Vice Squad
Sunday, February 15, 2004
A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

I was introduced to Carlos Castaneda's books about Mexican Yaqui Indians and their peyote rituals a couple of years ago. Castaneda received a PhD in Anthropology from UCLA in 1973 for his work in this field, and he wrote ten books on the subject. Skeptics argue that the books are works of fiction, although Castaneda maintained that they were non-fiction, anthropological studies. The books first hit the scene in the late 60's and were popular among those who wanted to "turn on, tune in, and drop out."

I'm currently reading the third book in the series "Journey to Ixtlan", and I have thoroughly enjoyed each of Castaneda's books thus far. Frankly, I don't really care if they're a hoax. I also don't care that he used his early popularity to develop a New Agey religion called "Tensegrity", later in life. His books provide good insights into humanity, and for me, a too-highly-strung U of C graduate student, he has given me some much-needed perspective.

Although hallucinogenics play a central role in Castaneda's experiences in the books, he states that psychotropic drugs are not essential to understanding the Yaqui way of life, but merely act as an aid to leave our old lives and preconceived notions behind us and to try to experience something different. There are books out there that are more properly recognized as academic studies of peyote rituals. Castenada uses peyote as a backdrop for the messages he's really trying to convey.

Some choice lines from Journey to Ixtlan:
-- "Death is the only wise adviser that we have."
-- "You are so goddamn important that you feel justified to be annoyed with everything."
-- "Talk [to little plants] until you lose all sense of importance."

New Agey b.s.? Maybe, but who cares? The books are easy reads, and just the descriptions of the characters' slow lives and the scenery of the desert have a calming effect on me.

Recommended reading when the thought of midterms, finals, or work has you tied up in knots.


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