John Darling Full Review

John darling review understanding castaneda mosaic image

John Darling
Journalist, author
Ashland, Oregon

Luce has done what Carlos couldn’t or didn’t do, which is to crystallize his 11 books, most of which were too complex for Boomers (his main audience) to follow or understand. He has made this work into a comprehensive and comprehendable tableau about the meaning and direction of our existence, not just as shamans but as the ordinary, civilized people we are.

Personal power is a central element of Castaneda’s books. Virtually all of us can’t go off into the Sonoran deserts searching for personal power at the feet of don Juan, but still we can use these basic energies of shamanism. Most of them probably are the same over the world and over our 4 million years as humans, as templates for living our daily lives as persons of power in this often mad world.

What stands out about this book is that, in weaving together all the teachings of don Juan, plus what Carlos himself learned, Luce gives us a unified body of knowledge that seems to lay to rest all the usual blather, from people who couldn’t possibly know, that this is a series of novels drawn from the observations of anthropologists and reported tales of shamans – and from the imagination of Carlos.

What tells us this is “real” (even though little of it takes place in our “real” world) is the coherence of the whole body of knowledge; all parts relate to the whole in a coherent way, without dissonance to any other part. It’s too complex and unified to be the product of some California guy of the delirious 1960s, who wanted ill-gotten fame and money for his giant fraud.

Without distorting the work of Carlos, a “man of knowledge” or seeming to sell or root for or proselytize it (why would he?), Luce dispassionately tells us what Carlos and don Juan (and Genaro) said and did. Without knowing them, Luce is as faithful a Boswell as could possibly be put together. Luce is a fair witness and this book is likely the first time/place the whole cosmology of don Juan and Carlos has been put together, without approaching it as an analysis or criticism.

As such, what we get from “Getting Castaneda,” (great title) (and the author’s goal) is a new excitement, reignited from the early 70s when the books took off like a rocket, especially in the minds (and souls) of hippies who were moving out of their acid-head days and looking for a “path with heart,” one they could druglessly apply to their real lives.

Luce’s smooth, clear and impeccable work makes the old Carlos reader go, “ohhh, I see it now. I get it. I was missing that. I couldn’t put it all together.” Indeed, it was no walk in the park to “get” Carlos in those old days, when we were so young, passionate and WANTED so badly to believe in something magical and real.

This book calmly details the “consensus reality” that we, as the human race, generate with our own safe, calm method of (unwittingly) creating this world. Luce gives us an “aha” experience, letting us get that what we have done here – spinning this world out of whole cloth – is little different than what shamans do, though they do it with other worlds, which are accessible to us, but, hey, it’s a jungle out there. It’s not some cozy paradise. You can get killed out there, that is, unless you have developed the self-protective skills of a warrior.

This book is no how-to, though. Imagine it’s a book about how to kayak through whitewater. You can be told the wonders and beauty and freedom of kayaking – and listen to every detail of how to kayak, but you can’t go out there and kayak. You need a benefactor to break down your old ways of moving and thinking, then, amid much fear, teach you how to be brave and move forward and survive – and have a blast.  Some of the time.

It’s an exciting book. After reading it, you know it’s real, even though the author touches on his times of doubt. He doesn’t really jump up and shout, “IT’S REAL!” He leaves that to you. But we all have what Hemingway called a “bullshit detector.” You know when your being bullshitted, even a little, and when the speaker has integrity (which means it’s integrated) it rings true. This does.

As an example, Luce’s overview puts into sharp focus the metaphysics of our cocoons, energy filaments, assemblage points and the hundreds of alternate worlds whose doors are in and around us.

This laying out of the cosmology and ontology of don Juan and Carlos is a majestical and puzzling thing because, if true and real, it automatically brings up the question of who or what created this Universe and if there is a conscious will and intent behind it – and Luce doesn’t answer that question any more than Carlos did.

It’s a lucid and coherent explanation, but it’s like a grand maze inside a giant computer, which we can be expected to master, as men of knowledge, but why would we bother? What is the point? At least most religions encourage us to love or praise some god. The mass of men can understand that. But who would create the Universe of don Juan and why? And why would anyone want to play the game that takes place in it?

Luce has translated the hieroglyphics of Castaneda, which few could understand. He has done a great and important thing. It is sweeping and somehow puts voice to what Carlos couldn’t say.

The first two-thirds of Luce’s opus leave the reader with a great, new sense of the possible, but like the books of Carlos, after the first four, we soon are trekking off into curiouser and curiouser territory that suggests we can lose, not only our body, but our soul. Not too inviting. In addition there is more and more new material – not established earlier — and it’s increasingly complex, fantastical, daunting and scary. Why not stay in our world, get laid, watch TV and go on vacations?

In the latter chapters, we are repeatedly reminded of the frank truth that a huge percentage of us are, well, just plain stupid, leading dull and automatic lies, walking around with our inner dialog, which is ever blaming the rich or powerful or whoever fucked over you, wicked past lovers, evil bosses – and that’s the sum total of what goes on in your head. It’s powerless and it’s a waste of your life.

In one of the most majestic passages, Luce sums up a big reason (not the only one) for this. Millennia ago, we had “inner silence,” not the endless and hypnotic rationalizations, dopey inner conversations and other madness, which all sap awareness, power, integrity and all stuff that makes life worthwhile. That beautiful and powerful silence is gone. A sorcerer’s main job is to get it back.

Stilling inner chat makes us indigestible to the Predator, a fearsome monster who rules and imprisons us and wants to eat what little awareness we have. We are barely aware of him. He must be defeated. Beckoning us is the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind  ~

7 Responses to “John Darling Full Review”

  1. <path_to_url> Eric Hornak

    Whoa John!

    Bruce is so right about the brilliance of your writing here. But, anybody who knows your always refreshing, magical spirit, John, would expect nothing less than your positive take on Luce’s recapitulation of Carlos’s opus, not to mention the brilliant, matching coherence your writing brings to Luce’s work. Both you and Luce have redeemed those years of wonderment and encouragement Carlos bathed me in as I sought my way out of my “nauseating” immersion in consensus reality. However, the consequence of Luce’s work and your review, while once again titillating me with the original and magical enthusiasms of my earlier inspirations (which themselves served as small denomination promissory notes on a grand liberation) finds me reminded of my lack of realization of so many of the transformational projects I took up through so many systems and methods over my lifetime. Cynical sour grapes borne of failure to launch? Maybe so.

    Whether it’s them sour grapes or the density of body/mind generated by triple earth signs of Taurus Sun and Moon with Virgo rising, there’s much revealed by Luce and you that justify some of my skepticism of the whole Castaneda/Mateus project.

    What real beneficial difference in a cosmology of villainous forces do we get from stepping into a shamanic universe’s mode of existential struggle than what our own Western philosophical, sociological, psychological and political economic traditions have revealed to us? Don Juan has his own Allies and Adversaries, and funny how fickle and dangerous even those Allies can be. It wasn’t all that different though negotiating the diligent discriminations we had to bring to our Allies, from Plato to Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Camus, Stare, Beauvoir, Durkheim, Veblen, Weber, Freud, Maslow, Orr, Vitvan, Wilber et al. The journey through these pioneers of liberation wisdom must not be minimized nor forgotten for whatever development we’ve secured over our now long lives. And it’s fair to say we’ve brought more than a modicum of Warrior resolve to that path with a heart we’ve traversed.

    About being a Warrior, not only did I earlier on realize (and now further confirmed) that I had no desire to step into don Juan’s lethal, violent, cosmology of adversaries than I did taking up a warrior’s martial inclinations for social change through soldiering against the windmills of Vietnam, or all the other forms and theaters of militant political activism. Oh, the resolve of a Warrior is forever necessary, but if and when to take up arms is a whole dilemma I still haven’t resolved. Averse as I am to the violence engendered there, I’m sure it’s necessary at times.

    Additionally, from Wilson’s Mind Parasites to the Grand Predator of Carlos’s world, I only see another world of early religion’s concocted, reified forces and beings of evil, all culminating in another super being of objectified evil as our Christian heritage produced with the Devil. Add to that the whole techno-inspired cosmology of aliens per David Wilcock. Spent too much time undoing that construct to want to take on another, no matter how romantically couched in a world of magic, dressed in Shamanic validation. Objectification is a developmental/evolutionary advent invaluable in the cultivation of Mind, but as we know, it becomes the very barrier to development after a point. Just as Ego is invaluable in the same way, but taken exclusively, it enslaves us.

    And the liberating Power of Silence? I think it gets overplayed as antidote to the Predator as it does in our struggle for realization through late stage consumer Capitalism. Geeze, we have millions of meditation practitioners and what has it done in the main beyond sedating most of us into being better minions working in and as perpetuators of the Matrix? I think Stopping the World takes more than immersion in states of consciousness cultivated on a pillow, and the same would go for breath releases, entheogens and the body/mind practices like t’ai chi and yoga. Make no mistake, like the objective self-conscious stage of development and these myriad tools for liberating releases, they are all necessary…but not sufficient. And this doesn’t begin to touch on the feeding of spiritual pride and self-inflation identifying with “spiritual” practice has fostered in so many to block genuine transformation.

    Same with the gift of coherence Luce brings to the Carlos cosmology, metaphysics and method. Coherence is essential, but it can delude as much as reveal. It lends to establishing the veracity of any text, but it is not sufficient in itself.

    So, to close this ramble, for me, this whole Getting Castaneda project provides a stimulating enticement all over again to engage worlds and identities so outside of those conditioned in me and still seductive for me. For I’m still a lemming following the sirens of comfort and complacency of consensus reality that teeters on its own extermination. I play at breaking out, and spout all kinds of wisdom, but Liberation, Transformation, Realization, Mastery? Nah. Not so much.

    But I’ve loved living vicariously through Carlos, Luce and ESPECIALLY you, John, none-the-less. Besides being a delightful and inspiring spirit, you’re a wise, discriminating and thus illuminating writer. Carlos, and the generation he inspired, owes you and Peter Luce big time!

    In ginormous love and gratitude,


  2. <path_to_url> Bruce Hornak

    I think this is some of the best writing you have ever done. Luce made a perfect choice selecting you to critique his book. This critique was fucking brilliant! I liked it better then Luce’s book and made me realize you could have done a better job if you had written his book.
    But I still want to offer a perspective I felt Luce missed which I had made previously.
    From the first book to the sixth, Castaneda laid out a methodology of human potential and evolution that no one had ever done before.
    It started off simply enough in book one by learning that you could take more responsibility for your life by becoming a warrior. As you read on you learn that the point of this was the ability to stalk yourself to overcome your short comings. OK, fair enough, something every existentialist had ever suggested.
    We then were told the end result of this was to develop enough personal power that you could stop the world. If you could do that, you could potentially learn to see the world, reminiscent of Plato’s cave analogy, learning to see “things in themselves”. The end result of this was learning to become a man of knowledge.
    This was all laid out by the second book but it took until “The Eagle’s Gift” that we learned that the point to all of this was the ability to become immortal by being able to walk out of this world, mind and body, into another dimension.
    Luce does not lay out the steps to this evolutionary journey to immortality as well as he does explaining the metaphysics of what it is to be human and the nature of the world around us. It was as if none of the methodology of the journey to immortality was worth mentioning.
    Anyway, congratulations on writing such a brilliant critique. Anyone reading your critique will defiantly want to buy his book and maybe Castaneda’s as well.

  3. <path_to_url> Astrid Watanabe

    Thank you very much. I will definitely get the book.
    I have read all of Castaneda’s books, and after some years read them all over again. Whenever I glance at one of them I cannot put it down.
    At first what i liked best were those wonderful hikes in the desert.
    Meanwhile i read various books on Buddhism and lately anything i could find on Ramana Maharshi, yet when i happened to kome upon Castaneda’s ‘The Active Side of Infinity’ I got hooked again and dropped everything else. The book is the same as it always was but it is like new to me again. That must be because I have changed over the years. There is a depth in Castaneda’s books that does not wear out.

  4. <path_to_url> Jevgenijus

    Hello, Peter. First of all, thank you very much for your book about CC 🙂 I’ve read with great pleasure, and just finished the paperback today. I wanted to ask you, so, all in all, what do you think of Carlos’ teachings? Do you think they are legitimate even if he used some external information source or do you think he made it up and there is no sense in trying to follow this way? Do you practice anything yourself?

    And another interesting point I would like to discuss and which leaves me puzzled is one scene from the “Active side…”. Remember it was the man who saw Carlos and ran in great fear, where CC pointed that he was the only who knew his true nature. That is the interesting point 🙂

    And the second is from the “Wheel of time”, somewhere in the end he had a phrase “I never actually knew these people”, and he also told he always dreamt of being like them.

    • <path_to_url> Peter Luce

      Hi ‘Jevgenijus’! I think my book shows that there is great value in Castaneda’s work, and in don Juan’s teachings, whether or not we feel convinced about where the information came from. As John Darling points out in his review, Castaneda’s message, delivered over thirty years and more than a million words, can’t possibly be considered to be just the rants of a California-hippy-60’s scoundrel. It’s too complex and consistent to have been just put together by a modern novelist or fantasist.
      You asl about the scene at Ship’s cafe at the end of “Active Side…” I think there are several ways to interpret that scene. But it is interesting to ask why did Castaneda make that his final story in his final book, written while he was dying, and also why was the story just before that the story of Antoine the lovable and irresistible plagiarist. What is Castaneda saying?
      I’m not sure of the quote “I never actually knew those people”… can you check on that?


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)