Riverdave Owen Facilitator 
Duke Continuing Studies
Winter 2019


class #1 - January 10 - Fateful encounter at the Nogales Bus Station; the Diableros - Introduction 
class #2 - January 17 - Finding one's happy spot - Chapter I
class #3 - January 24 - Mescalito Part One - Chapter 2
class #4 - January 31 - Mescalito Part Two - Chapters 4 & 8
class #5 - February 7 - Former student of Castaneda shares with us
class #6 - February 14 - Devil’s Weed Part One - Chapters 3a & 5
no class - February 21- Duke Continuing Studies winter break
class #7 - February 28 - Devil’s Weed Part Two - Chapters 6 & 9
class #8 - March 7 - Little Smoke Part One - Chapters 3b & 7
class #9 - March 14 - Little Smoke Part Two - Chapter 10
class #10 - March 21 - Becoming a Man of Knowledge - Chapter 3c;  A Path With Heart - Chapters 5a and 9c

NOTES FOR CLASS #10 - March 21

Since all of us in this class are seniors, or at least close to being there, I think it is important for us to dwell a bit longer on don Juan's fourth enemy of a man of knowledge.  "Old age! This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one he won't be able to defeat completely, but only fight away." This is a challenging perspective that I hope we can wrestle with together as we review the last three paragraphs of chapter 3. 

In Chapter 3, from the beginning of his entry dated Saturday, April 8, 1962 to the end of the chapter, don Juan informs Carlos that becoming a Man of Knowledge requires that one defeat four enemies - fear, clarity, power and old age. Few are able to succeed in this lifelong challenge because these enemies are formidable and even those who do may subsequently backslide and lose their achievement. Please come to class prepared to discuss your personal experience with these four enemies. Also note that in his subsequent books, Carlos reports don Juan explaining how women often prove to be the best of warriors on this path, so don't get hung up on the expression "man" of knowledge.  

At the beginning of Chapter 5 in the entry dated Sunday, January 27, 1963, don Juan impresses on Carlos the need to chose a path with heart. Don Juan expounds on the subject again at the end of Chapter 9 in the entry dated Monday, December 28, 1964. Can you provide for the class an example of a path in your own life that either did or did not have a heart, thus confirming don Juan's counsel?  

What is your reaction to don Juan's claim in Chapter 5 that "All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere." Is this an admonition for us to be one with and enjoy each moment because life will soon end for all of us? Or by reading the remainder of Carlos's series of books, might we discover that don Juan reportedly ended his life on earth in a remarkably different way than most humans have?


Since we are discussing the important role of animals in shamanism/sorcery this week, I'll kick things off by sharing an interesting animal encounter I had yesterday in Alamance County: 

In chapter 10, we find Carlos taking the little smoke three more times, using up his entire smoking mixture for the year. In the first round, Carlos falls asleep. Don Juan then uses this as a lesson to introduce the shamanic art of shapeshifting. If you are not familiar with the enormous extant of this concept in global mythology, see

During his second round with the little smoke Carlos states "from the time I fell to the ground on my side I was completely devoid of feeling or thought. Yet my clarity was not impaired in any way." This, of course, is the goal of most traditions of meditation worldwide. In that state of focused mindfulness, Don Juan was able to teach Carlos, step by step, how to shapeshift into a crow.  

After his third round with the little smoke, the details of the experience had to be coaxed out of Carlos' memory by don Juan.  As a crow, Carlos was tossed into the air by don Juan and joined a small flock of other crows in the sky. Don Juan then states to Carlos that the crow has become an "emissary of his fate" that will come to "collect" him at the time of his death. Do any in this class have a relationship with an animal spirit ally they could share about with the rest of us?

Another contemporary UC academic friend of Carlos was Michael Harner.  In his now classic book The Way of the Shaman, Harner provides a step by step methodology for finding a personal animal spirit guide or ally.  Here is a link to a recent documentary about the life of Michael Harner that was produced just one year before his passing in 2018: 


Here's is a brief introduction to the species of mushroom that Carlos states is likely the one used in don Juan's 

In chapter 3, beginning in the section dated November 13, 1961, note don Juan's detailed instructions to Carlos about how to handle his pipe.  Come to class prepared to share your own pipe experiences or perhaps even bring along a special pipe if you own one. 


Halfway through chapter 7, don Juan displays his masterful skill as a shaman/guide/teacher by offering a lullaby which he sings to his raging apprentice Carlos who is strung out on the little smoke. Here's a recorded Mexican rendition: 

Señora Santana, porque llora el niño
Por una manzana que se le ha perdido.
Yo le daré una, yo te daré dos,
Una para el niño, otra para vos.

Lady Saint Ana, why does the baby cry?
For an apple that he has lost.
I will give him one, I will give you two.
One for the boy, the other for you.

After the lullaby, Carlos then goes on to describes s full blown ecstatic experience when don Juan invites him to "get inside my chest."  What are your feelings about such a profoundly intimate guru/disciple experience? 

At the end of chapter 7 under the entry dated January 28, 1964, don Juan tells Carlos that in order to handle the power of the little smoke, "one has to live a strong life."  What kind of strength do you think don Juan is referring to here?

Two more documentaries about the Kogi:

NOTES FOR CLASS #7 - February 28

Do each of us have our own protective power object, perhaps given to us by a teacher, elder or parent, as don Juan carved the datura root and gave the doll/figurine to Carlos? (just past the middle of chapter 3)

What do you think of don Juan's explanation of "flying" with the devil's weed? (end of chapter 6)

In the last few pages of chapter 9, don Juan portrays the lizards as "guides" for those who take the devil's weed. Here is another examples of the sorcerer/shaman's interplay between animals and plants. Have you experienced the medicine of both animals and plants working together in your life?

Be prepared to share your impressions of the BBC film on the Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia.


The passage in the Teachings that some of you missed, about the the "figurine" that don Juan made for Carlos as a "protection," begins a little over half way through Chapter Three with the entry date of "Tuesday, December 26, 1961."

In class today I referred to this documentary about the Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia. Originally filmed by the BBC in the early 1990s, I watched this repeatedly throughout the 90s, straining it for meaning and personal application in my hometown work along the Eno River:  


Class discussion questions for chapters 3a and 5:
1 - What is a possible origin of the name devil's weed for the datura plant?
2 - What are your feelings about don Juan's stereotypically feminine imagery when describing the power of the devil's weed?
3 - What are your feelings about don Juan's elaborate ritual of preparing the devil's weed?
4 - What is the purpose of making the figurine?
5 - What role does the mortar and pestle play in the preparation process?
6 - What are your feelings about the lizard divination?
7 - What kinds of divination do you practice that you could share with the class?

Interestingly I discovered that the etymology of the word datura is found in Sanskrit, where dhattuura is the name of the Asian plant species known in English as white datura and with the Latin binomial Datura metel.  The Sanskrit dhattuura धत्तूर may be formed from two other Sanskrit words - dhauta धौत meaning white and tuurii तूरी meaning thornapple. 
An eight minute video by the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna about his experience with datura while sitting alone in his room in Boudhanath (where I spent the summer of 2017 studying Sanskrit and Ayurveda) Nepal:

Short video about the datura plant:

Short video about the palo verde, the tree don Juan described as the only friend of the datura plant and from which a branch was taken to dig up the datura: 

Short article about the datura weevil that don Juan had Carlos grind in the processing of datura:

NOTES FOR CLASS #5 - FEBRUARY 7 (a class presentation by a former student of Carlos Castaneda)

Here is the bio of our guest presenter Kevin Powell. Please come to class prepared to ask any and all questions you might have about Carlos Castaneda and the practical applications of his book The Teachings of Don Juan. 

New York Times, June 20, 1998 
Station KPFA Radio, January 30, 1969, Pacifica Radio Archives 
(37 minutes) 


Class discussion questions for chapters four and eight:

1 - At the beginning of chapter four, don Juan states that to those who know him well, Mescalito is always constant and will appear as either a man or a light.  Can you recall a metaphysical light encounter in your life?

2 - One quarter of the way through chapter four, what does the following instruction by Don Juan teach us as herbalists? "We will pick him as we cross the field, that is, we will pick him only when he is in our way. He will find us and not the other way around. He will find us - if he wants to." 

3 - Halfway through chapter four, don Juan seems to break the guru standard and states that no one taught him about Mescalito, but instead Mescalito taught him directly.  Can we also have this kind of relationship where a plant teaches us directly?

4 - At the end of chapter four, don Juan states that one must live a truthful life in order to work with this plant medicine.  What are some of the nuances of his use of the word truthful?

5 - Halfway through chapter eight, Carlos asks Mescalito to help him identify what is amiss in his life.  A vision follows where Carlos embraces and pours out his heart to his father.  Is this plant medicine actually capable of providing such a deep personal healing experience?

6 - Near the end of chapter eight, don Juan explains to Carlos the purpose of receiving songs given by Mescalito. What is the function of plant songs in the practice of herbalism/shamanism/sorcery?

This is the organization (husband and wife team of Freddy and Yolanda) that lead the peyote ceremony that I attended in the our area in 2007. They are still offering the same experience through the auspices of the Native American Church. See:

NOTES FOR CLASS #3 - January 24
A 1994 one hour documentary on the history of the Native American Church's struggle with the U.S. government to legalize the use of Peyote as their sacrament:
Class discussion questions for chapter two:

1 - Shamanism/sorcery is often characterized by a dynamic interplay between plants and animals.  In the case of Carlos, this occurs between a cactus and a dog.  Why was Carlos so slow to recognize what don Juan saw as a wonder and an omen?  Here's a personal account of my own experience of dynamic plant-animal interplay: 

2 - Why does a power plant encounter often produce an experience of both euphoria and suffering for the seeker? 

3 - Why does don Juan offer the warrior’s path and the need for enlisting an ally as appropriate metaphors for working with power plants?

A key Spanish technical term from Chapter Two: Don Juan reveals to Carlos "I have SECRETS that I won't be able to reveal to anyone unless I find my chosen man." 

Here's a good introduction to the natural history and ethnobotany of Mescalito:

NOTES FOR CLASS # 2 - January 17

When studying cultures and concepts that are exotic to us, it is important to AT LEAST learn and pronounce correctly a few technical terms in the new language that can become like a mantra to us, helping channel the energy of the story into our present moment. Here's a key word from Chapter One that Carlos thought it important for us to know since he left it in our text in Spanish: 

Class discussion questions for chapter one:

1 - Why does don Juan insist that Carlos have clarity of purpose in his heart before learning about Mescalito?

2 - Do you know how to find your happy spot?  Is it a creative work spot, a relaxation spot or a withdrawal and retreat spot?

3 - What does don Juan mean that one needs “enough backbone” and “have command over one’s resources” to meet Mescalito?

4 - Why does don Juan refer to Mescalito as a personal masculine being, unlike how most of us refer to plants as non-personal and genderless? 

Here's a chapter from Castaneda's third book, A Journey to Ixlan, where Carlos discovers a "happy spot" on a hilltop after a long hike

through the desert led by don Juan. I italicized the passage - A Warrior's Last Stand 

"To be old and youthful, that is sorcery!”
Carlos Castañeda - Quote from an Interview published in Psychology Today, March 1, 1996

NOTES FOR CLASS #1 - January 10

Class discussion questions for Goldschmidt's Forward and Castaneda's Introduction to our text:
1 - How might we "see fleetingly the real world, the one between our own cultural construct, and those other worlds?" (from the fourth paragraph of the Forward)
2 - How might Castaneda's encounter with don Juan in the Nogales Bus Station inform us about how we can also find our own teacher/guru? 
3 - Is there a difference between a sorcerer (diablero or brujo) and a shaman? See: 
4 - How do we distinguish power objects from having an ally?
If you are unable to purchase your own copy of our text before the first week of class, you may use this online text:  
Please also have a look at this brief article about the Sonora Desert, as we will be focusing on a geographical region that is particularly rich in natural history:
Here is an expanded version of the Nogales Bus Station Encounter found in Castaneda's third book - A Jouney to Ixlan: