For Don Juan
And for the two persons who shared his sense of magical time with me.
This book is both ethnography and allegory.
Carlos Castaneda, under the tutelage of Don Juan, takes us through that moment of twilight, through that crack in the universe between daylight and dark into a world not merely other than our own, but of an entirely different order of reality. To reach it he had the aid of mescalito, yerba del diablo, and humito – peyote, datura, and mushrooms. But this is no mere recounting of hallucinatory experience, for Don Juan’s subtle manipulations have guided the traveler while his interpretations give meaning to the events that we, through the sorcerer’s apprentice, have the opportunity to experience.
Anthropology has taught us that the world is differently defined in different places. It is not only that people have different customs; it is not only that people believe in different gods and expect different
post-mortem fates. It is, rather, that the worlds of different peoples have different shapes. The very metaphysical presuppositions differ: space does not conform to Euclidean geometry, time does not form a continuous unidirectional flow, causation does not conform to Aristotelian logic, man is not differentiated from non-man or life from death, as in our world.
We know something of the shape of these other worlds from the logic of native languages and from myths and ceremonies, as recorded by anthropologists. Don Juan has shown us glimpses of the world of Yaqui sorcerer, and because we see it under the influence of hallucinogenic substances, we apprehend it with a reality that is utterly different from those other sources. This is the special virtue of this work.
Castaneda rightly asserts that this world, for all its differences of perception, has its own inner logic. He has tried to explain it from inside, as it were – from within his own rich and intensely personal experiences while under Don Juan’s tutelage – rather then to examine it in terms of our logic. That he cannot entirely succeed in this is a limitation that our culture and our own language place on perception, rather than his personal limitation; yet in his efforts he bridges for us the world of a Yaqui sorcerer with our own, the world of non-ordinary reality with the world of ordinary reality.
The central importance of entering into worlds other then our own – and hence of anthropology itself – lies in the fact that the experience leads us to understand that our own world is also a cultural construct. By experiencing other worlds, then, we see our own for what it is and are thereby enabled also to see fleetingly what the real world, the one between our own cultural construct and those other worlds, must in fact be like. Hence the allegory, as well as the ethnography. The wisdom and poetry of Don Juan, and the skill and poetry of his scribe, give us a vision both of ourselves and of reality. As in all proper allegory, what one sees lies with the beholder, and needs no exegesis here.
Carlos Castaneda’s interviews with Don Juan were initiated while he was a student of anthropology at the University of
California, Los Angeles. We are indebted to him for his patience, his courage, and his perspicacity in seeking out and facing the challenge of his dual apprenticeship, and in reporting to us the details of his experiences. In this work he demonstrates the essential skill of good ethnography – the capacity to enter into an alien world. I believe he has found a path with heart.