“Never Mind” by Leonard Cohen (2014; keep in mind, various parts of this song are being excerpted each week on True Detective, which is why it seems the theme song’s lyrics are changing.)
The war was lost,
The treaty signed,
I was not caught,
I crossed the line.
I was not caught,
Though many tried,
I live among you,
I live the life
I left behind.
There’s truth that lives,
And truth that dies,
I don’t know which,
So never mind.
Your victory was so complete,
Some among you thought to keep
A record of our little lives
The clothes we wore, our spoons, our knives.
And all of this, expressions of
The Sweet Indifference some call love.
The High Indifference some call fate,
But we had names more intimate.
Names so deep and names so true
They’re blood to me, they’re dust to you.
There’s truth that lives and truth that dies
I don’t know which, so never mind.
The writer and anthropologist Carlos Castaneda believed human beings could turn into animals. Well, he believed in the illuminating process of consuming so much peyote or mushrooms in the Mexican desert that you might imagine you have turned into an animal.
He wrote in one of his books that of all the animals, the best thing you could be was a crow. In his 1968 anthropological work about his apprenticeship with a self-proclaimed Yaqui Indian sorcerer, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, he wrote:
“At this point I asked don Juan the unavoidable question: ‘Did I really become a crow? I mean would anyone seeing me have thought I was an ordinary crow?’
“‘No. You can’t think that way when dealing with the power of the allies. Such questions make no sense, and yet to become a crow is the simplest of all matters. It is almost like frolicking; it has little usefulness. As I have already told you, the smoke is not for those who seek power. It is only for those who crave to see. I learned to become a crow because these birds are the most effective of all. No other birds bother them, except perhaps larger, hungry eagles, but crows fly in groups and can defend themselves. Men don’t bother crows either, and that is an important point. Any man can distinguish a large eagle, especially an unusual eagle, or any other large, unusual bird, but who cares about a crow? A crow is safe. It is ideal in size and nature. It can go safely into any place without attracting attention. On the other hand, it is possible to become a lion or a bear, but that is rather dangerous. Such a creature is too large; it takes too much energy to become one. One can also become a cricket, or a lizard, or even an ant, but that is even more dangerous, because large animals prey on small creatures.’
“I argued that what he was saying meant that one really changed into a crow, or a cricket, or anything else. But he insisted I was misunderstanding. ‘It takes a very long time to learn to be a proper crow,’ he said. ‘But you did not change, nor did you stop being a man. There is something else.’
“‘Can you tell me what the something else is, don Juan?’
“‘Perhaps by now you know it yourself. Maybe if you were not so afraid of becoming mad, or of losing your body, you would understand this marvelous secret. But perhaps you must wait until you lose your fear to understand what I mean.'”
It’s very easy to see why Castaneda had thousands of followers, why his books were best-sellers, how he managed to convince woman after woman to join his commune, Cleargreen (which still exists, by the way), change their names, disown their families, refuse to ever be photographed, engage in polyamorous relationships and then eventually off themselves after he was gone (OK, I have no evidence he convinced them to commit suicide—they did that on their own—but he did apparently consider suicide a noble death and make decisions for his followers so they wouldn’t have to think for themselves.)
He’s like L. Ron Hubbard-light.
Which makes it all the more horrifying that in True Detective‘s “Other Lives,” Castaneda was the author of the paperback tome Dr. Irving Pitlor was quietly devouring when Detective Ray Velcoro barged in and knocked a few of his molars out.
Here’s what else Castaneda wrote about crows:
“I brought up the issue of the difference I had detected in the movement of light. ‘Things that are alive,’ he said, ‘move inside, and a crow can easily see when something is dead, or about to die, because the movement has stopped or is slowing down to a stop. A crow can also tell when something is moving too fast, and by the same token a crow can tell when something is moving just right.’
“‘What does it mean when something is moving too fast, or just right?’
“‘It means a crow can actually tell what to avoid and what to seek. When something is moving too fast inside, it means it is about to explode violently, or to leap forward, and a crow will avoid it. When it moves inside just right, it is a pleasing sight and a crow will seek it.’
“‘Do rocks move inside?’
“‘No, not rocks or dead animals or dead trees. But they are beautiful to look at. That is why crows hang around dead bodies. They like to look at them. No light moves inside them.’
“‘But when the flesh rots, doesn’t it change or move?’
“‘Yes, but that is a different movement. What a crow sees then is millions of things moving inside the flesh with a light of their own, and that is what a crow likes to see. It is truly an unforgettable sight.’
“‘Have you seen it yourself, don Juan?’
“‘Anybody who learns to become a crow can see it. You will see it yourself.'”
Makes me think of the carrion crows hanging out Alfred Hitchcock-style around that blood-stained torture shed Ani and Paul discovered this episode. I wonder what kind of “movement” they’ve been seeing.
Dr. Pitlor also speaks in strange riddles like this. In the face of obvious violence to his person, he says to his transgressor, “Your compensatory projection of menace is a guarantor of its lack. And it says something about the depths of your misperceptions.”
Sounds like something right out of Castaneda. Oh wait, he had just been reading it.
Pitlor also has a painting of a crow (which I talked about here) and an office full of what could be Aztec pottery. And he was once a member of a commune in the 1970s that, from everything we’ve heard so far, seemed to be pretty heavily into experimental drug use (“the deep trip,” as Mayor Chessani put it). So, what are the chances Pitlor might also have a crow head he likes to wear when he has a “deep trip,” thus becoming, as Castaneda put it, “the most effective bird of all”?
We know Caspere was a fan of wearing animal heads, because he had four of them hanging in his Hollywood apartment. He was also a member of the Good People/Chessani’s Lodge/whatever we are calling the dudes in Eliot Bezzerides’ 1970s lakeside snapshot.
By 1973, Castanedes’s first book had sold more than 300,00 copies. Here’s what Time magazine had to say about it:
“By his account, the first phase of Castaneda’s apprenticeship lasted from 1961 to 1965, when, terrified that he was losing his sense of reality—and by now possessing thousands of pages of notes—he broke away from Don Juan. In 1968, when The Teachings appeared, he went down to Mexico again to give the old man a copy. A second cycle of instruction then began. Gradually Castaneda realized that Don Juan’s use of psychotropic plants was not an end in itself, and that the sorcerer’s way could be traversed without drugs.
“But this entailed a perfect honing of the will. A man of knowledge, Don Juan insisted, could only develop by first becoming a ‘warrior’—not literally a professional soldier, but a man wholly at one with his environment, agile, unencumbered by sentiment or ‘personal history.’ The warrior knows that each act may be his last. He is alone. Death is the root of his life, and in its constant presence he always performs ‘impeccably.’ This existential stoicism is a key idea in the books. The warrior’s aim in becoming a ‘man of knowledge’ and thus gaining membership as a sorcerer, is to ‘see.’
“‘Seeing,’ in Don Juan’s system, means experiencing the world directly, grasping its essence, without interpreting it. Castaneda’s second book, A Separate Reality, describes Don Juan’s efforts to induce him to ‘see’ with the aid of mushroom smoke. Journey to Ixtlan, though many of the desert experiences it recounts predate Castaneda’s introduction to peyote, datura and mushrooms, deals with the second stage: ‘seeing’ without drugs.
“‘The difficulty,’ says Castaneda, ‘is to learn to perceive with your whole body, not just with your eyes and reason. The world becomes a stream of tremendously rapid, unique events.’…Part of the training involved minutely, even piously, attuning the senses to the desert, its animals and birds, its sounds and shadows, the shifts in its wind, and the places in which a shaman might confront its spirit entities: spots of power, holes of refuge. When Castaneda describes his education as a hunter and plant gatherer learning about the virtues of herbs, the trapping of rabbits, the narrative is absorbing. Don Juan and the desert enable him, sporadically and without drugs, to ‘see’ or, as the Yaqui puts it, ‘to stop the world.’
“In some quarters, Castaneda’s works are extravagantly admired as a revival of a mode of cognition that has been largely neglected in the West, buried by materialism and Pascal’s despair, since the Renaissance. Says Mike Murphy, a founder of the Esalen Institute: ‘The essential lessons Don Juan has to teach are the timeless ones that have been taught by the great sages of India and the spiritual masters of modern times.’ Author Alan Watts argues that Castaneda’s books offer an alternative to both the guilt-ridden Judaeo-Christian and the blindly mechanistic views of man: ‘Don Juan’s way regards man as something central and important. By not separating ourselves from nature we return to a position of dignity.’
“But such endorsements and parallels do not in any way validate the more worldly claim to importance of Castaneda’s books: to wit, that they are anthropology, a specific and truthful account of an aspect of Mexican Indian culture as shown by the speech and actions of one person, a shaman named Juan Matus. That proof hinges on the credibility of Don Juan as a being and Carlos Castaneda as a witness. Yet there is no corroboration beyond Castaneda’s writings that Don Juan did what he is said to have done, and very little that he exists at all.”
So this is a little bit different from the Biblical references, the Greek mythology, the Egyptian mythology, the Norse mythology, the Tarot references, the Pacific Northwest Indian totem poles, the animal symbolism, the Christian mysticism, the Aztec mythology, the Hindu mythology and even the out-of-body experiences or astral projection that I’ve talked about in recent weeks. (Well, maybe not the astral projection—there are people who swear they’ve truly done that.) Those spiritual examples are merely stories—we do not have any evidence that any of them are factual accounts of real things that really happened. They are nice belief systems, if that is what you’re after.
But the followers of Carlos Castaneda’s writings think that he actually, positively did experience all of these things he describes, that his teacher Don Juan was even a real-live person (people scoured Mexico searching for him when Castaneda’s books came out, but nobody could ever find him). His book was marketed as anthropology, not mythology—not fiction.
So the odds that True Detective‘s Good People also bought into this are quite high, especially now that Pizzolatto has presented this book to us on a silver platter.
Think about all the references to eyes and vision and sight on this show (in this episode alone, Ray referred to Pitlor’s “pin eyes”—a condition that can be caused by the overuse of opiates). Castaneda’s big thing was being a “seer” (he even used eyes to decorate his books). He thought that people did not see the world correctly, as it truly was, because they were too caught up in their own identities and problems. If you could just let all of that go, you could be at peace, he believed. It’s a similar philosophy to the other afterlife symbolism the show has presented so far—in the Egyptian or Greek afterlife, where they thought you needed to know a code or bring an admittance fee to find contentment; in the freedom and empowerment associated with Kali, who helps her followers let go of their attachments before they die by being absorbed into her darkness, which consumes everything; in the belief system of Santa Muerte worshippers, who think she helps you detach from your life and have a peaceful death; in Meister Eckhart’s idea that the only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life.
Our main characters this season are all perfect candidates to become Castaneda followers, really. Look at how miserable they all are, all due to some pretty heavy life attachments. In “Other Lives,” they each pursue much less passionate careers—Ray is doing “security” for Frank, Ani is “locked in a cage,” in the evidence basement, Paul is working insurance fraud and drinking vodka in his iced tea just to get through dinner with his mother-in-law. And Frank—well, Frank’s attempting to be an attentive and devoted husband, staying in to watch a Lee Marvin oldie, though we know he’s up to no good and much of it is hidden from his wife.
And Castaneda wrote some amazingly inspiring things. Like this, from A Separate Reality:
“When a man embarks on the paths of sorcery he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been forever left behind; that knowledge is indeed a frightening affair; that the means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him; and that he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive. The first thing he ought to do, at that point, is to want to become a warrior. The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior….
“And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.
“When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience. When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish. He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that comes out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.
“A man can go still further than that; a man can learn to see. Upon learning to see he no longer needs to live like a warrior, nor be a sorcerer. Upon learning to see a man becomes everything by becoming nothing. He, so to speak, vanishes and yet he’s there. I would say that this is the time when a man can be or can get anything he desires. But he desires nothing, and instead of playing with his fellow men like they were toys, he meets them in the midst of their folly. The only difference between them is that a man who sees controls his folly, while his fellow men can’t. A man who sees has no longer an active interest in his fellow men. Seeing has already detached him from absolutely everything he knew before.
“Don’t let the idea of being detached from everything you know give you the chills. The thing which should give you the chills is not to have anything to look forward to but a lifetime of doing that which you have always done. Think of the man who plants corn year after year until he’s too old and tired to get up, so he lies around like an old dog. His thoughts and feelings, the best of him, ramble aimlessly to the only things he has ever done, to plant corn. For me that is the most frightening waste there is.
“We are men and our lot is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds. Seeing is for impeccable men. Temper your spirit now, become a warrior, learn to see, and then you’ll know that there is no end to the new worlds for our vision. When you see there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible! Everything you gaze at becomes nothing! Things don’t disappear they don’t vanish, they simply became nothing and yet they are still there. Seeing makes one realize the unimportance of everything. Seeing is learned by seeing.“
“Seeing is for impeccable men.” It’s easy to understand how this might be a goal for the passive Ben Caspere, for the inebriated-to-the-point-of-not-caring Vinci mayor, for the stoic Eliot Bezzerides and for the weirdly emotionless Dr. Pitlor.
The fact that Ray, Ani, Frank and Paul all seem prime candidates to follow down this road too, to abandon everything in their lives that has caused them misery, is not that strange. It’s the setup Pizzolatto consistently provides. Cohle and Marty were also prime candidates for getting lost in Carcosa. Both very unhappy, tortured, guilt-ridden people. And Cohle in particular was forever striving to make sense of a world where his young daughter could die so senselessly.
So, of course! This season of True Detective has been about the theories of Carlos Castaneda all along. It couldn’t be a more benevolent belief system that’s behind all of this. People are dying and disappearing on this show not just because of corrupt politicians and blackmail and crooked cops and money-hungry officials who just really like dirty sex. It’s because of a twisted cult who’s got all of its tenets backwards.
Oh, and the Yaqui Indians, the tribe the fictional or maybe-not-fictional Don Juan belonged to? Yeah, they wore lots of animal masks. Including this one, on the cover of one of Castaneda’s books (the beard is made of goat hair).
All of which look quite a bit like the one hanging in the shed in Guerneville.
Castaneda’s philosophy was that you could reach other dimensions if your mind was open enough to it and if you could just leave your oppressive Western belief system behind. He was all about exploring “other worlds.”
This has to be what Caspere was trying to do when he was killed. He was trying so hard to be a “seer,” that they cut out his real eyes in the process. And then they placed him in what Castaneda would call a “power spot,” overlooking the ocean from the bluffs. I’m guessing it is what the Eastern European women being tricked into becoming part of a human trafficking circle also think they are doing when they magically disappear into the ether.
Vera may have been an exception to this crazy, occult ring. Her name means “truth,” after all (despite Pitlor’s theory that “there are many truths”—also a Castaneda quote). I think she got wrapped up in the party circuit, then sent those pictures to her sister as a cry for help.
An article by Salon a few years ago attempted to debunk Castaneda’s validity and listed examples of some of his followers’ deaths:
“In 2002, a Taos, N.M., woman, Janice Emery, a Castaneda follower and workshop attendee, jumped to her death in the Rio Grande gorge. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Emery had a head injury brought on by cancer. One of Emery’s friends told the newspaper that Emery ‘wanted to be with Castaneda’s people.’ Said another: ‘I think she was really thinking she could fly off.’ A year later, a skeleton was discovered near the site of Partin’s abandoned Ford [this refers to Patricia Partin, one of his five girlfriends who changed their names and whom Castaneda called ‘the witches’—they found her car and skeleton in the desert soon after Castaneda died in the 1990s]. The Inyo County sheriff’s department suspected it was hers. But, due to its desiccated condition, a positive identification couldn’t be made until February 2006, when new DNA technology became available.
“Wallace recalls how Castaneda had told Partin that ‘if you ever need to rise to infinity, take your little red car and drive it as fast as you can into the desert and you will ascend.’ And, Wallace believes, ‘that’s exactly what she did: She took her little red car, drove it into the desert, didn’t ascend, got out, wandered around and fainted from dehydration.’
“Partin’s death and the disappearance of the other women aren’t Castaneda’s entire legacy. He’s been acknowledged as an important influence by figures ranging from Deepak Chopra to George Lucas. Without a doubt, Castaneda opened the doors of perception for numerous readers, and many workshop attendees found the experience deeply meaningful. There are those who testify to the benefits of Tensegrity. And even some of those who are critical of Castaneda find his teachings useful. ‘He was a conduit. I wanted answers to the big questions. He helped me,’ Geuter said. But for five of his closest companions, his teachings—and his insistence on their literal truth—may have cost them their lives.”
The crow was only one of many animals highly revered by Don Juan, according to Castaneda. According to insects.org, “The sorcerers of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico refer to the moth as a symbol of knowledge. In the book Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda, the moth is such a central figure it is included as the major character on the cover of the book. It is revealed by Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer, ‘knowledge is a moth.’ He expresses metaphorically that ‘the moths are the heralds, or better yet, the guardians of eternity,’ for some reason, or for no reason at all, they are the depositories of the gold dust of eternity. He continues, ‘the moths carry a dust on their wings, a dark gold dust. That dust is the dust of knowledge.’ ‘Knowledge comes floating like specks of gold dust, the same dust that covers the wings of moths.’ ‘The moths have been the intimate friends and helpers of sorcerers from time immemorial.’ Don Juan adds, ‘Moths are the givers of knowledge and the friends and helpers.'”
“It’s just dust in your eyes, man. Blink it away,” Ray Velcoro says to a troubled Paul Woodrough in “Down Will Come.” He’s calling the gossip reporters and their lies “dust,” but he could very well be referring to the dust on the butterflies. Remember what Paul’s fiancée’s apartment looks like?
She also has them all over the bathroom.
The butterfly, in Spanish, is called “Mariposa,” the street term for a homosexual in Mexico.”
The Pacific Northwest Indians, the tribe Eliot Bezzerides seems most keen about, with his reverence for their totems, also had saw the butterfly as an important symbolic figure: “The Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest incorporated the butterfly in their mythology. The butterfly is the raven’s spokesman at feasts. The raven ‘was an integral part of Northwest coast life and to separate this bird from the life of the people was inconceivable. It is a never-to-beforgotten bird.’ ‘The raven created the world according to the Haida Indians.’ In one Haida totem pole, the butterfly appears beneath the raven and touches the raven’s tongue, possibly signifying his spokesman role. The totem butterfly is highly stylized. Indian art gives primary attention to the predominating power which he attached to that animal. The art endeavored to give an impression of action or pictorially indicate what the animal could do. Since birds were a dominant theme in Haida art, their artists perhaps overlooked the most obvious flying abilities of butterflies and (presuming they referred to a butterfly’s sucking mouthpiece as a tongue) decided to make an insect with a big tongue a spokesman.”
Em is definitely Paul’s spokesman, in that she’s his beard. And if that makes her the butterfly, then isn’t Paul the raven?
Does anyone else still find his secrecy strange? The fact that he just randomly stumbled upon Caspere’s body on the highway? The way he seemed to acknowledge Frank Semyon in the Lux, like he knew him? How efficient he was as a killing machine in that battle with the pimp Amarillo at his meth house, who was framed for killing Caspere (notice, Dixon also died in that battle).
I’m not saying Paul is definitely the killer—but he’s such a private guy, that it certainly seems possible. It would be an intriguing twist.
My other top candidates are Dr. Pitlor and, as I mentioned in last week’s post, Tony Chessani. Or, maybe it’s someone hired by the Russians, since they so precisely kill their victims.
I definitely don’t think that hard drive of Caspere’s only contains some sexual misdeeds involving public officials, though. I think the higher-ups are worried about being implicated in some girls being murdered, maybe in their Castaneda-like rituals. All should be revealed this week in the party scene…and I’m hoping we’ll find out where those damn blue diamonds came from. Here’s a hint, though: blue diamonds largely come from Russia.
Until next time, “The enemy won’t reveal itself, Raymond. Stymies my retribution. It’s like, uh… blue balls in your heart.”
“Risk” by Alexandra Savior (2015)
There’s a color running through your blood,
such a hasty shade of blond.
You’re that awful sort of dangerous,
Kind that keeps me hanging on.
Darkness does appear when
I can see the secrets hanging ’round your neck.
When we’re shirtless and slicing the wrist.
Prick your finger on a kiss.
Tell no one about it, they don’t need to know.
Tell no one about you.
There’s a color running through your blood,
Such a hasty shade of blond.
You’re that awful sort of dangerous,
Kind that keeps me hanging on.
Darkness does appear when
I can see the secrets hanging ’round your neck.
When we’re shirtless and slicing the wrist.
Prick your finger on a kiss
Tell no one about it,
They don’t need to know.
Tell no one about you