THE TOPIC OF TOPICS
Gnostic Parallels in the Writings
of Carlos Castaneda
The eleven books of Carlos Castaneda record his apprenticeship
with a Yaqui Indian, don Juan Matus, who plays Socratic mentor
to Castaneda’s skeptical anthropologist. Over more than
twenty years, Castaneda learned the theory and practice of
a new discipline proposed by his mischievous and demanding
teacher. The art of the “new seers” involves revising
ancient secrets of Toltec sorcery transmitted to don Juan through
a late lineage dating from the 18th century.
“Sorcery” in this case means a path of experience
that stands apart from the experiential habits of humanity (French
sortir, “to leave, depart”).
Through a long process of trial and error, Castaneda manages
to alter the parameters of perception and explore other worlds.
In the process of his adventures, he encounters certain alien
inorganic beings who present an obstacle or test for the shaman.
In Magical Passes, Castaneda wrote: “Human beings
are on a journey of awareness, which has momentarily been interrupted
by extraneous forces.”
In Castaneda’s final book, The Active Side of Infinity (1998),
don Juan challenges Castaneda to reconcile man’s
intelligence, demonstrated in so many achievements, with “the
stupidity of his systems of beliefs... the stupidity of his contradictory
behaviour.” Don Juan relates this
blatant contradiction in human intelligence to what he calls “the
topic of topics,” “the most serious topic in sorcery.” This
topic is predation. To the horrified astonishment of
his apprentice, the elder sorcerer explains how the human mind
has been infiltrated by an alien intelligence:
We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and
took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners.
The predator is our lord and master. It has rendered us docile,
helpless. If we want to protest, it suppresses our protest.
If we want to act independently, it demands that we don’t
According to don Juan, the sorcerers of ancient Mexico called
the predator the flyer (italicised by Castaneda) “because
it leaps through the air... It is a big shadow, impenetrably
through the air.” This description matches thousands of
accounts of the bizarre jumping movements, sometimes sideways,
executed by alien Greys who accost people at random. Fleeting
black shadows are less often reported, but they play the major
role in the long and detailed report of alien activity by John
Keel, The Mothman Prophecies.
Sorcerers believe that the predators have given us our systems
of beliefs, our ideas of good and evil, our social mores. They
are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations and dreams
of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed
and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary
Gnostic writings contain descriptions of alien predators called
Archons, Arkontai in Greek. The texts from Nag Hammadi describe
them as heavy, elusive, shadowy creatures. The most common name
for them is “beings of the likeness, shadow-creatures.” Could
the Archons be compared to the “mud shadows” described
by don Juan? This question raises the general issue of parallels
between don Juan’s Central American Toltec shamanism and
the shamanism of the Mystery Schools of ancient Europe. Let’s
consider some of these parallels.
First, there is the matter of the influence of the predators
or flyers on humanity. In The Active Side of Infinity,
Don Juan tells Castaneda that “the predators give us
their mind, which becomes our mind.” This alarming statement
suggests an immediate parallel to Gnostic teachings. Gnostics,
Schools of the Near East in antiquity, taught that the true
mind of human beings, nous authenticos, is part of
the cosmic intelligence that pervades nature, but due to the
of the Archons, this “native mind” or "native genius"
can be subverted and even occupied by another mind. They warned
invade the human psyche, they intrude mentally and psychologically,
although they may also confront us physically as well. Their
is in our mental syntax, in our paradigms and beliefs, exactly
as don Juan says of the flyers.
Don Juan tells Castaneda that the predator’s mind is “a
cheap model: economy strength, one size fits all.” This
description fits the hive-mentality of the Archons. Sorcerers
call this uniform alien mind “the foreign installation,
which exists in you and in every other human being.” The foreign
installation (italicized by Castaneda) pulls us out of
our syntax. It deranges our indigenous abilities to organize
the world according to the language proper to our species. The
role of correct syntax in the sorcerer’s mastery of intent
is one of the central factors in the later teachings of Don Juan.
The sorcerer's concern for deviation of syntax, and consequent
derouting of intent, parallels the
importance of language and correct definition emphasized
in Gnostic teaching.
Don Juan makes a number of statements pertinent to strategies
against alien intrusion. He says that the sorcerers of ancient
times “found out that if they taxed the flyers’ mind
with inner silence, the foreign installation would flee, giving
to any one of the practitioners involved in this maneouver the
total certainty of the mind’s foreign origin.” In
other words, the realization that another mind can operate in
our minds only becomes fully clear and certain when the foreign
mind has been exposed and expelled. Only then do we understand
how “the real mind that belongs to us, the sum total of
our experience, after a lifetime of domination has been rendered
shy, insecure and shifty.” The “real mind” of
Castaneda can be equated to the nous authenticos of
the Gnostics. The main effect of the flyers upon our
mind is seen
conditioning, brainwashing. This is also the main effect of
Gnostic texts describe direct, physical confrontations with
Archons of two kinds, an embryonic or foetal type—hence,
the Greys of modern UFO lore—and a reptilian
type. The usual tactic of the Greys is
first to stun and then infiltrate the mind of the human subject.
In the First Apocalypse
of James, the Gnostic master instructs
student in how to confront the Archons. These predatory entities
are said to “abduct souls by night,” a precise description
of modern ET abductions. The adept in the Mysteries learns to
repel the Archons with magical formulas (mantras) and magical
passes or gestures of power (mudras). In some texts, the encounter
with the Archons is structured according to the system of “planetary
spheres.” The adept who practices astral projection, lucid
dreaming or “manipulations of the double” (as in
Castaneda) is said to face the Archons in a kind of computer-game
maze of seven levels, corresponding to the seven planets. At
each level, the adept is unable to continue unless he confronts
the “gatekeepers,” using magical passes and words.
For more on confronting Archons, see A
The archetypal format of the “journey through the planetary
spheres” was well-known in antiquity, particularly in schools
of Hermetics and Kaballa. In Tantra Vidya, O. M. Hinze
compares the Gnostic ascent through the seven spheres with the
of kundalini through the seven chakras in Indian yogic traditions.
Don Juan does not use the seven-level scheme, but his description
of the flyers can be fitted into that scheme. The correlation
works especially well if we equate the “serpent worship” of
certain Gnostic cults with Kundalini yoga practice, which may
in turn be equated with "the fire
from within” and
the Plumed Serpent in several Castaneda books. In short, the
Toltec sorcerers would also have been adepts of Kundalini yoga,
cultivating “the fire from within.” Their encounters
with the flyers might not have been formalized into
a seven-level test-game, but the same experiences are indicated
in all three
instances: Toltec, yogic, and Gnostic.
Gnostics believed that the force of Kundalini, or the ambient
field generated by that force, served as protection from the
On the use of Kundalini to repel alien intrusion, see Kundalini
and the Alien Force.
The human character-traits attributed
by don Juan to deviation by the foreign installation are
identical to those ascribed to the Archons in Gnostic writings:
envy (covetousness) and arrogance (egomania) are said to be
their primary features, while their behaviour demonstrates
are mindless drones (routinary), greedy for power over us and
too cowardly to come out in the open and reveal themselves.
It would be misleading to make Don Juan’s revelations
comply in a strict and literal way with Gnostic teachings, but
these initial parallels are striking, and there is much more.
Here is an outstanding instance where indigenous wisdom from
the Americas tallies with the esoteric teachings of a long-lost
spiritual tradition in the Near East. The Toltec-Gnostic parallel
may seem remote and improbable at first sight. But if we assume
that shamanic experience is consistent and empirical (i.e., it
can be tested by experience), it would not be surprising to find
consistent reports in widely separate traditions.
The Foreign Installation
The idea of a foreign installation is extremely
instructive. It immediately recalls metallic or crystalline
implants said to be used by the Greys (and their human accomplices)
to track human subjects. In another, less technological sense,
it suggests an ideological virus implanted in our minds by
non-human entities. According to the Gnostic critique
salvationist ideology in its Judeo-Christian form (i.e., belief
in a divine redeemer and a final apocalypse) is just such
a virus. It is something implanted in the human mind by alien
The Gnostic emphasis on Judeo-Christianity (which can now be
extended to Islam) gives a strategic advantage in the detection
of alien influences, because the patriarchal/Salvationist religions
have dominated the historical narrative on our planet. This dominance
is symptomatic of Archontic deviance, Gnostics said.
mind penetrates into our story-telling activity, the narrative
power so crucial for humanity to make its way in the cosmos.
This is one of the ways, or the most effective way, that we
are deviated from our proper course of evolution. For the human
species, the capacity to achieve intent depends on developing
plots, stories, narratives that can guide us from initial conception
to final goal.
Human purpose is manifold, and so the manner in which
we are being deviated is likely to be multifarious. In the immense
clarity and concentration are indispensible assets.
In a startling remark, Don Juan asserts that “the
has no concentration whatsoever.” This remark recalls the
Gnostic assertion that the Archons have no ennoia, no
will of their own, no intentionality. Concentration
might be defined as
the coordination of attention and intention. To concentrate is
to bring a certain depth of attention (Bythos) to intent
In Gnostic teachings, Bythos and Ennoia are cosmic deities or
principles of the Pleroma, the Wholeness, and they are also attributes
of the human mind. They are symbolized as two
spheres. To concentrate is to bring the two
spheres together at a single, unifying point, a common center.
We do this constantly when we focus our attention upon a certain
intention or goal, but the Archons are incapable of anything
like this because they have “no concentration whatsoever.” They
have no concentrating power, no innate faculty that would unite
intention with attention. Human resistence to their intrusion
depends on inner composure and mental discipline, the sobriety
warrior. Don Juan’s counsels on the warrior’s tests
with the flyers seem to present a Toltec version of
Gnostic strategies for resisting the Archons.
Upon close examination, the teachings of Don Juan, developed
in nine books by Carlos Castaneda from 1968 to 1998, contain
with Gnostic instruction. The new sorcery introduced by Castaneda
is an extension
and make-over of traditional knowledge of the “old seers” of
the Toltec tradition of ancient Mexico. It differs from the old
sorcery largely in its lack of concern for intricate power-games,
feuds, sinister pacts with non-human powers, and control over
others. Its aim is freedom for the spiritual warrior, rather
than control over anyone or anything. Both in Toltec and Gnostic
terms, the ultimate liberation for humanity may come through
facing the alien predators. They are not here to advance or assist
us, but in confronting and overcoming them we may gain a vital
boost toward another level of consciousness.
Some points of commonality between Gnosticism and the Toltec-derived
neo-shamanism of Castaneda are:
1, the Toltec exposure of an alien mind or foreign installation that
makes us less and other than we humanly are: comparable
to the Gnostic idea of a dehumanizing ideological virus implanted
in our minds by the Alien/Archons.
2, the importance for the sorcerer of mastering intent: comparable
to Gnostic emphasis on ennoia, intentionality, which
aligns us with the Gods and elevates us above the Archons.
3, Castaneda’s emphasis on syntax (correct attributions,
and the use of mental command signals for directing intent):
comparable to Gnostic teaching on ennoia, mental clarity,
and correct attribution ( right use of definitions).
4, the Toltec assertion that predation is “the topic of
topics”: comparable to the Gnostic emphasis on the intrusion
of the Archons. Facing intrusion is essential, because if we
cannot see how we are deviated, we cannot find our true path
5, the work with lucid dreaming, astral travel, projection of
the double, in Gnostic circles and the Mystery Schools: comparable
to many episodes in Castaneda.
6, the Toltec model of great bands of emanations that
pervade the universe: comparable to the emanations or streamings
the Pleroma described in Mystery School revelation texts.
7, the Toltec distinction between organic and inorganic beings:
comparable to the distinction between humans and Archons in Gnostic
8, the Toltec exploration of other worlds and dimensions through
the practice of non-ordinary awareness: comparable to age-old
shamanic practices of the Mystery Schools.
9, Don Juan’s description of the “luminous egg”:
comparable to the oval of clear light in Gnostic revelation texts
and the augoeides or
"auric egg" of the Mysteries.
10, the Toltec figure of the Eagle, a primary metaphor in Castaneda:
comparable to the same figure in the Nag Hammadi Codices where
the instructing voice of sacred mind, perhaps equivalent to Castaneda’s “voice
of seeing,” states: “I
appeared in the form of an Eagle on the Tree of Knowledge, the
primal knowing that arises in the pure light, that I might teach
them and awaken them out of the depth of sleep” (The
Apocryphon of John, 23.25-30).
11, the organization of the sorcerer’s party into eight
pairs of male and female sorcerers: comparable to the organization
of the Mystery cells into sixteen members, eight of each sex.
(Artifactual evidence: Orphic Serpent bowl, and Pietroasa bowl.
Sheaf of Cut Wheat)
12, the cultivation of the fire from within, Kundalini, or the
Plumed Serpent of the Toltecs: comparable to the Winged Serpent
and divine Instructor of the Gnostics.
13, the mechanism of the assemblage point.
It would take an entire book to develop these parallels at
length. Three factors out of the ten are of particular importance.
factors are the luminous egg, the great bands of emanations,
and the role of certain inorganic beings as allies.
The Assemblage Point
Among the many strange features in the teachings of don Juan,
the matter of the assemblage point is certainly one
of the most baffling. In several books we are told that the luminous
egg surrounding a human being is attached to the
physical body by an odd mechanism called the assemblage point.
The location of the point is high behind the right shoulder.
Apparently, at that
point in the body, the luminous egg exerts a kind of pressure,
forming a dimple or depression. As long as the force of the egg
stays in the dimple, the assemblage point is stable and the human
perceives reality in a predetermined way. By shifting the
assemblage point, sorcerers are able to change their perception of reality,
or actually deconstruct and reconstruct reality at will.
Don Juan’s instructions regarding the assemblage point are
as baffling as they are fascinating, and far
from clear. The dynamics of sliding or shifting the mechanism
are difficult to understand, and even harder to visualize. Moreover,
it seems that the assemblage point is a weird
item, not comparable to anything found in any other sources.
There is, however, a rare piece of testimony from the Mysteries
that describes the assemblage point in exactly the manner
found in Castaneda.
In The Subtle Body in Western Tradition,
scholar G. R. S. Mead cites the lost writings of Isadorus, the
husband of Hypatia and one of the last Gnostics who taught at
the Mystery School (the Museum)
in Alexandria. Isadorus’ original work is lost, but it
was paraphrased by another writer, Damascius, so a few faint
indications of his
can be surmised.
is said to have described the augoeides, “golden
to the luminous egg of Castandea. The nature and operation
of the augoiedes, also called the auric egg, was one
of the deepest secrets of the Mysteries. Apparently, a
that the augoeides surrounds the human being
like an oval membrane, in such a way that the physical body floats
oval. This is precisely how Castaneda describes the luminous
egg. The Gnostic teacher also said that the luminous oval
is connected or locked into the physical body at a point in
back, high up
on the right
Thus, one of the weirdest details in Castaneda’s writings
is confirmed by a teacher of the Mysteries who lived in Alexandria
the 5th century CE.
A Cosmic Test
In the classical scheme of the planetary system, there are seven
planets, not including the earth: sun, moon, mercury, venus,
mars, jupiter, saturn. (The sun is not of course a planet, but
a star, the central body of the planetary system, and the
moon is a satellite of the earth. In some ancient systems, these
two bodies are excluded from the seven and replaced by the lunar
nodes.) This situation recalls Castaneda’s
description of the organic and inorganic structure of the "great
bands of emanation” that compose the universe. If we
set the earth apart from the other planets, the “seven
inorganic bands” could well be correlated to the “seven
planets,” known to be realms that do not support organic
life as the Earth does. Gnostics taught that the earth does
not belong to the planetary system, but is merely captured
in it. They called the planetary system apart from earth the
the Sevenfold. This terminology may be compared to the Gnostic
description of the realm of the Archons, who are inorganic
beings. The “seven
inorganic bands” in Castaneda’s scheme may be different
language for the same model.
Gnostic seers located the habitat of
the predatory Archons in the planetary system, exclusive of the
Earth. The Archontic realm would then be assembled
from the seven
inorganic bands. Within the domain so assembled, the Archons
would be on their own “turf.” Their presence in the
world assembled around
us, the biosphere ruled by the laws of organic chemistry, would
be an intrusion. Nowhere does Castaneda indicate that the
seven bands, but the conclusion is obvious. He does say explicitly
that the flyers are inorganic beings, so the conclusion
is not only obvious but consistent with his syntax, his system
Don Juan specifies that sorcerers can and usually do
initiate contact with inorganic beings. They do this by shifting the assemblage point and crossing into the unknown territory
of other bands, or sliding into unknown regions of our own band.
A great deal of the activity described in Castaneda’s work
consists of forays into the other worlds contingent to
the barrier is broken, inorganic beings change and become what
seers call allies.” These allies can be deviating or even
deadly, but mastering them is one of the primary tasks of the
new sorcery. There are numerous allies in the cosmos at large.
According to many indigenous traditions, earth is visited by
many kinds of other-dimensional beings who
serve as allies and guides to humanity. The dark, shadowy predator
to be a unique category of
or else a particularly difficult ally to master.
Don Juan stressed the need to confront this inorganic being to
experience “the total certainty of the mind’s foreign
origin.” The “predator that came from the depths
of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives” may
certainly be equated to the Archons of Gnostic teachings.
Don Juan describes Alien intrusion and its main consequence,
behavioural modification, in a most vivid manner. The old sorcerer
also makes a striking comment on what might be gained from our
encounter with these entities. “The flyers are an essential
part of the universe… and they must be taken as what they
really are — awesome, monstrous. They are the means by
which the universe tests us.”
The parallels between Gnostic materials and the
new Toltec sorcery of Carlos Castaneda are striking and present
sobering insights on the human
condition, if nothing else. What can we do about the topic of
topics, predation? “All
we can do is discipline ourselves to the point where they will
not touch us,” Don Juan advises. Significantly, he says will not, not can not. He also says that the
alien predators are the way the universe tests us,
as just noted. It follows
that the intent to arrange our minds and lives so that the
are not willing to intrude on us is the capital exercise, the
primary test in progress for humanity.
JLK: June 2005
[Originally written September 2000 for MS “Lord
of the Clones,” 4th
draft. The French and English versions on Karmapolis.be differ