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A mythical analysis of a yaqui way of knowledge

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

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