I Was Carlos Castaneda

May 28, 2001

I Was Carlos CastanedaThe famed writer and sorcerer Carlos Castaneda steps back from the dead to lead Martin Goodman on a chase through the French Pyrenees, in search of the secrets of shamanism, hallucinogens, religion and lost youth.

About the Book

Many westerners are attracted to the rites and practices of religions and traditions from other cultures. In doing so it is easy to be dazzled by what is glamorous and therefore be blinded to what is dangerous. When I wrote about my deep experiences with the guru tradition in In Search of the Divine Mother I aimed at a balanced perspective. I gained a lot from that period, so did not want to disavow it, but had learned a great deal that might help and protect other westerners along a similar path. That is why the book had to be published.

I feel the same way about I Was Carlos Castaneda. Psychedelic medicines, especially ayahuasca, are becoming increasingly popular. I have gained tremendous teachings from them myself. I was also nearly killed by the shamanic nature of the associated practice. I was naïve. I believed there was no such thing as “black magic.” While people might practice such a thing, I thought it was belief in black magic that gave it its power. I was wrong. I did not believe in black magic, yet I became its victim.

Looking at plant medicines, ayahuasca, shamanism, it is natural that people are attracted to the light, the wonderful aspects. Shamanism itself is not shy about its darker side, but people coming to it from other cultures are likely to be as naïve as I was. This book is something of a survivor’s guide … it details both the wonders and the danger.

Don Pedro in the book is a fusion of two shamans. While in the Amazon I reached an agreement with one of them to write his biography, interviewed him accordingly, and came away with an extensive set of initial notes. Then my illness occurred … and forced me into a reexamination of my whole experience. The research into the biography had helped formulate my views on shamanism. It also provided me with a whole host of stories I cold possibly use. I took great care not to use stories that had been given to me particularly for the purpose of that biography, since I felt they were no longer mine to use in such a way. However one story did creep in, a tragic love story of the shaman. As I was preparing my manuscript for submission I looked at the story, wondered about deleting it, then thought “What the hell” and pressed the save key on my computer to leave it in. As my hand came up from pressing the key, a wasp stung it. I went back and deleted the passage. It could be coincidence, but this was my first wasp sting in thirty years. It was so in accord with my experiences of shamanism, which uses nature as its vehicle, that I felt justified in my wariness of going public with this story.

Some months after pausing in its writing, I read what I had done. And liked it. I found it to be tender and safe and lyrical and good. It was a story that asked to be finished. Once I had written it up, it wasn’t till reading Carlos Castaneda’s story of how he came out of the jungles of Peru, of hearing these recreations of his comments and wisdom, that I saw a new element of what he was doing. They say that once taken, ayahuasca never leaves you. I came to see that Carlos was actually continuing the teachings of ayahuasca, bringing some of its wisdom to the far side of my own experience.

The book ends with a promise that he will come again, that I will have the chance to pose one final question to him. Has he yet? It’s funny. I catch glimpses, nearly catch him, then he’s gone. I’ve written about these times. But that next real appearance? I’m still waiting.

Reviews of I was Carlos Castaneda

Such narrow, narrow confines we live in. Every so often, one of us primates escapes these dimensions, as Martin Goodman did. All we can do is rattle the bars and look after him as he runs into the hills. We wait for his letters home. ~ Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

A marvelous book with rich teachings that particularly touch the heart of death — and, thus, life itself. ~ Thom Hartmann, author, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

From the Pyrenees to the Amazon rainforest, Martin Goodman vividly describes Castaneda’s most powerful and important teachings-the nature of the journey beyond death. ~ Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., author of Shaman, Healer, Sage and Dance of the Four Winds

The Old Trickster has done it again! Having stirred up a storm of controversy and speculation in his lifetime with his astonishing tales of sorcerers and shamans, Castaneda now makes a posthumous appearance in Martin Goodman’s story. But now Goodman plays the role of bewildered student, to Carlos’ amused and provocative pronouncements. ~ Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., author of The Unfolding Self

This is an absorbing tale, which succeeds at entertaining while it informs. Goodman, writing with warmth and humor, has woven a story of a modern day shaman’s apprentice, cast adrift amid the turbulent outer zones of consensus reality before returning once again to solid ground. It is a delightful read, and I recommend it highly. ~ Charles S. Grob, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine

In the beginning, I thought this was a book of metafiction or magical realism. It is something else entirely: a discussion between new friends, a dreamy travelogue, a teaching. It is a magical mystery tour in humility, truth, death, betrayal, forgiveness, the envelopment of nature, written as clearly and powerfully as a French Pyrenees river where Goodman and Castaneda stop to swim and talk. ~ Karla Kuban, author of Marchlands

Carlos Castaneda lives! Martin Goodman is a mystic, poet and superb storyteller, and with his rare combination of gifts he has brought the legendary sorcerer’s apprentice to vivid life in this enchanting tale about life and death, truth and illusion, fate and freedom. ~ John Horgan, author of The End of Science

To invite someone like Carlos Castaneda into one’s life, especially when he’s dead, is asking for it. Martin Goodman, who barely escaped death in Amazonas, gets the full treatment from the old master and learns a thing or two to his own and the reader’s advantage. To Castaneda’s, too: I reckon he’s in better form than ever before. ~ Francis Huxley, author of The Way of the Sacred

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