LA CATALINA: Sorceress


------


the Wanderling




In the series of Don Juan books by Carlos Castaneda 'la Catalina' is a sorceress, a witch, a bruja --- said by none other than the likes of the powerful shaman sorcerer Don Juan Matus --- through the written words of Castaneda --- to be nothing less than a worthy opponent. She shows up mentioned only briefly for the first time in Castaneda's very first book on a date given by him as Thursday, November 23, 1961. From that brief mention, as time moves through the series of books, by the end of the year 1962 Castaneda had met 'la Catalina' at least six times. One time as a marauding almost amorphous blackbird, one time as a sailing silhouette, and four times face to face as a beautiful but terrifying young woman. In each of those encounters Castaneda had varying degrees of physical and mental reactions ranging from his ears bursting to choking to his hands being frozen, his body chilled, and his arms and legs rigid as if paralyzed. The hair on his body stood on end and he lost his power of speech.

All indications are, however, that the possibility exists that Castaneda encountered 'la Catalina' a full year and a half before that November, 1961, date --- in the late summer of 1960, a time and place that set his destiny --- and he did not even know it. Nor has that fact ever shown up in any of Castaneda's books or writings, primarily because for all practical purposes, he never became aware of it.

Long before anybody ever heard of Castaneda and long before he became famous, Castaneda was a struggling undergraduate student studying anthropology at UCLA. In the late spring of 1960 he was in Arizona conducting field research in medicinal plants native to the desert southwest. Before the semester was over he decided to give up on his studies and head back to Los Angeles because of being so discouraged by critical high ranking professors in disagreement with his pursuits. Although nowhere near being a full-fledged Shaman, Castaneda kept finding himself having fleeting flashes of intuition in an almost primordial inkling of future events. Following a series of incidents that were considered Omen like in fashion by Castaneda, a not nearly so high ranking working stiff and seat-of-the-pants ground-pounder versed in four-field anthropology (Ethnology, Archaeology, Linguistic and Biological) stepped forward out of the blue and introduced himself. We are talking a very highly regarded field experienced, albeit non-academic-affiliated, amateur archaeologist here --- eventually to be called Bill by Castaneda in his books, BUT reported in a variety of other sources to go by the name of Cactus Jack or William Lawrence Campbell. Bill told Castaneda he intended to go on a Road Trip, asking Castaneda if he would like to join him. His intention was to drive throughout Arizona and New Mexico revisiting "all the places where he had done work in the past, renewing in this fashion his relationships with the people (Native American or otherwise) who had been his anthropological informants." The introduction, as voiced by Campbell in his own words many years later while among fellow researchers in a small cafe in Taos, New Mexico, follows:


"Castaneda had shown up at the archaeology dig site a few days earlier. The two of us had seen each other or passed by each other on a number of occasions at the site, but we were yet to meet or talk. Although other student level people were either working at the dig and/or participating in various aspects of camp maintenance, Castaneda wasn't. He basically went around most of the day bugging high ranking anthropologists asking nothing but a continuous stream of unending questions. As I viewed it, in that he didn't seem to be there to participate in the dig nor particularly willing to help around the camp Castaneda wasn't being received very favorably by anybody at any level.

"It was just after sunset and a number of us, like we often did, were gathered around the fire bullshitting and going over the days events in the evening twilight. Castaneda had joined the group but basically just sitting there looking at the fire. Sitting directly across from him was a young woman that I had not seen before who had been reading a book until it got too dark to see. Her legs and lap were partially covered with a blanket and when the darkness set in she had placed the book on her lap folded open to the page where she had left off, with the cover facing up. I was just in the process of introducing myself to Castaneda, shaking his hand and telling him my name was Campbell like in the soup when a powerful gust of wind suddenly came out of nowhere -- like a Vortex or dust devil --- which was a nearly impossible happenstance for so late in the day. The wind tore loose part of a close by canvas shelter top and the sudden noise of the flapping canvas and swirling dirt and dust must have startled the woman with the book because without thinking she jumped to her feet and in doing so, grabbing the blanket, the open book fell from her lap right into the fire.

"Without a moment of hesitation Castaneda reached into the fire and pulled out the book, brushing it off and folding it closed. He then handed the book back to the woman. When he did he looked at the title then at me. The title of the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell. When he looked back at the woman she was gone." [1]


The rest is history. Castaneda, meeting a man whose last name was Campbell just at the exact same time a woman was reading a book that accidently tumbled into the fire he was standing next to --- and upon retrieving the book from the fire for the woman to find out the author of the book was Joseph Campbell, a champion of the hero's quest, was too much. Castaneda had no choice but to go on the Road Trip.


I discussed the above incident many years later with my Uncle who knew both Castaneda and Campbell. He basically dismissed the whole thing saying Campbell was merely a gadfly. He did however, not dismiss everything totally. In so saying, he always knew and maintained a great respect for the natural order of things, the unfolding of events, the role of THOSE involved in the events, and the power within and behind those events. For example, during that later discussion or one closely related, I tried to get my uncle to clarify some of my questions regarding the emaciated man thought by me to possibly be the Death Defier. The following, regarding that discussion, is found in a footnote to Julian Osorio, said by Castaneda to be Don Juan's master teacher:


"(I) tried to entice him (my uncle at the original source) to repeat for me what he had said that night outside the cave, verbatim, in whatever language it was, then translate into English the actual indepth meaning behind the words. He told me it ended that night in front of the cave and not to concern myself. However, he refused to say the Defier's name out loud intimating that he, my uncle --- and I quote --- "did not want to be found." According to Wallace, as told to her by a Castaneda confidant, by invoking the Death Defier's name in Tula, that is Nahuatl, the Defier's spirit will awaken."


So said, my uncle saying Campbell was a gadfly or not, my uncle still carried ahead of himself that great respect in the unfolding of events. That respect --- if you want to call it that --- truly shows up in the above where my uncle says he refused to say the Defier's name out loud intimating that he, my uncle --- and I quote --- "did not want to be found." It shows up over and over in his actions as well as in the many conversations I had with him, one example being the above interaction between the mysterious woman at the firepit and Campbell. Regarding that interaction, Campbell said:


"Without a moment of hesitation Castaneda reached into the fire and pulled out the book, brushing it off and folding it closed. He then handed the book back to the woman. When he did he looked at the title then at me. The title of the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell. When he looked back at the woman she was gone."


My uncle told me that even though Castaneda looked back immediately after handing the book to the woman and she was gone, such was not the case with what Campbell saw from his vantage point across the fire. If you recall it was just after sunset and a number of people, including Campbell and Castaneda were gathered around the fire talking and going over the days events in the evening twilight. Campbell told my uncle, even though the woman was gone for Castaneda in the almost micro-second it took him to look back, such was not the case for himself. Campbell said, looking toward the woman across the fire after Castaneda handed her the book, he caught a glimpse of her dark silhouette between the flames rising superimposed against the twilight sky, and then almost in a wisp of smoke the blackened silhouette seemed to sail through the air beyond view in the darkness.

In that I had a similar incident transprire as a young boy at the Sun Dagger site, I was curious if it could have been the same woman. As it turned out she did not seem to be.

However, as part of that initial curiosity, when I asked my uncle if Campbell had ever made mention of what the woman looked like he said he had asked Campbell once. Campbell told him he had never seen the woman around the camp previously and only saw her briefly for a few moments across the fire that night. But, if he had to describe her, he thought she did not seem like a student or dig worker, but, although not dressed in the fashion of an Indian woman, more like what Hollywood thought a movie Indian woman should look like. Fairly good looking, probably around thirty with a somewhat Rubenesque body. She had a full face, high cheekbones and long black hair done in two long braids.

In Castaneda's third book Journey to Ixtlan (1972) in a section called 'A Worthy Opponent' dated December 11, 1962, Castaneda, whose teacher's teacher was a Diablero, writes that over a month before he had a horrendous confrontation with a female version of same, a sorceress called 'la Catalina.' 'La Catalina' had been mentioned briefly previously in his first book with a date being cited by him as November 23, 1961, intimating from the words of Don Juan Matus that it was the very first time he, Castaneda, became aware of her existance. However, it wasn't until Journey to Ixtlan was released that Castaneda attempted a visual description of what 'la Catalina' looked like:


"I scrutinized her carefully, and concluded that she was a beautiful woman. She was very dark and had a plump body, but she seemed to be strong and muscular. She had a round full face with high cheekbones and two long braids of jet black hair. What surprised me the most was her youth. She was at the most in her early thirties." [2]


Castaneda's book Journey to Ixtlan did not come out for general consumption until 1972. The conversation between my uncle and me, wherein the description of the woman at the firepit was brought up, happened some two to three years prior to that. The incident at the firepit happened sometime toward the end of the spring to early summer of 1960.

To break it all down, Campbell's description of the woman at the firepit went thus:


"(S)he did not seem like a student or dig worker, but, although not dressed in the fashion of an Indian woman, more like what Hollywood thought a movie Indian woman should look like. Fairly good looking, probably around thirty with a somewhat Rubenesque body. She had a full face, high cheekbones and long black hair done in two long braids."


Castaneda's description of 'la Catalina' went thus:


"I scrutinized her carefully, and concluded that she was a beautiful woman. She was very dark and had a plump body, but she seemed to be strong and muscular. She had a round full face with high cheekbones and two long braids of jet black hair. What surprised me the most was her youth. She was at the most in her early thirties."


Notice also in the main text how the woman at the firepit was all of a sudden gone for Castaneda, but how different it was for Campbell from his vantage point. Campbell says:


"Looking toward the woman across the fire after Castaneda handed her the book, he caught a glimpse of her dark silhouette between the flames rising superimposed against the twilight sky, and then almost in a wisp of smoke the blackened silhouette seemed to sail through the air beyond view in the darkness." [3]


In Castaneda's third book, Journey to Ixtlan, in the previously mentioned section A Worthy Opponent dated Tuesday, December 11, 1962, Castaneda writes of 'la Catalina' having a similar ability as the woman at the firepit. Castanteda says:


"I kept my eyes glued to that spot and suddenly, as if in a nightmare, a dark shadow leaped at me. I shrieked and fell down to the ground on my back. For a moment the dark silhouette was superimposed against the dark blue sky and then it sailed through the air and landed beyond us, in the bushes. I heard the sound of a heavy body crashing into the shrubs and then an eerie outcry."


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Below, in Castaneda's own hand and from his own books, in context, are the the earliest before and after paragraphs that lead up to and mention 'la Catalina.' First, from THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge showing when, where and how she is first mentioned, and second, Castaneda's description of what she looked like from Journey to Ixtlan:


THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968)


Thursday, November 23, 1961

I didn't see don Juan sitting on his porch as I drove in. I thought it was strange. I called to him out loud and his daughter-in-law came out of the house.

"He's inside," she said.

I found he had dislocated his ankle several weeks before. He had made his own cast by soaking strips of cloth in a mush made with cactus and powdered bone. The strips, wrapped tightly around his ankle, had dried into a light, streamlined cast. It had the hardness of plaster, but not its bulkiness.

"How did it happen?" I asked.

His daughter-in-law, a Mexican woman from Yucatan who was tending him, answered me.

"It was an accident! He fell and nearly broke his foot!"

Don Juan laughed and waited until the woman had left the house before answering.


"Accident, my eye! I have an enemy nearby. A woman. "La Catalina!" She pushed me during a moment of weakness and I fell."

"Why did she do that?"

"She wanted to kill me, that's why."

"Was she here with you?"

"Yes!"

"Why did you let her in?"

"I didn't. She flew in."

"I beg your pardon!"

"She is a blackbird [chanate]. And so effective at that. I was caught by surprise. She has been trying to finish me off for a long while. This time she got real close."

"Did you say she is a blackbird? I mean, is she a bird?"

"There you go again with your questions. She is a blackbird! The same way I'm a crow. Am I a man or a bird? I'm a man who knows how to become a bird. But going back to "la Catalina", she is a fiendish witch! Her intent to kill me is so strong that I can hardly fight her off. The blackbird came all the way into my house and I couldn't stop it."

"Can you become a bird, don Juan?"

"Yes! But that's something we'll take up later."

"Why does she want to kill you?"

"Oh, there's an old problem between us. It got out of hand and now it looks as if I will have to finish her off before she finishes me."

"Are you going to use witchcraft?" I asked with great expectations.

"Don't be silly. No witchcraft would ever work on her. I have other plans! I'll tell you about them some day."

"Can your ally protect you from her?"

"No! The little smoke only tells me what to do. Then I must protect myself."

"How about Mescalito? Can he protect you from her?"

"No! Mescalito is a teacher, not a power to be used for personal reasons."

"How about the devil's weed?"

"I've already said that I must protect myself, following the directions of my ally the smoke. And as far as I know, the smoke can do anything. If you want to know about any point in question, the smoke will tell you. And it will give you not only knowledge, but also the means to proceed. It's the most marvellous ally a man could have."



Journey to Ixtlan (1972)

Tuesday, December 11, 1962

My traps were perfect. The setting was correct. I saw rabbits, squirrels and other rodents, quail, and birds; but I could not catch anything at all during the whole day.

Don Juan had told me as we left his house in the early morning that I had to wait that day for a 'gift of power'; an exceptional animal that might be lured into my traps, and whose flesh I could dry for 'power food'.

Don Juan seemed to be in a pensive mood. He did not make a single suggestion or comment. Near the end of the day he finally made a statement.

"Someone is interfering with your hunting," he said.

"Who?" I asked, truly surprised.

He looked at me, smiled, and shook his head in a gesture of disbelief.

"You act as if you didn't know who," he said. "And you've known who all day."

I was going to protest, but I saw no point in it. I knew he was going to say 'la Catalina'; and if that was the kind of knowledge he was talking about, then he was right: I did know who.

"We either go home now," he continued, "or we wait until dark and use the twilight to catch her."

He appeared to be waiting for my decision.

I wanted to leave so I began to gather some thin rope that I was using; but before I could voice my wish to leave, he stopped me with a direct command.

"Sit down," he said. "It would be a simpler and more sober decision just to leave now, but this is a peculiar case and I think we must stay. This show is just for you."

"What do you mean?"

"Someone is interfering with you in particular, so that makes it your show. I know who and you also know who."

"You scare me," I said.

"Not me," he replied, laughing. "That woman who is out there prowling is scaring you."

He paused as if he were waiting for the effect of his words to show on me. I had to admit that I was terrified.


Over a month before, I had a horrendous confrontation with a sorceress called 'la Catalina'.

I faced her, I had thought, at the risk of my life because don Juan had convinced me that she was after his life; and that he was incapable of fending off her onslaughts.

After I came in contact with her, don Juan disclosed to me that she had never really been of any danger to him; and that the whole affair had been a trick; not in the sense of a malicious prank, but in the sense of a trap to ensnare me.

His method was so unethical to me that I became furious with him.

Upon hearing my angry outburst don Juan had begun to sing some Mexican tunes. He imitated popular crooners and his renditions were so comical that I had ended up laughing like a child. He entertained me for hours. I never knew he had such a repertoire of idiotic songs.

"Let me tell you something," he finally said. "If you were not tricked, you would never learn. The same thing happened to me, and it'll happen to anyone. The art of a benefactor is to take us to the brink. A benefactor can only point the way and trick.

"I tricked you before. You remember the way I recaptured your hunter's spirit, don't you? You yourself told me that hunting made you forget about plants. You were willing to do a lot of things in order to be a hunter; things you wouldn't have done in order to learn about plants. Now you must do a lot more in order to survive."

He stared at me and broke into a fit of laughter.

"This is all crazy," I said. "We are rational beings."

"You're rational," he retorted. "I am not."

"Of course you are," I insisted. "You are one of the most rational men I have ever met."

"All right!" he exclaimed. "Let us not argue. I am rational, so what?"

I involved him in the argument of why it was necessary for two rational beings to proceed in such an insane way, as we had proceeded with the lady witch.

"You're rational, all right," he said fiercely. "And that means you believe that you know a lot about the world, but do you? Do you really? You have only seen the acts of people. Your experiences are limited only to what people have done to you or to others. You know nothing about this mysterious unknown world."

He signalled me to follow him to my car, and we drove to the small Mexican town near by.

I did not ask what we were going to do. He made me park my car by a restaurant, and then we walked around the bus depot and the general store. Don Juan walked on my right side, leading me.

Suddenly I became aware that someone else was walking side by side with me to my left, but before I had time to turn to look, don Juan made a fast and sudden movement. He leaned forward, as if he were picking something from the ground, and then grabbed me by the armpit when I nearly stumbled over him. He dragged me to my car and did not let go of my arm even to allow me to unlock the door. I fumbled with the keys for a moment. He shoved me gently into the car and then got in himself.

"Drive slowly and stop in front of the store," he said.

When I had stopped, don Juan signalled me with a nod of his head to look. La Catalina was standing at the place where don Juan had grabbed me. I recoiled involuntarily.


The woman took a couple of steps towards the car, and stood there defiantly. I scrutinized her carefully, and concluded that she was a beautiful woman. She was very dark and had a plump body, but she seemed to be strong and muscular. She had a round full face with high cheekbones and two long braids of jet black hair. What surprised me the most was her youth. She was at the most in her early thirties.

"Let her come closer if she wants," don Juan whispered.

She took three or four steps towards my car, and stopped perhaps ten feet away. We looked at each other. At that moment I felt there was nothing threatening about her. I smiled and waved at her. She giggled as if she were a shy little girl, and covered her mouth. Somehow I felt delighted.

I turned to don Juan to comment on her appearance and behaviour, and he scared me half to death with a yell.

"Don't turn your back to that woman, damn it!" he said in a forceful voice.

I quickly turned to look at the woman. She had taken another couple of steps towards my car, and was standing barely five feet away from my door. She was smiling. Her teeth were big and white and very clean.

There was something eerie about her smile, however. It was not friendly. It was a contained grin. Only her mouth smiled. Her eyes were black and cold and were staring at me fixedly.

I experienced a chill all over my body. Don Juan began to laugh in a rhythmical cackle. After a moment's wait the woman slowly backed away and disappeared among people.

We drove away, and don Juan speculated that if I did not tighten up my life and learn, she was going to step on me as one steps on a defenceless bug.

"She is the worthy opponent I told you I had found for you," he said.


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FOOTNOTE [1]

Initially, although I was privy to the original above cited conversation at the cafe in Taos as told by Campbell regarding Castaneda, the woman at the firepit and himself, it was retold to me again a second time through a question and answer session with my uncle several years after the fact --- primarily out of curiosity on my part and because, like I often did, not taking things seriously in the first place, had not filed specifics of the story away in my memory banks for posterity. I have presented Campbell's description of events at the firepit after discussions with my uncle in a variety of footnotes in a number of locations, albeit somewhat abbreviated and modified than presented on this page. However, although the 'la Catalina' page is now the preeminent page regarding the conversation, the original was presented for the very first time as a footnote in CARLOS CASTANEDA: Don Juan Matus and the Nogales Bus Station Meeting.


If you read the page on William Lawrence Campbell reached here, through the Pothunter link, or through the previously cited links above, you will have learned that, at least in his later years anyway, Campbell was known for his ability to spin tall tales. Some of the stories he told, and I cannot be sure how accurate they are, involved Carlos Castaneda.

As mentioned in the above text, my uncle and I had been sitting in a small cafe near Taos, New Mexico with a tribal elder friend when Campbell, whom my uncle seemed to know, stepped up to the table and invited himself to join us. Before long the conversation turned to Castaneda and Campbell related the conversation at the firepit between he and Castaneda that I have presented. However, before we go on, what he told should be prefaced with what I wrote in the Road Trip:


Why has Bill not come forward? It could be he was never aware he was Bill --- or for that matter, never aware either, that the young Hispanic he was traveling with eventually turned out to be Carlos Castaneda. So too, in either of the two cases, if he found out or become aware of the situation later in the scheme of things relative to his life, maybe, on an official level, he just let it go.


It was well after the fact that Campbell learned that the young Hispanic he was traveling with throughout the desert southwest on the Road Trip eventually turned out to be Carlos Castaneda. When the incident at the firepit happened Castaneda wasn't even "Castaneda," nor did Bill ever find out who he was until years later. If you recall, the Road Trip ended in the summer of 1960. Castaneda's first book was not even published or released for public consumption until 1968, EIGHT full years after the Road Trip. Up until that time (the release of his book), for the most part, nobody had ever heard of Castaneda. So said, even though Castaneda is called Castaneda by Campbell, and thus then by me in the above text, at the time of the conversation in the desert we are talking about here (i.e., at the archaeology site during the late spring, early summer of 1960), Castaneda was NOT the Carlos Castaneda he came to be AFTER he met Don Juan Matus, the powerful Yaqui Indian shaman-sorcerer he apprenticed under. The conversation, as told by Campbell over coffee and food in the cafe near Taos, is presented as best I can within the bounds of memory.


















FOOTNOTE [3]

It is not just me through my uncle passing on stories told to us by Campbell regarding such things as flying silhouettes, superimposed apparitions against the night sky, or floating essences. Castaneda himself in ACTIVE SIDE OF INFINITY (1998), in the section called 'A JOURNEY TO POWER: A Tremor in the Air,' writes that his bus station colleague Bill is shown to be no stranger to such phenomenon. He tells Castaneda that BEFORE he had any experience in the desert southwest interacting with Native American tribal elders or being in and around sacred grounds or deeply held spritual places he did not believe in such things as ghosts, apparitions, or floating essences because he had a very pragmatic, serious, scientific upbringing. However, after traveling in such exotic surroundings in the desert for so many years he goes on to say:


"(W)orking in the field, all kinds of weird crap began to filter through to me. For instance, I went with some Indians one night on a Vision Quest. They were going to actually initiate me by some painful business of piercing the muscles of my chest. They were preparing a sweat lodge in the woods.

"I had resigned myself to withstand the pain. I took a couple of drinks to give me strength. And then the man who was going to intercede for me with the people who actually performed the ceremony, yelled in horror, and pointed at a dark, shadowy figure walking toward us.

"But then, working in the field, all kinds of weird crap began to filter through to me. For instance, I went with some Indians one night on a vision quest. They were going to actually initiate me by some painful business of piercing the muscles of my chest. They were preparing a sweat lodge in the woods.

"I had resigned myself to withstand the pain. I took a couple of drinks to give me strength. And then the man who was going to intercede for me with the people who actually performed the ceremony, yelled in horror, and pointed at a dark, shadowy figure walking toward us.

"When the shadowy figure came closer to me," Bill went on, "I noticed that what I had in front of me was an old Indian dressed in the weirdest getup you could imagine. He had the parapherna of shamans. The man I was with that night fainted shamelessly at the sight of the old man.

"The old man came to me and pointed a finger at my chest. His finger was just skin and bone. He babbled incomprehensible things to me. By then, the rest of the people had seen the old man, and started to rush silently toward me.

"The old man turned to look at them, and every one of them froze. He harangued them for a moment. His voice was something unforgettable. It was as if he were talking from a tube, or as if he had something attached to his mouth that carried the words out of him. I swear to you that I saw the man talking inside his body, and his mouth broadcasting the words as a mechanical apparatus.

"After haranguing the men, the old man continued walking, past me, past them, and disappeared, swallowed by the darkness."


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