Who is Don Juan Matus?

Don Juan Matus is a major figure in the series of books on Nagual shamanism by Carlos Castaneda. He is described as a Yaqui Indian to whom Castaneda was first introduced at a bus depot in Yuma, Arizona in the early 1960s. The actual existence of don Juan has long been disputed; his practices and beliefs are inconsistent with his alleged identification as a Yaqui shaman.[1]The old man, in fact, never professes that to be his original name. He merely says that for Castaneda, at least, he is Juan Matus.

Regardless of whether Don Juan is a character or a subject of study in Castaneda’s books, Don Juan tells Carlos (the personage representing Castaneda) that he is a brujo(Spanish for sorcerer or witch), which is a sort of healer, sorcerer or shaman, who had inherited (through a lineage of teachers) an ancient Mesoamerican practice for vastly enhancing one’s awareness of, and interaction with, the energies of the Earth and its assorted beings. In the books Don Juan was an expert in the cultivation and use of various psychotropic plants (specifically, psychedelic mushrooms, datura and peyote) found in the Mexican deserts. These were used as aids to reach states of non-ordinaryreality in the teachings he conveyed to Carlos.

In Castaneda

In the books don Juan is unmarried and presented as an old man of indigenous ancestry, with great strength and agility, who spoke excellent Spanish but had never been to college, and who apparently had lived his entire life in poor conditions. Don Juan‘s philosophy might be summed up in a passage from Castaneda’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge:

For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel—looking, looking, breathlessly.

Castaneda’s books featuring don Juan Matus


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