A book by Carlos Castaneda. It details the teachings and practices of the old desert Yaqui sorcerers as experienced by Castaneda first hand. According to Castenada, the goal of the sorcerers is to become a man of knowledge. The process takes three steps:
1) To overcome fear to achieve clarity,
2) To overcome clarity to achieve power,
3)and to overcome power to achieve true knowledge.
The man of knowledge uses "allies", in the form of power plants and spirits, to aid his quest. The final challenge for the man of knowledge is to confront the fact of his own death, a futile battle in which he will employ all of his formidable skills in an honorable display of courage.

"The Teachings of Don Juan", subtitled "A Yaqui Way of Knowledge" is a book by Peruvian-American anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, detailing his tutelage under a Yaqui shaman in the early 1960s. The book was part of Castaneda's work towards his doctorate. Although it was accepted at the time of its publication, there has been much skepticism since then about the veracity of the story. The entire subject of Castaneda's academic integrity is somewhat out of the scope of this write-up, since I haven't read all the claims and counter-claims. Basically, when reading this book, I had a vague idea that some of it might not have been true, which colored my reading a little bit.

The book starts in early 1961, when Carlos Castaneda meets Don Juan by chance, and is accepted under his tutelage. This tutelage consists of learning how to locate, prepare and use different hallucinogenic plants, including peyote, psilocybe mushrooms and datura. The teaching also included many strange tests and cryptic warnings. The drug experiences are various, and include many aspects of full immersion hallucinations that are atypical for serotonergic hallucinogens (but not, perhaps, for datura).

I was perhaps prejudiced by my slight knowledge of the controversy surrounding the book, but much of Castaneda's story rang false for me. Not, perhaps in factual matters, but in the overall tone. I have talked with many people who have undertaken the use of psychedelics, and their stories are usually not so much a story of the experience itself, but rather the story of the melting away of preconceived notions. Just like with any intense experience, the reaction to the experience is often a more involved story than the experience itself. In this book, Castaneda doesn't seem to talk much about himself and his milieu, and how it was changed by five years in Mexico taking drugs. He narrates the experiences and that is the end of it.

The stated purpose of these experiences is to become a "Man of Knowledge", although what that means and what the purpose of that is, is never really described. Conceivably a shaman would use their wisdom and insight to lend some sort of guidance or meaning to their community, but that is never mentioned in the book. The knowledge seems to be merely a series of rituals used to obtain experiences, but the experiences themselves don't give knowledge. So what is strange to me is that Carlos Castenada, doing anthropological research, reports on all these experiences, without describing any of the social ramifications of him. All of the experiences described in this book seem to take place in a psychological and sociological vacuum. And this is why, even if all the questions about factuality were cleared up, this book isn't an "authentic" account of psychedelic experiences for me.

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