Carlos Castaneda and the Shamanic Revival
The elusive Castaneda was largely responsible for a revived interest in shamanism during the 1960s, when his first book,
Castaneda's shamanic training included the use of three hallucinogenic plants: peyote, Jimson weed, and psilocybin mushrooms. “The importance of the plants was, for Don Juan, their capacity to produce stages of peculiar perception in a human being,” wrote Castaneda in his first book. Castaneda termed these peculiar perceptions “states of nonordinary reality,” intended to teach him about the acquisition of power and wisdom. His altered states of reality also aided Castaneda in finding a “magical ally” who would enhance his powers and ultimately enable him to gain complete control over his physical body, so he could shapeshift or project his consciousness into animals and plants.
Part of the fascination with Castaneda's books lay in the author's mysterious nature. According to some sources, his real name was Carlos Arana or Carlos Aranha, and he came from either Peru or Brazil. He changed his name when he became an American citizen in 1959. Beyond that, not much is really known about Castaneda. Even his death is veiled in mystery. Still less is known about Don Juan. Did the sorcerer really exist? Were any of his adventures real? Or were the stories Castaneda chronicled meant to be mythic, their messages holding collective truths about the human condition?
Anthropologist Michael Harner, who started the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in Mill Valley, California, began his shamanic apprenticeship in the late 1950s with the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador. In 1960, the American Museum of Natural History sent Harner back to the Amazon to study the Conibo Indians in Peru. When he expressed an interest in learning about the Conibo's religious beliefs, he was told that he must first drink
“In a sense, shamanism is being reinvented in the west precisely because it is needed.” — Michael Harner,
During his experience, Harner experienced a vision of Earth before life existed on the planet. Reptilian creatures showed Harner how they had created life on Earth, and hundreds of millions of years of evolution were condensed into his single vision. After the experience, Harner sought advice from an old blind shaman who had made many journeys into the spirit world and already knew what Harner had witnessed. Michael Talbot, author of
Before his death in 2000, Terence McKenna spent twenty-five years studying what he called “the ethnopharmacology of spiritual transformation” and the subtler levels of reality. He was an expert on the ethnomedicine of the Amazon basin, the author of a number of books, and an international spokesperson for the development of a global consciousness.
During his stay in La Chorrera in the Amazon, McKenna experienced a close encounter with a UFO that caused him to believe the UFO was “a reflection of a future event that promises humanity's eventual mastery over time, space, and matter.” A later visit to La Chorrera inspired his theory of time, based on the I Ching, that he termed the “timewave,” a kind of metaphysical calendar. McKenna also believed that the World Wide Web is a route to global consciousness. Although some people discount McKenna as a drug-crazed madman, his original ideas and experiences with other levels of existence provide food for thought and further exploration.
Before she gained an international reputation for her work in shamanism, Lynn Andrews was an art dealer in Los Angeles. A search for a Native American marriage basket she'd seen in a photo took her to Manitoba, Canada, where she met Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs. The meeting led to Andrews' initiation into the Sisterhood of the Shields, a group of forty-four women of power from indigenous cultures throughout the world.
When Andrews returned to California, she'd changed so dramatically that she felt she no longer fit in. She flew back to Canada and pled with Agnes to continue teaching her. But the old woman replied, “Go write a book and give away what you have learned. Then you may come back to me.” Andrews did exactly that.