The Journey To Ixtlan (Carlos Castenada)

“We only have two alternatives: we either take everything for sure and real, or we don’t. If we follow the first, we end up bored to death with ourselves and with the world. If we follow the second and erase personal history, we create a fog around us, a very exciting and mysterious state in which nobody knows where the rabbit will pop out, not even ourselves.” Yes, I would like to think these ‘teachings’ are real. No, I don’t think they apply to all of us in particular. We are all so very different and unique that nothing is truly the same for any us. 

If you read this book and think it is BS, you might consider quieting your mind tonight when you lie in bed, and try to find you’re hands in your dreams. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish. The whole story is replete with power, emotion, revelations, and touched lightly with such grace and humour that it is just so pleasant to read over and over again. Skeptics–and I was one–fixate on the impossibility of this story without so much as trying any of the prescribed techniques. Castenada introduces many concepts, or rather elucidates on many concepts, which Don Juan had introduced since their initial encounter two books previously; not-doing, stopping the world, living as a warrior, and dreaming.

Clearly the book doesn’t want to give any answers, but rather it stimulates our imagination on how we perceive the world. Journey to Ixtlan became Castenada’s UCLA doctoral dissertation, and was the most noted book of the series because in it Carlos turns away from psychedelic plants and follows Don Juan as his apprentice. He plays the role of the naive, sometimes dense and blundering student, which makes the book seem artless and laces it with subtle humour. By the end, the apprentice begins to get an idea of what don Juan means by power, and how one can become a warrior in the Yaqui sense. The book takes an almost hypnotic hold on the reader, just as Don Juan does on Carlos. Carlos cannot break away from don Juan, no matter how irrational, even crazy, he seems, and neither can we. As the book progresses, I feel I’m dreaming or changing in much the way Carlos does.

It’s almost impossible not to be infused with his sense of awe and wonder at what Don Juan is teaching him, and the sorcerer he is changing into. Journey to Ixtlan feels so real, and we get so involved with Carlos’ struggle to learn a separate reality, that we become believers in his alternative universe. We become part of it…The Don Juan books were runaway best sellers in the 1970’s. They were new wave, new age anthropology, and an often dry academic discipline was given new life by this careful, almost childlike transcription of field notes. The only problem with all this is that the books turned out to be fraudulent. Don Juan was either made up by Castaneda, or he was based on a real person whom Castaneda used as a springboard for fictional tales. Either way, despite scholarly praise, this was not anthropology.

So Castaneda and don Juan were discredited, and the man who had sold a total of something like 28 million books faded away. Castaneda is a throwback to the 18’th century, when there was a convention of presenting fiction as though it were factual travel writing; think of Swift and Defoe. Castaneda’s constant interaction with Don Juan, along with his fretting about how this could not be real, has the effect of making it seem real even when one knows it is not. It is as real as the greatest fiction, and it doesn’t lose its hold on the reader even when you know he made most of it up by piecing together all kinds of occult texts in the UCLA library. It differs from most occult masterpieces in that Castaneda allows the reader to feel the process of initiation, and the doubts and anxieties it generates, in a moment by moment way. You feel you don’t need to attach yourself to a guru, because Carlos does it for you. Whatever genre Journey to Ixtlan fits into, or if it fits into none at all, it’s an emotional, life – changing read. 

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