This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
I attended a peculiar event Saturday, September 23. I'd received a notice about it -- featuring, supposedly, a talk by "the real 'don Juan,'" an 86-year-old Yaqui shaman from Northern Mexico -- from someone who wrote me through the website. (See copy of invite below.) He had specifically requested that I not share the invite with the list or the website, but when I asked if I could send it to a few people I thought might be interested, he gave me permission. When a few of those called the number listed in the invitation and were told that all that were left were a few $100 seats, they naturally declined. That left me, ever in search of leads into Castaneda's psyche, to shell out the big bucks and spend a few hours in the cold Brentwood air so I could prepare the following report.
The location was Ron Teeguarden's Herbarium, a large home north of Sunset in Brentwood on Kenter Avenue. As we arrived, valet parking attendants took our cars. A table was set up in the driveway near the house for checking in and signing up for Teeguarden's mailing list. Inside, a profusion of polished wood buddhas greeted us, while a bevy of attractive blondes sold herbal elixirs from behind a bar. Once outside, in the garden behind the house, I walked past a large buffet spread of egg rolls and sushi before finding the seat with my name on it, in the front row. Above us hung festive red lanterns and a string of red light bulbs.
Also in the front row were Roseanna Arquette (a star of Bruce Wagner's movie, "I'm Losing You") and Joni Mitchell (who once titled an album "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.") Joni was dressed in a floor length black leather coat and black beret. "Grandfather Cachora" sat in Hollywood Indian splendor on a polished burlwood throne on a rise at the western end of the garden. He has long grey hair, a brown and bearish face (with relatively few wrinkles), and wore a vest embroidered with shiny beads over a maroon T-shirt, black jeans, and brand new brown hiking boots. Around his neck he wore an amulet that had two long teeth on either side. Arrayed around him, sitting at his feet, were several of his American disciples (three young men with long hair and a disturbingly narcissistic older woman wearing a red hippy sun dress, who turned out to be Bernyce Barlow, author of Sacred Sites of the West and Sacred Sites and Shaman's Flights.) The only other person I recognized (besides a statuesque Latina named Concepcion Lara, who served as translator, and whom I hadn't seen since high school), was Dana Marcoux, who had been thrown out of Castaneda's Sunday classes after asking a particularly weird question.
Kris Kane, who works at the herbarium, welcomed the crowd. We then had remarks from Ron Teeguarden, who explained that this was the first time in years that he had held such an event. He also introduced Boris something, "the Oscar winning documentary filmmaker of a film about the pyramids," and a woman named Tania Chappelle from Russia, who was such a fan of shamans that she had flown in specially for the event.
It was now time for "our first speaker," Ms. Barlow -- obviously a lifetime sun worshipper, whom the sun had repaid with deeply lined and ravaged skin. She began by giving an inflated description of her own shamanic background and fluency in Lakota before launching into the subject of Grandfather Cachora's supposed relationship with Castaneda. She punctuated her sentences with incomprehensible words apparently intended to demonstrate her mastery of Lakota, although there was no one on hand (Cachora included) who would have known whether she was speaking Lakota or simply scatting.
"There were many don Juans," she claimed. "Castaneda studied with Cachora for three and a half years, visiting him 12 to 16 times. Pinche Carlos. Grandfather didn't jump off a cliff. We are considered some of the best shamans in the world, and if I jumped off a cliff I'd die. There was a fictional story line--much of the stuff in the books just didn't happen. Castaneda had eight to ten other teachers, beginning with a Cahuilla shaman on the Morongo Reservation near Palm Springs. [I suspect she took that from the SA website or from Margaret Runyan's book.] Cachora was his primary teacher. Grandfather has had a lot of students." She then opened the floor to questions about Castaneda and don Juan, indicating she wanted to get those out of the way before Cachora spoke.
Dana asked a question regarding the party of sorcerers described in Castaneda's books. Bernyce responded, "That was part of the fiction." Dana followed up by stating that Castaneda used to say he had experienced something that don Juan never experienced: the power of the mass. Joni Mitchell turned and asked disdainfully, "You mean he drew a bigger crowd?" Dana tried to explain what Castaneda meant about using the mass, but his point was already lost.
I asked what years Castaneda studied with Cachora. Bernyce responded, "In the early 70s." I asked again, "Not in the 60s?" [After all, The Teachings of Don Juan was first published in '68. How amazing for Castaneda to have created the don Juan character in anticipation of meeting Cachora!] Bernyce responded, after looking at Cachora, "Once maybe in '69."
Dana asked about the gait of power. Bernyce claimed it was real and said that she and Yellow Feather -- the dark blond American with long braids next to her who looked like he'd smoked way too much marijuana -- do the gait where she lives in northern Nevada. She also asserted "you don't want to try to go running with Grandfather." Bernyce further claimed that intentionality, stalking and "dreaming" are "all real," insinuating that Castaneda had taken all those concepts from Cachora.
I mentioned that there were three women who also claimed to have been disciples of don Juan, and that two of them -- Florinda Donner and Taisha Abelar -- had written books about their experiences. I asked whether Cachora had ever worked with any of those women. Bernyce responded, "Those were different teachers. And those women have pretty much disappeared, haven't they?" Clearly she or someone in the group has been reading SA.
Bernyce then announced it was time for some dancing, to "raise the energy" so that we were more ready to receive Cachora's wisdom. Yellow Feather started pounding an Indian drum and doing a hi-ya-hi-ya-ho kind of chant, to which Bernyce lent occasional unpleasant shrieks and more incomprehensible phrases (presumably more Lakota). Another druggy looking guy sitting on the stage also pounded a drum. This was the most embarrassing part of the whole evening, and as they droned on I couldn't help but remember Castaneda's imitations of a stereotypical Native American dance. Cachora just sat in his chair, his 86-year-old eyes narrowing to catlike slits. The "dance" didn't seem to be doing much, if anything, for the energy of the crowd, even when Yellow Bird exhorted us halfway through to clap.
After two of these embarrassingly bad imitations of Native American song, it was time for Cachora to speak. He spoke entirely in Spanish, which Concepcion translated. He first made a big deal out of the little microphone dangling from a stalk of bamboo that had been inserted into his burl throne. Bernyce let us know a couple of times that this was "the first time Grandfather has ever used a microphone."
Cachora began, "I'm a worker who goes amongst the unknown. My way is red. I'm an enemy of contamination and pollution. Of smog. Of any kind of abuse of Mother Earth.
"A short time ago, I went to Hawaii. Hawaii is quite lost. It's a shame about the symbols that are lost there. Trees cut down to make homes and hotels at a good price. Beautiful beaches, but no trees. No guardians amongst the mountains.
"As guardian of Mother Earth, I have four guardians. The know where to send a bit of water for Mother Earth. Humanity doesn't understand that they can't do anything against Mother Earth. I'm always with the plants.
"In cities there is much contamination and smog. One does not live well. Beginning with alcoholism, drug usage. Where are children -- in the future or in the present?
"I will answer any of your questions gladly unless they have anything to do with chemistry. My knowledge comes from mother and father, starting at age 7. I know 4,000 medicinal plants, including when to harvest, at what time of the moon, where you can find them. It is important to walk with concentration and to pray at the zenith of the mountain, to unblock the mind and receive a positive energy. Tomorrow morning there will be concentrations. I will discipline your thoughts.
"Two phenomena: life after death and the range it has to your emotions creates a being that is born and loses its natural state."
Joni said she couldn't understand that last part.
"A being. A mother creates a child when the child is born. Does the child at birth lose its natural state?" People in the crowd mumbled "no." Cachora continued, "Yes. We all lose our spirit, our physicality. The glue of life that sticks is like a feather that flies. It is like a feather that falls and no longer rises up. The feather is the Spirit. It does not go to heaven, ever. The Spirit is in the first dimension. My father told me these pinches, they took my father to work with tobacco. The Catholic religion was imposed on us with whips. That's why what was formed was before Christ. The glue of life that sticks creates a being that is born. It could be your children. And that is lost to drugs. And becomes like a feather that flies and falls and never rises up again.
Someone asked about the diagram next to Cachora of a large red circle containing a rainbow triangle and a white point of light above.
"This triangle is a keepsake of my mother. It represents a lost temple in India. In the center there are two serpents and a very large temple. It refers to the purification of spirit and concentration of our minds to be a good warrior to Mother Earth. In the interior there are seven doors. In concentration our minds are more powerful. If you look in the center with an unblinking stare for one hour, even if you see an ocean of tears, but don't blink for any reason, you will go through a very deep tunnel--see monsters, faces, maybe yourself when you were a little child. Our minds are powerful enough to raise a building with our minds, or to bend steel. Our ancestors never needed machines. With their minds they were able to raise the temples, using the great energies of the cosmos. For that reason I am always in meditation, starting at 5 AM, in the mountains to have contact with the cosmos and receive its energies.
"That's why I study the two phenomena: minds that are blocked and how some are healers and some not. To develop talents, one must walk in the fields and talk to plants. I, Cachora, know the three kingdoms and the gods of medicine. I would like you to tell me which are the kingdoms of Mother Earth."
People in the audience guessed animals, minerals and plants.
"Beings from Mother Earth are the first kingdom. There are seven elements in our planet and Universe."
This one really stumped people. He rejected most answers, but finally allowed water, sacred fire and air. He then commented, "I have to say you are blocked in your minds." Cachora added the following elements, which still only raised the number to six: "El Formador, Mother Earth and the heart of humanity."
Cachora continued, "The three kingdoms are represented by my name. Tezlkac [which he pronounced as "Telcasi"] Matorral Cachora. Tezlkac refers to the three gods of medicine and his three allies of power. Matorral refers to a jungle of medicinal plants -- matus. Cachorra was the name given to me by my father because my mother couldn't breastfeed me. The salamander which doesn't burn even among fire" had made some kind of appearance in connection with Cachora's birth.
"My three allies are peyote, the hongo or mushroom, and datura."
"The first intent is to know. To know more fully Mother Earth and respect. When my mother said, 'Please Cachorito bring these plants to help this woman give birth,' I was about 11. I went to look for them. Datura. She said 'Don't eat them.' I cut the leaves. I told my friend, 'Let's taste the seeds.' So we each had one. They were actually quite delicious. Then we had two. They were very delicious. So we got the fruit and started counting the number of seeds to share. So we ate all of them. After awhile we lost consciousness. I saw colors, thought I was flying. Then I lost consciousness. We woke up 72 hours later. While we were asleep, my father tied us together by our thumbs. We were punished for two days, not eating, to learn to respect. But we told mother it was her fault for telling us not to eat it. I had two coyotes who were also punished. My friend and
I left and saw plants with fruit. I said 'Should we or should we not?' We came back three days later. That's a very sacred plant that belongs to the Grand Goddess Shiva. My mother gave it to me to see the stars and rainbows and to learn respect. That was my first intent."
After this entertaining story, we took a break, to mingle, eat from the buffet, and order more herbal elixirs from the blondes behind the bar. I caught up with Concepcion, who indicated that she had just met Grandfather the day before, when she was called in to translate because Grandfather's usual translator couldn't be there. Dana filled me in on his involvement with Ralph Torjan's documentary project on Castaneda and the "Castaneda community." Dana indicated that he was acting as producer, and that they would be interviewing Richard deMille the following Tuesday.
I introduced myself to Ron Teeguarden and asked him if he remembered a woman named Elizabeth Austin who used to work with him in the 70s. He said he remembered her very well. I told him that that woman was now going by the name Carol Tiggs and that she was the only one of the women associates closest to Castaneda who had stayed behind after he died. Ron didn't know that she was involved with Castaneda, and said that she had worked at his former facility until 1982. (Well into the time, of course, that Ms. Tiggs was supposed to be "bodily in the Second Attention.") He told me to give her his regards when I saw her. I didn't have the heart to explain to him how unlikely that was.
When the crowd reassembled, Cachora began by recommending that we take ginseng: "For relaxing your mind and opening the door of knowledge." [Castaneda, by the way, specifically instructed the Sunday group never to take ginseng. "Too stimulating and disturbing," he had insisted.]
"I've been taking it for some time. It relaxes and rejuvenates me. I don't feel any anxiety. That's why I had four wives and forty-five children. All still living." He beamed. (Apparently he didn't have any concerns about those darned "holes" that Castaneda wrote about, that supposedly afflict people who have children.)
"I have no rheumatic pain. One must walk very much. [Kris had told me during the break that Cachora walks from 8 AM to 2 PM every day in the mountains.] Some medicinal plants can wound or kill."
"My mission is to study the minds of all living beings."
"How can you look inside a phenomenon?" Someone finally provided what Cachora indicated was the correct answer, "With Intent."
"Human beings have two phenomena." He paused, waiting for our answer. People said "life and death," etc. He finally accepted, "consciousness and not conscious."
Joni asked Cachora what he meant by his path being red. Cachora responded tersely, "The positive and negative spirits." He then called on Yellow Bird to explain. What followed was a rambling, incoherent spiel about the wisdom of the elders and living in harmony, followed by apologies that Yellow Bird wasn't used to speaking like this yet.
Cachora continued, seeming to want to sum things up, "You should purify yourselves. You should meditate, fast, at the zenith of the mountains to find the great energies. Meditation is very sacred. As long as you do it at 5 AM at the top of the mountain, or where water is running, at the foot of a tree or close to a rock. As much as possible it's good to be near a rock, never near dry bodies of water, negative energies."
Someone asked about the effect of meditating in the city. "The atmosphere is full of gases. Only through purification can you receive the energy of the moon and sun." So can you mediate in the city? "No."
Someone asked about the connection between Yaquis and East Indians, wondering why he had earlier referred to an herb as belonging to the god Shiva. Cachora explained that his mother's parents were from Mongolia, and that they passed their traditions to him.
Cachora asked for a drawing that had symbols on it--a mandala of some kind next to a much younger picture of him. He explained that the symbols on it were of Mongolian origin and that he was looking for someone who could explain them. Joni said the symbols were familiar looking. She started giving a pretty credible explanation that they represented the four cardinal points, and the four different races of man. ("White at the north, custodian of knowledge. Yellow man, East. Custodian of clarity. South, black man.")
Cachora cut her off and asserted that the symbol she said was the west represented the three dimensions. He asked which dimension humans were in, and finally accepted the answer "third." He said that spirit was in the first.
"The black spirit of medicine. My father when he healed painted everyone black so bad spirit wouldn't see them." He stood up and turned around to show us the shiny beaded black serpent running down the back of his vest. Bernyce told us that the vest, which looked fairly new, had belonged to Cachora's father.
An earnest looking woman asked, "How can we help Mother Nature?"
Cachora answered, "It's important to fast, meditate, walk and pray. I fast three days in the full moon for a full day or half day. Or one day a week." He also recommended a sweat lodge at the full moon after a fast. (Bernyce had indicated in her introductory comments that she runs a sweat lodge on her property in Nevada.)
"In January I saw a message: three rings, white, black and red." Apparently, according to Bernyce's explanation, there was a lunar eclipse on January 19 during which some people saw these rings. Cachora explained their meaning, "Black means destruction around the world. Storms and tempests. Red is for volcanoes that are beginning to open up. White is illness. Sinusitis deaths and colds are on the rise. There is a change of Mother Earth to the fourth dimension. The rainbow of the earth turns red." Bernyce indicated he was referring to the red sun in the afternoons, or during sunset.
"Iris is a Mayan symbol. The year 2000 doesn't matter, because it is all zeroes. The year 2001 is important."
Someone asked how long one should meditate. Cachora responded, "One hour, or ½ hour or more. If an earthquake happens, just keep meditating."
Someone asked if they should abstain from water while fasting. "No, take a lot of water. Only water. For purifying."
Cachora then exclaimed, "Ahoo!" Bernyce explained that this meant "amen" in Lakota. Then he said, "Kai-ita," which someone explained was Yaqui for "accepted."
Cachora definitely seemed to be trying to wrap things up, and I was anxious to beat the long line that was soon to form for the valet parking attendants. So I left at that point.
So, do I think Cachora met Castaneda in the 70s? I think it is entirely likely, and consistent with what I've heard from other sources--that at some point or other (before or after the first book was written) Castaneda was introduced to three or more real shamans who gave him some real information on the traditional uses of shamanic hallucinogens. Do I think Cachora was the model for "don Juan"? If Castaneda first met him in '69, then no, not in Cachora's dreams. At least not for the humorless, Spanish-speaking don Juan in the first couple books. Maybe Castaneda used him for the slang-employing, English-speaking, joke-cracking don Juan of the later books. Too bad Cachora doesn't speak any English.
Was Cachora more convincing than don Miguel Ruiz, whose painful question and answer session I endured at the Theosophical Society earlier this summer? Yes. Is that saying much? No, not at all. I think a wooden cigar store Indian would be more convincing than Ruiz. Besides, Cachora looks darned good for 86. Maybe I should try some of that ginseng. ; )
Here is the electronic invitation I received for the event:
Subject: Grandfather Cachora and Bernyce Barlow at Ron Teeguarden's Herbarium, 9/23
The Toltec Path to the Infinite
A private evening with Yaqui Medicine Man Tezlkac Matorral Cachora at Ron Teeguarden's Herbarium Brentwood, California
September 23, 2000, 7:30 pm
You are invited to attend a private talk by Tezlkac Matorral Cachora on the Toltec Path To The Infinite, medicine plants and Yaqui meditation techniques.
This is not a public event and space is limited to approximately 75 people. Please RSVP if you wish to attend this rare event. Please see below for details regarding time and place and other important information.
Tezlkac Matorral Cachora, Yaqui medicine man and Toltec lineage holder, is the 86 year old Yaqui medicine man on whom Carlos Castaneda based the character he wrote about in his books as Don Juan Matus. For the first time ever, during a radio interview with Haines Ely on the syndicated Earth Mysteries radio program in July, Cachora freely admitted he is Don Juan but not in the context of the character Castaneda created and then wrote about. While Carlos Castaneda introduced to the world some of the wonders of the way of the Yaqui or Toltec Path, he said that now is the time for Don Juan himself to continue the true teachings.
"It is time for the lessons to continue. Mother Earth needs everyone's prayers. The time of the masculine way to power now makes way for the divine feminine energy to bring the world into the fifth dimension. The dimension of joy, harmony, peace, and spirit." states Cachora.
Bernyce Barlow will be intoducing Grandfather Cachora. Bernyce is the author of Sacred Sites of the West, Sacred Sites and Shaman's Flights and co-author of Llewellyn's Herbal Almanac and Magical Almanac. She is a high spirited Sundance Nemeshwakan (sacred medicine woman), and has participated in the Sundance of the Lakota for 27 years. Bernyce is also actively involved in the Earthdance of the Inca, Maya, Yaqui and Aztec Nations of Mexico which is seen as the balance ceremony to the North American Lakota Sundance.
Grandfather Cachora is Bernyce's Vision Quest sponsor, teacher and friend. May 1st, Cachora will bury Bernyce underground for four days so she may join forces with the Black Serpent known to the Hopi, Yaqui, Inca, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec. Rarely is a woman of Celtic linage afforded the rank and honor that has been bestowed on Bernyce by the tribal Nations of Mexico and the Americas.
More about Grandfather Cachora..... Tezlkac Matorral Cachora, or Grandfather Cachora as his students and friends, affectionately and respectfully refer to him, is an 86 year old medicine man who is a master herbalist with detailed knowledge of over 4,000 plants, including their medicinal and subtle properties. He is also the lineage holder of the ancient Toltec traditions. He teaches with wit and humor bringing the deeper realities of the Toltec and Yaqui ways in light of truth. Cachora is a master at opening up students to the direct experience of the infinite through visualization, meditation and direct encounter. To experience his teachings, never given in an open forum until recently, is a rare opportunity for those wishing to experience the door to the infinite as told by the master himself.
Event Information: Ron Teeguarden's Herbarium
515 North Kenter Avenue, Brentwood, CA 90049
Contact: Kris Kane
phone: (310) 471-0404
Date: September 23rd, 2000
Time: 7:30 pm (please be prompt)
Fee: $100 (front seating)
$50 (middle seating)
$25 (rear seating)
Dress: The talk will be outdoors so dress accordingly.
RSVP: Please contact us either by phone or email to let us know that you will be attending
Directions: Ron Teeguarden's Herbarium is located in Brentwood, California, near the intersection of the 405 and Sunset Blvd. If you are coming on the 405, take the Sunset exit and go west on Sunset to Kenter Avenue. Then, turn right (north) on Kenter and go 8/10 mile to 515 North Kenter.
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