Last summer I did my first end to end reading reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Thousand Plateaus’. Previously I had only read sections here and there and fragments of other works (of theirs) so this was an edifying experience. As I read I began to notice the Castaneda references. These grabbed my attention as I had previously read Castaneda’s books some 20 years ago. Prior to reading them I had always avoided them assuming them to be some kind of new-age claptrap, however when I did read them I found them compelling and beautifully written (or at least most of them). I played somewhat with the techniques and found they actually did things. This was something of a revelation as my prior interactions with meditation and western style magic seemed to get nowhere. However interest waned, other things happened and slowly I forgot about this time.

So reading Thousand Plateaus was an incredible experience for two reasons. Firstly it was fascinating to engage with this book properly and secondly it seemed interesting how many Castaneda references were in it. To review these, they are:

i) In ‘On Several Regimes of Signs’ he is mentioned in relation to combating solidified mechanisms of interpretation.

ii) In ‘How do you make yourself a Body Without Organs’ Castaneda’s experience is cited in relation to the construction of the BwO, this too relates to the breaking down of interpretation and construction of flows and becomings. In the same chapter we also have a mention of the tonal/nagual dualism set up in Tales of Power where the tonal is everything cast under an organising principle of intelligibility (quite like pneuma in the accretive system variously detailed throughout the site) whilst the nagual is simultaneously everything but from the position of flows themselves, an ineffable a-signification that (arguably) also potentially, obliterates the restraints of space and time (this would correlate to the umbratic in the pneuminous system).

iii) In ‘1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity’ the works are mentioned again in relation to the obstacles that Don Juan says stand in the way of becoming a ‘man of knowledge’. Don Juan here is given the illustrious comparison of Nietzsche’s Zararthrustra. The obstacles are: fear, clarity, power and disgust (old age in Castaneda). Fear here seems to be fear of existence of flows/becomings etc. Clarity is comprehension of the same. Power is dangerous as once clarity is achieved and movement is possible between rigidity and flow and second kind of rigidity re-emerges as threat, the power to control the flows at this new level. The last danger concerns the lines of flight and the possibility that they will not connect to other lines but instead will end in abolition. One might hazard a guess that the chance that the line of flight ends in death increases with age.

iv) In ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal’ in ‘Memories of a Sorcerer III’ Castaneda is invoked again. Here he is used to illustrate the progression of a sequence of becomings; becoming-dog, becoming-water, becoming-air. It also mentions an incident of Carlos being pushed through a door and reappearing in a totally different place.

v) In the same chapter Castaneda is credited with having effected a ‘broad synthesis’ of earlier 20th century comprehension of mind altering drug effects. In this way he makes a key contribution to the ‘drug assemblage’.

This Deleuzo-Guattarian connection gives Castaneda a connecting line to philosophy. This is the starting point for Parasol 6. It doesn’t mean that we want only DnG/Castaneda papers but here is the bridge. A beautiful synchronistic connection is of course the English translation of the the French agencement: assemblage. This brings immediately to mind what Castaneda no doubt thought his most important concept in his later work: the assemblage point. The assemblage point supposedly determines the reality we experience by lighting up a certain set of human luminous fibres at a time. The point is normally fixed, sorcery, dreaming, power plants etc move it and hence alter our experience of the world. The two concepts may not be directly connected -but on the pneuminous plane they are.

We must also remember that there are many non-philosophical adherents to the ‘system’ still in existence. There is a reasonable sized subreddit that seems to have some of Castaneda’s old students in it. There is a heavy focus in the group on a practice called dark room gazing. This basically entails silencing the mind and staring into pitch blackness for a long time. Many practitioners report results, often involving purple smoke but many other phenomena. Interestingly the criterion for the reality of the experience seems to be to test whether or not any coloured lights/smoke can me touched and manipulated. Participants seem to frequently report being able to grab such lights/smoke.

The big question here is of course, does it actually do anything? One could potentially explain most of the subreddit participants activity by saying that they are inducing hypnogogic images of a powerful nature. This is all very well except it does leave us again in a rather agnostic disjunctive situation. That is, smoke/lights that appears in the dark may be adequately described as a hypnogogic effect however this is identical to the appearance of the same phenomenon that is actually some kind of energy as described in Castaneda. We might at this moment recall another previous Parasol topic who reported almost exactly the same phenomenon. Wilhelm Reich claimed orgone could be seen by staring into the dark and that it would appear as a blueish mist. Such a description of course is not far from the darkroom gazers purple smoke. The agnostic disjunctive point (like in the synchroncity argument) is that in order to privilege the hypnogogic explanation we must know that this version of reality is correct. Since both accounts are simply what it would look like for that to be the case we cannot be certain that the hypnogogic one is correct, so when (as many do) they simply thing dismissal is easy they beg the question by assuming a version of reality in order to dismiss the phenomenon. The big question of ‘does it do anything?’ then is partially rendered inert by the agnostic disjunctive observation insofar as being able to induce such experiences in a sense does count as doing something (it has the appearance of some experience commensurate with the descriptions in the books).

This is my impression of these kinds of practices too, the satisfaction of them is that they generate such experiences which then can be interpreted in light of the Castaneda system or reduced to hypnogogic hallucination. The Castaneda system makes one thing abundantly clear though. If one wishes to develop these kinds of things into full blown weirdness there is no place for the agnostic disjunction. One must be committed to accepting the weirdness and not dwelling on its ontological nature as only under this condition will it properly be able to develop. And this is reasonable really, one can imagine that if reality really were sensitive to mental/bodily activity then one must temper the mind to maximise the result.

In the books Castaneda is pushed beyond any level of agnostic disjunction by events so bewildering he has no choice -people flying, teleporting, producing energy doubles. These kinds of events are not reported as replicated in the subreddit and of course one can quickly think, ‘because they aren’t possible’ and probably they aren’t. However there are plenty of mentions of phenomena similar to astral projection/OBE’s which, through the Castaneda system are interpreted as ‘accessing the double’ and there are plenty of reports of such phenomena successfully interacting with the world (not necessarily from the CC camp). This suggests that there may indeed be a kind of progressive link between smoke like phenomena and the ‘double’. This furthermore (to me at least) suggests a kind of open end to the phenomena that we may not know the limit of.

With regards to scepticism, the system suggests there is a kind of protective mechanism built into extreme weirdness for it is repeatedly said (when Castaneda asks such questions) that when an ordinary person observed such a phenomena they would not be able to see it. We may take this to be a convenient or plausible explanation in a similar agnostic disjunctive manner.

Two more points spring to mind in this area. The first concerns that well known topic from various strands of neo-materialism, speculative realism, hauntology etc.: the outside. The exit to the outside is an idea that comes up a lot. The outside itself can be split into a strong and weak version. The weak one being the scientific outside which potentially allows for at least our comprehension and possible somehow greater interaction with fields beyond the human whereas the strong Kantian version prohibits our ability to ever make contact with the noumenal realm. Sorcery (the Castaneda system) seems to suggest a third option. Sorcery would seem to align itself basically with Kant except that transcendental categories and pure intuitions would only be pseudo-transcendental. That is, the transcendental status would be true for every human unless one took the trouble to dismantle the categories/intuitions using sorcery. Then it would be possible to experience something beyond them. This experience in Castaneda’s terms is indeed the experience of the noumenal realm. That is, it suggests that the exit from the human security system (to Coin Land’s phrase) is possible, it’s just it takes more than copious amounts of amphetamine to achieve this. Secondly I think no matter how stable and functional our current scientific paradigm looks, we have to put aside our prejudices about anomaly in general, listen to the phenomenological picture, override the tendency that comprehension of things is within easy reach and consider our understanding of reality may yet be extremely primitive by standards yet to come. The appearance of spatio-temporal solidity may yet turn out to be erroneous as a flat earth.

Another aspect of the whole Castaneda affair that we equally cannot ignore is exactly the claims of invention. We do not raise these in the tired sense of lambasting him for lying -as Deleuze and Guattari point out, it scarcely matters if he did. No one can tell how much of any of it is real. This in itself is an incredible achievement. Castaneda may have pulled off one of the greatest hyperstitional ever. The power of the writing, the strangeness of the events, the endearing natures of Don Juan and Don Genaro all go to making an incredibly attractive world that people want to be real. The work minimally exists as possibly real which means it essentially is hyperstition. It’s a whole canon of potentially largely invented work that exerted and continues to exert a powerful effect on reality.

What my wandering writing here is trying to get at is that there are many good angles from which to write/create upon this topic. There may be more but I offer here:
i) Deleuze and Guattari as a philosophical entry point -though I can see non-philosophy can work quite well here too.
ii) Considerations of the practical aspect of the practices and the ontological/epistemological implications
iii) Possible connections to other theories (e.g. Reich).
iv) The meta-fictional/hyperstitional aspect of the work.
v) Considerations of Castaneda’s work in relation to the outside.
vi) Ontological implications of treating such work seriously -even without practical engagement.

Submissions should be sent into

There is no deadline as yet, though 2021 itself roughly marks the boundary of submissions.

These notes are a product of conversation with Emanuel Magno.

We are painting in simple broad brush strokes here, yet even these can reveal some interesting thoughts and possible structures. To recap briefly we are investigating how certain modes of interacting with the world can be conceived as responses to the the nothingness. We would say the nothingness can be a cognitive discovery (there may be always a trace of this). When this occurs reason philosophy is a void response. Furthermore philosophy here is characterised precisely by its untestable nature and desire to ground its subject matter (knowledge, how to live, the being of Being). This is not a derogatory comment only a descriptive one. Philosophical concepts a priori cannot be defeated by any opposing philosophical concept. Science may shore up the edges of philosophy but sceptical possibilities can persist in the face of overwhelming evidence (and philosophy is duty bound to take them seriously -even though sometimes it would not like to). Hence this shoring up is more a case of rendering unpalatable rather than removing from the philosophical realm. Philosophy tries to ground what it cannot ground using thought, this is its nature.

We also identified sorcery as described in the works of Castaneda as a void response. The accusations of fiction levelled at the works are irrelevant here, all that is relevant is the system and the system describes a way of living that absolutely accepts the void and urges action as if there was no void -yet all the while knows it is there. Sorcery then is a magickal response of action to the void and chaos magick is a very similar (though not identical) one. Chaos magick is more forgiving of regular human nature than sorcery.

Compassion/love was also noted as a void response i.e. in the face of the nothingness the only tenable action is to show compassion to the world and all the beings in it.

It can be argued of course that these are all philosophies insofar they attempt to ground existence by an ungroundable principle. However the difference is that sorcery and compassion responses supply action to be lived and hence they transcend the philosophical realm of thought.

As previously noted there is no claim that philosophy never leads to altered lives, only that the majority of the time the biggest change philosophy makes to someone’s life is that they become interested in philosophy.

We must also consider the source of what looks like a philosophy. This kind of notion turns on the ontological status of revelation. If revelation comes from within a discrete self and represents nothing more than the subconscious mulling over of a problem, the answer to which is fed back to the questioner by some means that appears to not be the questioner, then we might consider it little more unconscious cognition. However if revelation comes from an external power (God/Spirit) then the philosophy in question has not be grounded in cognition of any kind and hence is not philosophy in the above sense of thinking hard about problems.

Of course one cannot actually tell the difference between these two phenomena, the problem is as we say, agnostic disjunctive. In this sense then the phenomenology of external revelation is only what is important and such systems as they arise are not -in our brush strokes- to be considered philosophy in the sense of trying to conceptually/logically disentangle problems.

External revelation though often results in the void-cocoons (or a-voidances). These are systems that shield humans from the void by giving rules for living that are transcendent to humanity. They often supply a teleology. This is a very important part of an a-voidance. Shamanic systems, polytheisms and monotheisms are all largely a-voidances. Shamanic systems do so by direct contact with spirit. Spirit in turn will reveal a creation myth to the shaman. The non-reflectivity of shamanic based communities means that spirit may be naively trusted in its claims. Contact with spirit is perfectly real (though ontologically questionable as the above agnostic disjunction shows) it is just that, as is often said, the spirits cannot be trusted.

Alternative again to any kind of spirituality, cognition or compassion is a certain physical response of fullness to the world -like a hedonism. This may not be born necessarily out of direct cognition of life as a problem, but rather is the result of a certain effusive spirit. When such a person asks themselves whether or not their pleasure in life is reasonable, they simply find that there is no reason why it is not reasonable; life becomes justified on these terms. Equally such a consideration may be never made. The effusiveness of the physicality of life covers the yawning void.

Does this consideration mean we may paint the aesthetic temperament (the poetic, the musical, the artistic) also as void response? Such responses are not cognitive reactions and hence they probably should considered a further part of the picture.

The void responses as we have identified them so far are: philosophy, sorcery, love-compassion (characterised by Buddhism) and a concept we feel in the region of hedonism. This latter category may have an almost Nietzschean quality to it, a fullness of life that attempts to overcome the void by strength of enjoyment of life.

Probably the notion of lining these up with the Jungian quaternity is something of heuristic fantasy, nevertheless the idea spawns more consideration of the matter generally. Can philosophy be viewed as such a purely mental activity when it overtly recognizes the void as an issue for us? The 20th century saw phenomenological existentialism recognize the void as a feature of existence that we must deal with. This is a fascinating occurrence considering the thesis (that philosophy is a response to the void) that implies a Hegelian moment of self awareness for the discipline. Yet is such a moment sufficient for some these aspects of philosophy to be considered to transcend its morass of endless argumentation -by which we characterised it?

On reflection possibly not. The multiplicity of phenomenologies and existentialisms, despite possibly having some marginal effect on peoples lives, largely functions only to create more philosophical territory which can then be debated. The word marginal is probably a disservice here. There are no doubt people who, having read Nietzsche feel inspired to reach higher, people who have read Sartre who sought to live every moment to the full. Such cases are not to be denied, our claim is only that in the majority of cases even the when one feels strongly impressed by the ideas, the impact on actual behaviour is largely minimal.

For this reason then the original claim of philosophy as an activity which understands the nothing and seeks to build a foundation of reason where a priori none is possible is maintained.

Another consideration is that the category of sorcery must be made to include chaos magick. CM is most certainly a void response. The awareness of the insanity that not all the magickal systems can be true pushed the (potential) efficacy of it onto the subjects will and subtracted the intrinsic powers of the symbols. Castaneda’s sorcery and CM make an interesting pair. At a glance CM would be thought to subsume sorcery, however we are not convinced this is the case. CM tends to facilitate the desires of the ego, whereas for sorcery all such desires are a priori pointless and can only undertaken as ‘acts of power’, that is acts done to their absolute best despite their absolute pointlessness. A CM practitioner could employ this belief set for their own purposes, however this proves difficult since if the CM practitioner considers the matter they will discover that CM itself considers all activities pointless, from this though it merely concludes that we might just as well indulge the ego as not. It would however be probably be difficult to be brought to face the void and act in the face of it (sorcery) and then to return to an ego position as then the holding of the ego itself would be forced to be viewed as an act, which one could choose to uphold or not. Probably acts of petty magick would drop away. This is not to say a CM practitioner might not learn all such things without every touching sorcery. Here we only comment on a certain popular playful aspect of it. The truth is that both sorcery and CM advocate altering the self frequently to destabilize it. The only claim here is that sorcery is not necessarily one more tool in the CM kit, and can be better considered to be a complementary equivalent.

Previously we considered sorcery as a kind of response to the void. We also consider that maybe the previously phraseology of void-parasite may be awry. This is the case because the void must always be mediated and hence it is not the void that is the parasite but the void-mediation-system. In the examples of Buddhism of sorcery we may broadly say that compassion and awe respectively mediate the impact of the void upon the human-vector.

We can consider other activities also as responses to the void. Not least of these is philosophy. Philosophers all brush with the void to a greater or lesser extent. This encounter is (for example) the dizzying vertigo one gets when encountering Descartes radical doubt for the first time. This sensation is often (but not always) easily repressed and the activity looks like one more mode of study. But of course what characterises philosophy is that really none of its questions receives an actual answer. It has this character because there are no regular knowledge criteria for the kinds of questions involved. This is because it responds to an encounter with nothing. Ultimate questions have no answers, only speculations: What should we do? Maybe this… What is the nature of all things? Maybe this…

Philosophy proceeds by creating and counter-posing logical speculation against logical speculation. Sometimes more regular-world criteria emerge from other disciplines (science, logic) that facilitate the partial withdrawal of some aspects of it. However otherwise what happens is largely a proliferation of systems reacting to a total unknowable.

In this way philosophy is indeed a void response, only unlike the awe and perceptual manipulation of sorcery and the compassion of Buddhism, it focusses on arguing about what is the case and what we can know. It is what it thinks it is: a love of reason (to interpret wisdom in the way in which philosophy has evolved it).

Such talk cannot help but put us in mind of the work of Laruelle and our own notions of manifestationism and agnostic disjunction. Laruelle puts forward a similar notion of war between differing ontologies, none of which can triumph, as all are reliant in the last instance on the One. The One in this sense can be likened to the void. It is the font of all concepts and yet contains none in itself. What we note also is that the conception we have of philosophy as an encounter with the void presents the void as a transcendental condition for philosophy and stronger than this philosophy is a transcendental consequence of the void. The human as human cannot help but develop these questions because the void is real and hence cannot help becoming locked in their labyrinthine argumentative structures.

Two additional observations come to mind. The first concerns prescriptive religion (largely monotheisms). These are interesting insofar as they do not so much represent a void interface as a-voidance. That is, they deny at least the moral void whilst preserving the ontological void -only God can understand being properly. The response that humans should have to the world though is not up for grabs, rather it is dictated by the deity in a book/system of rules.

The void is a more rational response to existence whereas the dictator God seems less so. However in a sense either of these notions is equally plausible such that they form a kind of meta-manifestationism (meta-non-philosophy). That is, it seems that the void/prescriptive God opposition operates at a different level to which e.g. idealism/realism does.

This fascinating consideration aside there is another way in which the prescriptive God works with the void. If we consider pneuminous accretive theory (which is a void entailing theory) to be correct, then any monotheistic deity can be seen as a vast pneuminous accretion that by its own conceptual power (definition) entails its supreme nature. As such, this supremacy is to its followers (and even to some extent to non-followers) actually supreme and its laws ‘real’.

In this case such a deity does not so much as make a void mediation system as a void-protection system. The monotheistic accretive entity cocoons the void and prevents the humans from coming into contact with it, offering up instead a deity complete with life and death explanation, teleology and morals to determine how existence should be lived. It is of course the removal of such a cocoon that Nietzsche called the death of God.

Secondly, and this in part builds on the possibility of a two tier philosophy dissection. It seems interesting (if maybe not at this stage plausible) to potentially align the void interfaces with the Jungian quaternity.

Such a lining up would tentatively be as follows:

Thinking Philosophy -mediated through reason

Feeling Compassion -mediated through good deeds

Intuition Sorcery -mediated through awe, astonishing events

Sensation Pseudo-Hedonism -mediated through physical work and sensory pleasure.

What is sorcery (in Castaneda’s sense)? Sorcery seems to be the altering/replacing of the self through doing acts alien to the the original self. These acts might be perceptual, physical or mental though in the system they all might be described as perceptual. The body perceives in ways we do not understand. Accessing the bodies ability to do this part of the aim. Everything is about perception, though perception is not a passive power, rather it is an active force with the ability to alter what is at large (not unlike my description of how the pneuma can alter the umbra).

How does sorcery spread? The lineage is described as transferring from established sorcerers to new ‘apprentices’ who are invariably tricked into the world of sorcery or presented with it as the only escape route in opposition to death -people down on their worst luck. Sorcerers identify apprentices according to omens that identify them as viable potential sorcerers. These omens are supplied by ‘power’, the name given for both the general force at large for determining events and the force that can be harnessed by sorcery as ‘personal power’. What is interesting is that there is no overarching teleology given. What does sorcery do? It would seem nothing other than create sorcerers. It is like Dzogchen without compassion. It seeks only to enter ‘the other world’ and bypass death.

Power then can be seen as selecting the victims of sorcery. What is interesting is that in the absence of any teleology the acts of power could be meaningless coincidences. This is the problem of the agnostic disjunction, the inability to discern an ‘omen’ from an coincidence -they look identical. To the sorcerer apparently they don’t, but does this really help as even if they do look different on some level, the sorcerer still admits that she/he doesn’t understand why power chose one person and not another. Thus it seems the arbitrary choice of power is still available even if it can be ‘seen’ to be different from a coincidence.

Once power has selected the next set of apprentices, the current sorcerers must go about installing sorcery. As mentioned the initial hook is brought about by trickery or shown as a last resort. Once the hook is in, the apprentice is instructed to begin to behave ‘impeccably’ and not to ‘indulge’. This basically means to try ones best at everything and not to bother with futile thought patterns. This is all done with the aim of streamlining the organism. This streamlining process can take years and running alongside it is the instruction in the business of sorcery itself: dreaming (the developing of the dream double), stalking (manipulation of the physical self to enable hypnotic like trickery) and various other things. The combined force of these alterations is supposed to essentially dismantle the self and not reassemble it. The remaining entity as a sorcerer is no longer the person they were, both physically and mentally they are different. There is a moment in CC where the tragedy of this alteration is brought out. One of the apprentices weeps to think of his mother, whom herself, late in her life was identified by power as a viable sorceress. Her son the half-sorcerer, wishes that she had never met the sorcerers as then she would still be his mother. But the woman who biologically was his mother can not be said to be so anymore, rejuvenated and transformed away from her lot as a timid ageing cook and cleaner, her entire personality is altered -sorcery has replaced it with a fearsome intimidating sorceress. He himself loses his gloomy regret by stopping himself from ‘indulging’. He cannot indulge because it’s all too late, she has gone and in part so has he. So the indulgence advice in its context is even correct, there is only onwards for both of them.

Even part of the way through this process we can see how we can look upon this as sorcery installing itself into certain vectors as selected by power. But since sorcery wants nothing from the world as such what is it doing? Everything seemingly turns on the machinations of ‘power’. The sorcerers themselves, once dismantled simply respond to the fate that power doles out, presumably making their impeccable best out of whatever hand is given. All of which raises the question, can it be cogently asked if ‘power’ wants anything? Presumably from the perspective of sorcery power does show certain things are desirable, but does not say why -no answer of this nature is ever forthcoming.

Sorcery and systems like it seem to feed off ordinary life; this is the parasite analogy. Sorcery enters the ordinary human and destroys it from inside, the victim does not even know they are replacing themselves with the sorcerous installation. It is perhaps curious why it tries to stay so limited in its host-occupancy, though maybe this is its natural rate. Certainly many people who attempt occult systems only do so at a very shallow level, so even when the information is out successful parasitism is low.

Buddhism seems probably the closest parasite system with its inherent attempt to show the emptiness of things. Buddhism though of course attempts not to proselytize as such but still to help other beings, the compassion parasite must take over -but the Buddhists know, behind the compassion installation is the void. Is this possibly what commands/is power? The nothingness. In this sense sorcery and Buddhism offer just two different responses to the same phenomenon. Both install the void-parasite. One says that in a meaningless world endless play in the vast scope of perception is viable option -but that this is not for all and many must just live in the illusion. Whilst the other says almost the opposite, compassion towards all beings, the way is open regardless of omen.

The void-parasite will have any takers.