The film “Carlos Castaneda: Enigma of a Sorcerer” opened yesterday in Toronto, New York and Milwaukee. Today it opens in San Francisco and Chicago.
Carlos Castaneda, acclaimed as the grandfather of the new age movement, generated massive controversy when he wrote and published a doctoral dissertation describing his apprenticeship to Don Juan, a Yaqui shaman who purportedly gave Castaneda psychedelics like peyote and mushrooms, and then led him on spirit-bending trips that began in the 60’s.
Up until his recent death, detractors and skeptics have criticized Castaneda as a charlatan, claiming Don Juan to be a fictional character of Castaneda’s imagination. The film addresses this issue and many others that haunted Castaneda’s work.
In a series of short interviews with Castaneda’s former pupils, ex-fianc?, and leading critic, the audience is given a firsthand account of what it was like to train under such a highly enigmatic and veiled figure. We learn, for example, that Castaneda had a harem of female followers, and that he told them they could reach enlightenment by getting his sperm in their brains, leading one of my fellow viewers to ask, “what, did they snort it?” To be fair, though, Castaneda probably had a less scandalous practice in mind, and was referring to a daoist-like technique in which sperm is a metaphor for the spiritual energy it contains.
While tribal rave music and trippy images cascade in the background of the film, Castaneda is compared to Hitler and derided as an “asshole,” and one wonders if the interviewees have much good to say about him at all. In fact, they do. Grudgingly they admit that “the master” had impeccable intent, that he indeed prepared plant medicines as described in his books, and that eating these medicines had profound effects. Their criticisms are more about Castaneda’s character, his ego, his constant need for attention and adoration, and thus the comparison to Hitler.
The audience also gets to learn about Castaneda’s perhaps most intriguing mystery. What happened to his closest followers, who disappeared at his death? How did Castaneda really die and why was the truth suppressed?
If those who love Castaneda’s teachings balk at the interviewees’ complaints, then they must also admit that the film opens the door to a new understanding of the man. It is both a troubling and elightening documentary and a true must see for anyone who ever read Castaneda’s books.
– Carlos Castenada’s Magical Passes: www.castaneda.org