Saturday, July 17, 2010

Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda

This is the title of the book. Book written by Margaret Runyan Castaneda, wife of Carlos Castaneda. Well, Carlos Castaneda requires no introduction and yet many people will hardly know this cult figure, as he belonged to exclusive world of drug culture, modern shamanism and mysticism of late sixties and seventies.

Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda, was born on 25th December, in 1925, in Peru. He wrote 12 books of which first nine books deal exclusively to the learning of sorcery knowledge under Yaqui brujo called Don Juan. What started as a simple anthropological curiosity for Carlos Castaneda (CC)in his early sixties turned out into a life transforming experience where CC was consumed by the knowledge itself; sucking him into a legitimate linkage to the ancient esoteric system of sorcery. What created CC into a cult figure was the controversy that surrounded him and his books; questioning the veracity of his work and knowledge he presented. CC till the end of his life ( supposedly died in April 1998, by liver cancer)remained a very elusive figure hardly revealing anything about his life. His statement "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics, is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones of us all" shows CC was deeply entrenched in Juan's thought of erasing personal history. There are many confusion surrounding his birth certificate, place of his origin (is it Brazil, as he claimed or Peru as certificate suggested)till the year and manner of his death in 1998 remains shrouded in mystery.Are CC's books a work of fiction or genuine work of knowledge that can revolutionize modern man is still being debated.

Under such circumstances, a book written by his wife Margaret comes as little surprise, and if you are a CC fan then you would certianly like to know who was really Carlos Castaneda in his personal life?

Book deals with early years of CC before he met so called Don Juan and sketchily describes his life at UCLA, his penniless existence, his quirky and possessive nature and his meeting with his wife Margaret Runyan, whom he married on impulse in Mexico, in 1960. Published in 2001, Margaret's book is short collection of part memory ,part construction of Carlos Castaneda as she knew and understood him as person, a father, a scholar, an author.

Their marriage hardly lasted for six months, as CC's long absences for the field work annoyed Margaret to no end, thus relation ending in mutual separation. However their actual divorce took place only in 1971 after Carlos had achieved fame and name for his work. Meanwhile during the separation period Margaret bore a son ( from another man) whom Carlos gladly accepted him as his own and gave his name. Book actually throws light on this relationship of CC and his son Carlotn Jeremy Castaneda. CC's endless struggle to be a "father figure" for this child and his struggle to provide for him gives a sense of personal loss and failure that CC lived.

What Margaret Runyan tries to provide through this book is fill in those blanks which world tried to say was fake. Did CC ever meet Don Juan or was he a fictitious person of his imagination? Did CC know much about Yaqui Indian practices? How was CC's work perceived at UCLA? what were the problems CC faced financially as well intellectually during this period? And the fame that followed CC after first two publication of his books.

It is evident that Margaret had very estranged relationship with CC, and hardly knew about CC's life after he became Juan's apprentice. CC's words for Margaret after their divorce sums his frustration and inability to explain his life to her " I have always fought to be your friend. We will do whatever our fate is. We must accept our fate in humbleness. We can't force things and we can't ever do things that are contrary to our own ways of thinking and being".

Written three years after CC death, what does book achieve? Does book throw any light on Carlos Castaneda that you want to understand? or he is still elusive as he always wanted to be.

Let me conclude with Margaret's own words "Carlos left me with the same impression he gives every one else. He is still as mysterious and magical as he's always been".

I will still recommend the book for all those ardent fans of CC , who wants to know anything and everything that mystery called Carlos Castaneda.

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