Noel, Daniel C. Seeing Castaneda: Reactions to the "Don Juan" Writings of Carlos Castaneda. Perigee Books (1976).
Book summary by Randy Stark

This book, first published in 1976, is no longer in print., however, has it listed as an item they'll do a used bookstore search on and many local libraries probably have it. Other books by Daniel Noel are listed at the end of this installment.

Before getting into the summary, there are two things concerning the book in general that I want to comment on ?/font> the first being the cover, designed by Joanne Scribner. In the background is an olive colored sky above a darker olive colored mountain (no details, just a line). At the foot of the mountain on the left, lying on a flat, dark gray plain, is a cut mushroom, much like one you'd buy in a grocery store. Its shadow trails off to the left and onto the spine. The foreground and center of the picture is dominated by a black, white and gray eagle facing right with wings spread and talons down, frozen in the act of landing. What it's about to land on is a large yellow egg by which stands a small lime green praying mantis. The egg's shadow disappears to the left over the ledge of what is the first of three light gray steps. The first and third steps are broad, the second narrow, rising to the right. The well-defined black shadows of the second and third steps on first glance appear to be the lines of a highway receding back into the distance towards the dark olive mountain.

The second thing I want to point out is something that's printed at the bottom of the page facing the acknowledgments:

"Because permission to use quoted material has not been forthcoming from the copyright holders of the four Castaneda books, some Castaneda quotations which appeared in the anthology selections as originally published have had to be paraphrased, reduced, or excised here. These changes are indicated by brackets in the text."

This book covers the tetralogy which was then thought to be the conclusion of Castaneda's writing on the subject of don Juan, something he himself said was the case. A possible reason for permission to quote material from these first four books being withheld becomes apparent, in my opinion, as cracks start forming in the factual façade of don Juan's existence.

See the Daniel Noel interview on this website for more background regarding his efforts to publish this and another book dealing with the work of Carlos Castaneda.


Seeing Castaneda is divided into three parts: Reviews, Correspondence and Controversy, Analysis and Application. Each of these parts is divided into sections. At the beginning of each section is a commentary by Noel concerning the pieces by various authors which comprise the section. Setting the stage for the book is the following overall introduction.

Taking Castaneda Seriously: Paths of Explanation

Alan Watts disarmed his critics by claiming that he was not to be taken seriously, that he was a 'philosophical entertainer', while at the same time "stressing the philosophical importance of his kind of levity." This modus operandi is compared with Castaneda's writings in that they are meant to be taken seriously, even though "clowning and trickery" pervade them, and the author's public persona is more than a little confusing. Still, most reviewers and scholars agree that his books are works of "profound and lasting significance." The question is, how should they be taken?

Castaneda's critics were all over the fact that he'd tossed out any form of scientific detachment and was approaching his subject matter in a purely subjective way. His supporters, on the other hand, were praising him for breaking down barriers in established approaches to ethnographic field work. Joseph Chilton Pearce, who we'll hear from later in the book, is quoted as finding Carlos "the principal psychological, spiritual, and literary genius of recent generations" and don Juan "the most important paradigm since Jesus."

"As far as published commentary goes, then, the question is not really whether to be serious-minded about Castaneda's recommendations, but how: How do we best see what his work means? We need," says Noel, "to explore alternative paths of explanation," while not "forgetting to laugh at what remains a very funny series of literary escapades."

The paths of explanation that Noel goes on to propose are ?/font> Psychedelic Experience, Anthropology, Psychology, and Body Awareness. After discussing the pros and cons of these, Noel concludes that "an interdisciplinary effort at interpretation" is what’s needed. But even further, "the interpretive resources which can most effectively maintain this sense of possibility and pluralistic openness" that Castaneda’s books engender.

The last four sections of the introduction are ?/font> Fact, Fiction, Literary Reality; Language and the Metaphysical; Negative Mysticism and the Postmodern; and The Sorcerers?Last Trick: Self-Knowledge. The following are single quotes from each in order.

"Words are the only psychotropic agents Castaneda gives us, and the black marks on his pages are our eyes?only path through his desert."

"The silent power for which don Juan’s pedagogy prepares his apprentice is never far from the narrations the two men exchange, or from the internal dialogue to which Carlos always returns in reflecting upon what has befallen him during its interruption. Clearly what happens to the reader is radically dependent on language. But once having emphasized the indispensable linguistic scaffolding, must we not acknowledge that the structure erected by Castaneda’s words transcends those words in a manner we can call ‘mystical?"

"If Castaneda’s books lead us to be disillusioned with our modern disillusionments, we may be ready to accept something akin to the sorcerers? explanation in Tales of Power: a mode of interpretation matching what we found to be the upshot of our explorations into explaining the tetralogy, a mode of interpretation deliberately bordering on the paradoxical, the ineffable, the unknown."

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

"Don Juan says it is constantly necessary to remember that any total orientation, even sorcery, is ‘only a path,?and that the prerequisite for keeping this clearly in mind is a ‘disciplined life.?The meaning of discipline in one’s life ?/font> including the life of the mind ?/font> may finally be what is at stake here. For with this discipline, the old sorcerer suggests, one may find among the million paths ?/font> including paths of explanation ?/font> one’s own path with a heart, the path which goes nowhere and yet makes for ‘a joyful journey.?Even a glimpse of such a path would be a far from meager reward for a careful and serious-minded look at the writings of Carlos Castaneda. And, following the glimpse, laughter might be our next step."


1. The Teachings of Don Juan
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

"Two of the earliest reviews of Carlos Castaneda’s writings," Noel says in his introduction to this section, "were by prominent scholars in the field in which he was still a graduate student: anthropology."

Edward H. Spicer, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, discussed The Teachings of Don Juan in the American Anthropologist. Edmund Leach, a Cambridge University cultural anthropologist, reviewed the book for the New York Review of Books. "Both reviews contributed to the largely affirmative reception Castaneda’s work was to receive over the next six years."

Neither review, however, was entirely favorable. In fact, Leach’s is "couched in caustic phrases which occasionally verge on ridicule," and Spicer’s declares that it is "wholly gratuitous to emphasize, as the subtitle does, any connection between the subject matter of the book and the cultural traditions of the Yaquis."

Edward H. Spicer
Early Praise from an Authority on Yaqui Culture

"With the skill of an accomplished novelist," Spicer writes, "utilizing suspense in character unfoldment and compelling suggestion rather than full exposition of place and situation, the intense relationship developed between the young and groping anthropologist and the richly experienced old teacher engrosses the reader."

Castaneda’s writing, Spicer contends, "ranks with the best accounts by experimental psychologists," and "represents a remarkable achievement" that teachers preparing students for "significant field relationships" will find "immensely useful." This enthusiasm over Castaneda’s approach to fieldwork and the explication of his "special consensus" is tempered only by the fact that don Juan shows no sign whatsoever of being a Yaqui.

This difficulty Spicer addresses by noting that many people in Mexico and Arizona who are Yaqui in origin "have never participated in Yaqui group life or at best have done so only sporadically." Still, because of this ambiguity, "the teachings of don Juan exist in a cultural limbo," which Spicer admits is a "serious limitation."

Edmund Leach
High School

"The general tone is Coleridge-de Quincey by Rousseau out of eighteenth-century Gothik." With this Leach launches into a comparison of passages from The Teachings of Don Juan and The Ancient Mariner which to him illustrate the fact that what Castaneda has written "is more likely to emerge as poetry rather than science," and "is a work of art rather than scholarship." He goes on to say that, "Assessed on this basis the book is not of superlative quality perhaps, but very good indeed."

The relationship between Carlos and don Juan "is a relationship which is at once intimate yet tense, as between Moby Dick and Ahab, God and Job, or any psychoanalyst and his patient." But, "how far Castaneda himself came to believe in don Juan’s fantasies is left carefully obscure. And the undoubted fascination of the book lies precisely in this: the uncertainty of the author’s own attitude. It is don Juan, not Castaneda, who has the dominant voice."

Leach, like Spicer, also notes the lack of any connection between don Juan and Yaqui culture, and further speculates that the parallels between don Juan’s teachings and those of Taoism, Yoga, Vedanta, and Zen ?/font> parallels also mentioned on the dustjacket of the book ?/font> are "too much alike to be true." Leach cites T. Lobsang Rampa’s The Third Eye (1956) as an instructive example. "The book purported to be an autobiographical account by an emigr?Tibetan Lama of metaphysical goings on in pre-communist Lhasa. It seemed convincing because it fitted with the reader’s expectations. ‘Rampa?is actually an Englishman, and I doubt if he has ever been within a 1000 miles of the Himalayas."

"Castaneda’s book is certainly not a complete spoof in this sense, but if it had been spoof, it might not have been very different."

To Seeing Castaneda summary part 2