The Trickster of Truths
Adam Gorightly



One of the more interesting chapters in Timothy Leary's Flashbacks--aside from the one dealing with Mary Pinchot-Meyer, and how she allegedly turned on JFK to LSD--deals with the period Leary spent (after getting kicked out of Harvard) in Mexico at the isolated Hotel 'La Catalina' where he continued his LSD research project, recruiting intrepid explorers there to sample his wares in the positive set and setting of tropical sand and foam. Most of the trips taken there were positive and pleasant, though one funny session is recalled where some guy flipped his wig thinking himself an ape a' la Altered States, running around the island berserking ape-like and terrorizing the native populace. Another interesting episode from this chapter was a visit from Carlos Castaneda, a few years before Carlos penned his classic chronicles of Don Juan's shamanic teachings. It seems that Castaneda even at this time had begun his role as cosmic prankster, doing all kinds of flaky stuff and circulating false rumors about Leary as he tried--albeit unsuccessfully--to gain admission into Leary's psychedelic hotel, and into his head. But Dr. Tim was having no part of this young conservative-looking Hispanic flake, whom he figured correctly was up to some sort of mysterious mental mischief. Upon first meeting Leary, Castaneda presented himself as a Peruvian journalist named Arana, at the time confusing Leary for Richard Alpert. Leary, smelling a rat, politely informed Arana/Castaneda that they entertained a policy of 'no visitors' at the hotel. He shook Carlos' hand and bade him farewell, sending Castaneda back with the hotel station wagon that was making a run into the village. The next day an employee of the hotel, Raphael, met Leary with a solemn expression. Raphael informed Dr. Leary that his aunt, who was a medicine women, had imparted to him on ominous story. Seems she had been visited the previous night by Arana AKA Castaneda who was now claiming to be a professor from a big University in California. The 'professor' claimed that he was a 'warrior of the soul' and needed the medicine women's assistance. He said his powers were being attacked by an American (Leary) who possessed great magic that had been stolen from the Mexican Indians. Castaneda--now claiming to be an Hispanic--wanted the medicine women to help him steal these powers back, so that he could protect the Mexican people. When all was said and done, the medicine woman was having no part of the ruse. Little did Carlos know when he approached her, that many of the medicine woman's family members worked at the hotel 'La Catalina'. Carlos told her this was also the name of a bad witch-woman who was his enemy. In response, she informed Castaneda that Leary was a good man under her protection, and sent Carlos on his way. (The character of 'La Catalina' appears in Castaneda's first book, The Teachings of don Juan. In a very roundabout manner--some have said--this character was modeled after Dr. Leary.)

The next day Castaneda showed up again at the 'La Catalina', using as before the Arana alias. This time he apologized for having earlier mistaken Leary for Alpert, and offered him a gift, said to have come directly from Gordon Wasson's personal shaman, Maria Sabina. When Leary caught Castaneda in a lie concerning this so-called gift, he once again politely asked Carlos' to leave, and--after much spirited protestation--the 'young sorcerer' reluctantly acquiesced. (Arana was, in fact, Carlos' paternal name. Arana, when translated into English means: trap, snare, fib, lie, deceit, fraud, swindle or trick. So, in his native Peruvian tongue, Carlito's Arana=Charlie Trick.)


In a recent SteamShovel Press article, noted psychedelic researcher Tom Lyttle addressed the Holy Trinity Of Sixties Psychedelia: Leary, Castaneda, and R. Gordon Wasson, reflecting upon how these three seminal forces influenced & gave rise to the psychedelic anthropology that came into fashion during that era. Wasson, a much respected NY banker, left the environs of business to devote his latter years to the pursuit of the mysteries of the magic mushroom, traveling to Mexico where he was introduced to it's wonders by the healer-shaman Maria Sabina. Sabina--according to Merilyn Tunneshende--was also an intimate of don Juan. Lyttle notes the interesting and mercurial relationships these three wanderers upon the path of hallucinogenic illumination shared, often coming into conflict over their varied views of the psychedelic experience. Wasson felt that Leary at times was naive and reckless in his grandiose proselytizations. Conversely, Leary must have felt that Wasson was a bit of a scholarly stuffed shirt, lacking in mental flexibility. What's funny is that this is much the same way The Merry Pranksters viewed Leary once upon a trip, when the Kesey clan attempted to raid his research facilities at Millbrook, and the good doctor refused to party with The Pranksters since he was too busy with some sort of scholarly psychedelic experiment. Perhaps this is the same apprehension of Leary's that turned him off to Castaneda; the fear that he was in the company of a trickster who was cleverly involved in some sort of role playing mind game. As for Castaneda and Wasson, the two met on a couple of occasions, and afterwards exchanged several letters over the years. Throughout it all, Wasson remained highly skeptical of Castaneda's claims. After his initial reading of The Teachings of don Juan, Wasson stated that he "smelled a hoax."


Wasson and Castaneda biographer, Richard De Mille, though both admirers of Castaneda's work, were equally critical of it's veracity, particularly in regards to the inconsistent use of language throughout. Where the first book had don Juan speaking formal English, in the later books he frequently used English slang. The problem here is that don Juan did not speak English, and that Carlos' conversations with him were transcribed from Spanish. In Castaneda's second offering, A Separate Reality, there are several examples of this, as there are in the third of the series, A Journey to Ixtlan. In that Journey to Ixtlan was a recapitulation of the events that transpired at the time of the first book, these inconsistencies collectively raised the collective eyebrows of both Wasson and De Mille. Such phrases as "off your rocker" "cut the guff" "lose your marbles" "shenanigans" & "the real McCoy" were liberally peppered throughout; English slang words with no Spanish counterparts. One reason for this may have been the editorial constraints Castaneda was under with the University of California Press, who published his first book, as opposed to the freedom he exercised afterwards with Simon & Schuster, who basically gave Castaneda carte blanche control over subsequent manuscripts. Castaneda apparently used this leverage thereafter by refusing to have his work scrutinized by any of the S&S editors. De Mille, in Castaneda's Journey, noted these aforementioned linguistic problems, and went even further into examining the chronologies of the books, once again discovering conflicts within the time frames and chain of events.


In the end, Wasson who upon first meeting Castaneda described him as "an obviously honest and serious young man," later found him to be just "a poor pilgrim lost on his way to his own Ixtlan."


For the full story, order Issue #6

(This is the first of a three-part series, which ran consecutively in issues 6-8)


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