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Title: Carlos Castaneda – A Separate Reality – Complete (YT link) Uploaded by Audiobook – Planet in the galaxy М87.
Carlos Castaneda: A Separate Reality – (1971) 3 stars.
Run time, audiobook: 2 hours, 35 minutes. My initial impression after listening to the condensed audiobook version is that Castaneda simply wanted to write and sell more books. There did not seem to be much in the way of metaphysical insight or the revelation of secret plant-based knowledge as seen in the first book. Here are my notes after a slow reading of the full book:
In the introduction, a strange encounter between Castaneda and Sacateca occurs. The old man performs strange movements that put Castaneda into a state of unease powerful enough to cause the younger man to leave. Don Juan later explains that this performance was in actuality a sorcerer’s dance. The dance had will or intention in its purpose. This is in accordance with my belief that many types of magic are simply force of will applied to a specific purpose.
Chapter 1 – Don Juan makes a statement that I find of profound importance. His apprentice feels sorry for a large group of shoeshine boys that have to eat a restaurant’s leftovers to survive. Castaneda’s view is that he is well off compared to those boys. Don Juan questions that idea, and goes on to offer that the boys are just as capable of reaching great heights as anyone. The reason I find this concept deep is because it shows how a person’s soul can ascend despite poor or unfortunate circumstances. From the way Don Juan’s words were written down by Castaneda, it is clear to me that the old man knew a lot more of the spiritual world, and how it works, than he has so far let his apprentice know about. This is not apparent to a casual reader, however, but it is a glimpse into the mechanics of the non-material universe.
Chapter 2 – I’m writing this down as a curiosity that I might use in my fiction later. A crow sees an ally like a pointed hat, wide at the bottom and thin at the top. They usually appear dull and heavy. They are also described as dripping clothes and foreboding. When spiritually seeing, Don Juan describes real men looking like shiny eggs, and false men or allies as pretending to look like real men. Later, Don Juan mentions how vicious allies can be. An ally caused his benefactor to burn himself so badly the man looked as if a mountain lion had mauled him. Don Juan also said his ally once pushed him into a burning woodpile. I’ve been trying to hold back on my speculation so far, so I won’t color the narrative too much or guess at things that are not really in the story. However, I must mention that these allies, which a brujo or sorcerer can use for good or bad, in temperament sound a lot like the sinister forces a traditional witch might call upon while casting a curse.
Chapter 3 – There are times when it seems as if Castaneda’s paranoia is getting the best of him. Also, during a peyote ritual, the participants ingesting the plant claim to have seen Mescalito hovering around Castaneda, who has abstained from taking part. These instances could be fiction, but based on my personal experience with dark spirits, they could very well be real as well. Also interesting is how far the people had to walk to get to the ritual site, which was an hour away, at night, from where the rest of the houses were located.
Chapter 6 – A master sorcerer can turn into an eagle. An evil sorcerer turns into an owl. Lyric or dilettante sorcerers change into other animals, such as crows. Eagle sorcerers can pass through the ten layers of the ‘other world,’ while other sorcerers can only travel through three.
Later in this chapter, a strange scene is described, where Don Genaro climbs up the side of a mountain by clinging to it. Genaro goes on to leap across a waterfall by landing on several rocks at the very edge. Castaneda thinks this a very impressive show of skill and balance at climbing. Don Juan tells him at a later time that Genaro used not physical skills, but spiritual energies. These energies are described as fibers of light extending from the navel. Castaneda observed the man’s physical movements, but if he had a sorcerer’s sight, he would have seen the fibers gripping the mountain and the rocks in the waterfall, and moving or propelling Genaro across from one place to the next. Don Juan moderately berates Castaneda for not being able to see what was truly happening.
Chapter 7 – Castaneda describes seeing a monstrous animal after smoking a pipe with Don Juan. The animal is a hundred feet tall and stood erect. It hat two wide, short wings. Its body was covered with tufts of black hair, its muzzle was long and drooling, and its eyes were burly and round like white balls. This could have been a simple gnat flying around while Castaneda was under the influence.
Chapter 9 – Don Juan is able to pick out a traumatic scene from way back in Castaneda’s childhood. It is unclear to Castaneda if he might have mentioned that incident while under the influence of drugs, or if Don Juan really saw into his past.
Chapter 13 – While under the influence, Castaneda sees a man in a field in Chapter 12. Don Juan has to turn Castaneda’s head away when the unknown man starts in his direction. Here in Chapter 13, Don Juan is trying to get Castaneda back to normal by repeatedly dunking his head into an irrigation canal near the house. When Castaneda is taken into the house, he briefly freaks out and states he saw that same man from the field, this time close enough to almost touch him. This sounds very familiar to a ghost or thought-form attaching itself to a person. Don Juan keeps telling Castaneda that this mental state is a very dangerous and probably mortal state to be in. Later, Don Juan tells Castaneda that he as seen the ‘ally.’ He also say that if one meets an ally out in the wilderness, the ally might kill the person.
Here is a point I think is important. Don Juan claims that when meeting an ally, a warrior or sorcerer must come prepared with respect and strength. If this is not observed, the ally may justifiably turn on the person. I’ve heard this in other shaman tales from African, Nordic and witchcraft practitioners. The spirits give specific instructions; if they are not followed to the letter, the spirits mete out harsh punishments as a result.
Chapter 14 – Castaneda tosses in an additional encounter about the witch Catalina that he did not write about in his first book. I really don’t like this idea that Don Juan tricked him into becoming an apprentice sorcerer, and that Castaneda was put into a dangerous situation. If this scene was so important, why was in not included in the first book? Why did Don Juan have to trick him at this point, when he had already been an apprentice for a long time? I don’t know; this scene sounds like dramatic bullshit to sensationalize what has so far been a very boring book. Also very disheartening is the idea that a sorcerer is only slightly above a normal man in terms of power. If that’s the case, why did Castaneda write 5 books about slightly above average spiritual / drug-enhanced events?
Chapter 15 – After having smoked out, Castaneda describes the spaces between sounds and music as ‘holes.’ Apparently, he needs hard drugs to figure this out. This experience with the holes becomes transcendental in some way, and later Don Juan makes the typical excuse that he can’t tell Castaneda more because he’s not ready, or in this case, because Castaneda has no ally.
Chapter 16 – Don Juan describes and entity that attaches itself to people or houses. This entity has no power or secrets to give, and is described only as a shadow. A second entity is revealed as a malicious spirit that will trouble people and haunt houses. This goes in with my research into spirits, demons, ghosts and thought-forms, and includes my personal experience in haunted houses.
Later, Don Juan mentions that a sprit that touches an object, especially a weapon of some sort, causes that object to become a ‘power’ object. This also fits in with the idea of possessed items. He reveals a third type of spirit that can only be found by approaching it alone and at remote places. This spirit is an ally that reveals secrets. An ally spirit will try to frighten a man or topple dangerous objects on him, such as trees. This spirit cannot be defeated through struggle. A man must bear the attacks if he is to overcome it.
Strangely, Castaneda described the sound of branches breaking as lusty, and the sound of feet sloshing through mud as sensual. This sounds to me like exaggerating a rather mundane experience of becoming paranoid in the woods. He sensationalizes events with animal comparisons such as flocks of birds, waves of rats and herds of kangaroos.
Chapter 17 – Castaneda has strange experiences with Don Genaro. Genaro’s eyes become larger and brighter, and he develops feline attributes.
My Conclusion – This set of five books is the culmination of an apprenticeship that lasted ten years. Book 1 was novel in the concepts it presented, but Book 2 was basically a reinterpreting of what already took place, with a few new incidents of action to break up a very boring narrative. After ten years, Castaneda is still a hardheaded wimp who keeps acting as if he’s a spoiled ten-year old kid. Don Juan is berating his apprentice half the time, and laughing at him the other half.
Through documentaries, I’ve seen what young Chinese men have to go through before they are accepted into Shaolin kung-fu monasteries. The wait time can be as long as one full year or more before the aspiring young man is even allowed to enter the front gates. For Don Juan to have his disciple at this same level of denseness and stupidity after an entire decade can only mean he is a very incompetent instructor of shamanism. If you go to any martial arts school, and you can’t advance past the first couple of belts after ten years, you’d better believe somebody in the teacher / student dynamic is severely lacking in talent and drive.
Castaneda is a fool to sensationalize parts of the story while trying to wow the readers. Tell the story as non-fiction, if this is a true and accurate account, and leave the imaginative sections up to the reader. Describing a few soft pats on the back of the neck as a herd of kangaroos tells me the writer had to pad the narrative with bullshit. Going through the same notes from the first book, and adding these ‘new’ short bits is a sign to me that this is about selling more books and making more money.
Maybe that ‘new’ bit about the witch Catalina might have been relevant in the first book, which had a half-assed account of her? Maybe those ‘new’ bits about Don Genaro climbing a mountain with tentacles instead of hands, or doing lateral somersaults by rolling over on his head, or going to the back of a house and suddenly the mountains start rumbling, maybe we should go a little further in explaining those parts, just maybe? All this nonsense about you’re not ready, Castaneda, or we’re not going to tell you, or you missed it and we’ll try it again in a sequel, those all sound like bullshit. I’ve got dozens of books on shamanism from all over the world and I haven’t read perennial teasers like that, which are less page turners for me and more page burners. Don Juan isn’t a joker; he’s a joke. And here’s this fool Castaneda buying the old man groceries, buying his relatives tequila and driving him all over Mexico out of the kindness of his book-selling heart.
I’ve got all five books in this series, and I’m going through a very thorough reading of them so I can really grasp the material. After reading this one, I really don’t want to go on. I heard part of the audiobook for Book 3, and from the start I hear yet again that the unoriginal Castaneda is going over his same notes for a third effing time. How about this? Let’s write two books of 250 pages, okay, instead of five books of 120 -130 pages each. This dime store novel approach is really driving me nuts, and so is the constant rehashing of the same dates and events with ‘new’ understanding of them.
In the past, I’ve heard Castaneda described as a charlatan and liar, and I can see what critics are talking about. I’m going to toss the rest of the books into the back of the reading pile, because I don’t want to go through more of the same BS. I’m taking at least a month before I even look at the next one.