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Castaneda's Controversy and Methodological Influence

Castaneda's Controversy and Methodological Influence

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Published by Jack Hunter

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Published by: Jack Hunter on Dec 18, 2011
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PARANTHROPOLOGY Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal
This article explores Carlos Castaneda's impact onanthropology, and how this controversy continues toshape its future. We begin with a personal reflectionon Stanley Krippner that leads us to Douglas Price-Williams and his relationship with Castaneda. Leadingus to explore participant observation's methodologicalchallenge, that in 1973 (when UCLA awardedCastaneda a Ph.D. in anthropology) posed asignificant threat to the practice of field researchwhose resistance remains within EuroAmericanscience.
Celebrating Krippner's 70th Birthday
On a beautiful sunny day October 6, 2002, I hadthe privilege of attending Krippner's 70
birthday,held in Sheep's meadow Central Park in New YorkCity. Walking to this event with Leslie McQuade fromwhere we had parked, she pointed to a man ahead of us and said: “that looks like Stanley.Sure enough, Icalled out to Stanley and we embraced each otherwith a warm greeting. The three of us completedwalking to the party. Nearly every time Krippnerintroduced me, he mentioned my interest inCastaneda, and that I was organizing a symposium onCastaneda's Controversy. This introduction made megrimace, because I do not consider myself aCastaneda scholar, yet Krippner did correctly describemy interest in this controversy; specifically itschallenge to our views of subjective and objectivestates of reality. In subsequent conversations withKrippner he does not remember the incident this way,but he trusts my memory of these events.
Castaneda: Shaman or Sorcerer?The Strange Tale of Douglas Price-Williams
If there was any moral to be drawn. . . . It might besaid that in an quest for magic, in any search for sorcery. . . it might be wise to first check the human heart. Rod Serling, 1960, pp. 186.
In April 2003, SAC's 23
spring conference at theUniversity of Las Vegas-Nevada, I chaired thesymposium “Castaneda's Controversy: ExaminingConsciousness Studies Future.This meetings theme, “Chance Encounters with Consciousness,” provided anexcellent opportunity to re-examine Castaneda's
by Mark A. Schroll, PhD.
 Vol. 1 No. 2
legacy that Joseph Long wisely rejected at the 1974American Anthropological Association conference inMexico City.
 Summarizing (Schroll with Schwartz, 2005), Krippnerbelieves Price-Williams' research provides clearevidence that Castaneda consistently and significantly “borrowed ideas” from Douglas without ever askingand without acknowledging their source. But, in astrange ironic twist, if Krippner's suspicions prove tobe true, then Price-Williams should be proudCastaneda chose to exploit him. Because thecounterculture in 1968 was ripe for Castaneda's talesof a seemingly uptight middle-class Latino whoseencounters with an old Mexican Indian unveiled anon-ordinary reality, a numinous state of consciousness, and corresponding way of life thatprovided a serious challenge to rational secularscience (Castaneda, 1968, 1971, 1972).
talesof power 
also provided a psychological sense of 
 personal empowerment 
for a generation seeking analternative paradigm to EuroAmerican science'sdominant story. This, says Kremer:Has led to well-known consequences which arehighly problematic—for example, the threat of nuclear holocaust and the possibility forecological catastrophes such as the destructionof the rain forests and the ozone layer, thepollution of air and water, nuclear accidents,and so forth (Kremer: 189, 1988).Consequently, and I think Price-Williams willunderstand where this statement is coming from, itwas more believable to a rebel generation forCastaneda to tell these tales than to hear themessage from a white establishment anthropologist.Considering the importance of raising both public andscientific awareness of shamanism, if Castaneda hadnot bestowed this discussion with his charisma,colleagues such as Michael Harner (1980, 1993)might have had to invent him. The double irony is
was a white establishment anthropologist 
who hadsome unique insights into the clash (that hasincreasingly been acknowledged) between theworldview of indigenous people's, and our scientificview of the world.
Throughout their many conversations Price-Williamsnoted that Carlos repeatedly mentioned a book hereally wanted to write,
 Art of Sorcery 
. This bookwould explain why sorcery is an art and not a science.Krippner said he considers sorcery to be a technology—neither science nor art. He also stated that Price-Williams had concluded that Castaneda was theembodiment of his own (Price-Williams') shadow andtrickster personality; thus, knowing Castanedabenefited him toward the integration of his ownshadow. In sum, while Price-Williams and Krippneragree that Castaneda’s books are not importantanthropological documents, these books played animportant role in furthering anthropology'sinvestigation of shamanism. More recentlyCastaneda's influence lead to one of the best book’son shamanism I have ever read, Stephan V. Beyer’sthoroughly researched book on ayahuasca shamanism(2009). Beyer’s years of study in Peru provides an in-depth analysis of both healing shamanism, and itsdeadly opposite sorcery.
Castaneda's Influence on Methodology
Anthropologists (and most social scientists) prefernomothetic or etic/quantitative analysis to ideographicor emic/qualitative methods. Challenging this eticpreference, Castaneda argued that understandingshamanism requires becoming a practitioner. SarahWilliams revisits this argument:His [i.e., Castaneda's] narratives of his interactionwith the Yaqui shaman argued that one could notunderstand the shamanic worldview without becominga shaman. No informant could ever convey this,because so much of it was experiential. Morefundamentally yet, all the Castaneda writingsproposed the idea that non-technological peopleswere not primitive, and were as capable of insight astheir technological counterparts; albeit in differentareas of human functioning. . . . What had beencategorized in anthropology as “magical thinking” wassuddenly proposed as a valid perspective that thediscipline must master to fulfill its self-defined task of understanding human beings and their cultures(Schwartz 2007:7, quoted in Williams:66, 2007).My deepening inquiry toward reconciling etic/objectivity and emic/subjectivity has benefited fromCastaneda's contributions to the researchmethodology of social science. Specifically,Castaneda's claim that the only way to trulyunderstand shamanism is to become a practitionersupports the need for subjective narratives as thestarting point of all social science research. Schroll(2010) argues:Contemplating these concerns (which involved acognitive reiteration of our previous discussion) ledme to the hypothesis that becoming a shamanicpractitioner transcends our most far-reachingnomothetic and ideographic methods. This is whyshamans use precise objective methods whenteaching initiates, because initiates must first liberatethemselves from their enculturation, erasing theparameters of our culture that frame the symbolicconstruction of our worldvidew. Controversies as tothe legitimacy of Castaneda's research do notdiminish this challenge, unless we avoid discussing asomatic tradition of mystical experience (Schroll2005). Joseph Long's interest in psi phenomena, andthe many students and colleagues his inspired,support the importance of understanding this corereligious experience (Long 1977). Without this, ascience of consciousness would have no reason to
PARANTHROPOLOGY Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal
exist. This thesis (which will require additionalexperimental and field research to evaluate) rests ontwo central points:1. The necessity of drawing the empirical line;that researchers need to have a personalencounter with alternate states of consciousness, anomalous cognition, and/orpractice a form of energy or infomedicine, likeshamanism, before they can be consideredadequately prepared to assess these states of consciousness.2. Researchers need to then initiate the processof integrating their somatic religiousexperience with their personal mythology of how the world works and what their place in itis (Feinstein et al, 1988; Krippner 2004,quoted in Schroll: 15, 2010).Bringing this discussion back to the legitimacyquestion regarding Castaneda's work, Larry Baronpoints out: “one is not required to be a believer in theexistence of don Juan, any more than one has tobelieve in God, in order to do a sociological study of the ideas presented” (Baron: 54, 1983). Baron goeson to say:The articulation of Castaneda's journey intothe world of nonordinary reality may beeffectively depicted by the use of AlfredSchutz's theory of multiple realities. . . . Thisaffinity between Castaneda and Schurtz is notso far-fetched when one considers that HaroldGarfinkel, a pioneer in ethnomethodology, wasCastaneda's teacher and dissertationsupervisor at UCLA (Baron: 61, 1983).Baron offers his own ironic twist to this tale:Skeptics have argued that don Juan is afiction, the protagonist in Castaneda'sfantasies. . . . Although this is quite plausible,it could be that don Juan is the fictionalpersonification of Castaneda's teacher HaroldGarfinkel, keeping the world authentic byrelentlessly bringing into relief ourcommonsense assumptions. . . . it [thus]becomes conceivable that Castaneda's booksare an ethnomethodological experiment(Baron: 66, 1983).
Summing up Castaneda's impact on methodology:. . . [E]ven though ethnography and othernarrative heuristic approaches areimprovements on strict quantitative methods,ideographic methods also collect data in anobjective way. Data is treated as an “ontological other” or thing that is separatefrom the observer. This approach is not an I/Thou, Dasein [there being], or wu-wei[actionless action] orientation, which areperspectives that allow the researcher to trulybecome a participant observer. Similar tonomothetic methods of research, participantobservation collects, analyzes, and interpretsdata as an I/it relationship, failing to grasp the “beingness” of the experience. Ultimatelytherefore, none of this is doing any good(Schroll: 15-16, 2010).
1. A summary of this symposium, plus adiscussion of psi and anthropology has beenpublished in (Schroll with Schwartz, 2005).Douglas Price-Williams has since published hismagnum opus (2008).2. Schroll explores Castaneda's contribution tomethodology in (Schroll, 2010; Hunterexplores similar concerns related to psi andanthropology (Hunter, 2010).3. A more complete discussion of this point willbe taken up in Part 3, “Psi and Anthropology:Shamanism and Neo-shamanism.” 
Baron, L. (1983). Slipping inside the crack betweenthe worlds: Carlos Castaneda, Alfred Schutz, and thetheory of multiple realities.
 Journal of Humanistic Psychology 
(2), 52-69.Beyer, S. V. (2009).
Singing to
the Plants
 A Guide toMestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon
 Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New MexicoPress.Castaneda, C. (1968).
The Teachings of Don Juan
.Berkeley: University of California Press.Castaneda, C. (1971).
 A Separate Reality 
. New York:Simon & Schuster.Castaneda, C. (1972).
 Journey to Ixtlan
. New York:Simon & Schuster.Harner, M. (1980).
Way of the Shaman
. New York:Bantam Books.Harner, M. (1993, August 26). Shamanism andtranspersonal healing. Keynote (and brief drummingsession) 25
Anniversary Convocation of theAssociation for Transpersonal Psychology, PacificGrove, California. CD available atwww.conferencerecording.com

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