When I was writing my review of Maps to the Stars, I was intrigued to learn that the screenwriter, Bruce Wagner, was a disciple of Carlos Castaneda. In case you don’t know, Castaneda was the author of a series of books that were hugely popular in the 1970’s. In them, Castaneda claimed that he had had a series of encounters with a Yaqui sorcerer named Don Juan. This shaman introduced Castaneda to a “separate reality”, in which he could talk to animals and fly through the air. These books were eventually exposed as a hoax, yet they continue to be sold as “non-fiction” to this day. I felt a personal connection here, because I read the Don Juan books when I was in high school, and for a time I came under their spell, so to speak. However, I eventually came to the conclusion that they were basically bullshit. Yet I still vividly recall some some episodes and bits of conversation from them. I actually remember them more fondly than The Lord of the Rings, which I read at roughly the same time.
The debunking of the Don Juan books didn’t hurt Castaneda though. He went on to a lucrative career as a self-help guru. (Contrast this with how James Frey got beat up for embroidering some details of his life.) Castaneda went on to found an organization called Cleargreen, which teaches something called “Tensegrity”. And what is Tensegrity? Cleargreen’s website explains:
Tensegrity® is the modern version of the navigator’s way—practices and principles that support finding and traveling a path with heart—that don Juan Matus taught his four students: Carlos Castaneda, Florinda Donner-Grau, Taisha Abelar and Carol Tiggs. Don Juan was a Yaqui Indian seer and a leader of a group of men and women seers whose lineage begins in Mexico of ancient times.
And I’m sure the men and women seers of ancient Mexico used trademarks whenever they could.
But let’s get back to Bruce Wagner. According to Salon, Wagner once had the following role in Cleargreen:
A major player in promoting Tensegrity was Wagner, whose fifth novel, “The Chrysanthemum Palace,” was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner prize (his sixth, “Memorial,” was recently released by Simon and Schuster). Wagner hadn’t yet published his first novel when he approached Castaneda in 1988 with the hope of filming the don Juan books. Within a few years, according to Jennings and Wallace, he became part of the inner circle. He was given the sorceric name Lorenzo Drake — Enzo for short. As the group began to emerge from the shadows, holding seminars in high school auditoriums and on college campuses, Wagner, tall, bald and usually dressed in black, would, according to Geuter and Wallace, act as a sort of bouncer, removing those who asked unwanted questions.
From bouncer to novelist. An interesting career path.
In Maps to the Stars, several characters recite a poem by Paul Eluard entitled ‘Liberty’. The poem begins this way:
On my notebooks from school
On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name
On every page read
On all the white sheets
Stone blood paper or ash
I write your name
The name is ‘Liberty’. At the end of the film, two of the characters recite this poem just before they commit suicide. The implication here is that they see death as a release from the prison of their lives. What bothers me about this is that when Castaneda died, several of his female disciples, including the three women mentioned on the Cleargreen website, disappeared. Some people believe they may have committed suicide. (You can read about this in the article I linked to above.)
At the end of Castaneda’s book Tales of Power, Don Juan urges Castaneda to jump off a cliff, in order to show that he has finally become a sorcerer. I’ve noticed that a recurring motif in Hollywood films that I’ve watched in recent years is someone jumping off a building in order to prove a point. The most recent example of this is in Birdman. (This also occurs in The Matrix.) Castaneda reportedly frequented Hollywood parties, and he no doubt discussed some of his ideas with people at these gatherings.
The fact that someone like Castaneda may have had an influence on popular films is a sobering thought.