Critics Full Review

John darling review understanding castaneda mosaic image

List of critique:

    1. John Darling
    2. Della Van Hise


John Darling
Journalist, author
Ashland, Oregon

Luce has done what Carlos couldn’t or didn’t do, which is to crystallize his 12 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  ~

A Review From the Heart

by Della Van Hise

Author of “Quantum Shaman: Diary of a Nagual Woman”

Getting Castaneda is a fascinating exploration of the works of Carlos Castaneda, and delivers an in-depth examination of the incredible and often inexplicable tales he told in the 11 books he wrote during his stay on Earth.

Even if you might not agree with some of Mr. Luce’s conclusions, they provide a new and intriguing perspective, encouraging the reader to consider other alternatives and examine their own beliefs about the world and the beings who inhabit it – both seen and unseen.

Getting Castaneda is also a helpful primer for those new to the works of Carlos Castaneda, in that it prevents a straightforward and easy-to-read synopsis of some of the most memorable – and most important – events that occurred during Castaneda’s apprenticeship with the Yaqui sorcerer, don Juan Matus. For those who are long-time readers or even practitioners, Getting Castaneda delivers additional analysis and commentary which serve to re-awaken our sense of wonder and enable us to read the books of Castaneda with a fresh perspective and perhaps even a different slant to our own assemblage point.

In the chapter entitled “Dreaming Together,” some important questions about Castaneda’s works are addressed – namely the fact that Carlos encountered what amounted to an entirely new & previously forgotten set of memories that had occurred in heightened awareness. While many readers at the time thought this to be just another gimmick to provide an additional source of material for more books, I can say from personal experience that heightened awareness (also called “second attention”) is neither a myth nor a fabrication. It exists as a quantifiable reality, though attempting to explain it in words is rather like trying to describe the science behind the moon landing to a cave dweller. All one can really say is this: for those who have experienced it, no explanation is necessary. For those who haven’t, no explanation is possible. In my own writings, I have referred to this state as “memories that never happened” – or, more precisely, memories that never happened in what we think of as our linear experience of time. But as Peter Luce points out in Getting Castaneda, much of Castaneda’s works occur not only outside of ordinary awareness, but also outside of time itself. And therein lies the mystery and the lure.

Overall, Getting Castaneda provides an excellent look at the collected works of Carlos Castaneda, and makes a well-educated series of conjectures at what those works might actually mean in the bigger picture. Can anyone become a sorcerer in the manner Castaneda described? Who’s to say? Only one thing is certain: it’s a fascinating world filled with infinite possibility. Getting Castaneda gives us the opportunity to explore our options and our beliefs, and hopefully emerge from the experience with a far greater understanding and respect for the unknown.

-Della Van Hise
Author of Quantum Shaman: Diary of a Nagual Woman

September 8, 2017


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