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.

Theories

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.

Sexbots

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?

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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