Donovan), who attended quite a few of the classes given by Carlos Castaneda. In a piece called “Sex, Lies and Guru Ploys,” he says,

It was also suggested… that this teacher’s “special powers” included the ability to accelerate the development of similar abilities in his “students,” and that he could even “fix” various “energetic” problems, holes and obstacles, especially in women, through what would be described in other contexts as casual sex.

Daniel Lawton, who attended classes in Los Angeles, noted that Castaneda was homophobic, which was obvious when he talked about such other teachers as Baba Ram Dass. Lawton gave it the standard interpretation: a man fighting his own latent homoerotic tendency, and said,

He required the women in his life to transform themselves into little boys. Their hair had to be short, their breasts hidden, and he didn’t like make-up.

Wallace offers this detail:

Carlos led a vast number of readers to follow his first dreaming exercise, to search for their hands in their sleep. (“It was really my penis don Juan told me to find,” he explained, “But my publisher wouldn’t let me say that.”)

Castaneda’s claim of being celibate for 20 years or whatever, forget it. He was always on the prowl. He surrounded himself with a cadre of women who taught his classes, handled his business affairs, disciplined the lesser disciples, managed his household, and considered it an honor to bonk him. One of his inner circle had been in the harem of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They enabled his dictatorial ways and suffered enormous stress loads that often morphed into physical illnesses.


According to Castaneda, there are two kinds of people. A “bored fuck” is someone whose mother was not orgasmic, in association with that particular act. The consequence to the child: When he or she grows up, he or she must be celibate in order to follow the warrior/shaman path. On the other hand, a “non-bored fuck” is, obviously, someone whose mother was sexually satisfied on the occasion of conception. Anyone who started out as a “non-bored fuck” is born with plenty of energy. So when they grow up, they can have all the sex they want.

Any time he met someone, Castaneda had the power to suss out whether that person was a bored fuck or a non-bored fuck. By a strange happenstance, only the nagual himself and very, very few other people were entitled to have sex. He was openly judgmental of a woman guru who admitted to having an erotic life.

If a woman had sex with the nagual (Castaneda), his sperm would reach her brain, and alter it into something superior to human. Also, any other man she had sex with in the future would receive magical benefits of unimaginable quality. But – none of these women were expected to be having sex with other men in the future. On the contrary: the boss wanted them all to be eternally faithful to him. So, in practical terms, no one should have a chance to test out whether, like the flu, those magical benefits could be passed around.

There are creatures who have evil intentions toward us. They are known as fliers. A human baby girl is born with a horizontal bar of energy, which the fliers immediately take a big bite from. This wound could only be repaired by – you guessed it – having sex with Carlos Castaneda. Amy Wallace wrote,

More often than not, Carlos and I made love with such ardor that we wore one another out. These were the happiest moments in my nine years in the sorcerers’ world.

His euphemisms for sex included “shamanic penetration,” “implanting the nagual,” or “repairing the energy bar.” It would all be kind of cute, if not for the fact that Castaneda publicly proclaimed his own renunciation of sex. He demanded celibacy of his followers, unless of course it was the nagual they were being uncelibate with. He didn’t think much of stoned sex, either. At one of the “Cleargreen Night Sessions” where Corey Donovan took notes, Castaneda told the class,

People who smoke a lot of marijuana don’t make good lovers. The father of a friend of mine in school did a study on it and concluded that because it makes their knees and elbows weak, they just lie flat on top of the woman and smother her.


One of Castaneda’s control methods was to personally give the haircuts. If someone was out of favor, he would refuse to cut her hair, nor was anyone else allowed to cut it. So, among the harem, a shaggy head of hair was a badge of shame. But brownie points could be earned by bringing in fresh women, a disturbingly recurring item in the agendas of quite a few professional holy men. When the nagual eventually tired of a bedmate, she’d be assigned to find somebody new for him. Amy Wallace uses the word pimping, and she’s not talking about a fancy background for her MySpace page.

Castaneda had a great pickup line. “You’re the Electric Warrior,” he told Wallace and, as she later learned, others. Just put yourself in their place for a minute. The great man transforms your meeting into an event of cosmic significance. He reveals your true essence. You are a mythical, messianic entity, the one who will complete the magic circle, the team of otherworldly superheroes. The great man says, “You’re the being we’ve been waiting for – the creature to guide us to Infinity.” Who could resist?

In a Sustained Action discussion group, a woman described how she was approached. First, at a class, Castaneda whispered in her ear, “You have very good energy.” Then, one of his staff called her with an invitation to secret, private classes, where she was placed in the front row directly facing Castaneda. She was called again, by one of the inner circle women, with a request from Castaneda – may he call her at home? She was asked for the day and time of her birth, so the witches could cast her astrological chart. Castaneda himself told her that, through astrology, he had discovered that she was significant to his group and his cause.

Castaneda’s objectification of women was dictatorial. Amy Wallace wrote,

Taisha had spent years with Carlos’ favorite electrolysist, removing all body hair…..He dispatched me to Faye to create a perfect bikini line…. He insisted it was magically critical that I shave my pubic hair in certain ways – his directions altered over time. Carlos insisted, “This is of the utmost sorceric importance – you must shave the lower half of your conchita; it will allow the energy to flow smoothly, and make you less human.”

Wallace was given the unusual privilege of wearing shorter skirts and higher heels than the others, and Castaneda gave her the additional nicknames of Piernitas (little legs) and Piernudas (little nude legs).

Carlos Castaneda and Alan Watts

The sorcerer spoke bitterly of the traumatic occasion when he met Alan Watts, who got “stinking drunk,” and whose impiety so horrified Castaneda that he told Wallace,

He was crude, cynical about spirituality, even sneering at his own books, books I had practically memorized!

Disillusionment with his hero’s ugly attitude was only the beginning, to be followed by undignified ass-grabbing. When the two men were climbing a staircase, Castaneda said, “he made a pass at my culo!”

Did Castaneda ever apply that lesson to his own doings? When he worked his mojo to bring various women under his erotic thralldom, did he ever recall his own horrified reaction to a sexual advance? Did it ever occur to him that a young woman might find him just as unappealing as he had found Watts?

Castaneda, Hypocrisy, and Control

In Amy Wallace’s book Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she says Castaneda claimed to believe “that the only admirable people are those who walk their talk.” In another chapter, she says, “It was his strongest conviction that no true spiritual leader should be a hypocrite, should fail to “walk his talk.” She quotes one of the rants she was in a privileged position to hear:

I have no respect – none! – for these babas and shamans who are fallible! To be fallible while claiming knowledge is to be the lowest kind of egomaniac! I piss on these fakes! It’s meaningless if you don’t live what you preach…

Castaneda declared of himself and his inner circle, “Only we live as we say we do! No one else but us!” He also said, “The warrior seeks impeccability in his own eyes…” That must have been the only place where it could be found. Many people regarded him as untrustworthy, and later revealed the numerous double standards he permitted himself to indulge in.

The commercial holidays –All Saints’ Day, Mothers’ Day, Valentines Day, wedding anniversaries, and birthdays – Castaneda denounced as unworthy of the warrior. His words were, “They are like stakes we tie our life to so we won’t get lost, and thus we walk the Earth, revolving around our descriptions like beasts tied by the neck.” Heavy stuff.

Yet Wallace relates how the inner group made a big deal out of the culturally mandated occasions of Thanksgiving and Christmas, which the leader loved to celebrate. The occasions included turkey, gifts, and “dreadful Bingo games.” Despite the hype about his ascetic lifestyle, Castaneda partied like a rock star. The inner circle’s get-togethers were an important control tool. Not to be invited was a dreadful punishment. And if you were commanded to appear, you’d better show up or risk his wrath.

This may sound more jejune than sinister, but things could get out of hand, like when one of the witches coerced a recruit with 20 years of sobriety into drinking. According to Wallace, a party would usually result in someone being expelled from the group. As Castaneda said, “The pressure is too great – after every party, I guarantee you – heads will roll.” It sounds like he took leadership lessons from Stalin, who famously forced his minions to attend nightly vodka debauches, slow-dance together, and drink till they became incontinent.

Sorcery or Frivolity?

The witches declared to students that they had no time for the frivolous. But there seems to have been plenty of lightweight amusement and unsorcerer-like behavior. They were always going out for lunch to places like Hamburger Hamlet. According to Florinda, Castaneda read nothing but the Enquirer and loved to go to the movies, especially Grade-D martial arts films. During his last illness he reportedly watched nothing but war movies. Florinda herself had allegedly seen just about every movie ever made, to the point where the other sorcerers called her the “movie whore.”

The leader’s daughter/lover Claude took her own loyal clan to Disneyland where they went on the fastest rides, an activity that according to Castaneda “caused magical transformations.” Corey Donovan also mentions a Sunday class where Castaneda said of the Blue Scout, “She’ll get on a ride, going very fast, and it can take her away. She drives fast too. So she’ll say to me that if I don’t want her to stay, just give the word and she’ll spin.”

Corey Donovan’s class notes included the information, from Florinda, that Castaneda could “find chocolate anywhere.” Apparently Florinda could too. She told the students she had met Kylie Lundahl 10 or 15 years previously, in an Oslo art gallery. Having eaten too many French bonbons on the plane, the sick Florinda vomited and Kylie nursed her, which was the start their friendship.

One of Florinda’s dramatic pronouncements to a class was, “So many have tried to be with us, and they either go mad or don’t like it because our life is too harsh.” Yeah, eating so much chocolate you throw up is pretty harsh, for sure.

Tight Control

Keeping others emotionally off balance is an excellent control mechanism. When a controller makes demands on the followers that include mutually exclusive imperatives, he can drive them crazy enough that he can get away with almost anything. In other words, if a controller can put people in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position, they will be pretty busy handling the stress.

One of the memorable dialogues reported by Amy Wallace went like this:

“Are you angry with me, don Juan?”
“No. I am never angry at anybody. No human being can do anything important enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel that their acts are important. I don’t feel that way any longer.”

But Castaneda sure got angry. Or feigned anger. And is there any difference? If there is, which is worse? At a Sunday class, he pointed to Wallace and told the students, “She thinks she’s having a love affair with me! She’s insane!”

According to Corey Donovan’s notes, the sorcerers used a technique called “stalking,” which meant acting in roles designed to evoke particular reactions or “assemblage point shifts.” The secrecy and false stories about the circle’s interpersonal relationships were supposedly aspects of this so-called skill. Donovan says,

Because of this teacher’s unique position, abilities and “lack of ego,” it was also not “abuse” when he regularly attacked, publicly humiliated, falsely accused or initiated the “shunning” of his “disciples” and colleagues. On the contrary, all such behaviors were passed off as examples of the teacher’s selfless and “impeccable” teaching techniques.

Castaneda didn’t like sick people. When a disciple/mistress developed some kind of intestinal disorder and needed a colostomy, one of the witches arranged for a $10,000 payment which allegedly was the customary kiss-off or golden handshake for somebody he wanted to get rid of. In the inner circle, interactions were cruel and arbitrary, amounting to a paranoid Grand Guignol. Amy Wallace wrote:

It is truly daunting to try to convey the level of envy, pettiness, and competition that pervaded many of our lives… If I had observed Carlos’ methods working successfully, and we’d all been broken of our struggles for dominance and position, I would have applauded his Theatre of Cruelty, the Carlos Castaneda University of Tough Love, as a supreme accomplishment. Instead I saw spirits crushed, particularly by public humiliation; I saw malevolence, breakdowns, illness, and anguish.

Wallace came in for criticism because she had not gone to college but started writing at age 18. Despite her having published 13 books, Castaneda treated her accomplishments with disgust and scolded, “You’ve never worked a day in your life! Go get a job at McDonald’s!”

Acting on his instructions, she took a waitress position. And gave away her cats. This was part of getting rid of her previous life, which one of the witches came over to help with. Wallace says, “She arrived with a knife and a pair of scissors. We spent three hours cutting up my clothes, the magical procedure for breaking one’s ties with the past. Florinda saved the very best items to give to Carlos to pass on to other women.”

One of the master’s chief ploys, of course, was to play the women off against each other, making them all work hard to earn his approval. And in true classic cult-leader manner, he promoted separation from their birth families. The apprentices were told to brainwash themselves against their relatives and say “I send them to hell!”

“Why?” was the most forbidden word in the sorcerers’ vocabulary, followed closely by “love,” “friendship,” “family,” and the tastelessly human “need.”

I often thought of Castaneda as Ayn Rand on acid, an Objectivist turned inside out.
——- Amy Wallace

Castaneda’s Inner Circle – Witches, Scouts, and Chacmools

prstsvertshortMany women were involved with Carlos Castaneda, and their ultimate fates are discussed on another page. How did he collect a group of females so eager to be seduced and exploited?

Three who reached the rank of “witch” had supposedly been with Castaneda during parts of his shaman training. Carol Tiggs, known as the Nagual Woman, was scary. A workshop participant named Peter Szasz reports looking her in the eye and being “struck speechless, inner and outer.” Tiggs was born Kathleen Adair Pohlman, and went to court to change her name to Elizabeth Austin. Unless someone is paying for it, keeping track of all the name changes among Castaneda’s inner circle is just too much work.

Plus, they all had nicknames. Of whom does this remind us? Charlie Manson, who gave his girls such charming names as Sadie Mae Glutz. When Castaneda re-christened a woman, he also favored either ugly or silly names — Beulah Puckett, Fifi LaRue, and so on.

Florinda Donner, another of Castaneda’s main women, published a book in 1982, called Shabono: A visit to a remote and magical world in the South American rainforest, of which some editions are available from Amazon at a very reasonable price. As an assistant or co-teacher at the sorcerer’s workshops, she would respond to audience questions with brusque remarks like “Sufis are shit.” According to the Castaneda scholar known as Corey Donovan, Florinda taught that sorcery changes and heightens the awareness “in weird ways.” A student named Jim Pittman felt “very doubtful that she knew anything of real use.”

Taisha Abelar, another of the witches, wrote The Sorcerers’ Crossing, shown on this page.

Sorcerers Crossing

The Chacmools or fierce guardian warriors were women who became expert in the Tensegrity movements, exercises that rearrange the body’s energy field into optimal shape. On YouTube, there are plenty of videos of the Chacmools doing Tensegrity magical passes. At the time of this TV interview the Chacmools had been with Castaneda about seven years. (Their part starts about 10 minutes in.)

Two of them were sisters, Nyei Murez, also known by Castaneda as Poona or possibly Zuna; and Reni Murez, also known as Zuna or possibly Poona. Nyei Murez was originally named Caren, and published a letter from a boyfriend who had known her before she got mixed up with the Castaneda. According to her own public biographical revelations, she had been “lost in trying to become a genius poet, and had to get burned out on that first.” Later she told her students how she had connected with the sorcerer’s gang. There was a lucky meeting with Florinda. And then Taisha and Kylie came to Nyei’s parents’ house, supposedly to help her move some things, but instead they “stole” her. But once she had joined them, they ignored her and told her to “recapitulate.”

Recapitulation was a Castaneda technique described as “releasing the charge you have over an event,” which seems to be a way to jettison the lingering bad effects of the past, something like what Scientologists do with their E-meter.

Of the Chacmools, the first among equals was Kylie Lundahl (called “Astrid” in Amy Wallace’s book Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Reportedly she was some kind of artist. Florinda was visiting Kylie’s home country, Norway, and got sick on chocolate. Kylie nursed her and listened to her. Kylie recognized in Florinda “something I always hoped was true… a being that wasn’t duplicitous.” Without even bothering to pack, she followed Florinda back to Los Angeles.

Florinda recruited Kylie as Castaneda’s main henchwoman, and even though she outranked Kylie and had seniority, Florinda stated that everyone had to obey the lanky Scandinavian. For instance, Kylie forbade Taisha to tell sad stories that made people cry. She curbed Carol’s food intake and Castaneda’s coffee and TV habits. However, no doubt in return for her unconditional endorsement of Kylie as the boss, Florinda herself was allowed to do anything. The way she explained it was, “That’s because we’re both ‘Baltic’–from the same planet.”

When Castaneda got old and sick, one of the Chacmools would come over to do the dishes and generally clean up for the evening, and take out the trash one night a week. They were relentlessly stalked by a disillusioned former student named Gabi and her husband, who were always hanging around to surreptitiously film, or to intercept the trash so they could take it home and sift through it looking for evidence to incriminate the sorcerer. Gabi told an interviewer, “Kylie was our biggest adversary. She was keen-eyed, strong and determined. She was Carlos’ protector.” But it was Nyei who eventually caught them red-handed. Gabi wrote,

We were walking away from the house when we heard someone come out of the gap in the hedge. Nyei caught up to us and angrily pulled the bags of trash out of our hands and said that we would never get close to them, as she walked away… It was funny to watch her carrying all those bags back to the house as if they were valuable.

It’s both sad and touching, to contemplate how the fierce guardian warriors washed the dishes and took out the trash. True service doesn’t always appear heroic.

The Blue Scout

The innermost member of the inner group was Patricia Partin, also known as Claud, Claudine, Patricia Silliphant, and Nury Alexander. Castaneda dubbed her the Blue Scout, an office of high mystical potency. According to him, the Blue Scout and her frenemy, the Orange Scout, were both more than 7000 years old. During a class, one of the sorcerer’s assistants read from a prepared statement, about how the boss had freed the Blue Scout from the world of Inorganic Beings.

What Castaneda didn’t know at the time was that there was another unit of energy behind the Blue Scout–the Orange Scout–that was also trapped. Castaneda’s effort freed her as well. Don Juan was very concerned, knowing that Carol Tiggs would have to give birth to free the Blue Scout. The matter of the Orange Scout was even more difficult, however, because no one wanted to help. Finally, Florinda said, ‘Fuck it! I’ll do it.'”

Carol Tiggs’s story was, “She’s definitely my daughter, but Nury is also my mother. And yet I’m also her mother, and in the world of the sorcerers there are these complex and inexplicable relationships.”

Corey Donovan reported on one of the Sunday sessions in the mid-90s, when Castaneda explained to his followers how he had found the Blue Scout trapped in the inorganic world. He said “She has this longing, which isn’t a nostalgic kind of longing, but a longing to be traveling and to lose herself voyaging out there. We came from somewhere, and we should continue the journey. The Blue Scout just so much wants to go off.”

He called her “the little girl,” and revealed that in her university classes, the Blue Scout was making straight A’s in mathematics, geometry and calculus. At an Omega Institute workshop in May 1995, Nyei Murez reportedly wept when describing how much she loved the Blue Scout. Castaneda once referred to the Blue Scout as a bitch, and the other women supposedly were upset with him on her behalf. He said, “I adore her, but she’s very tough.” When the Blue Scout didn’t feel well, she would call for Carol Tiggs as her mommy, but at other times, the scamp of a Scout would insult Carol with remarks like, “Why do you have such a fat ass? That’s disgusting!”

According to Florinda, the younger women operated with energy from “way beyond.” She told a group, “Our hope is the two Scouts, blue and orange, who have a different kind of energy, acting as our energetic guides.” She taught that the Scouts acted “from total egolessness; even their appearing to fight with each other is a great delight to us, since the scouts know they can’t live without each other.” Corey Donovan inserts a footnote to the effect that the scouts apparently did find a way to live without each other by 1997, when for some reason the Orange Scout was banished from the group.

When Castaneda was 20 minutes late for one of his 1:00 PM Sunday sessions, he spun a fascinating story about how the Blue Scout didn’t want him doing these classes. He was trying to keep them secret from her, but she had somehow caught on, and all morning had engaged in a series of delaying tactics with a publication project she was doing for him. “She is very powerful,” he said, “and I walk an energetic tightrope fending her off. Because she could always spin and leave.” Aligning himself and the followers in a conspiracy, he told the listeners not to mention the Sunday classes if they called Cleargreen, his foundation, because the Blue Scout sometimes volunteered for phone duty.

In July of 1996 an Intensive Tensegrity Workshop took place at UCLA where Castaneda, the three Witches and the Blue Scout all spoke. The group called her Nury, but that day she was going by the name of Marie Alexander, and she was annoyed by followers who pestered her during the breaks with questions about how it felt to come from another galaxy or dimension.
Anyway, she couldn’t recall her life before being freed by Castaneda from the inorganic world, because it was just too difficult to translate these ineluctable memories into terms that bi-pedal beings could understand. Back on stage she delivered a “blistering attack” and told them to “Deal with your own shit.”

This woman, legally adopted by Castaneda, was not only his lover but his daughter. He admitted in his talks that the Blue Scout was “very weird,” and “too strange to get anything from.” He told the students, “She will fly into an anxiety fit instantly. And she can take me or pull me anywhere, because she’s so strong. But her humanness is paper thin… I don’t even know what the Blue Scout is.” A royal pain in the ass, apparently, to everyone else. But Patricia Partin had the lovelorn sorcerer wrapped around her little finger.

Castaneda told Amy Wallace that when his daughter the Blue Scout was seven years old, she had climbed into his bed and on top of him. So they had sex. What else could he do? His pillow talk with Wallace went like this: ‘You know, amor, I only make love to the two of you – no one else. Your poto is exactly like hers! I can’t tell which one of you I’m with!’

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.

Surviving Carlos Castaneda

I don’t know who it was, but someone called Castaneda the Ultimate Trickster.

In “Homage to a Sorcerer, Carlos Castaneda,” Michael Ventura wrote an event that had happened about 12 years before, which would have been 1986. He went to a bookstore where Castaneda made himself available to answer questions. Ventura’s impression:

It was Castaneda’s laughter, more than his skills as a storyteller, that convinced me of his sincerity and authenticity. He talked for free, had nothing to gain from us, spoke without artifice. People rarely laugh when they lie. At least, in my experience, they don’t laugh sweetly. And there was an irresistible sweetness to this man.

It must have been about a year after the incident described by Ventura, when another writer, Lane Sarasohn, encountered Castaneda. The meeting was later described in a 1994 issue of The Realist, in a memoir titled “No Out-of-Body Experience Necessary.”

The teacher had a favorite anecdote about a party he once went to that was also attended by a Carlos Castaneda imposter, pretending to be him. He seems to have told it again at the meeting Sarasohn caught. (I don’t imply that’s a bad thing. Of course, any speaker with a worthwhile message is going to say a lot of things more than once. Having a stock of polished anecdotes is part of the craft. He was just doing his job. I only mention that he seems to have really liked to tell that story.) Sarasohn remembers how the teacher was trying to get a weekly session going in a city park, where he could teach body movements…

…resembling Tai Chi. He’d learned these exercises somehow from Lo Ban, a Chinese Herbalist who became a brujo, part of don Juan’s ancient lineage.

Apparently the movement class was written off as a bad idea by Castaneda, after only a couple of weeks. (This must have been what later became Tensegrity, workout program of magical passes, taught by the inner circle.)

When speaking before a group of any size, Castaneda always maintained that he didn’t care about fame or fortune or even about having disciples. Not one little bit. Sarasohn wrote,

He’d devoted his life to trying to understand certain mysteries and he’d committed himself to the “warrior’s” path. It meant for him a life of total self-discipline and extreme austerity: no wife, no family, no high-profile academic career, no celebrity status as a best-selling author (no book tours, no groupies, no flattery, no drinking, no drugs).

The fact that Castaneda endured such an uncomfortable and deprived lifestyle, would prove to his followers that he couldn’t possibly be a con artist. That was the intention, anyway. Of course, it was necessary that the followers take his word for it that the self-portrait of the guru as an ascetic was indeed an accurate picture. It was not, and the inner circle knew it, but only one of them talked (Amy Wallace, Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Most of Castaneda’s significant others went off into the desert to die, unable or unwilling to survive without their leader.

Amy Wallace, reflecting on the passionate believers who attended Castaneda’s workshops and other events, said that she always admired the ones who “picked up their marbles and went home,” once they got a taste of the leader’s erratic and dictatorial ways. She says,

Best of all were those who took in a little philosophy here, a few techniques there, were enthralled by the marvelous speakers in the heyday of the lectures, and never wanted for more. These people, who did not upset the balance of their lives, appear to have benefited greatly… To this day I feel inspiration upon reading my favorite, Journey to Ixtlan. Take the beauty therein, and aspire as he and so many millions have. I would advise every reader to remember – you are the magical being.

After one of his meetings with Castaneda, Michael Ventura wrote something that could sum up the whole story:

His presence was an admission that every truth is fragile, that every knowledge must be learned over and over again, every night, that we grow not in a straight line but in ascending and descending and tilting circles, and that what gives us power one year robs us of power the next, for nothing is settled, ever, for anyone.

Carlos Castaneda and the Suicide Women

If Castaneda has not been on your radar screen up until now, “The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda” by Robert Marshall is a basic though unflattering introduction.There is biographical information– the early marriage, and, even though the marriage ended, Castaneda’s adoption of the son his wife already had from another man. We are told that he worked on The Teachings of Don Juan for seven years. The editor at the University of California Press had serious doubts, but the UCLA anthropology department convinced him to publish the book in 1968, and the Carlos Castaneda myth was off and running.

30 years later, the death of Carlos Castaneda was shrouded in mystery. A woman named Gaby Geuter wanted to become a member of Castaneda’s inner circle, but was constantly rebuffed. By 1996 she realized it wasn’t going to happen, so she and her husband Greg Mamishian started following the teacher and filming his activities whenever possible. Borrowing from the technique of government agents and A. J. Weberman, they became garbagologists and retrieved many interesting documents from Castaneda’s trash. The Gaby & Greg website was shut down in 2008 but it included a photo captioned, “Carlos being helped to the house, less than a month before he died. This was the last time we saw him…” Immediately after the sorcerer’s death, four women disappeared. An associate, Daniel Lawton, wrote,

I had telephone numbers for four of the ones who left at the same time, which were all disconnected on the same day. This, and the strange mood of the May 2 one-day workshop, led me to make certain inquiries that resulted in me learning that he was gone.

Another female member of Castaneda’s intimate group fell off the map a few weeks later. The five suicide women included two witches, a chacmool, the president of Castaneda’s company, and his adopted daughter/paramour. This is enough intrigue for anyone’s biography.

Richard Jennings (aka Corey Donovan) started a website after Castaneda’s death. Sustained Action is “devoted to exploring and evaluating the legacy of Carlos Castaneda, and to investigating other possibilities for increased awareness and expanded perception.” The webmaster did research on the women who had been so close to Castaneda and then disappeared. His records started with 1947 and ended up in 1999, tracking the lives of the fancifully re-named female disciples. In a piece called “Sex, Lies and Guru Ploys,” Donovan/Jennings gives a succinct capsule description of Castaneda:

He claimed to be the last of an ancient lineage that supposedly held the secrets not only to traveling bodily into other worlds or dimensions, but which also offered the promise of a form of immortality–evading death by keeping one’s awareness intact. He claimed to have a unique “energetic configuration”—one that he and his colleagues purportedly had not seen in any of the thousands of people they had interacted with over the past few decades—that gave him special abilities and capacities as the “Nagual.”

Amy Wallace was enthralled by Castaneda for many years and later wrote a book, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, about her experiences as a member of his inner circle. When she first got involved with him, her life was headquartered in Berkeley, so at least there was some protective distance between them. When she talked about relocating to Castaneda’s realm in Los Angeles, one of his close female companions (a witch) warned her,

Don’t move to Los Angeles. Those that do the best are the ones who take his work, use it and make it their own, and stay far away from here – the stress is too great.

But Wallace did not heed. Of course, given what she later learned of the intrigues enmeshing the sorcerer, what sounded like a warning about grave spiritual danger could have been merely a jealous reaction from a concubine already forced to share her beloved’s attention. The last thing an established favorite wanted, was another cute young college girl moving in.

Kylie Lundahl

Wallace became the confidant of Kylie Lundahl, the tall gaunt Scandanavian instructor of magical passes, or Tensegrity. (In Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she is called Astrid.) In Castaneda’s universe, Kylie Lundahl was a chacmool–a fierce guardian warrior–but it’s too complicated to go into here.

The point is, in Castaneda’s last days, Lundahl warned him that some of his people might commit suicide. To fill the emptiness, she recommended that he assign people specific tasks to carry out, once he was dead. She was talking about not only the tight inner group, but the followers who ran and worked for his organization, Cleargreen. It must have surprised Lundahl when the boss told her he didn’t care what happened to Cleargreen. But she managed to change his mind to an extent, and he did assign jobs to people as she had suggested. It kind of makes a person wonder. If he had not taken Lundahl’s advice, how many more suicides would have occurred?

In an online discussion group, Wallace talked about the final weeks of Castaneda’s life. Apparently when the witches, chacmool, and adopted daughter left, one of the other followers, Carol Tiggs, stayed behind, thinking to take on the leadership post. She told Wallace the ones who had left were “Dead, dead, dead!”

Carlos Castaneda in Acid Heroes