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Journey to Ixtlan

Journey to Ixtlan

Product no.: 0-671-73246-3
Compiled from the young anthropologist's copious field notes, this third installment - toned down for a general audience - was the doctoral thesis that earned Castaneda his Ph.D.

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Publisher's Synopsis

This volume shows the reader the means by which a "man of power" sees, as opposed to merely looking, and how by his concentrated "seeing" he can, indeed must, "stop the world." In it, Carlos Castaneda describes the lessons, the omens, the exercises of the will and body, the arduous trials and tests, the simple yet mysterious demonstrations, the extraordinary visions and experiences by which don Juan, his mentor and friend, prepares him for the task of perceiving things as they are, instead of describing them by the words, conventions and standards of conventional, a priori ideas and language.

Here, in the high mountains and in the bright arid desert, Castaneda reaches for power in a series of startling encounters with the unknown - a confrontation with death and the past in the form of an albino falcon, with the twilight wind, with a flesh-and-blood mountain lion, with a mountain fog - and learns the techniques, the concentration, the compassion of the hunter, the man who is "without routines, free, fluid."

"The wily, leather-bodied old brujo and his academic straight man first found an audience in the young of the counterculture, many of whom were intrigued by Castaneda's recorded experiences with hallucinogenic (or psychotropic) plants: Jimson weed, magic mushrooms, peyote. The Teachings has sold more than 300,000 copies in paperback and is currently selling at a rate of 16,000 copies a week. But Castaneda's books are not drug propaganda, and now the middle class middlebrows have taken him up. Ixtlan is a hardback bestseller, and its paperback sales, according to Castaneda's agent Ned Brown, will make its author a millionaire.

Castaneda's story unfolds with a narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies. Its terrain studded with organ pipe cacti, from the glittering lava massifs of the Mexican desert to the ramshackle interior of Don Juan's shack becomes perfectly real. In detail, it is as thoroughly articulated a world as, say, Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. In all the books, but especially in Journey to Ixtlan, Castaneda makes the reader experience the pressure or mysterious winds and the shiver of leaves at twilight, the hunter's peculiar alertness to sound and smell, the rock bottom scrubbiness of Indian life, the raw fragrance of tequila and the vile, fibrous taste of peyote, the dust in the car and the loft of a crow's flight. It is a superbly concrete setting, dense with animistic meaning. This is just as well, in view of the utter weirdness of the events that happen in it.

The education of a sorcerer, as Castaneda describes it, is arduous. It entailed the destruction, by Don Juan, of the young anthropologist's interpretation of the world; of what can, and cannot be called 'real.' The Teachings describes the first steps in this process. They involved natural drugs. One was Lophophora williamsii, the peyote cactus, which, Don Juan promised, revealed an entity named Mescalito, a powerful teacher who 'shows you the proper way of life.' Another was Jimson weed, which Don Juan spoke of as an implacable female presence. The third was humito, 'the little smoke' a preparation of dust from Psilocybe mushrooms that had been dried and aged for a year, and then mixed with five other plants, including sage. This was smoked in a ritual pipe, and used for divination.

Such drugs, Don Juan insisted, gave access to the 'powers' or impersonal forces at large in the world that a 'man of knowledge' - his term for sorcerer - must learn to use. Prepared and administered by Don Juan, the drugs drew Castaneda into one frightful or ecstatic confrontation after another. After chewing peyote buttons Castaneda met Mescalito successively as a black dog, a column of singing light, and a cricket-like being with a green warty head. He heard awesome and uninterpretable rumbles from the dead lava hills. After smoking humito and talking to a bilingual coyote, he saw the 'guardian of the other world' rise before him as a hundred-foot high gnat with spiky tufted hair and drooling jaws. After rubbing his body with an unguent made from datura, the terrified anthropologist experienced all the sensations of flying.

By his account, the first phase of Castaneda's apprenticeship lasted from 1961 to 1965, when, terrified that he was losing his sense of reality - and by now possessing thousands of pages of notes - he broke away from Don Juan. In 1968, when The Teachings appeared, he went down to Mexico again to give the old man a copy. A second cycle of instruction then began. Gradually Castaneda realized that Don Juan's use of psychotropic plants was not an end in itself, and that the sorcerer's way could be traversed without drugs. But this entailed a perfect honing of the will.

A man of knowledge, Don Juan insisted, could only develop by first becoming a 'warrior', not literally a professional soldier, but a man wholly at one with his environment, agile, unencumbered by sentiment or 'personal history'. The warrior knows that each act may be his last. He is alone. Death is the root of his life, and in its constant presence he always performs 'impeccably.' This existential stoicism is a key idea in the books. The warrior's aim in becoming a 'man of knowledge' and thus gaining membership as a sorcerer, is to 'see.' 'Seeing,' in Don Juan's system, means experiencing the world directly, grasping its essence, without interpreting it. Castaneda's second book, A Separate Reality, describes Don Juan's efforts to induce him to 'see' with the aid of mushroom smoke. Journey to Ixtlan, though many of the desert experiences it recounts predate Castaneda's introduction to peyote, datura and mushrooms, deals with the second stage: 'seeing' without drugs.

'The difficulty.' says Castaneda, 'is to learn to perceive with your whole body, not just with your eyes and reason. The world becomes a stream of tremendously rapid, unique events. So you must trim your body to make it a good receptor; the body is an awareness, and it must be treated impeccably.' Easier said than done. Part of the training involved minutely, even piously attuning the senses to the desert, its animals and birds, its sounds and shadows, the shifts in its wind, and the places in which a shaman might confront its spirit entities: spots of power, holes of refuge. When Castaneda describes his education as a hunter and plant gatherer learning about the virtues of herbs, the trapping of rabbits, the narrative is absorbing. Don Juan and the desert enable him, sporadically and without drugs, to 'see' or, as the Yaqui puts it 'to stop the world.'

Whether Carlos Castaneda is, as some leading scholars think, a major figure in an evolution of anthropology or only a brilliant novelist with unique knowledge of the desert and Indian lore, his work is to be reckoned with. And it goes on. At present, he is finishing the fourth and last volume of the Don Juan series, Tales of Power, scheduled for publication next year."      ~March 5th, 1973 Time Magazine


"There is something you ought to be aware of by now. I call it the cubic centimeter of chance. All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time.

The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting, so that when his cubic centimeter pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess to pick it up.

Chance, good luck, personal power, or whatever you may call it, is a peculiar state of affairs. It is like a very small stick that comes out in front of us and invites us to pluck it. Usually we are too busy, or too preoccupied, or just too stupid and lazy to realize that that is our cubic centimeter of luck."

"When an anthropology student's study of medicinal plants, The Teachings of Don Juan appeared in 1968, it spread like wildfire throughout California and around the world. Carlos Castaneda's apprenticeship with an Indian brujo, who taught him the right use of power plants, caught on with counter-culture kids experimenting with the same psychoactive substances. Followed by A Separate Reality in 1971, Castaneda was now revealing highly guarded secrets way beyond anything anyone had ever seen. So mind-boggling, yet written so sensibly by the ernest UCLA student, the books were even garnering praise from the 'Establishment'. Time magazine observed, 'Makes hypnotic reading. Castaneda is a brilliant, self-mocking and - one assumes, despite the weirdness of the narrative - truthful storyteller.' With Journey to Ixtlan in 1972 and Tales of Power in 1974, the four-book anthology concluded Castaneda's magical apprenticeship to a modern sorcerer, inspiring the New York Times to gush, 'We are incredibly fortunate to have Carlos Castaneda's books. Taken together they form a work which is among the best the science of anthropology has produced.'

Unfortunately, the Toltec tradition's true colors are revealed in the subsequent books of the series, destroying any nobility the former possessed. The New York Times finally caught on with the seventh book, The Fire From Within: 'Good books have been written about spiritual apprenticeship... but this is not one of them.'

An insidious common thread weaving through all the Castaneda books is the association of the spiritual (narrow) path to the Left-Hand Path; the Initiate constantly reminded to think of him or herself as a 'sorcerer'—set apart from, and above, the average man. And accordingly, the self-centered sorcerer is the only one with a chance of getting out of here alive. Since these sophisticated shamanic techniques and insights are inextricably linked with a false promise of freedom, they should be approached with caution—the pearls of wisdom carefully extracted from the manure (the dogma).

Perhaps it is best that psychotropic plants and their derivatives have been demonized so the unenlightened generations of today cannot conceive of Castaneda's candor, the supernatural reality of his inexplicable experiences. And atavistic retrogression of his soul."            ~Mandala Books

Author Matus, Juan
Coauthor Castaneda, Carlos
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 267 pp.
Publisher Simon & Schuster 1991
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

Browse these categories as well: Toltec Sorcery and Nagualism, Neoshamanism and Entheogenic Healing, Metaphysics, Mysticism and Initiation, Spiritual Biography and Autobiography, Gold Medal Essential Reading

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