MY SEQUEL TO CARLOS CASTANEDA, ACADEMIC OPPORTUNISM…SIXTIES
When I first arrived at Santa Catarina in 1976 it was a remote Huichol ceremonial center where ancient rituals dedicated to nature spirits such as Great Grandmother Germination and Grandfather Fire were still performed. During the past 34 years I have participated in Huichol peyote rituals, made pilgrimages to sacred sites, tape-recorded numerous sacred songs and myths recited by five shamans and translated most of those songs and myths. Those shamans helped me recognize the spiritual dimension in hunting deer and peyote, fishing, growing maize and talking with the deceased’s iyari during funeral rituals.
Thirty four years of making pilgrimages to sacred sites, observing rituals and translating several hundred pages of songs and myths ancillary to them enables me see through the sensational and flawed publications of Drs. Carlos Castaneda, Peter Furst and Barbara Myerhoff; all of whom were involved with (non-traditional) urban Huichol. Fraudulent episodes evident in Carlos Castaneda’s first four books, combined with sensational portraits of Huichol peyote use published by Furst and Myerhoff, created a caricature of Huichol society which continues to captivate and mislead millions of readers around the world. One reason a sequel is needed is because New Age tourism to Wirikuta, the Huichol peyote country, continues.
My sequel to Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties will feature two 1991 interviews with Ramón Medina Silva’s widow, Guadalupe Ríos. I taped our interviews in Mexico on March 22-23, 1991. Portions of those interviews were cited in the 2007 BBC documentary, Tales from the Jungle: Carlos Castaneda. Fifteen years of super-sensational media coverage of CIA and scientific experiments (e.g., of Dr. Timothy Leary), the massive surge in marijuana and psychedelic drug use, inspired by Aldous Huxley and other authors, and Gordon Wasson’s report on Mazatec entheogenic mushroom rituals helped Castaneda’s first book become an instant anthropological and counter-cultural success. His first four books made him as famous as Margaret Mead, who was for decades the world’s most eminent anthropologist.
Castaneda’s first two books dramatized his extraordinary experiences with jimsonweed (Datura stramónium), psilocybin mushrooms (Psilocybe mexicana) and peyote (Lophophora williamsii). Peyote, fundamental to initiating Carlos Castaneda’s alleged apprenticeship with a “Yaqui Indian sorcerer”, became virtually synonymous with Huichol shamanism by 1975. While Castaneda’s fame was increasing, a peyote-centered portrait of the Huichol ritual cycle was being popularized by sensational publications of Myerhoff and Furst, two of Castaneda’s colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles. Because Yaqui Indians lack peyote rituals and because there is no evidence that Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui sorcerer, Don Juan Matus, ever existed, Furst and Myerhoff’s publications and Furst’s 1969 film dramatizing a peyote hunt led by Ramón Medina Silva functioned like a magnet, attracting seekers of shamans to the Huichol (Furst 1975: 18). Five New Age tourists became the first foreigners to be arrested in the Mexican state of Nayarit, in 1990, for possession of peyote they brought back from Wirikuta, guided by non-traditional Huichol associated with Guadalupe Ríos and her adopted father, José Ríos. New Age tourists, inspired by Castaneda, Furst and Myerhoff, are still entering Huichol peyote country (Weigand and Fikes 2004).
My sequel also compares the infamous Piltdown Man hoax with acrobatic displays near Mexican waterfalls, displays celebrated in publications of Drs. Castaneda, Furst and Myerhoff. Myerhoff’s connection to Castaneda is significant: “Carlos and I often talked about shamans and sorcerers, and his deep understanding of these matters contributed greatly to my own thinking” (Myerhoff 1974: 14). Myerhoff hinted that she collaborated with Castaneda to popularize their fable of shamanic balance. “Even the waterfall episode was not just Carlos [Castaneda] reflecting me back to me. There was something besides [that]” (Myerhoff quoted in DeMille 1990: 346). In his legal deposition Peter Furst admitted (on page 219) that he has never had any fieldnotes to document the waterfall incident. He declared under oath that his numerous photos of Ramón Medina Silva are his fieldnotes. If those photos are speaking, as some sort of substitute for Ramón Medina Silva, they must be speaking in some language known only to Furst. We know now that there is no documentation, other than those photos, to support Furst’s unsubstantiated claims about the meaning of Ramón Medina Silva’s antics at that waterfall. We know now that there are three strikingly similar accounts about “shamans” performing at waterfalls which were published without Castaneda, Furst or Myerhoff ever having any fieldnotes or tape recordings to verify their incredible assertions about Castaneda’s don Genaro and Ramón Medina Silva (Fikes 1993: 70, 2009: 64). I invite scholars to ponder the meaning of Myerhoff’s “something besides” in addition to the absence of recordings or fieldnotes required to corroborate three strikingly similar accounts of antics at Mexican waterfalls. What if anything is missing for such “reports” about acrobatic displays at waterfalls to be defined as fraud and conspiracy?
Go where no Carlos Castaneda critic has ever gone before, to his birth certificate!
According to the official birth certificate recorded in the office of Vital Records in Cajamarca, Peru the world's most famous anthropologist and best-selling author, Carlos César Salvador Arana, was born on December 25, 1925. On that momentous day his parents were not married to each other. Because both his parents were single, the address for baby Carlos was that of his father, Cesar N. Arana. Their address was 15 Arequipa Street. César Arana was 32 years old. The mother, "Dona Susana Castañeda," was 24 years old.
Carlos César Salvador Arana (aka Carlos Castaneda) provided various and contradictory versions of his birth and childhood. 2 Those differing versions may indicate he felt some shame at being characterized as a bastard (a stigmatized status in that time and place). I have concluded that the emphasis our author, Carlos Castaneda, placed on "erasing personal history" is partly a symptom of embarrassment associated with being called an illegitimate child. To reduce the irritation linked to his low status, Carlos Castaneda decided to "erase" the truth of his birth and childhood. Concomitantly, to boost his self-esteem, he invented more inspiring circumstances and parents. Creating such alternatives to the reality he lived in Peru increased his pride and made him seem extraordinary to others.
Knowing now the true circumstances surrounding his birth, I am re-examining his first books, attempting to unite his writing with his real-life experiences. I believe that to justify using lies about his birth and childhood (and many other things…) Carlos Castaneda needed to create another illusion; writing that his mentor, don Juan Matus, insisted that he, Castaneda, practice "erasing personal history." Don Juan told his apprentice, "Lies are lies only if you have personal history" (Journey to Ixtlan, Chapter 2). Learning to deceive people is a sign of the charlatan, not the shaman, at least according to my Huichol experiences.
1 An official copy of his birth certificate was provided to me by a friend of the Peruvian archaeologist, Dr. Sonia Guillen. I am grateful for their efforts. They enabled me to disclose a truth that has remained hidden until now.
2 In “scrambling details of his past” Castaneda lied several times to his wife, Margaret Runyan Castaneda, telling her that he was born on December 25, 1931 in Italy to 16 year old Susana Navoa who “had been attending finishing school in Switzerland”. The father “a professor, had been on tour around the world” when he impregnated her; presumably making her an unwed mother. The tall tale continues. See pages 40-41 in Margaret Runyan Castaneda's book, A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda. Millenia Press: Victoria, Canada, 1996. Castaneda proclaimed to U.S. journalists who interviewed him for Time magazine that he was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 25, 1935. For those journalists he fabricated various details about his childhood; probably intending to impress them as well as the public. See "Don Juan and the Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Time Magazine, March 5, 1973 101 (10) pages 30-35.
Carlos Castaneda evidently arrived in San Francisco, CA on September 23, 1951 (based on research done by Vern Hall). Verification of his arrival was difficult a) because when traveling from Peru on a ship named the S.S. Yavari, Carlos Castaneda was using the name Cesar Arana and b) there was another Peruvian ship named S.S. Yavari which has always been on Lake Titicaca from 1862 until today. http://www.yavari.org/yavari-story.html
Our anthropologist/writer was born on December 25, 1925. The names on his birth certificate were Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda. When Vern Hall did a search for Cesar Arana on Ancestry.com (immigration and travel), he found a passenger list with a person by that name (line 15) on the S.S. Yavari, which sailed from Callao, Peru on September 10, 1951. That Peruvian ship arrived in San Francisco on September 23, 1951. On the S.S. Yavari's passenger list, the age given for Cesar Arana was 25, which was really his age--given the birth date recorded on his official birth certificate.
In 1957 our writer filed a petition to become a U.S. citizen, using the name Carlos Arana Castaneda.
So our writer shortened his name to Carlos Arana Castaneda in 1957 and subsequently eliminated his father's surname, Arana. But how could Carlos Castaneda have arrived in San Francisco on September 23, 1951 on the S.S. Yavari; which was the ship that had been on Lake Titicaca since 1862?
A second ship, probably named after the first Yavari on Lake Titicaca, was built in California in WWII. This cargo ship was built in 1944 and called the S.S. Cody Victory. It was one of numerous "Victory Ships" See line 69 at this URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Victory_ships
After WWII ended the S.S. Cody Victory was sent to Callao, Peru. In 1947 the Peruvian owners renamed it the S.S. Yavari. http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/vicshipsC.html
So it seems that Carlos Castaneda, our writer, arrived in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 1951 on a second Peruvian ship named the S.S. Yavari. Thanks to Vern Hall this mystery has been solved.
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Santa Catarina shaman
Foto Juan Negrín
Juan Vaquero, Yaqui Indian,
with Jay Fikes