The Gnostic Castaneda
The Sham and the Slither
Shamaism today is a morass of claims that appear to be more and more reasonable, more taken-for-granted as they proliferate, more banal as the moments pass. Trance states, channeling, and healing are now almost routine acts in certain circles. (The role of these activities is central to indigenous shamanism of the past, and likewise today, but in quite a different way than before, I would suggest.) Consider also the claim or confession of many rock musicians to be inspired by demonic spirits, to channel entities from beyond, i.e., to act as shamans do in indigenous cultures. Such accounts are manifold leading concerned Christians to conclude that rock music is the product of devil worship, if not of possesson by Satan himself. Testimony from David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and many others is convincing, hard to pass off as fake, or just weird pretence. Even Carlos Santana has testifed to this efectt, claiming that the music and lyrics of his sensational comeback album Supernatural (1999) were dictated by demonic or otherworld spirits.
Back in the 1980s when Lynn Andrews became all the rage, she used to come to Santa Fe to visit friends, and perhaps for another reason as well. Back in the 1980s when Lynn Andrews became all the rage, she used to come to Santa Fe to visit friends, and perhaps for another reason as well. She was seen eating blue corn chicken enchiladas at the Guadelupe Cafe across from the train station—fabulous fare! Some hard-ass Castaneda readers like myself shared the view that her books were written by a reclusive person who lived in the area. I once guessed who it might be and my interlocuter stopped chomping his enchilada in mid-bite and confirmed it was so. So I have this information by word of mouth, enchilada-filled. It could be wrong but I don't think so.
Now that's shamming, passing off someone else's work as your own, but since it was fictional work made out to be factual, it was a double sham. Many of us at that time had been pondering for a decade already if Castaneda was inventing like a schizophrenic, or reporting like an anthropologist, as he appeared to claim to do. We could smell shammingism a coyote mile away. Physically, cosmetically, Lynn was a way too beautiful to be for real, even on strictly human terms. Not that there is not an element of glamour in shamanism. There certainly is. But not the glamour befitting an ad for Prell shampoo.
So, who's faking or not? How can anyone tell? I would guess that most of the genuine fakers don't know they are faking, and wouldn't be fazed to find out. It's like when a man pretends to enjoy the company of my mother-in-law, in order to please his wife and ease a situation, and ends up fooling himself into believing that he actually does like the old bag. Castaneda cites examples of this aberration: pretending becomes real in the behavioral antics of stalking detailed in his later books.
As far as I know, the telestai of the Pagan Mysteries proposed something like an answer to that question. Their millenial tradition provided a solid benchmark for veracity: the ability to encounter with the Organic Light in a steady and consistent manner. As I wrote in Not in His Image:
This encounter is not explicitly and specifically described in Castaneda's books, but various approaches or allusions to it can be found there, I believe. As far as I know, along with Lydia who backed me all the way, I am so far the sole exponent of free-style shamanism to describe this encounter in full and explicit detail, even explaining its source and ramifications. I propose witnessing the Organic Light as a baseline for authenticity in Gaian, Goddess-oriented shamanism.
I wouldn't condemn anyone for dismissing this criterion, but you won't find that particular person at my next excursion. Not that I would exclude them, but they wouldn't want to join. A good example of self-elimination.
I can think of other criteria as well. Quite a few, in fact. But it would probably be wise to limit the list to four: witnessing the Organic Light, taking dakini instruction, undergoing bilocation, and perceiving the earth as a serpentine body moving in massive undulations: the Slither. These are basic marks of veracious attainment in Gaian shamanism or Planetary Tantra. Proposed, not imposed.
The Slither is a superb test because it requires an exceptionally steady gaze on the Nagual, a steady stomach!, and a precise, casually braced stance. The Slither takes you on board: it will introduce you to the torrential power of Mahakundala, planetary kundalini which becomes configured in the Shakti Cluster. Castaneda does describe this telluric phenomenon, calling it "the earth's boost" (The Eagle's Gift). I have explained in Planetary Tantra on this site that the Shakti Cluster imparts a boost to perception, emotion, intent. It amplifies everything you can realize, feel, know, and imagine. The boost confers a sense of euphoria, a taste of deathless and everlasting joy. Don Juan said that reaching the experience of joy is the final success of a warrior on the path of freedom. I agree. The euphoric joy engendered by the Shakti Cluster is not so difficult to reach, but to stay with it is one monumentally big challenge. Most people simply do not believe it is possible to sustain awareness as that level of joy. It is, but you exclude yourself from the thrill by not daring to imagine that it really is sustainable.
The tantrika dedicated to Gaian practices never backs off. Anything. The prospect that you will die from your own intensity is one of the rare certainties of this path.
New Age Trend
Following the success of his comeback album Supernatural (1999), Carlos Santana came out with Shaman. It had to happen that way, at that moment on the eve of the millenium. In music or mysticism, shamanism today is inescapable, having entered the mainstream. It comes with a motley array of suppositions and pretensions. Mainly, the claim that the shaman is the inspired instrument for occult forces, the powers of the Beyond. But when I listened to Santana's "Black Magic Woman" back in the 1970s, I just wanted to run into a lascivious witch who would work a magic spell on me. Such was my humble disposition. Little did I suspect that witchcraft aka shamanism would become the most widespread New Age trend of the 21st Century.
But what does the revised shamanism of Castaneda and those who came after him have to do with witchcraft as such? Wicca and Neo-Paganism look vapid and amateurish compared to the intricate and far-reaching strategies of Castaneda's horde of sorcerers. Pagan "nature worship" is a febrile retro-hobby compared to exporing the Nagual and teleporting to other worlds. With its emphasis on the earth as goddess, Planetary Tantra ought to be quite appealing to neo-Pagans. But it goes way beyond nature worship and seasonal rites. It expands as far as Castaneda sorcery, but in different directions....
Planetary Tantra could, I guess, be regarded as an extrapolation of traditional Wiccan earth magic, "drawing down the moon," for the Shakti Cluster is in telluric terms driven by the moon, entrained by the lunar cycles.
Supernatural, the title of Santana's 1999 album, was also the title of the book by my friend and colleague, Graham Hancock. It came out in 2006, about a month before Not in His Image. Graham doesn't say so in the acknowledgements, but I steered him in the direction of psychoactive plants around 2000. This was when I visited him at his house in Devon, before he moved to Bath. He complained of back problems due to the sitting posture he assumed while writing, day after day, under certain influences. I may not have been the first associate to point him in the direction of psychoactive fungi, but my suggestions were clear and deliberate at the time. He saw exactly where I was pointing.
Graham's gifts for rehashing and popularizing other people's work are unsurpassed, as far as I can tell. But Supernatural is well-informed reportage that doesn't touch the essential question of criteria in shamanic experience.
Shamanism and Sex
Love him or hate him, Castaneda, remains (to my mind) the singular outstanding figure in a forty-year adventure of shamanism updated, revised, extrapolated. For my money, it is still hard to beat many of his dicey and outrageous propositions. Nevertheless, I have two strong beefs with Castaneda:
First, he repudiated the use of psychoactive plants or sacred medicine plants, and relegated such practices to an early, immature phase of shamanic training. (This position recalls Eliade's view that visionary trance induced by psychoactive plants belongs to a late, decadent phase of shamanism—a view he later recanted.) I totally disagree. I maintain that learning from sacred teacher-plants is central and essential in the orientation of Gaian shamanism. It is not the exclusive way to learn about the Supernatural, but it is a sophisticated and privileged way.
Second, Carlitos was perversely and deliberately (I believe) misleading on the issue of sexuality, perhaps in a lame attempt to conceal his own Don Juanism, i.e., sexual addiction. As a dedicated Don Juan myself (more precisely, a confessed sex-and-romance addict), I find this tactic craven, if not deplorable. In The Shell and the Shawl, a short book in progress that I may post on Planetary Tantra, I argue that
CC was seriously out of balance on this issue. His hypocrisy screams from the pages of his books. For a good part of the series of eleven books, he makes out that the sorcerers of don Juan's lineage are "impeccable warriors" who wouldn't think of dabbling in low-life sexual antics. But against this negative characterization of sex, The Eagle's Gift introduces a complete anomaly: "the Nagual woman," female counterpart and companion of his mentor, don Juan. Castaneda strongly implies that the relation of don Juan to the Nagual woman, who is far younger than he, is one of sexual intimacy, affection, and tenderness. In later volumes Castaneda sets up Cheryl Tiggs as the Nagual woman of his party, with whom he appears to have an erotic or sexual connection at moments. This conflicting material is deliberately confusing, a ploy of concealment, I believe. The ambivalent treatment of sex in shamanism is totally unacceptabe. It is way too sleazy and specious for my taste. Worst of all, it is blatantly dishonest.
In Kalika practice of Gaian shamanism, sexual behavior is totally transparent, out in the open. The Mahanirvana Tantra, 70 - 80:
In Planetary Tantra, sexual practice is optional, but in Kala Tantra it is central. Isuspect that the Shakti Cluster is loaded with surprises, especially when it comes to boosting the sexual-erotic dispositions of human beings.
I hope for nothing in this respect, for the degeneration of Kali Yuga is so profound and widespread that sacred and magical acts are readily and inevitably shammed and slandered, skewed, disguised, and concealed. In this age everything can be falsified except the encounter with the Organic Light. I ardently wish that my flawed contributions in this vein may afford a clear and direct passage from the current morass toward verifiable Gaian shamanism in balance with earth-grounded sexuality.
jll: with Kurukulla breathing down my neck, November 2009, Andalucia
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.