Conjuring Brujos, part 2

[de Mille (1980) (pages 338-339)]:

Having closely examined Castaneda's account, I said in Castaneda's Journey the similarity [between Myerhoff and Furst's waterfall accounts of Ramón and Castaneda's of Genaro] was a little too striking to escape suspicion, but I had no clue to a startling anachronism documented for the first time here. In the separate, narrative reality, Carlos first met don Genaro on 2 April 1968, the day he tried to give a copy of The Teachings to don Juan. On 17 October of that narrative year he saw Genaro balance on the waterfall. In the ordinary world of calendars and committee meetings, however, Barbara was concurrently defending her dissertation, page 94 of which told how she had been astonished by Ramón's agile leaps at the edge of the chasm. Though Castaneda had said in 1966 Ramón was "just like don Genaro," Carlos would not set eyes on Genaro for another two years ?a virtuosic display of precognition in a supposedly failed apprentice recently withdrawn in dismay from the reality-breaching experiments of his demanding tutor.

While writing Castaneda's Journey I tried to elicit comments from Barbara, but she would say nothing, fearing my inquiry might be just one more misconceived attempt to belittle a man toward whom she felt not only gratitude but admiration and affection. On the surface, this was the typical reluctance of the Castaneda partisan, and I found it unsurprising. What did surprise me was Barbara's change of heart when she had read Castaneda's Journey, in which she was relieved to find a more or less sympathetic treatment of her friend but startled by some convincing evidence that he was operating on a plane of reality quite different from the one where fieldwork is usually done. She wrote to me, suggesting we compare viewpoints.

A year went by before we got together, a delay I attribute not to my formidability but to Barbara's discomfort in redefining an important friendship and to her difficulty in reconciling personal loyalties with professional obligations. If one's colleague or dear friend turns out to be a hoaxer, what should one do? Polar reactions are easy: stubbornly assert the authenticity of don Juan, or angrily fling Castaneda into the ashcan. What takes both insight and courage is to assimilate the contradictions, weighing personal and social costs against public and private benefits and coming to terms at last with the conflict. Like Paul Riesman, Barbara Myerhoff is one of the few Castaneda subscribers to display impeccable equilibrium while crossing the bridge of second thoughts to a balanced judgment of Trickster-Teacher instead of falling into the chasm of emotional turmoil, where one is chewed up by the jaguars of resentment or swallowed by the anaconda of rationalization.

(pages 343-346)

RdeM: How did Carlos meet Ramón?

BGM: It was in the spring [of 1971]. Ramón had come up to Los Angeles to exhibit his yarn paintings at the Museum of Natural History, and he and Lupe [his wife] were staying at my house in the San Fernando Valley. They were camping in my son's bedroom. Literally. They moved all the furniture to the sides of the room and built a little cooking fire in the middle of the room.

RdeM: How could they do that?

BGM: They used a little metal sheet. And they threw their trash and orange peels all over the room. It was a mess like you would not believe. My son couldn't fathom what was going on.

RdeM: How old was he?

BGM: Three. He was astonished. Anyway, I told Carlos, and he was eager to meet Ramón. He had often talked about taking me down to meet don Juan ?in fact, we'd made two dates to do it, which didn't come off ?and I had said, "One day you must meet Ramón." We'd always done this "comparing of our shamans." So Carlos came right out. I was glad to have him there, because I was teaching full time and couldn't be with Ramón and Lupe as much as I wanted.

Ramón was an incredible trickster. Each morning that I drove him to USC, just when we'd get to the freeway interchange, where you have to pay close attention to the merging traffic, he'd begin to tell me some ethnographic tidbit that put several other things into place that I'd wanted to know, and I'd be caught between the need to learn and the need to survive. Very much like don Juan's trickster style of teaching, which is one of the most valid things Carlos has portrayed. It's typical of North American and Central American shamans.

Ramón's certainty of his own powers was very impressive to see. I gave a party for him at my house, and when it was over and the guests were taking gracious leave of him, he said, very nicely without any arrogance, that it had been a pleasure for all of them to meet him.

RdeM: What happened when he and Carlos met?

BGM: They saw each other!

RdeM: What did they see?

BGM: The same kind of person. We had dinner in a funny little Mexican restaurant, and they started to laugh at once and didn't stop. They both saw the world from some lofty position that made it look ridiculous. Being around the two of them was like entering a separate reality. They really saw and believed and dwelt in another realm. Once I walked with Ramón through the May Company [a big department store] when he was dressed in very ordinary American cloths because he had sold all his Indian clothing to buy tape recorders and transistor radios. People stopped and stared at him. He looked like a Mexican fruitpicker, but he had a presence that was extraordinary. Talk about the glance of kings! There are people who have this sense of another realm, and they move differently through this realm because of it. Carlos and Ramón had that.

RdeM: What else happened between them?

BGM: They capered around a lot, playing like children. They exchanged gifts. One day Carlos took Ramón to a "power spot" he had discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains. Carlos wanted to know if Ramón really saw it as a power spot. Ramón agreed that it was a wonderful power spot. He started jumping up and down and farting, and he said, "I'll show you what a power spot it is!" And, in Carlos's words, he took a crap in it. He had been unhappy that there was no place at my house to go to the bathroom. That is, there was a bathroom, but he thought it was not a proper place to defecate. He was reluctant to use my garden, and so he had been very uncomfortable. Carlos's power spot was a marvelous solution. If Carlos had taken himself too seriously, he might have been offended. He had invited Ramón up there in a very serious mood, to validate the power spot, and here was Ramón using it for a toilet. Carlos thought that was absolutely hilarious, and afterwards he would tell this funny story on himself.

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

RdeM: Did you hear the story from Ramón too, or just from Carlos?

BGM: Just from Carlos.

RdeM: So you don't know whether it really happened that way.

BGM: True, I don't. And then there was another strange episode. Some time after Ramón was murdered in Mexico, Lupe phoned Peter Furst, or a relative of hers phoned him, to say she was all right and everything had at last gotten back to normal. Carlos went down there looking for her, and when he came back he was very agitated and upset. He said people were after her, and she was terrified and afraid to go out of the house. Just the opposite of what Peter had heard.

RdeM: Do you think he really did go down there to find her?

BGM: He could have.

RdeM: Or he could have made it all up.

BGM: Yes, but why would he make up such a story? Let's suppose he invents things all the time. Why would he invent that particular story? And why would he be upset? He seemed alarmed and afraid. I think he told it to me over the phone.

RdeM: I don't know why he would make up the story, but I also don't know why he would come back with a story that doesn't match what other people say. Did you ever have any confirmation of his story?

BGM: No, but at that time nobody had any reason to doubt him, you understand. So many things he said and wrote about seemed so right. One reason people get so upset when you call him a hoaxer is that he teaches in a concrete if allegorical form. His story comes to them as direct experience. Zap! It hits them, and they know it's right.

RdeM: It has the certainty of art rather than the dubiousness of fact.

BGM: Exactly. So you are attacking not just him but their own private experience, which has truth value for them. The form he teaches in is essential. It's as important as the content. His allegory. His mirroring. He gives us in a concrete form things we had abstractly conceptualized but didn't know how to articulate or use. He does that beautifully. That's where he's a gifted teacher.

RdeM: Some writers, including me and Joyce Carol Oates, have interpreted the Structural Analysis as a parody of social science.

BGM: I hope it is! (Laughing)

RdeM: Well, it must be. It's much too arch and insistent and repetitive to be sincere. It's a punishment for anybody who would take it seriously.

BGM: That's very well put.

RdeM: Lawrence Watson was no doubt sincere when [according to Castaneda] he helped write it, but Carlos was just playing one of his many tricks on colleagues.

BGM: And then he acknowledged Larry's help in print.

RdeM: Sure he did. He likes to rub it in. One interesting item in the Structural Analysis was a rather ironical admission that the mushrooms don Juan smoked wouldn't burn.

BGM: I wondered about that. But why would he admit it?

RdeM: Maybe somebody questioned the feasibility of smoking mushroom dust, but he already had it in his manuscript where faculty members had read it, so he covered his aspirations by saying the dust was merely ingested.

BGM: (Laughing) When I first met Arnold Mandell, he threw me with the theory that Carlos had cooked up the Structural Analysis with some graduate students as a joke.

RdeM: Watson had just finished his graduate work, but I don't think he was in on the joke. The joke was on him, along with the rest of the community of gullible scholars.

BGM: The last time I saw Carlos, I said something about how much I wanted from life, and Carlos said: "Don Juan would say, 'We are peegs for life!'" I remember laughing to myself and thinking: "Pigs for life? Don Juan would never say that!" Because don Juan was basically ascetic. So it struck me even then as some part of Carlos speaking. He used the don Juan accent, but the phrase was definitely his own, it seemed to me.

RdeM: But you still thought there was such a person as don Juan.

BGM: I'm not sure there isn't. There may very well have been, in the beginning, an experience with a concrete person. Otherwise, why would Carlos have said to me, "Come down. Meet him. Come with me"? I'm still not convinced he was completely lying to me, all of the time.

RdeM: I think I want you to believe he was.

BGM: I know you do.

RdeM: Because I think I see him truly, and I want you to see him the same way.

BGM: Well, Richard, I have to tell you, there is still an element of mystery in it for me. Because I find things in it that convince me. Even the waterfall episode was not just Carlos reflecting me back to me. There was something else besides.

To "Conjuring Brujos, conclusion"