A Mythical Analysis of A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
In the summer of 1960, Carlos Casteneda, a UCLA anthropology student traveled to
the southwest to do research on medicinal plants. While at a bus station, he
met an extraordinary man. His name was don Juan Mateus, but I will refer to him
as don Juan. Don Juan, a Yaqui "brujo" or shaman, decides to teach Carlos the
"Yaqui way of knowledge." It is not known if these stories are fiction or non-
fiction and many critics still debate over his writings. I interpret his books
as modern mythological stories for several reasons. The "Heroic Journey
Archetype" and shamanistic ideologies, and also the general moral, explainative,
and philosophical content of his writings indicate that these stories can be
viewed as "modern myth".
Throughout Casteneda's stories you can see the "Heroic Journey Archetype".
Carlos goes through a restless stage and breaks ties with his studies and
professors at school. He moves forward with the help of don Juan, whose
shamanic wisdom enlightens and guides Carlos along his spiritual path. He also
faces death many times in his quest to become a warrior. Finally, after many
years, he "passes through". This mythological archetype is one of the main
reasons I believe his stories are mythical in nature.
There are also many shamanistic idealogies that run throughout his stories.
Views of the natural world including plant life, animal life, and elements are
all personified. Everything is embodied with spirit. Concepts of reality are
altered through drug induced states. Mushrooms and peyote are mainly used in
rituals that don Juan uses to teach Carlos his way of knowledge: Mescalito, the
"spirit" of the peyote plant, indicated to don Juan that Carlos was the "chosen"
one, the person to whom don Juan should pass on his knowledge(CLC,87). Don Juan
speaks of many different spirits and separate realities. His teaching's gave an
explanation to man's view of existence and his ignorance resulting from
attachment to the material world.
Mythological proof is also found in don Juan's teachings, which compare Indian
folklore, mysticism, and philosophy. Don Juan explains that there are many
different planes of reality and that a warrior must detach himself with the aid
of an ally. Carlos's ally is "Mescalito" or the spirit of the peyote plant.
Don Juan's ally is "the little smoke"; a mixture made from hallucinogenic
mushrooms. He explains that all life is made up of controlled folly and
attachment to the material world causes ignorance and blindness. A warrior must
learn to "see" and an ally helps achieve these states of non-ordinary "seeing."
Don Juan's teachings are closely related to Buddhist philosophy. By achieving
these states of non-ordinary reality a warrior learns how to live correctly
without any material distractions.
Carlos Casteneda's stories contain many mythical elements. "Heroic Archetype",
shamanistic ideals, and eastern philosophical ideals are just a few. His views
of reality and the spiritual journey to true knowledge are remarkable. "For me
there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have
heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to transverse its
full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly." -Don Juan
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 12
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge Carlos Casteneda Washington
Square Press Copy. 1968
The Tall Candle, The Personal Chronicle of a Yaqui Indian Rosalio Moises, Jane
Kelly, William Holden University of Nebraska Press Copy. 1971