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.”

Mud Shadows

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 do so…
    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 and egomaniacal.

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 black, a black shadow that jumps 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.

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, who directed the Mystery 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 intrusion of the Archons, this “native mind” or “native genius” can be subverted and even occupied by another mind. They warned that the Archons invade the human psyche, they intrude mentally and psychologically, although they may also confront us physically as well. Their main impact, however, 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 flyersupon our mind is seen in mental conditioning, brainwashing. This is also the main effect of Archontic intrusion.

Psychic Self-Defence

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 a 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.

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 raising 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 Archons.

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 that they 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 of Christianity, 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 forces. 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.

The alien 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 complexity of intrusion, clarity and concentration are indispensible assets. In a startling remark, Don Juan asserts that “the flyers’ mind 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 (Ennoia). 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 of the 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.

Common Points

Upon close examination, the teachings of Don Juan, developed in nine books by Carlos Castaneda from 1968 to 1998, contain numerous distinct parallels 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 in the cosmos.

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 from 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 cosmology.

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. See A 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. These 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 being 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, Gnostic 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 teachings can be surmised. Isadorus is said to have described the augoeides, “golden aura,” comparable 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 lost treatise of Isadorus stated that the augoeides surrounds the human being like an oval membrane, in such a way that the physical body floats in the 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 the back, high up on the right shoulder blade.

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 Hebdomad , 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 predatory entities come from these 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 of description.

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 ours. “Once 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 would seem to be a unique category of inorganic beings who is perhaps not an ally at all, 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 flyers/Archons 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 differ slightly.]