Conjuring Brujos (conclusion)

[Jay Courtney Fikes (from The Murder of Ramón Medina Silva)]:

When Ramón Medina Silva was murdered [in a drunken brawl] on June 23, 1971 he was almost as famous as Carlos Castaneda's teacher, don Juan Matus. Reports from Barbara Myerhoff and Ramón Medina's widow indicate that Castaneda's character, don Juan Matus, closely resembled Ramón Medina. Although Ramón Medina was a Huichol Indian, two anthropologists, Peter Furst and Barbara Myerhoff, turned him into a Huichol mara'acame and full-fledged singer, which he was not. "He (Medina) was cynically exploited, even after his tragic murder, and turned into something he wasn't."

Today most professional anthropologists lacking research experience among the traditional Chapalagana Huichol still have the mistaken impression that Ramón Medina was a Huichol "shaman," and a well-qualified representative of traditional Chapalagana Huichol culture. But Ramón Medina's popularizers, Furst and Myerhoff, did not conduct ethnographic research among the traditional Huichol. Nor did they use traditional Huichol singers (shamans) as informants. Nor did they provide candid reports about Ramón Medina and his relatives, accounts comparable to those published in Spanish by the Mexican writer and journalist, Fernando Benitez. Accordingly, Ramón Medina and his relatives appear to inhabit a touching and colorful fantasyland.

[de Mille (346-350)]:

RdeM: Margaret Castaneda told me she didn't believe a word of the don Juan story, but she was sure something of the kind had happened to Carlos earlier in his life, which he was dramatizing in the don Juan books. She was very interested in spiritual experiences, and was sure he had had some. Another instance, I think, of people looking into the Rorschach man for their own deep sources.

BGM: Perhaps, then, I look into him for the mystery I need and you look into him for the clarity you need.

RdeM: Touch?

BGM: Or perhaps I just don't want to re-examine my original judgments.

RdeM: If you came around to my point of view, would you lose something valuable?

BGM: I don't know. I've considered the worst possibility, and I no longer find it odious ?that I was completely taken in and a fool.

RdeM: Not everybody who is completely taken in is a fool. If the deceiver is very clever, he doesn't deceive only fools. There's a whole profession based on that, called magicians.

BGM: All right. But there's a part of me that's not content with a psychological explanation of what Carlos is doing. Somehow from my experiences of fieldwork I get a feeling he is building on an exchange with another person. I'm not ready to give that up.

RdeM: If the source he's drawing on is made vague enough, one would never have to give it up. It recedes into inaccessibility.

BGM: Maybe it's an archetypal figure, that trickster-teacher, but it doesn't come only from inside Carlos. That's my feeling.

RdeM: Why doesn't it?

BGM: Because over and over he reveals in himself qualities that don't match don Juan: inflatedness, narrowness, rationalizing, rigidity.

RdeM: Pearl Pollard Curran wrote four million words in the name of Patience Worth, a disembodied spirit from the seventeenth century. There was no plausible explanation of where all this jumbled up archaic material could come from, and it looked very much as though an external source named Patience Worth were furnishing it through Mrs. Curran. An alternative explanation was that Mrs. Curran's personality had split into two parts.

BGM: What you say is entirely plausible. Don Juan is clearly the "Other" for Carlos.

RdeM: How do you feel about that interpretation?

BGM: It appeals to me, because I have a hard time reconciling the Carlos I knew, or think I knew, with the one who is supposed to be a hardboiled, manipulative deceiver. Don Juan may be a subpersonality, or a personification of a part of Carlos that was underdeveloped and could be developed and manifested in the stories. That seems much more plausible to me than the swindler theory.

RdeM: What swindler theory?

BGM: The conscious, careful, diabolical plan to write fake fieldnotes for eight years, get them published by the University Press, add two best selling volumes, and get an anthropology Ph.D. for the whole megillah.

RdeM: Doesn't sound like the sort of thing one could work out in advance.

BGM: It sure doesn't! (Laughing)

RdeM: As a long-range plan it's preposterous.

BGM: He's got to be improvising as he goes along.

RdeM: His need to perform the fantasy is so intense that he foists it little by little on everyone around him.

BGM: Doesn't that sort of shoot down your UCLA conspiracy theory?

RdeM: In general, yes. Most of the professors who tolerated or endorsed his fantasies could have been duped by his perfect performance, but I still think one or two of them must have been a little more canny than that.

BGM: People are not as canny as you would like them to be, Richard. I endorsed his fantasies, and I'm not exceptionally stupid. The main difference ?if you'll excuse my saying so ?between you and his academic supporters is not canniness but skepticism. They were ready to believe. You were ready to doubt. As it turned out, you had more points on your side. Maybe that was just luck.

RdeM: Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was the fact that I had some prior experience with charlatans. Most of us have never met a person like Carlos Castaneda.

BGM: That's true.

RdeM: But you have had this unusual experience.

BGM: And I was bowled over by it.

RdeM: Did you ever visit Carlos where he lived?

BGM: Yes. During the time when my father was dying. Carlos was living about two blocks from the hospital, and I would frequently stop off there on my way back. He brewed me a special tea, from an herb called angelita, and we would exhort one another to courage. I felt he was very supportive, in a genuine, simple way.

RdeM: You found him always to have this gentle, healing quality?

BGM: When you could pin him down. Or when he came around. But if you had Expectation One, forget it. He was not someone you could count on to be there when you needed him.

RdeM: Did he ever show any hostility toward you?

BGM: Never. But on one occasion he showed fear, or something like it. Revulsion perhaps. I went to see him at another place he lived, in Westwood, to give him a costume that had belonged to Ramón. This was after Ramón had been murdered. I was visibly pregnant, and Carlos could tell from the timing that the child had been conceived while Ramón was living in my house. Or maybe I told him about it. Anyway, the idea seemed to terrify him.

RdeM: He thought it was Ramón's child?

BGM: No, but for him I think it was something like stealing Ramón's soul. He drew back aghast.

RdeM: Just like a woman, to steal the shaman's soul.

BGM: Well, it was spooky. He recoiled from me. I had never felt anything like that from him before, and I left very quickly. Up to that point he had often called me a brujo, and I had always thought it was flattering, but on this occasion I didn't feel like a sorcerer. I was very upset about Ramón's death.

RdeM: This was your second child?

BGM: Yes. And I had an interesting episode with Carlos and my first child, another incident when he was a great friend to me. He came to visit me when my child was three months old, and had colic. Carlos sat there a long, long time watching me feed the baby. Three spoons of cereal into the mouth, two spoons out. You know how boring that is for anyone who is not a smitten mother, which I was, but Carlos was fascinated by it and kept whispering: "He's a warrior. A warrior! He's impeccable! You have to raise him to be impeccable!" Some of our long nights talking were about child rearing. He gave me some of the strangest advice anybody has ever gotten. Some of it wasn't bad, but it was wild. He told me how impeccable my son was, which of course I wasn't averse to hearing. Then I complained to him about how the baby had colic and I hadn't slept much for three months, and he said: "Leave him to me." And I said: "What are you going to do?" And he said: "Don't ask. Leave the room." So I left the room, and left my baby with him, until he called me back. He wouldn't tell me what he had done, and I didn't press him, but the baby never had colic again.

RdeM: (Laughing)

BGM: Now, of course, you know what happens to babies at three months.

RdeM: They give up colic?

BGM: They give up colic. On the other hand, from that day the baby never had colic again. Well, that delighted me. Carlos used to say: "You must never want to be with your children when they don't want to be with you. You must never be too available. They must seek you out." He was very big on that, and it so happened it was good advice for me, because I was overly seeking. Then I remember at the San Diego Anthropology meetings [in November 1970] he told me the story of scaring his little boy into good behavior. You remember what don Juan said about hiring somebody to pop out and scare the little boy. Carlos told me to do that. He told me he had done it. He told it to me as something he had done at the zoo. He told me lots of things I subsequently read in his books.

RdeM: Did he visit your classroom and talk to your students?

BGM: Yes. He had just finished the manuscript of A Separate Reality. And he was superb. He did something I've seen only a few great teachers do. He gave the students an understanding of the provisional nature of reality. "You only see this chair once. After that you gloss. You see chair, instead of wood, shape, black. Only once do you have the first experience." And then in the USC cafeteria, amidst the din, he tried to teach me to listen to silence instead of noise, to "find the holes between the sounds." At that time I was playing with a chamber music group, and the fellow who played the oboe kept saying to me: "You're not listening to the rests. You're treating them as if they were absent instead of being part of the music." In his aphoristic language, Carlos was teaching me the same thing. It was delightful having him as a teacher. He was at his best then.

RdeM: Beyond the time when you brought him the costume, did you ever see him off balance?

BGM: Only once, at a meeting in San Francisco. My husband saw Carlos across the room and hailed him with the quite ingenuous but outrageous comment that he was growing stout. Carlos was definitely not amused. Just for a blink he lost his cool. It was droll to see that little flicker of mortality in him, when he was already such a famous man.

[Fikes (11)]:

[If Myerhoff and Furst had] candidly and completely described the social matrix which shaped Ramón's life and death, people such as the psychiatrist, Arnold Mandell, would not have been so dismayed about the motive for Ramón Medina's murder. "I simply could not imagine that [Ramón's murder] happening after reading their material about him and his life. It was as though his head had been invaded by a force not manifested anywhere else in their ethnographies." It appears undeniable that Furst and Myerhoff were able to aggrandize Ramón Medina's achievements by evading explanation of the context in which he lived and died. The witchcraft, envy, adultery, and abuse of alcohol Guadalupe tells of in recounting how her husband was murdered clearly illuminates a way of life more wretched than romantic. Moreover, Guadalupe's testimony about Ramón Medina's fathering a child with Leuteria, whom Benitez described as Ramón Medina's mistress, contradicts the claim that Ramón Medina Silva became an authentic Huichol singer [because a five year-period of celebacy was the rule].

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

Although Professor Weigand concluded that Furst and Myerhoff "fabricated a mara'acame," they may simply have rushed to publish their findings without recognizing that Huichols make distinctions between healers, singers, and cahuiteros. Their over-use of the term mara'acame, which my informants apply to animals, plants, or persons credited with "supernatural" power, may be a concomitant of indifference or imperviousness to how things really are among Chapalagana Huichols. Such profound indifference to ethnographic truth epitomizes Castaneda's writing and exemplifies a kind of misrepresentation distinguishable from disinformation or fabrication. Myerhoff's admission, that for Huichols aspiring to become healers and singers "there is no apprenticeship as such," suggests she overcame such imperviousness to ethnographic truth. The extraordinary portrait of Ramón Medina has, for the past 25 years, complemented the titillating tales about don Juan Matus popularized by Carlos Castaneda. Furst and Myerhoff's depiction of Ramón Medina is sensational and misleading because, with minor exceptions, it avoids meaningful discussion of the alcoholism, adultery, and political powerlessness endemic among Huichols living in urban centers and refugee settlements, and glosses over the collapse of traditional Huichol religion and social organization in such enclaves. Their hyperselective focus has obscured both traditional Huichol culture and Ramón Medina's true status among the refugee Huichol. My research, like that of Fernando Benitez, indicated that Ramón Medina was caught in a conflict between Huichol culture and modem Mexican life. According to Benitez, ranchos in the refugee Huichol region where Ramón Medina lived were not integrated into aboriginal ceremonial centers such as San Andros, San Sebastian, and Santa Catarina. As a consequence, refugee Huichol ranchos have "improvised shamans deprived of the wisdom and power of the great mara'acames." Benitez recorded numerous myths dictated in Spanish by Ramón Medina, but noted that true shamans spoke only Huichol.

[Fikes (74)]:

According to Guadalupe Rios, Ramón Medina was peering down into a canyon above a waterfall near Guadalajara, when Myerhoff suddenly had the idea of photographing him. She [Guadalupe] told me that Myerhoff had requested that Furst photograph Ramón. Her statement is tacitly confirmed by Furst's taking credit for the photo. Guadalupe explained that they urged Ramón to walk further down into the canyon, and pretend to fly like a bird. She told me that this event had no cultural significance and that it was done at Myerhoff's request to photograph Ramón. How Furst and Myerhoff decided this photograph of Ramón Medina on top of a boulder illustrated "shamanic balance" is a mystery as tantalizing as determining the real identity of don Juan Matus.