A Worthy Opponent
by Richard de Mille
from The Don Juan Papers (Ross-Erikson, 1980)
"Without the aid of a worthy opponent, who's not really an enemy but a thoroughly dedicated adversary,
the apprentice has no possibility of continuing on the path of knowledge."
In the story, as on the calendar, it was 1962. Carlos was setting traps
for rabbits and quail but catching none; Castaneda was showing his
manuscript to professors at UCLA but getting no sponsors.
"Someone is interfering with your hunting," don Juan announced.
"Who?" said Carlos, but he knew. It was La Catalina, his worthy
opponent-or, as she was called in the first three books, "la Catalina,"
the quotation marks, oddly, forming part of the name.
The episode illustrates two subtle features of Castaneda's way of work-
ing. One is that calendar-time and narrative-time often coincide, Carlos's
adventures being written or at least dated when their counterparts hap-
pen to Castaneda. The other is that oddities of style or diction may signal
metaphorical correspondences, providing dues whereby the allegory can
be traced to its origins in ordinary events. What events prompted Cas-
taneda to imagine "la Catalina," the handsome but fiightening witch
who interfered with Carlos's hunt for power?
The worthy opponent's genealogy goes back, I believe, to two articles
in the Saturday Evening Post, the first by Aldous Huxley, one of Cas-
taneda's favorite writers. "Stimulators of the mystical faculties" like
peyote and LSD, wrote Huxley, "make possible a genuine religious ex-
perience" by which "large numbers of men and women [can] achieve
a radical self-transcendence and a deeper understanding of the nature of
things," which will constitute a religious revolution. Huxley's article was
published in October 1958, on the verge of the sixties. The following
year Castaneda read The Sacred Mushroom, which led him to the Was-
sons' epochal Mushrooms, Russia, and History, whose shamans Maria
Sabina and Don Aurelio, I have argued, provided the first models for don
Castaneda was not the only spiritual revolutionary to take inspiration
from Huxley and the Wassons. Just as in the summer of narrative-1960
Carlos met don Juan for the first time, so in the summer of calendar-
1960 Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary was sitting beside a swim-
ming pool in Cuernavaca consuming his first hallucinogens, nine sacred
Mazatec mushrooms. (Don Juan's mushroom mixture would be smoked
in a little house beside an irrigation ditch, where don Juan would bath
Carlos to revive him.) During the ensuing five hours, Leary realized he
had died. In what he later called the deepest religious experience of his
life, he left his body on the bed, relived his life, and went back to being
one-celled organism. Having thus discovered "the spiritual equivalent of
the hydrogen bomb, he went back to Harvard to spread the word. On
of the first recruits was psychologist Richard Alpert, later to be known a
Baba Ram Dass. The two of them preached the new gospel to faculty and
students until the University authorities got fed up, whereupon the
evangelists founded a non-profit corporation they called "The Interna-
tional Federation for Inner Freedom"-"If-If" for short. In the summer
of 1962 If-If set up a training center in the Mexican fishing village of
Zihuatanejo, up the coast from Acapulco. There psychedelic seekers
found a sanctuary in the charming Hotel Catalina, shown in the illustra-
tion clinging to the bluff under the palm trees, as one sees it looking up
from the beach. Americans who stayed with Leary in the hotel called it
"the Catalina." Translating that into Spanish, one gets "la Catalina," an
unsurprising name for a hotel but a rather unusual name for a character
in a story.
Although five-thousand applicants signed up for training at the
Catalina, only a few made the journey. In the spring of 1963 Harvard
fired its errant professors and the Mexican government locked the 20
Catalina trippers then in residence back over the border. Undaunted, If-If
leased a 45-room mansion near Millbrook, New York and got ready for
the crucial campaign to turn on the youth of America, as the media gave
full play to Leary in the Sky with Diamonds. Look featured "The
Strange Case of the Harvard Drug Scandal," while Saturday Evening
Post carried "The Dangerous Magic of LSD," in which writer John Ko-
bler related the Mexican adventure.
"I sat transfixed all evening before a tree, feeling in it the very treeness
of trees," said one LSD visionary in Kobler's account. "I sensed it was a
tree by its odor," a drugless Carlos would recall. "Something in me
'knew' that that peculiar odor was the 'essence' of tree."
"Our favorite concepts are standing in the way of a floodtide, two
billion years building up. The verbal dam is collapsing," Leary and Al-
pert exulted. "I saw the loneliness of man as a gigantic wave which had
been frozen in front of me, held back by the invisible wall of a
metaphor," Castaneda would write.
If-If proposed to liberate members from their "webs," so that they
might soar through the infinite space of consciousness. Carlos's bemush-
roomed head would fly among silvery crows; his undrugged eyes
would see a range of mountains as a "web of light fibers."
If-If adopted The Tibetan Book of the Dead as a drug-taker's manual.
Don Juan would tell Carlos the book was a "bunch of crap. "
"The experience is essentially nonverbal, so you can't follow your
collaborator's responses, unless you're under the influence of
the drug too," said Leary and Alpert. The components of nonor-
dinary reality "were not subject to ordinary consensus," Castaneda
would write; they required a "special consensus." Kobler asked a
psychoanalyst about the risks of using such powerful drugs to keep up
with the patient. "Oh yes," admitted the doctor, "the sorcerer may find
he's only the sorcerer's apprentice. "
"If anybody can show us a better road to happiness," the notorious
Leary challenged, "we'll drop our research. But we don't think they
will. " A better road was already running through the unknown mind of
Castaneda, don Juan's path with heart, which would carry future readers
away from what Castaneda saw as the haphazard drug-fiendery of the
Catalina, toward a disciplined and eventually drugless mysticism. Ten
years later, Castaneda would tell students at Irvine don Juan didn't need
the psychotropic plants any more, though dedication to ritual still obliged
him to "go out each day and collect the mushrooms with meticulous
care"-a botanically incongruous statement, since the mushrooms can-
not be collected "each day" even in Oaxaca, let alone in Sonora. Castane-
da's fantasy of Leary's degenerate leavings was chronicled by John Wal-
Carlos told how he was horrified to find the remnants of a col-
ony supposedly started by Timothy Leary in the 1960s. When
the Mexican authorities ran the Leary group out of Mexico,
some of the people remained behind, hiding in the hills until
things had cooled. Carlos talked of going to a house where these
people still lived. He said: "I walked in wearing my best smile
and said, 'Hi friends! I'm Carlos Castaneda from Los Angeles.'
They were all zonked out. There were 25 of them in a big room
[-an impressive remnant from a group of 201. Stoned. One
little girl who almost smiled at me almost encouraged me. But
she wouldn't talk to me either. She lifted up her leg to scratch it.
It was very hairy. I was shocked at what I saw there. Truly
shocked. I got up and left. Don Juan came and we went into the
mountains [-but why was don Juan hanging around
Zihuatanejo, 500 miles from Oaxaca, 1000 miles from Son-
ora?]. I told him about the Americans. Don Juan told me that
he had seen them too. He thought them truly preposterous. He
told me that he saw them in the fields eating the mushrooms
directly. Don Juan was appalled-it is truly toxic to eat the mush-
rooms like that without meticulous preparation [-which will
be news to Maria Sabina, though, of course, the supposed toxic-
ity is a metaphorical warning against spiritual or mental harm
from using hallucinogens without a guiding ritual]. He could
not understand how they could be so stupid. He saw a naked
American standing in the field, eating the mushrooms right
there on the spot. Don Juan was horrified. "
Castaneda had to learn sorcery, he explained, because drugs alone
can't stop the world; they just rearrange the old glosses. "That is my
quarrel with people like Timothy Leary," he said-cominng as close as he
dared to proclaiming a contest for the hearts and minds of Huxley's
self-transcenders. While the Messiah of LSD was leaping from one
foolish extreme to the next- "I'm very fond of Tim," said Huxley, "but
why does he have to be such an ass?"-landing in prison, escaping to
miserable exile, coming home to serve a long term, Castaneda was writ-
ing three best-sellers.
The impact of a worthy opponent would elicit a warrior's best efforts,
don Juan said; the opponent he thought worthy of Carlos was "la
Catalina. " In the fall of calendar-1962 If-If flourished in Zihuatanejo in
the fall of narrative-1962 Carlos survived six hair-raising encounters with
his worthy opponent in Sonora. A startling photograph in Kobler's 1963
article shows a formidable young woman
in a leopard-skin bathing suit wading into the Mexican surf after taking
LSD, her long left hand extended downward toward the water. Kobler's
caption tells us she is "feeling the power of the ocean." That remarkable
image, I believe, incubated four years in Castaneda's fabulizing brain,
emerged in his manuscript of 1967 as the "fiendish witch" who was
trying to finish don Juan off, a metaphor of Leary's booming psychedelic
supermarket, which threatened to bury an unpublished author of a
quasi-academic romance about the rigorous regime imposed by in inac-
cessible magus mixing secret formulas.
From 1968 to 1974 Leary's fortunes fell while Castaneda's rose. Con-
currently, La Catalina grew less frightening in each successive book. In
The Teachings she was too terrifying to be seen in her own form. In
Separate Reality she was dangerous but handsome. In Ixtlan she re-
ceived a promising new title: A worthy opponent. In Tales of Power don
Juan admitted she had been a friend all along pretending to be an enemy.
Thus did Castaneda grow metaphorically magnanimous in victory to his
fellow Catholic apostate and charismatic adversary. He could afford to be
magnanimous, for as early as 1969 the wide-eyed pundit Theodore Ros
zak had proclaimed his work a uniquely important contribution to the
psychedelic literature, which should perhaps replace the "comparative
amateurish efforts of Huxley, Watts, Burroughs, and Leary."
Interviewed by Time's Sandra Burton, Castaneda told of being invited
to a party in New York's East Village, where he met Leary but found the
chatter of the acid-heads absurd. "They were children," he said, "indulg-
ing in incoherent revelations. A sorcerer takes hallucinogens for a differ
ent reason than heads do' and after he has gotten where he wants to go
he stops taking them." Translation: An allegorist writes about hallucino-
gens until he gets a couple of books published; then he stops writing
about them. The confrontation between Leary and Carlos is thematically
indispensable, but there is something wrong with the report. Time gave
the date as 1964, but why would an unpublished and utterly unknown
Los Angeles writer be invited to meet Leary in New York, and how could
a poverty-stricken graduate student afford to make the trip? A more
colorful version of the meeting, published a year later in Fate, has Carlos
journeying east to explain his adventures with don Juan, which Leary
and Alpert have read about in The Teachings. This version eliminates the
unknown guest and penniless traveler but introduces a more trouble-
some difficulty: By the time Teachings was published, Leary had moved
to California, so the trip would have been unnecessary. At any rate,
Carlos is no more impressed by Leary in Fate's 1969 than he was in
Time's 1964. The acid-culture conversation is still trivial. Leary jokes and
giggles, calling Alpert "a Jewish queer," while Alpert-now returned
from India as Baba Ram Dass-blesses the convocation by flashing a
banana that was hidden in his robe. A dismayed Carlos flees the party, as
a horrified Carlos fled the house of degenerate hippies.
Since Leary and Castaneda were both living in California between
1968 and 1970, I'm quite ready to believe they found themselves at some
time in the same room, but the alternative versions of the confrontation
offer more than don Juan's bare disdain of Leary's fiendery. Castaneda
was apparently trying out different imaginary scenes and occasions for
engaging his then more popular adversary, thus gaining magical control
over Leary by drawing him into the allegory. If Leary hadn't been
quickly snatched away by the California Department of Corrections, he
might well have turned up in a conversation like the following:
Catalina: Hola, Doctor Liri! Good to see you. It's been a long time.
Leary: Hi! Don't I know you from somewhere?
Catalina: You bet your botes! I'm "the Catalina."
Leary: That's a hotel- a charming little hotel.
Catalina: Knock off the sexismo, don Timo. We're all parafeminists
Leary: Well, who are you really?
Catalina: "The Catalina!" I used to be a hotel, now I'm a witch.
Leary: Far out! I used to be a one-celled organism.
Catalina: I know. That's in Kobler's article-which was the link between
you and Castaneda.
Leary: Really? I couldn't get anything out of Castaneda. He came to a
party in New York- or was it California? Anyway, he sat in a corner and didn't say a word.
Catalina: He was stalking.
Leary: No he wasn't.
Catalina: Ess-talking. With an Ess.
Leary: I see.
Catalina: You don't see. You just look. You rearrange the old glosses.
You and Ram D'Ass, with his effete beatitudes and his provocative banana.
Leary: None of that matters now. I'm doing space colonies. Inner to
outer in one lifetime!
Catalina: Hah! You think we're not up on that? Did you read about our
fifty-thousand-foot dome? Is that an artificial extraterrestrial environment, or is it?
Leary: I see what you mean.
Catalina: You don't see. You're wrapped up in your incoherent revela-
tions and your superaphrodisiacs and your nightclub act. You were sup-
posed to be a worthy opponent, to boost Carlos into orbit. I had to take
over for you because you made such an ass of yourself. Even don Aldous
Leary: Huxley? He's alive?
Catalina: Well, he's not dead.
Leary: Where is he?
Catalina: In the dome, of course.
Leary: Can I go to the dome?
Catalina: If you're scheduled to go there. It's up to the Nagual.
Leary: How can I find out?
Catalina: Keep reading the books.
Leary: More books? The reviewers said Castaneda was burnt out.
Catalina: That's a bunch of crap. They're burned up because he made
monkeys out of them. This cult business can go on forever. It's a kind of
Leary: That's reassuring.
Catalina: Not for you, bobo. For him.
Leary: I see.
Catalina: No you don't. Don Juan and Carlos see. Don Q and Liri talk!