For many years, Gloria Garvin of Joseph was the sorcerer’s apprentice and soul mate. Until, that is, the sorcerer succumbed to the temptations brought on by fame and fortune and Garvin finally decided to break free and start a life of her own.
The name of Carlos Castaneda is known the world over. Castaneda’s famous books, ‘The Teachings of Don Juan,” “Journey to Ixtlan,” “Tales of Power,” “The Art of Dreaming,” and several others, contain fantastic tales purporting to document Castaneda’s apprenticeship to a Yaqui Indian sorcerer.
Castaneda’s books were so mind-blowing and “out there” that they dissolved many people’s ideas of reality. That caused hundreds if not thousands of people to come to Castaneda seeking his help in re-ordering their world views according to ancient Mexican shamanism. But Garvin, now 60, knew a different side of Castaneda, before his books had catapulted him into the position of being a guru to the masses.
The story of how Garvin met Castaneda begins in 1968, in a classic tale of the times in which she and her friends were hitchhiking to San Francisco in beads and sandals and flowers in their hair. They were traveling up to see some friends who lived in Haight-Ashbury and would see the Grateful Dead perform at the Filmore West.
While there, she met a person who was reading a review of Castaneda’s first book, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.” Castaneda’s descriptions of his encounters with Don Juan ‘seemed gritty, raw and scary,” Garvin said in an exclusive interview with the Chieftain.
It piqued her interest so much that when she came back home to Santa Monica, Calif., she mentioned it to an aunt who worked in the UCLA graduate research library. It turned out that her aunt knew Castaneda and offered to introduce her to Castaneda and his then-girlfriend Joan Barker.
At age 22, Garvin herself was majoring in philosophy at UCLA at the time. Castaneda was also studying at UCLA, majoring in anthropology. They arranged to meet with Castaneda and his girlfriend at the Student Union Building on the UCLA campus. Garvin brought her own boyfriend along.
She had had a certain expectation of what Castaneda would look like – expecting a certain dashing adventurer look for the anthropologist. Instead, however, he was “whimsical” and even “flaky,” a “whirlwind type of guy” with a round face,” she said. “Carlos just has the most sparkling eyes, a grin that just won’t stop,” Garvin recalled.
The four of them had a five-hour lunch in the SUB, talking and laughing a lot. Throughout that time, “Carlos pretty much focused on me,” she said.
Afterwards, Garvin remembered Castaneda asking why she had brought her boyfriend with her, saying: “Why did you bring that nincompoop along? He’s not a warrior – you are a sublime warrior, a sorceress beyond compare.”
Thus, from the first time they met, they seemed to share a strong connection. Castaneda encouraged Garvin to switch majors from philosophy to anthropology.
But for the time, Castaneda stayed with his girlfriend and Garvin stayed with her boyfriend. Garvin eventually would become engaged to the “nincompoop,” until Castaneda pleaded with her to break it off.
She remembered him telling her: “What ordinary men do is promise to enhance your world and they end up stepping all over it. Why would you want to do this?”
And so she did break off the engagement. In 1972, Garvin went to Mexico, and when she returned a year later, something had shifted in their relationship. She recalled the day she encountered Castaneda in the midst of thousands of students on Bruin Walk.
“We were in our own circle of light. He said to me, ‘Gloria, no matter what you do, it feels like you’re this little bird in a cage…I want you to fly, I want you to fly with me.”
He was always saying such beautiful and seductive words, and before, she had always kind of laughed it off, she said. After all, she was about 20 years younger than he.
But she found out how serious he was one day when they were driving down Sunset Boulevard to a beach near Malibu. As the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean, Castaneda asked Garvin to marry him. Except, he explained, their relationship would not be anything like an “ordinary” marriage. It wouldn’t be anything like an ordinary couple having friends over and doing ordinary things. It wasn’t going to be like that at all, he explained.
He was offering to take care of her as a sorcerer’s apprentice, and that fit in with Castaneda’s concept of immortality and life beyond death.
“If you agree to this, I’ll be with you forever,” Garvin recalled him telling her. “…It goes beyond death.”
As he often told her, “You give me your emptiness and I’ll give you my direction.”
“He told me, ‘Other people around me are powerful, tough, brutal and ruthless, but,’ he said, ‘you’re the best. You’re my heart of hearts…I need you – you’re my love.'” Garvin said.
And so, they entered into a verbal contract to an unorthodox marriage of sorts. If she ever needed to remember the contract, she needed only to stare out across the ocean at sunset, where the sun, sky and water met.
“It was very romantic and very passionate,” she said.
Through much of the seventies, Castaneda led Garvin through her master’s and doctorate in anthropology. He supported her financially and even rented an apartment for her – a “place of power,” as he called it, she said.
She took many of the same classes that Castaneda had taken, such as from the “urban shaman,” Dr. Clement Meighan, who taught about Native Americans and shamanism. In a quiet and brilliant way, Meighan had a special ability to inspire people, she said.
Eventually, Garvin would do field work in Panama and study shamanism with the Cuna Indians.
“Carlos held my hand through the whole Ph.D. process,” she said.
Eventually, in 1977, Garvin accepted a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin. While there she started to reevaluate her relationship with Castaneda, who was living in Los Angeles.
She realized that being so closely bound to Carlos had kept her “cut off from the juice of life.” She wanted to experience a “real” marriage with children of her own. “I wanted to construct my own world – not just borrow his.”
That had always run counter to Castaneda’s concept about having children. Don Juan had taught them that Garvin had had a perfectly round spirit body but that having children would create dark holes in her spirit body and that children would suck the life and energy out of her like psychic vampires.
While at the University of Wisconsin she met a man and fell in love with him. They got married in 1980 and had two children, Nigel, now 23, and Lucas, 21.
Contrary to what Castaneda had taught her, having children turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences of her life. Nor did children drain her of her own energy – they had their own energy from a higher source, she said.
“I discovered that his theory about this wasn’t true…That was when I realized the limitations of his description of his world,” Garvin said.
The ‘earth sickness’ overtakes CastanedaBy the 1980s, Garvin said that Castaneda’s books had brought such fame and fortune to him that he was suffering from what the Sufi’s call an “earth sickness.” Castaneda had succumbed to the danger of becoming a teacher too soon, causing the adulation that came his way to be funneled directly into his ego, Garvin said.
People were so hungry for his teachings and the magic of the Yaqui way, that Castaneda used that hunger to satisfy his own manipulative purposes. He gathered a kind of harem of women around him of groupies and hangers-on who would believe his every word, she said.
“He would give talks and girls would fling themselves at his feet … He would lie about things that would be detrimental to other people,” Garvin said.
Garvin also believes Castaneda applied his talent for fabrication to his books. For example, Garvin believes that some of Castaneda’s early information came not from Don Juan Matus but from Salvador Lopez, a shaman from the Cahuilla Indian Reservation near Palm Springs.
Barker, Castaneda’s girlfriend from the 1960s (until he hooked up with Garvin), lived nearby the Cahuilla Reservation and probably introduced Castaneda to their lone surviving shaman, Lopez, she said. Castaneda also seems to have made use of an unpublished library on the reservation, she said.
“I know for a fact that many of the things in that unpublished library became part of his manuscripts,” Garvin said. But that wasn’t the only time Castaneda presented other people’s information as if it were his own. “In later books, he ended up borrowing stories from Taoists,” she said.
There has long been a debate in the academic community as to the value of Castaneda’s work to the fields of anthropology and shamanism. Some people doubt that there really was a person known as Don Juan Matus, of Sonora, Mexico, or whether he was just a fictitious person of Castaneda’s imagination.
Garvin said there was, indeed, a Don Juan, as she met him in Mexico City one day while she and Castaneda were in a market searching for used books on the topic of pre-Christian Mexican religions.
Early in Castaneda’s apprenticeship, Don Juan introduced Castaneda to such psychotropic plants as peyote, datura and mushrooms. Garvin feels that such psychotropic plants are not always necessary for shamanism and that Don Juan felt that females, especially, have the ability to travel to magical spaces without the use of psychotropic plants.
“The best shamanism is without drugs. Don Juan thought [Carlos] needed them to blast through his incredible ego that most western men have,” Garvin said.
Over time, Castaneda developed a technique similar to what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called “active dreaming,” she said. Castaneda would enter the active dreaming state and then dialogues between himself and someone else would bubble up through his subconscious mind, she said.
“He would kind of percolate these things in these extraordinary states of consciousness…There was a real Carlos and there was a real Don Juan. The dialogues were from his special active dreaming state.
But what came through the depths of Castaneda’s psyche didn’t always follow the rules of academia.
“When people try to get too picky it does sort of fall apart…Carlos’s world doesn’t hold up to tough scrutiny because it’s a percolated world,” Garvin said.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with writing in an active dreaming state, it is not typically a technique that academia favors.
“The problem is, when you say it’s anthropology – then you’re saying it holds up to certain rules and standards,” Garvin said.
But that is not to say that Castaneda’s books have no value. Besides the value of documenting a vanishing tribal culture, Garvin says that many of the shamanic teachings in his books, such as the “assemblage point,” the “Nagual” and so forth, have a great value.
“If people glean things from his books that enhance their lives, that opened their doors of perception, then what harm is that? If, however, they were drained by him and made choices that didn’t benefit them, it could cause them to go down a hopeless dead end,” she said.
Garvin’s own experiences have shown her instances of how the dream world and our “real” world can overlap in mysterious ways. For example, when she was studying the Complete Reality School of the Taoists, she kept having a series of dreams regarding the White Cloud Temple in Beijing.
Later, when she traveled there in person, she found herself in the very same hidden Taoist courtyard she had been dreaming about, which was beyond the normal “tourist” areas of the White Cloud Temple, Garvin said. Had she not had her series of dreams, she may never have discovered the underground continuation of Taoism in modern-day China. “How you get there is you follow your dreams,” Garvin concluded.
Garvin, who owns land in the Imnaha area, is passionate about a variety of things, including a new biodiesel project she and some friends are working on. But, perhaps the one theme that haunts her is her relationship with Castaneda. One of her goals in moving to the quiet city of Joseph was to take time out to write a book about her experiences with Castaneda.
Castaneda died April 27, 1998, at age 72. Garvin said that Castaneda called her shortly before he died to apologize for the way he had acted toward her and other people. Garvin had deliberately broken their verbal contract around 1992 when she saw him acting manipulatively toward people.
Garvin believes she was the only one from his inner circle to break away and criticize the man seen by some as the founder of the New Age movement.
“I was the only one – he had everybody else kind of hypnotized…He saw that I saw him taking advantage of other people – I just disapproved of it,” she said.
Castaneda had wanted to make amends with her before he died. He told her, “Remember me sweetly. Remember that I love you beyond this life.”
Garvin teared up at the thought of how Castaneda had so much wanted to transcend the bounds of death. And watching Garvin recall the man that had such an influence on her life and others, one wondered whether the notion of love beyond death might indeed be playing itself out at that very moment.
“He wasn’t an ordinary man. He was like a husband, a teacher, a friend, a sorcerer, a father. He was all those things. He supported me financially. He was an extraordinary man.”