Prelude to don Juan: Castaneda's Early Years

Castaneda and "don Juan's first student," Joanie Barker, at a wedding in 1962
(click on picture for full-size image)

December 25, 1925 - Castaneda born in Cajamarca, Peru, son of César Arana Burungaray, a watchmaker and goldsmith, and Susana Castañeda Novoa.

Mid 1940s – Castaneda attends Public School 91 and San Ramon High School for three years in Cajamarca, but doesn’t graduate. (Per de Mille, The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies, 1990 ed., p. 362.)

1948 – The Arana family moves to Lima, Peru. Castaneda graduates from the Colegio Nacional de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Lima, and then enters Bellas Artes, the national fine arts school of Peru. (de Mille p. 362.) [Jose Bracamonte, one of Castaneda’s friends and fellow students at arts school, recalls his former friend Castaneda as "witty, imaginative, cheerful—a big liar and a real friend." (Time Magazine March 5, 1973 cover story, p.44.)]

1949 –The Arana family is living in a third-floor apartment in the Porvenir District, on the outskirts of Lima. (de Mille, p. 362.)

1950 – Susana Castaneda de Arana dies. Castaneda refuses to attend the funeral, locks himself in his room for three days without eating, and when he finally comes out announces he is leaving home. (de Mille, p. 362.)

1950 – Castaneda rents an apartment with two fellow art students. Another fellow student, Victor Delfin, later describes Castaneda as follows to journalist Cesar Levano: "He was a wonderful liar [el tipo mas fabuloso para mentir]. A very capable fellow, likable and rather mysterious. A first-class seducer [un seductor de primera linea]. I remember the girls used to spend the morning waiting around for him at the Bellas Artes." (de Mille, pp. 362-364.) His friend Bracamonte further describes him as "always thinking up unlikely stories—tremendous, beautiful things. . . . . He was always talking about Cajamarca, but oddly never talked about his parents." (Id. P. 364.)

1951 Castaneda meets Dolores, a young Chinese-Peruvian girl. He proposes marriage and she becomes pregnant. She tells him about her pregnancy about a month before he leaves the country. He continues to write her letters until 1955. (de Mille, p. 383.)

September 10, 1951 - Castaneda sets forth from Callao, Peru, on board the S.S. Yavari, a small ship carrying 16 other Peruvian citizen passengers bound for San Francisco. (per ship manifest for S.S. Yavari, dated 9/23/51) [Castaneda does not tell family members he is leaving, although he later writes to his cousin Lucia, describing an imaginary military career and hinting at mental or physical wounds. He also later writes a couple of brief letters to his father, including one that says, "I’m going on a very long journey. Don’t be surprised if you learn nothing more about me." (de Mille p. 364-5.)]

September 23, 1951 - Castaneda enters U.S. in San Francisco, California, as César Arana, bound for Richmond, CA, with two pieces of luggage and Peruvian Passport No. 34477 (per ship manifest for S.S. Yavari, dated 9/23/51).

March 1952- Castaneda meets Ivan Culver, a commercial artist from Rivera, California, with whom he may have had a work relationship. (Per immigration records.)

1952 – 1955 – Castaneda lives in Southern California, working odd jobs, improving his English and trying to save enough money to go to college. (Per Margaret Runyan Castaneda’s A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda, Millenia Press 1996,  p. 42-3.)

Summer 1955 – Castaneda enrolls in Los Angeles Community College (on Vermont, south of Hollywood Blvd.) as Carlos Castaneda. (In his first two years there, he takes courses in journalism, science, literature, and two creative writing classes with Vernon King.) (Per A Magical Journey p. 36; and March 5, 1973 Time Magazine cover story.)

December 1955 – Castaneda’s Costa Rican friend Lydette Maduro brings Castaneda with her to Margaret Runyan’s apartment to have her try on two dresses Lydette’s mother is making for Margaret. Margaret and Castaneda meet again a few days later when Margaret goes to Maduro’s to pick up the finished dresses and brings a book for Castaneda, in case he happens to be there. (A Magical Journey pp. 32-3.)

1956 – Castaneda lives in a sparsely furnished apartment on Madison Street in Hollywood.

June 2, 1956 - Castaneda calls up Margaret Runyan for the first time, to see if he can stop by to show her some of his paintings. (A Magical Journey p. 35; Runyan, "My Husband Carlos Castaneda," in February 1975 issue of Fate: True Stories of the Strange and Unknown.)

Fall 1956 – Castaneda and Margaret Runyan are very much an item, spending nights in his apartment or the apartment she shared with her aunt. (Per A Magical Journey p. 56.) Castaneda is already inventing a new "personal history" too, telling Margaret that he was born in Italy on Christmas Day in 1931, the son of a 16-year-old girl attending finishing school in Switzerland and a professor who was on a world tour when he met the girl (by alex cillo). He also claimed his mother’s sister came to Italy soon after he was born to bring him to live at the family farm near Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he allegedly attended schools until he was old enough to go to art school in Italy. He also claimed to have entered the U.S. in New York, and to have attended art schools in Montreal and New York. (A Magical Journey pp. 40-1.) He also bogusly asserted that he had served in the U.S. army in Spain, and claimed to have once traveled with a band of gypsies and to have married a gypsy girl. (Runyan’s article in Fate.)

Early 1957 – Castaneda invents a girlfriend, "Sue Childress," to make Margaret jealous. (A Magical Journey pp. 46-7.)

March 1957 - Margaret calls up the only Sue Childress in the telephone book, who has never heard of Castaneda, but who nonetheless becomes Margaret’s close friend. (A Magical Journey p. 47.) [Both of them later write short articles about Castaneda for the February 1975 issue of Fate: True Stories of the Strange and Unknown.]

April 26, 1957 - Carlos Arana Castaneda files Petition for Naturalization No. 199531 with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. His address at the time is 1128 N. New Hampshire, Apt. 4, LA; his occupation is commercial artist; he lists his birthdate and place as 12/25/1925 in Cajamarca, Peru; he describes his features as brown eyes, black hair, 5’5", 140 pounds, a citizen of Peru and not married. He says that he entered under the name Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda. His Alien Registration No. was 8 108 676. The witnesses to his petition are Antonio Fuentes, artist, at 931 N. Hoover Ave., who declares that he has known Castaneda since March 1955; and Ivan Culver, commercial artist, at 9528 Haney St., Rivera, CA, who declares he has known Castaneda since March 1952. The Petition was granted on June 21, 1957.

1957 - Castaneda cosigns an employee credit union loan for Margaret Runyan as "Carlos C. Aranha." (A Magical Journey p. 15.)

Fall 1957 – Castaneda writes a term paper on Aldous Huxley for his second year English class at LACC, having become interested in occult topics after reading Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and its account of mescaline research. (A Magical Journey pp. 51-54.)

1958 – Castaneda works at the Mattel Toy Company plant on Rosecrans Ave. and Hawthorne. (A Magical Journey p. 69.) Castaneda moves into a boarding house on Adams Ave. He also starts writing poetry and short stories, with one of his poems winning first place in a writing contest sponsored by the school newspaper. He and Margaret attend a lot of movies. (A Magical Journey p. 70-71.)

December 1958 – Castaneda rents a small house on Cherokee Ave. in Hollywood. He makes Christmas cards that depict Father Time and an hourglass. (A Magical Journey p. 71.)

Early 1959 – Castaneda takes a room on the second floor of the Marietta Apartments on Vermont Street, across from the LACC campus. (A Magical Journey p. 72.)

June 19, 1959 – Castaneda graduates from LACC with an Associate of Arts degree in psychology. (See graduation picture.)

September 1959 - Castaneda enrolls at UCLA for the first time (with transfer credits from LACC). He also works at a silk screening plant.

Thanksgiving 1959 – Castaneda cooks for a small group of friends, including LACC students Allen Morrison (Castaneda’s best friend at the time) and Byron Deore. A discussion about religions supposedly prompts Margaret to suggest: "If I came to you and I told you that I’d found the ultimate way of life and that I could tell you exactly how to do it, it would be very hard for you to accept. But if I said to you that I’ve got a mysterious teacher who has let me in on some great mysteries, then it’s more interesting . . . It’s much easier to accept." (A Magical Journey pp. 58-59.)

Winter 1959 – Castaneda gets an evening job as a billing clerk at Haggarty’s, a women’s clothing store on Wilshire Blvd. (A Magical Journey pp. 73-74.)

December 1959 – Castaneda and Margaret both read Andrija Pharich’s The Sacred Mushroom. (Per Margaret’s article in Fate.)

January 27, 1960 - Carlos Aranha Castaneda marries Margaret Evelyn Runyan in Tlaquiltenango, Mexico. (As Margaret tells it, the sudden marriage came about as a result of Castaneda’s jealousy over Margaret dating a Middle Eastern businessman, who tells Castaneda that he would marry Margaret as soon as his divorce is final. Castaneda declares, "Over my dead body. No one is going to marry her but me!" After a brief talk that same day, he and Margaret "got into Carlos’s black Volkswagen and headed for Tijuana." (A Magical Journey pp. 80-81.) [They must have gone considerably beyond Tijuana, however, because Tlaquiltenango, the city listed on their marriage certificate, is in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City.]

Late January 1960 – Castaneda moves in with Margaret at 823 South Detroit Street. (A Magical Journey p. 81.)

Late January - June 1960 – Castaneda takes a class on "Methods in Field Archaeology" taught by Profs. McCusick and Clement Meighan. [Gloria Garvin Sun, who later worked as Meighan's editorial assistant, characterizes this as a class on shamanism, and Meighan as "something of a shaman himself."] Margaret Runyan reports that Meighan promised students an "A" on their term paper if they actually interviewed an Indian for the project. (A Magical Journey p. 82.)

Summer 1960 - Mary Joan Barker ("Joanie), whom Castaneda later describes to the Sunday group as "don Juan's first student," becomes involved with Castaneda. [Douglass Price-Williams, a UCLA professor and friend of Castaneda (and, for a time in the early '70's, Florinda's dissertation adviser) remembers Joanie being first employed as a librarian at UCLA sometime in the summer of 1960. Douglass believes the two met up in July or August of 1960 (i.e., around the time of Castaneda’s separation from Margaret Runyan). Joanie was soon introducing and referring to Castaneda as her boyfriend, and, later, as her "fiancee."]

It is presumed that, early in their relationship, Joanie took Castaneda for a visit to the Morongo Indian Reservation, near her childhood home in Banning, California. Margaret notes that, at this time, "Carlos began leaving for hours at a time, and then days . . . . At first, I thought he had found another woman, but he denied that. Carlos said that he was making trips into the desert to study the use of medicinal plants by the Indians." (A Magical Journey p. 81.) She also reports that, for his paper for Meighan, Castaneda "worked with a Cahuilla on a reservation near Palm Springs, and then went out on the Colorado River and worked with a few Indians there. . . . . Ultimately, he found one man who related a great deal of information about Jimson weed (Datura inoxia) and it was that information that served as the basis of Carlos’ undergraduate paper . . . ." 

Meighan recalled, regarding this 1960 paper: "His informant knew a great deal about Datura, which was a drug used in initiating ceremonies by some California groups, but had presumed by me and I think most other anthropologists to have passed out of the picture 40 or 50 years ago. So he found an informant who still actually knew something about this and still had used it." The paper includes references to the plant’s four heads, their different purposes, the significance of the roots, the cooking process and the ritual of preparation, all information that Castaneda supposedly later learns from don Juan on visits between August 23 and Sept. 10, 1961, as described in The Teachings of Don Juan. At the time, Meighan praised the paper (one of only three involving an Indian informant turned in by the large class) and suggested it added a great deal to the academic literature. (A Magical Journey pp. 83-85 and 91.)

July 1960 – Castaneda moves his typewriter, books and sculpting materials out of the apartment he shares with Margaret, returning to the Marietta Apartments on Madison Ave. (A Magical Journey p. 93.)

Summer 1960 – Castaneda supposedly meets don Juan in the Greyhound bus station in Nogales, Arizona. (See, e.g., The Teachings of Don Juan, A Separate Reality and The Active Side of Infinity.)

September 1960 - Castaneda and Margaret Runyan separate [per complaint filed in Margaret’s West Virginia divorce proceeding]. (They continue to see each other frequently, however, until Margaret leaves Los Angeles in 1966.)

Fall 1960 - W.L. Davis introduces Castaneda and Margaret to Adrian Gerritsen at a meeting. A short time later, Castaneda asks Gerritsen to father a child for him. Gerritsen responds that it "would have to be agreeable with Margaret." Not long after, the three (Castaneda, Margaret and Gerritsen) meet at the Star of India Restaurant near Vermont in Hollywood. Gerritsen agrees to do the deed. He and Margaret subsequently "did have an affair and this affair produced the desired results for Carlos." According to Gerritsen, "He was happy and said so to me." [From Adrian Gerritsen’s letter to Margaret in November 1998, filed in support of C.J. Castaneda’s declaration in the probate of Castaneda’s will.] [This contradicts Margaret’s earlier account, in A Magical Journey, however, where she writes: "Having met a slender blond businessman named Adrian Gerritsen, I pressed Carlos for a divorce. He refused. But in the weeks that followed our separation, I hammered away and finally, after much harping was successful in getting Carlos to agree." A Magical Journey p. 93. In her book, Margaret relates that Castaneda drives her back to Mexico for a quick divorce. A couple of years later, however, Castaneda reveals that the Mexican divorce was a charade "to appease me while he did his field work." p. 94. Margaret is extremely upset to find out that she is still married to Castaneda, "and it took nearly a year of visits by Carlos at my new apartment on Doheny Drive, before I began to feel differently about it." p. 95. Castaneda develops a strong attachment to C.J., and insists that Margaret sign documents with the Dept. of Public Health asserting that Castaneda is the legal father. Id. A new birth certificate is then issued to that effect.]

June 1961 – Castaneda allegedly begins to serve his "apprenticeship" with don Juan. On June 23, 1961, Castaneda asks don Juan to "teach me about peyote." On June 25, 1961, don Juan instructs Castaneda to find a "power spot" on the floor of don Juan’s porch. (Per The Teachings of Don Juan.)

August 5-7, 1961 – Castaneda allegedly participates with don Juan in a peyote mitote. (Per The Teachings of Don Juan.)

August 12, 1961 - Carlton Jeremy Castaneda born at 10:33 AM at Hollywood Presbyterian Olmstead Memorial Hospital, 1322 N. Vermont Ave., to Margaret Evelyn Runyan, 39, then living at 153 So. Doheny Dr., LA., and Carlos Aranha Castaneda, 35, born Peru, student (Birth Certificate State File #61-232000).

August 17-23, 1961 – Castaneda has additional meetings with don Juan, who begins to teach him about datura [a subject Castaneda had already written a paper about over a year before] (Per The Teachings of Don Juan.)

June? 1962 – Castaneda attends a wedding with Mary Joan Barker. (See picture above.)

September 7, 1962 - Castaneda receives a Bachelor’s from UCLA in Anthropology.

September 1962 - Castaneda enrolls for a Ph.D. at UCLA.

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