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‘Complacent, Routinary, and Egomaniacal’
The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Castaneda

1998, Harper-Collins, NY, 272 pages

This is one of the sources being utilized to examine the subtext of Robert E. Howard's fiction.

Sometime ago I confided in the readers that I have been seeing shadows streak across the periphery of my vision since 2006, when I first came under extreme job stress, and that this has persisted even after relieving myself of this stress—so my not be related at all. Perhaps this has to do with a medical condition that no one will know of, as I’m not going to a doctor about this or anything else that can possibly be avoided.

I want to go out like Bill, fell into a coma after work one day and never woke up—dead from cancer two weeks later, having medicated himself with a six-pack of beer after work every day—enjoying life up until the last week—like a hero—not outlasting his accomplishments via a yawning pit of regret as the medical system hacked away at his humanity…

Then SS Sam sent me the Active Side of Infinity, with a post-it note on page 215, at the beginning of the chapter, Mud Shadows. The note wished me well in hopes that the writings by Carlos Castaneda could assist me in understanding my affliction.

I can tell you that I very much enjoyed reading The Active Side of Infinity and that it scared me, awakened my superstitious tendencies. Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, the Yaqui Indian shaman from Sonora, assured Carlos that these were essentially soul eating energy beings of a sort that enslave our energy and feed upon us from birth. One wonders if the people who wrote The Matrix read this book. My inclination is to take this as a metaphor for the hidden puppet masters that eat our hopes and dreams and milk the fruit of our labors for their evil purposes. This notion is buoyed by the obvious fact that Carlos and Juan and the disciples of Juan were taking hallucinogenic drugs.

But, the rest of the book is so keenly observant, and so laced with an understanding of the primal hero journey that I am having difficulty placing the book. The quote below, decided me, concerning one of Carlos’s childhood acquaintances, a drifter and vulture hunter who stood in ill-repute among adults but seemed to extend the hand of wonder to a boy:

“I realized then that my grandfather secretly envied Mr. Acosta’s freedom, and Mr. Acosta was transformed for me by this realization from a nice hunter into the ultimate expression of what is at the same time both forbidden and desired.”

The key aspect of heroic fiction is the link between the fighting man and the sorcerer. In The Lord of the Rings this is best demonstrated with the Gandalf and Aragorn characters. However, in the fiction of Robert E. Howard, and in the Aryan tradition in general—such as the relationship of Circe and Odysseus—the the sorcerer or beguiling goddess is often at odds with the warrior hero, and still there is an affinity. This is best illustrated in the Conan story, The Scarlet Citadel, reviewed under Gulfs in this volume, in which the diabolical Tsotha places more value on his heroic captive than his kingly accomplices.

In don Juan’s words, “…sorcery must be cushioned in the mundane. It must stem from nothing, and go through the eye of a needle unnoticed.”

Again, as a Western-minded person I would equate sorcery with the imposition of will without physical force or threat. Whatever the truth is I find it fascinating that Howard seemed to sketch sorcery in a manner akin to the discipline of the self-described sorcerer, don Juan.

The “mud shadows” though, they haunt.

This book is, in the words of don Juan, “…the art of facing infinity without flinching,” a most heroic sentiment. The sorcerer is defined as a heroic “warrior-traveler” who does not hold himself to hereditary obligations. Agreements that were made for him by his enslaved parents are not binding to his honor, only agreements and pacts of his volition. As exemplified in the quote chosen for the title above, the art of “sorcery” described by don Juan seems to be negotiating inauthentic social bounds in such a way as to develop outside of the slave mind.

A Well of Heroes

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