Carlos Meets Don Juan: Multiple Takes
A look at different versions of the supposed initial meeting, all told by Castaneda himself.

From the Castaneda chronology:
"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.)"

Take 1
From The Teachings of Don Juan (1968):

"I was waiting in a border town for a Greyhound bus talking with a friend who had been my guide and helper . . . . Suddenly he leaned toward me and whispered that the man, a white-haired old Indian, who was sitting in front of the window was very learned about plants, especially peyote. I asked my friend to introduce me to this man.

My friend greeted him, then went over and shook his hand. After they had talked for a while, my friend signaled me to join them, but immediately left me alone with the old man, not even bothering to introduce us. He was not in the least embarrassed. I told him my name and he said that he was called Juan and that he was at my service. He used the Spanish polite form of address. We shook hands at my initiative and then remained silent for some time. It was not a strained silence, but a quietness, natural and relaxed on both sides. Though his dark face and neck were wrinkled, showing his age, it struck me that his body was agile and muscular.

I then told him that I was interested in obtaining information about medicinal plants. Although in truth I was almost totally ignorant about peyote, I found myself pretending that I knew a great deal, and even suggesting that it might be to his advantage to talk with me. As I rattled on, he nodded slowly and looked at me, but said nothing. I avoided his eyes and we finished by standing, the two of us, in dead silence. Finally, after what seemed a very long time, don Juan got up and looked out of the window.

His bus had come. He said good-bye and left the station.

I was annoyed at having talked nonsense to him, and at being seen through by those remarkable eyes. When my friend returned he tried to console me for my failure to learn anything from don Juan. He explained that the old man was often silent or noncommittal, but the disturbing effect of this first encounter was not so easily dispelled. . . . .The friend who had introduced me to don Juan explained later that the old man was not a native of Arizona, where we met, but was a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico."

Commentary--the sequence:
Castaneda and Bill sitting together, Bill gets up, greets don Juan, shakes his hand, talks to don Juan for a while, then calls over Castaneda, leaves without introducing them. Castaneda and don Juan introduce themselves, shake hands, stand in silence a long time, then Castaneda and don Juan talk, the famous look, a long time standing in silence again, then don Juan "gets up, looks out window, says goodbye, leaves the station. Castaneda is disturbed, Bill consoles him by explaining don Juan's habitual behavior. Later Bill explains don Juan's ancestry.

Take 2
From a transcript of a tape of a 1968 radio interview with Castaneda on KPFA:

"CC: I met don Juan in a rather fortuitous manner. I was doing, at the time in 1960, I was doing, I was collecting ethnographic data on the use of medicinal plants among the Arizona Indians. And a friend of mine who was my guide on that enterprise knew about don Juan. He knew that don Juan was a very learned man in the use of plants and he intended to introduce me to him, but he never got around to do that. One day when I was about to return to Los Angeles, we happened to see him at a bus station, and my friend went over to talk to him. Then he introduced me to the man and I began to tell him that my interest was plants, and that, especially about peyote, because somebody had told me that this old man was very learned in the use of peyote. And we talked for about 15 minutes while he was waiting for his bus, or rather I did all the talking and he didn¡¯t say anything at all. He kept on staring at me from time to time and that made me very uncomfortable because I didn¡¯t know anything about peyote, and he seemed to have seen through me. After about 15 minutes he got up and said that perhaps I could come to his house sometime where we could talk with more ease, and he just left. And I thought that the attempt to meet him was a failure because I didn¡¯t get anything out of him. And my friend thought that it was very common to get a reaction like that from the old man because he was very eccentric. But I returned again perhaps a month later and I began to search for him. I didn¡¯t know where he lived, but I found out later where his house was and I came to see him. He, at first, you know, I approached him as a friend. I liked, for some reason, I liked the way he looked at me at the bus depot. There was something very peculiar about the way he stares at people. And he doesn¡¯t stare, usually he doesn¡¯t look at anybody straight in the eye, but sometimes he does that and it¡¯s very remarkable. And it was more that stare which made me go to see him than my interest in anthropological work. So I came various times and we developed a sort of friendship. He has a great sense of humor and that eased things up."

Here Castaneda¡¯s friend had intended to introduce him before "but he never got around to do that." They just happened to see him at the bus station, and the friend makes the introductions, and "someone" had told Castaneda that the man knew a lot about peyote. The focus is on don Juan¡¯s stare, which Castaneda claims is what brought him back "perhaps a month later."

Take 3
From transcript of a tape of a 1968 interview between Jane Hellisoe of the University of California Press and Castaneda:

"JH: How did you meet don Juan?

CC: The way I, uh, got to know him, was very uh, very fortuitous type of affair. I was not interested in finding what he knew, because I didn¡¯t know what he knew. I was interested in collecting plants. And I met him in Arizona. There was an old man who lived somewhere around them hills that knew a great deal about plants. And that was my interest, to collect information on plants. And uh, I uh, we went one day this friend and myself we went to look for him. And we were misguided by the Yuma Indians and we went up in the hills and never found the old man. Um, it was later on when I was at the end of this first trip that I make to Arizona, at the end of the summer and I was ready to go back to Los Angeles, that I was waiting in the bus stop and the old man walked in. And that¡¯s how I met him. Uh, I talked to him for about a year. I used to visit him, periodically I visit him, because I like him; he¡¯s very friendly and very consistent. It¡¯s nice to be around him."

A much simpler account than the one in the book, of course, but here he mentions having previously searched for don Juan. He also indicates here that the meeting took place "at the end of the summer." Here don Juan just walks in and they meet¡ªno introductions or conversation afterwards between Castaneda and his friend are referred to.

Take 4
From A Separate Reality (1971):

I was sitting with Bill, a friend of mine, in a bus depot in a border town in Arizona. We were very quiet. In the late afternoon the summer heat seemed unbearable. Suddenly he leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.

"There's the man I told you about," he said in a low voice.

He nodded casually toward the entrance. An old man had just walked in. [Before, don Juan was "sitting in front of the window." This time, he "had just walked in."]

"What did you tell me about him?" I asked.

"He's the Indian that knows about peyote. Remember?"

I remembered that Bill and I had once driven all day looking for the house of an "eccentric" Mexican Indian who lived in the area. We did not find the man's house and I had the feeling that the Indians whom we had asked for directions had deliberately misled us. Bill had told me that the man was a "yerbero," a person who gathers and sells medicinal herbs, and that he knew a great deal about the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote. He had also said that it would be worth my while to meet him. Bill was my guide in the Southwest while I was collecting information and specimens of medicinal plants used by the Indians of the area.

Bill got up and went to greet the man. The Indian was of medium height. His hair was white and short, and grew a bit over his ears, accentuating the roundness of his head. He was very dark; the deep wrinkles on his face gave him the appearance of age, yet his body seemed to be strong and fit. I watched him for a moment. He moved around with a nimbleness that I would have thought impossible for an old man.

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Bill signaled me to join them.

"He's a nice guy," Bill said to me. "But I can't understand him. His Spanish is weird, full of rural colloquialisms, I suppose."

The old man looked at Bill and smiled. And Bill, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, made up an absurd phrase in that language. He looked at me as if asking whether he was making sense, but I did not know what he had had in mind; he then smiled shyly and walked away. [Before Bill "immediately left Castaneda alone" with don Juan.] The old man looked at me and began laughing. I explained to him that my friend sometimes forgot that he did not speak Spanish.

"I think he also forgot to introduce us," I said, and I told him my name.

"And I am Juan Matus, at your service," he said.

We shook hands and remained quiet for some time. I broke the silence and told him about my enterprise. I told him that I was looking for any kind of information on plants, especially peyote. I talked compulsively for a long time, and although I was almost totally ignorant on the subject, I said I knew a great deal about peyote. I thought that if I boasted about my knowledge he would become interested in talking to me. But he did not say anything. He listened patiently. Then he nodded slowly and peered at me. His eyes seemed to shine with a light of their own. I avoided his gaze. I felt embarrassed. I had the certainty that at that moment he knew I was talking nonsense.

"Come to my house some time," he finally said, taking his eyes away from me. "Perhaps we could talk there with more ease." [Before, don Juan did not invite Castaneda to his house.]

I did not know what to say. I felt uneasy. After a while Bill came back into the room. [Before, it was not said that Bill left the room.] He recognized my discomfort and did not say a word. We sat in tight silence for some time. Then then old man got up. His bus had come. He said goodbye.

"It didn't go too well, did it?" Bill asked.


"Did you ask him about plants?"

"I did. But I think I goofed."

"I told you, he's very eccentric. The Indians around here know him, yet they never mention him. And that's something."

"He said I could come to his house, though."

"He was bullshitting you. Sure, you can go to his house, but what does it mean? He'll never tell you anything. If you ever ask him anything he'll clam up as if you were an idiot talking nonsense."

Bill said convincingly that he had encountered people like him before, people who gave the impression of knowing a great deal. In his judgment, he said, such people were not worth the trouble, because sooner or later one could obtain the same information from someone else who did not play hard to get. He said that he had neither patience nor time for old fogies, and that it was possible that the old man was only presenting himself as being knowledgeable about herbs, when in reality he knew as little as the next man.

Bill went on talking but I was not listening. [Here, there is a greatly extended conversation with Bill.] My mind kept on wondering about the old Indian. He knew I had been bluffing. I remembered his eyes. They had actually shone.

Commentary--the sequence:
Basically the same as before, with exceptions noted in brackets. The most important difference, aside from a different image of the moment Castaneda first saw don Juan, is that apparently before, Castaneda left out the very important point that don Juan actually invited him to come to his house at their first meeting.

Take 5
From Journey To Ixtlan (1972):

"I understand you know a great deal about plants, sir," I said to the old Indian in front of me.

A friend of mine had just put us in contact and left the room and we had introduced ourselves to each other. The old man had told me that his name was Juan Matus.

"Did your friend tell you that?" he asked casually.

"Yes, he did."

"I pick plants, or rather, they let me pick them," he said softly.

We were in the waiting room of a bus depot in Arizona. I asked him in very formal Spanish if he would allow me to question him. I said, "Would the gentleman [caballero] permit me to ask some questions?"

"He looked at me inquisitively.

"I'm a horseman without a horse," he said with a big smile and then he added, "I've told you that my name is Juan Matus."

I liked his smile. I thought that, obviously he was a man that could appreciate directness and I decided to boldly tackle him with a request. I told him I was interested in collecting and studying medicinal plants. I said that my special interest was the uses of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote, which I had studied at length at the university in Los Angeles.

I thought that my presentation was very serious. I was very contained and sounded perfectly credible to myself.

The old man shook his head slowly, and I, encouraged by his silence, added that it would no doubt be profitable for us to get together and talk about peyote.

It was at that moment that he lifted his head and looked me squarely in the eyes. It was a formidable look. Yet it was not menacing or awesome in any way. It was a look that went through me. I became tongue-tied at once and could not continue with the harangues about myself. That was the end of our meeting. Yet he left on a note of hope. He said that perhaps I could visit him at his house someday."

Commentary--the sequence:
Nothing really new here. The middle section fleshed out a bit.

Take 6
"Seeing Castaneda," Castaneda interviewed by Sam Keen, published in Psychology Today (1972):

"Keen: How and where did you meet don Juan and become his apprentice?

Castaneda: I was finishing my undergraduate study at UCLA and was planning to go to graduate school in anthropology. I was interested in becoming a professor and thought I might begin in the proper way by publishing a short paper on medicinal plants. I couldn¡¯t have cared less about finding a weirdo like don Juan. I was in a bus depot in Arizona with a high-school friend of mine. He pointed out an old Indian man to me and said he knew about peyote and medicinal plants. I put on my best airs and introduced myself to don Juan and said: ¡®I understand you know a great deal about peyote. I am one of the experts on peyote (I had read Weston La Barre¡¯s The Peyote Cult) and it might be worth your while to have lunch and talk with me.¡¯ Well, he just looked at me and my bravado melted. I was absolutely tongue-tied and numb. I was usually very aggressive and verbal so it was a momentous affair to be silenced by a look. After that I began to visit him and about a year later he told me he had decided to pass on to me the knowledge of sorcery he had learned from his teacher."

The sequence: 
Again, nothing really new, but it sounds here like Castaneda was rather immediately tongue-tied and "silenced by [don Juan¡¯s] look," whereas in prior accounts he claims to have gone on for 15 minutes or so talking. Also, for the first time Bill is referred to as "a high-school friend."

Take 7
From Keith Thompson's 1994 interview with Castaneda for the New Age Journal:

"KT: How exactly did your paths cross?

CC: I was waiting for the bus at the Greyhound station in Nogales, Arizona, talking with an anthropologist who had been my guide and helper in my survey. My colleague leaned over and pointed to a white-haired old Indian across the room -- "Psst, over there, don't let him see you looking" -- and said he was an expert about peyote and medicinal plants. That was all I needed to hear. I put on my best airs and sauntered over to this man, who was known as don Juan, and told him I myself was an authority about peyote. I said that it might be worth his while to have lunch and talk with me -- or something unbearably arrogant to that effect.

KT: The old power-lunch ploy. But you weren't really much of an authority, were you?

CC: I knew next to nothing about peyote! But I continued rattling on -- boasting about my knowledge, intending to impress him. I remember that he just looked at me and nodded occasionally, without saying a word. My pretensions melted in the heat of that day. [Uh-huh.] I was stunned at being silenced. There I stood in the abyss, [so that was the abyss!] until don Juan saw that his bus had come. He said good-bye, with the slightest wave of his hand. I felt like an arrogant imbecile, and that was the end.

KT: Also the beginning.

CC: Yes, that's when everything started. I learned that don Juan was known as a brujo, which means, in English, medicine man, curer, sorcerer. It became my task to discover where he lived. You know, I was very good at doing that, and I did. I found out, and I came to see him one day. We took a liking to each other and soon became good friends.

KT: You felt like a moron in this man's presence, but you were eager to seek him out?

CC: The way don Juan had looked at me there in the bus station was exceptional -- an unprecedented event in my life. There was something remarkable about his eyes, which seemed to shine with a light all their own. . . . . It was on that archaic level that I was tackled by don Juan's gaze, despite my annoyance and irritation that he had seen through my pretense to expertise in the bus station."

The sequence: 
Again, nothing really new, but another slightly different version of what Castaneda's informant supposedly told him when they first saw don Juan.

Take 8
From The Active Side of Infinity (1998):

Abruptly, he leaned over and pointed with a slight movement of his chin to the other side of the room. "I think that old man sitting on the bench by the corner over there is the man I told you about," he whispered in my ear.

"I am not quite sure because I've had him in front of me, face-to-face, only once." [Note: this time don Juan is "on a bench by the corner."]

"What man is that? What did you tell me about him?" I asked.

"When we were talking about shamans and shamans' transformations, I told you that I had once met a cloud shaman."

"Yes, yes, I remember that," I said. "Is that man the cloud shaman?"

"No," he said emphatically. "But I think he is a companion or a teacher of the cloud shaman. I saw both of them together in the distance various times, many years ago." [Here, in their conversation the man who, before, was "very learned about plants" has now turned into "teacher of the cloud shaman."]

I did remember Bill mentioning, in a very casual manner, but not in relation to the cloud shaman, that he knew about the existence of a mysterious old man who was a retired shaman, an old Indian misanthrope from Yuma who had once been a terrifying sorcerer. [Here, instead of a yerbero, knowledgeable about peyote, Castaneda has Bill mentioning that don Juan was a "terrifying sorcerer." This is interesting because in The Teachings Castaneda says at first he saw don Juan only as "a rather peculiar man who knew a great deal about peyote," and only later discovers that "the people with whom he lived believed that...he was a brujo." In A Separate Reality, Castaneda says it took don Juan a full year to reveal that he was a brujo.] The relationship of the old man to the cloud shaman was never voiced by my friend, but obviously it was foremost in Bill's mind, to the point where he believed that he had told me about him.

A strange anxiety suddenly possessed me and made me jump out of my seat. As if I had no volition of my own, I approached the old man and immediately began a long tirade on how much I knew about medicinal plants and shamanism among the American Indians of the Plains and their Siberian ancestors. As a secondary theme, I mentioned to the old man that I knew that he was a shaman.

I concluded by assuring him that it would be thoroughly beneficial for him to talk to me at length. [Here there is no preliminary conversation by Bill whatsoever. Castaneda jumps up and accosts don Juan all by himself!]

"If nothing else," I said petulantly, "we could swap stories. You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine."

The old man kept his eyes lowered until the last moment. Then he peered at me. "I am Juan Matus," he said, looking me squarely in the eyes." [Before there were introductions, and conversations about the horseman without a horse, etc. Before the big bluff by Castaneda and the famous look, now here don Juan is introducing himself at the same time as "the look" is taking place.]

My tirade shouldn't have ended by any means, but for no reason that I could discern I felt that there was nothing more I could have said. I wanted to tell him my name. He raised his hand to the height of my lips as if to prevent me from saying it. [In the first two book accounts, Castaneda explicitly says: "I told him my name," and in Ixtlan they also introduced themselves.]

At that instant a bus pulled up to the bus stop. The old man muttered that it was the bus he had to take, then he earnestly asked me to look him up so we could talk with more ease and swap stories. There was an ironic smirk on the corner of his mouth when he said that. With an incredible agility for a man his age--I figured he must have been in his eighties--he covered, in a few leaps, the fifty yards between the bench where he was sitting and the door of the bus. As if the bus had stopped just to pick him up, it moved away as soon as he had jumped in and the door had closed. [In the earlier accounts, there is another long interval before don Juan gets up and takes his bus, but here, while they are still conversing, the bus pulls up]

After the old man left, I went back to the bench where Bill was sitting. [Oh? Before, it was Bill who "came back into the room."]

"What did he say, what did he say?" he asked excitedly. [Oh? Before, Castaneda and Bill sat in silence for a while, before Bill said "it didn't go too well, did it?"]

"He told me to look him up and come to his house to visit," I said. "He even said that we could talk there."

"But what did you say to him to get him to invite you to his house?" he demanded.

I told Bill that I had used my best sales pitch, and that I had promised the old man to reveal to him everything I knew, from the point of view of my reading, about medicinal plants.

Bill obviously didn't believe me. He accused me of holding out on him. "I know the people around this area," he said belligerently, " and that old man is a very strange fart. He doesn't talk to anybody, Indians included. Why would he talk to you, a perfect stranger? You're not even cute .... [It goes on and on. Just note that the extended conversation with Bill directly after the meeting is entirely different than the post-meeting conversation reported in A Separate Reality. While the ASR conversation is a couple of paragraphs, there is not a single sentence that is the same.]

After the conversation, Castaneda says he goes directly to Yuma instead of LA, and says that he learned there that don Juan was a Yaqui from Sonora who was a fearsome sorcerer from "some people" Bill introduced him to at the beginning of their trip. In the original, Castaneda had noted specifically that Bill was the one who told him this.

This final story contradicts all of the previous versions, especially where Castaneda jumps up and accosts don Juan without any intervention on the part of Bill. No stupid conversation in Bill's terrible Spanish or anything like that. In the other books don Juan was even said to have regarded it as an omen that Castaneda was brought to him by an idiot babbling inanities, but here Bill does not even go up and babble inanities to don Juan at all.