Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Yaqui Way of Knowing

I bought this poster recently, with 13 different disciplines and their version of the golden rule. You can get one at, along with other related material.

Native Spirituality is lumped into one group. The symbol looks a little like the Great Wheel from the Lakotas. I don’t recognize the quote or the name of the chief who said it. I did notice that the poster does not mention shamans or Carlos Castaneda. I read a couple of the “Don Juan” books in college and wondered for years if there was anything to it. I have met a few people who claimed to have gone to Mexico and found shamans who trained them and now call themselves shamans. I haven’t met one that particularly impressed me.

Castaneda was an anthropoloy student when he wrote his first three books. Maybe if I knew that I would have been a little more skeptical, or if I had read the Time magazine article that described him as “an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tortilla.” But that would have required going to the library at the time. Now I can just look it up in Wikipedia, where you can find support for whatever opinion you want to adopt. In my defense, he did earn his degree as an anthropologist and was acclaimed by some noted scholars. But before I even knew of the books, he had already been accused of plagarism and the existence of the main subject for his study was called into question.

Taken as a fictional account of a conglomeration of a variety of shamanistic teachings, it is still a worthwhile read. Any study of a spiritual culture with a long history will have some jewels of wisdom and something worth pondering contained within. Taken as something that you might be able to obtain yourself if you follow this spiritual path, I’m pretty sure is a waste of time. And by “pretty sure” I mean it like I’m pretty sure I can’t fly. I have tried a couple times by running really fast down a steep hill and flapping my arms, but I’m not going to jump off a tall building until I figure out how to gain some altitude.

Unfortunately some people read books like this and start right out with an experiment that doesn’t test the assumptions in a way that allows for failure. I’m all for experimentation. There has been some excellent scientific work done with hallucinogenics, one of my earliest blogs discusses it. A bunch of people taking peyote and running around in the desert does not constitute scientific work however.

I also encourage recreation, and finding ways to expand one’s mind. Just don’t fool yourself. If you want to see the result of years of that type of research, I suggest reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The final words of that book are, “we blew it”.

There are more people working lately to find sources of valuable insights that are common across many cultures. The idea that someone is going to go on a trek into the wilderness and return with some bit of wisdom that will change the world is fading as we continue to choke off what little wilderness there is. It is fading too because we are losing our sense of “tribe”, our sense that the people we grew up with are the ones who know the best way to survive, and that we are better than those other tribes. That could be a good thing.


  1. I have read several Casteneda books. I feel there is much, much more tangible information and objective, applicable data within the parables and conversant texts than to be obtained from the 'trips' and the accounting of his experiences where his reality perception is in question.
    Of course, this be my perception and by no means do I share my opinion with any purpose or intent beyond a point to be/or not to be considered.

  2. I doubt we would have ever heard of him if he did not provide some tangible information. Any spiritual leader must provide something or no one would listen. Keeping the followers coming back for more is the trick. Most are lacking in the tangible category, so they make claims that they have something mysterious, something that will take you to their "next level", which is realy nowhere.