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Carlos Castaneda: Biography, Books & Quotes

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Find out about the life of Carlos Castaneda and his influence on the New Age Movement. Learn about his most famous works and the controversy surrounding his publications and his research.

Carlos Castaneda

''...It is useless to waste your life on one path, especially if that path has no heart.'' This quote is from the book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and its philosophy was much embraced by the hippie movement of the 1960s.

The author is Peruvian-American Carlos Castaneda, a reluctant celebrity who gained a following in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s by writing numerous books on understanding the self.

Life, Education, Death

Information about his early years is sketchy and often contradictory. Although he claimed to have been born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, records show that he was most likely born in Cajamarca, Peru.

His date of birth is also questioned, as he gave his own birthdate as December 25, 1931, but most sources believe he was actually born in 1925. The only definite facts about his life begin in 1951 after he emigrated to the United States and began his studies at the University of California toward a degree in anthropology, the study of social customs, religions, and beliefs of people.

While Castenada earned both a bachelor's degree and a Ph.D. from the university, his Ph.D. was later revoked on the grounds that his anthropological 'research' was actually just a fictional work that he had created.

Castaneda met the requirements to become a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1957. He was married to Margaret Runyon, but the marriage ended in divorce. Castaneda died in Westwood, California in 1998, at about the age of 68 to 73 years old. He was reportedly cremated and his ashes were scattered at an undetermined location. Throughout his life he maintained a recluse and was hesitant to be photographed or interviewed. This increased his mystique to his fans.

Castaneda's Books

Carlos Castaneda claimed that the information he included in his books was given to him by a shaman of the indigenous Yaqui tribe of Mexico. The Yaqui, who are mainly found in Sonora, are actually Roman Catholics, although their worship does show an historical tribal influence.

Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui shaman, reportedly met with Castaneda and taught him to be a nagual, which was a type of seer who had knowledge of 'the unknowable.' The books that Castaneda wrote grew out of these interactions with Don Juan. His most well-known works include:

  • The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968)
  • A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971)
  • Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972)
  • Tales of Power (1974)
  • The Second Ring of Power (1977)
  • The Eagle's Gift (1981)
  • The Fire from Within (1984)
  • The Power of Silence (1987)
  • The Art of Dreaming (1993)
  • Magical Passes (1997)
  • The Active Side of Infinity (1998)
  • The Wheel of Time (1998)

All of Castaneda's works related to the metaphysical world. His early books described his use of peyote, a type of cactus, that he ingested in order to induce hallucinations. In these books, Castaneda describes how Don Juan taught him to use peyote to take hallucinatory trips that opened his mind to knowing and understanding many things about life that he would not otherwise know.

Other books written by Castaneda are similar in topic, such as The Art of Dreaming which describes how a Toltec shaman who taught him about interpreting dreams and advanced dreaming approaches. While Castaneda considered these to be non-fiction books, some reviewers and scholars have reclassified them as fiction.

Castaneda's works were widely read and influenced the development of the New Age spirituality movement, which focused on achieving one's goals through self-realization and personal transformation.

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