Terence Kemp McKenna (16 November 1946 – 3 April 2000) was an American writer, philosopher, and ethnobotanist, who advocated paths of shamanism, and the use of hallucinogenic substances (primarily plant-based psychedelics) as a means of increasing many forms of human awareness. His ideas often revolve around his novelty theory of the universe.
- We're playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It's an essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we're talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility. In fact, not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility. Not built on some con game spun out by eunuchs, but based on the symbiotic relationship that was in place for our species for fifty thousand years before the advent of history, writing, priestcraft and propaganda. So it's a clarion call to recover a birthright.
- Non-Ordinary States Through Vision Plants (1988)
- There is a spiritual obligation, there is a task to be done. It is not, however, something as simple as following a set of somebody else's rules. The noetic enterprise is a primary obligation toward being. Our salvation is linked to it. Not everyone has to read alchemical texts or study superconducting biomolecules to make the transition. Most people make it naively by thinking clearly about the present at hand, but we intellectuals are trapped in a world of too much information. Innocence is gone for us. We cannot expect to cross the rainbow bridge through a good act of contrition; that will not be sufficient.
We have to understand. Whitehead said, "Understanding is the apperception of pattern as such"; to fear death is to misunderstand life. Cognitive activity is the defining act of humanness. Language, thought, analysis, art, dance, poetry, mythmaking: these are the things that point the way toward the realm of the eschaton. We humans may be released into a realm of pure self-engineering. The imagination is everything. This was Blake's perception. This is where we came from. This is where we are going. And it is only to be approached through cognitive activity.
- The alternative physics is a physics of light. Light is composed of photons, which have no antiparticle. This means that there is no dualism in the world of light. The conventions of relativity say that time slows down as one approaches the speed of light, but if one tries to imagine the point of view of a thing made of light, one must realize that what is never mentioned is that if one moves at the speed of light there is no time whatsoever. There is an experience of time zero. ... The only experience of time that one can have is of a subjective time that is created by one's own mental processes, but in relationship to the Newtonian universe there is no time whatsoever. One exists in eternity, one has become eternal, the universe is aging at a staggering rate all around one in this situation, but that is perceived as a fact of this universe — the way we perceive Newtonian physics as a fact of this universe. One has transited into the eternal mode. One is then apart from the moving image; one exists in the completion of eternity.
- "New Maps of Hyperspace" (1989); originally published in Magical Blend magazine, also in The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History (1992)]
- For approximately 500 years [science's] argument for its pre-eminence was that it could create beautiful toys: aircraft, railroads, global economies, television, spacecraft. But that is a fool’s argument for truth! I mean, that’s after all how a medicine show operates, you know: the juggler is so good, the medicine must be even better! This is not an entirely rational way to proceed.
- "The World and Its Double"
- My notion of what the psychedelic experience is, for us, that we each must become like fishermen, and go out on to the dark ocean of mind, and let our nets down into that sea. And what you're after is not some behemoth, that will tear through your nets, follow them and drag you in your little boat, you know, into the abyss, nor are what we're looking for a bunch of sardines that can slip through your net and disappear. Ideas like, "Have you ever noticed that your little finger exactly fits your nostril?", and stuff like that. What we are looking for are middle-size ideas, that are not so small that they are trivial, and not so large that they're incomprehensible. Middle-size ideas we can wrestle into our boat and take back to the folks on shore, and have fish dinner. And every one of us when we go into the psychedelic state, this is what we should be looking for. It's not for your elucidation, it's not part of your self-directed psychotherapy. You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is in danger by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. And so to whatever degree any one of us can bring back a small piece of the picture and contribute it to the building of the new paradigm, then we participate in the redemption of the human spirit, and that after all is what it's really all about.
- It is now very clear that techniques of machine-human interfacing, pharmacology of the synthetic variety, all kinds of manipulative techniques, all kinds of data storage, imaging and retrieval techniques– all of this is coalescing toward the potential of a truly demonic or angelic kind of self-imaging of our culture... And the people who are on the demonic side are fully aware of this and hurrying full-tilt forward with their plans to capture everyone as a 100% believing consumer inside some kind of a beige furnished fascism that won't even raise a ripple.
- Non-Ordinary States Through Vision Plants (1988)
- The Beliefs of a Witoto shaman and the beliefs of a Princeton phenomenologist have an equal chance of being correct, and there are no arbiters of who is right. Here is something we have not assimilated. We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.
- The Archaic Revival (1991)
- We are in the grip of some kind of an attractor, and when we look back at history, we can have a sense, I think, that we have never been here before. But we are so accustomed to causal thought, that we assume we have been pushed here, pushed here by historical necessity, by bad political decisions, by the vicissitudes of evolution (cultural and otherwise). I don’t think so. I think we have been pulled here, that we are under the aegis of a kind of an attractor. Some people would call it a “destiny”, but what it is is a dream that is pulling us deeper and deeper into the adventure of existential becoming. And faster and faster—that’s the other thing. Deeper and deeper, faster and faster, so that the rate of change that people were accustomed to before the Industrial Revolution, for example—we can barely conceive of such slow-moving, stately, meta-stable societies. On the other hand, within the 20th Century, the acceleration has been even more intense, and continues to accelerate.
- It's pretty simple, the ethical life - it's just demanding . . . The moral life does not consist of wheat grass diet, or affirmation, or any of that. The moral life is - unless you're at Esalen - you should clothe the naked, you should feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, bury the dead, and there are a couple others - obvious - things to be done. It's not about how many prostrations you do, or what lineage you've associated yourself with, or how much cholesterol is in your diet. And somehow we have confused the ethical and moral dimension with the dimension of physical practices - probably because we have been too infected by the memes of tired Asian religions that long ago gave up moral philosophy in favor of rotational activity - because the social problems of Asia are overwhelming - that's a response to an overwhelming human tragedy - the quietude of Asian religion, I think.
- Appreciating Imagination (1997)
- Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego.
- A lot of people pass through the thinking I'm a guru and take enough trips to understand that no, I was just a witness. I was just a witness.
- I remember the very, very first time that I smoked DMT. It was sort of a benchmark, you might say, and I remember that this friend of mine that always got there first visited me with this little glass pipe and this stuff which looked like orange mothballs. And since I was a graduate of Dr. Hofmann's, I figured there were no surprises. So the only question I asked is, 'How long does it last?' and he said, 'About five minutes.' So I did it and... [long pause, audience cheers] there was a something, like a flower, like a chrysanthemum in orange and yellow that was sort of spinning, spinning, and then it was like I was pushed from behind and I fell through the chrysanthemum into another place that didn't seem like a state of mind, it seemed like another place. And what was going on in this place aside from the tastefully soffited indirect lighting, and the crawling geometric hallucinations along the domed walls, what was happening was that there were a lot of ahh.. beings in there, what I call self-transforming machine elves. Sort of like jewelled basketballs all dribbling their way toward me. And if they'd had faces they would have been grinning, but they didn't have faces. And they assured me that they loved me and they told me not to be amazed; not to give way to astonishment. And so I watched them, even though I wondered if maybe I hadn't really done it this time, and what they were doing was they were making objects come into existence by singing them into existence. Objects which looked like Fabergé eggs from Mars morphing themselves with Mandaean alphabetical structures. They looked like the concrescence of linguistic intentionality put through a kind of hyper-dimensional transform into three-dimensional space. And these little machines offered themselves to me. And I realized when I looked at them that if I could bring just one of these little trinkets back, nothing would ever be quite the same again. And I wondered, Where Am I? And What Is Going On? It occurred to me that these must be holographic viral projections from an autonomous continuum that was somehow intersecting my own, and then I thought a more elegant explaination would be to take it at face value and realize that I had broken into an ecology of souls. And that somehow I was getting a peek over the other side. Somehow I was finding out that thing that you cheerfully assume you can't find out. But it felt like I was finding out. And it felt.. and then I can't remember what it felt like because the little self-transforming tykes interrupted me and said, "Don't think about it. Don't think about who we are... Think about doing what we're doing. Do it! Do it! DO IT NOW!!!"
And what they meant was use your voice to make an object. And as I understood, I felt a bubble kind of grow inside of me. And I watched these little elf tykes jumping in and out of my chest; they like to do that to reassure you. And they said, "Do it." And I felt language rise up in me that was unhooked from english, and I began to speak...
- "Alien Dreamtime" a multimedia event recorded live. (27 February 1993)
- The real secret of magic is that the world is made of words, and that if you know the words that the world is made of you can make of it whatever you wish.
- "Alien Dreamtime" a multimedia event recorded live. (27 February 1993)
- The view of science is that all processes ultimately run down, but entropy is maximized only in some far, far away future. The idea of entropy makes an assumption that the laws of the space-time continuum are infinitely and linearly extendable into the future. In the spiral time scheme of the timewave this assumption is not made. Rather, final time means passing out of one set of laws that are conditioning existence and into another radically different set of laws. The universe is seen as a series of compartmentalized eras or epochs whose laws are quite different from one another, with transitions from one epoch to another occurring with unexpected suddenness.
- True Hallucinations 1993
- Progress of human civilization in the area of defining human freedom is not made from the top down. No king, no parliament, no government ever extended to the people more rights than the people insisted upon. And I think we've come to a place with this psychedelic issue. And we have the gay community as a model, and all the other communities, the ethnic communities. We simply have to say, Look: LSD has been around for fifty years now, we just celebrated the birthday. It ain't going away. WE are not going away. We are not slack-jawed, dazed, glazed, unemployable psychotic creeps. We are pillars of society. You can't run your computers, your fashion houses, your publishing houses, your damn magazines, you can't do anything in culture without psychedelic people in key positions. And this is the great unspoken truth of American Creativity. So I think it's basically time to just come out of the closet and go, "You know what, I'm stoned, and I'm proud."
- "True Hallucinations", 1993
- If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.
- Re: Evolution (24 June 1994) This is derived from a statement of William Blake: "Truth cannot be told, so as to be understood, and not be believ'd."
- We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it's worth.
- Eros and the Eschaton lecture (1994)
- I'm not trying to sign people up to a creed, I'm much more interested in the people that disagree. These ideas are powerful but this isn't mysticism in the ordinary sense to be protected by mumblings about faith and all that. This is the real thing.
-  i-D magazine interview (1996)
- What you see, I think is the morphogenetic field. The invisible world that holds everything together. Not the net of matter and light, but the net of casuistry — of intentionality, of caring, of hope of dream — of thought. That all is there, but it has been hidden from us for centuries because of the exorcism of the spirit that took place in order to allow science to do business. And that monotonous and ill-considered choice has made us the inheritors of a tradition of existential emptiness — but that has impalded to us to go back to the jungles and recover this thing. ... The question is, can we dream a dream that is sufficiently noble that we give meaning to the sacrifices that have been made to allow the 20th century to exist ... I am convinced that if there were no shamanic pipeline, there would be no higher life, as we know it, on this planet. ... We are all cells of a much larger body, and like the cells of our own body it is hard for us to glimpse the whole pattern of the whole of what is happening, and yet we can sense that there is a purpose, and there is a pattern...
- "We have to stop CONSUMING our culture. We have to CREATE culture. DON'T watch TV, DON'T read magazines, don't even listen to NPR. Create your OWN roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are -- NOW -- is the most immediate sector of your universe. And if you're worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered. You're giving it all away to ICONS. Icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that, you want to dress like X or have lips like Y... This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion. What is real is you, and your friends, your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And, we are told No, you're unimportant, you're peripheral -- get a degree, get a job, get a this, get that, and then you're a player. You don't even want to play that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world."
- Reclaim Your Mind, from the lecture "Eros and the Eschaton"
- I think that people don't understand. As the Firesign Theater used to say, 'Everything you know is wrong.' But that is a very liberating understanding, because if everything you know is wrong, then all the problems you thought were insoluble can be framed differently. And there's a way to take the world apart and put it back unrecognizably. We don't really understand what consciousness is at the really deep levels. With some of the tryptamine hallucinogens, you see into possibilities where questions like, 'are you alive?' 'are you dead?' 'are you you?' seem to have been transcended. I think people have a very narrow conception of what is possible with reality, that we're surrounded by the howling abyss of the unknowable and nobody knows what's out there.
- Spacetime Tsunami, Interview with Carla Sinclair, bOING bOING #10.
- A balkanization of epistemology is taking place. There is no longer a commonality of understanding. For some people quantum physics provides the answers. Their next door neighbor may look to the channeling of archangels with equal fervor.
It is accompanied by a related phenomenon which is technology, or the historical momentum of things, is creating such a bewildering social milieu that the monkey mind cannot find a simple story, a simple creation myth or redemption myth to lay over the crazy contradictory patchwork of profane techno-consumerist post-McLuhanist electronic pre-apocalyptic existence.
Into that dimension of anxiety created by this inability to parse reality rushes a bewildering variety of squirrelly notions, epistemological cartoons if you will. Conspiracy theory, in my humble opinion, is a kind of epistemological cartoon about reality. Isn't it so simple to believe that things are run by the greys, and that all we have to do is trade sufficient fetal tissue to them and then we can solve our technological problems, or isn't it comforting to believe that the Jews are behind everything, or the Communist Party, or the Catholic Church, or the Masons. Well, these are epistemological cartoons, it is kindergarten in the art of amateur historiography.
I believe that the truth of the matter is far more terrifying, that the real truth that dare not speak itself is that no one is in control, absolutely no one. This stuff is ruled by the equations of dynamics and chaos. There may be entities seeking control, but to seek control is to take enormous aggravation upon yourself. It's like trying to control a dream.
- "Dreaming Awake at the End of Time"
- Because the fact is, what blinds us to the presence of alien intelligence is linguistic and cultural bias operating on ourselves. The world which we perceive is a tiny fraction of the world which we can perceive, which is a tiny fraction of the perceivable world, you see. We operate on a very narrow slice based on cultural conventions. So the important thing, if synergizing progress is the notion to be maximized (and I think it's the notion to be maximized), is to try and locate the blind spot in the culture — the place where the culture isn't looking, because it dare not — because if it were to look there, its previous values would dissolve, you see. For Western Civilization that place is the psychedelic experience as it emerges out of nature.
- "Understanding and Imagination in the Light of Nature"
- [...] thinkers are not a welcome addition to most social situations.
- quoted from an interview with Terence McKenna in How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
Psychedelic Society (1984)
- From a speech given by Terence McKenna in 1984
- What blinds us, or what makes historical progress very difficult, is our lack of awareness of our ignorance. And [I think] that beliefs should be put aside, and that a psychedelic society would abandon belief systems [in favor of] direct experience and this is, I think much, of the problem of the modern dilemma, is that direct experience has been discounted and in its place all kind of belief systems have been erected... If you believe something, you're automatically precluded from believing in the opposite, which means that a degree of your human freedom has been forfeited in the act of this belief.
- Our ability to destroy ourselves is the mirror image of our ability to save ourselves, and what is lacking is the clear vision of what should be done... What needs to be done is that fundamental, ontological conceptions of reality need to be redone. We need a new language, and to have a new language we must have a new reality... A new reality will generate a new language, a new language will fix a new reality, and make it part of this reality.
- I believe that liberation, or let's even say, decency as a human quality, is an actual resonance and anticipation of this future perfected state of humanity. We can will the perfect future into being by becoming microcosms of the perfect future, and no longer casting blame outward on institutions or hierarchies of responsibility and control, but by realizing the opportunities here, the responsibilities here, and the two may never be congruent again, and the salvation of your immortal soul may depend on what you do with the opportunity.
- Orient yourself towards the psychedelic experience, towards the psychedelic phenomenon, as a source of information. A mirror image of the psychedelic experience in hardware are computer networks. Computer networks, paradoxically enough, are a deeply feminizing influence on society, where, in hardware, the unconscious is actually being created. It's as though we took the Platonic bon mot about how "if God did not exist, Man would invent him", and say "if the unconscious does not exist, humanity will invent it" — in the form of these vast networks able to transfer and transform information. This is in fact what we are caught up in, is a transforming of information. We have not physically changed in the last 40,000 years; the human type was established at the end of the last glaciation. But change, which was previously operable in the biological realm, is now operable in the realm of culture.
- Because too much we have lived in the light of the idea that your ideology will be dictated to you essentially by geography! And if you're born in India, you'll find out that the Cosmos is one way; if you're born in Brooklyn, you find out it's another way. What we need to do is transcend these localized grids of fate, which make us what we are but don't want to be.
- History is the in-rushing toward what the Buddhists call the realm of the densely packed, a transformational realm where the opposites are unified.
- The psychedelics are a red-hot social issue, ethical issue, whatever the term for it is, and it is precisely because they are a deconditioning agents: they will cast doubt in you if you are a Hasidic rabbi, a Marxist anthropologist, or an altar boy, because their business is to dissolve belief systems, and they do this very well and then they leave you with the raw datum of experience, what William James called in infants 'the blooming, buzzing experience.' And out of that you reconstruct the world, and you need to understand that it is a dialog where your decisions, the projection of your grammar onto the intellectual space in front of you, is going to gel into the mode of being. We actually create our own universe because we are all operating with our own private languages.
- We have numerous, extremely naïve assumptions built into our thinking, and our most venerable explanatory engines, such as science, happen also to be our oldest explanatory engines, and therefore they have built into them the most naïve and unexamined assumptions.
- Yet science is going to tell you that the only things worth describing are those phenomena that can be repeatedly triggered. This is being these are the only phenomena that science can describe and that's the name of the game as far as they are concerned. But we, to claim our freedom, to take advantage of the tiny moment between immense abysses of unknowability, perhaps death, perhaps other reincarnations, perhaps transitions into other life forms, these things we don't know, but in the moment of being human we have the unique opportunity to figure things out. And I have the faith that it is possible, sometime, somewhere, to have a conversation, perhaps no progress will be made until the ninth hour, but to have a conversation in which reality could be literally pulled to pieces, beyond the point of reconstructing.
- We have to claim anarchy and realize that systems have a life of their own that is anti-humanist. There is definitely an anti-humanist tendency in all systems.
- We must begin to send out ideological visions rather than be the consumers of them. We need to turn off the metaphorical televisions which are hooking us into the network of cultural assumptions dictated from the Pentagon and Madison Avenue and what-have-you. We need, instead, to turn on our terminals, and to begin to interact with like-minded people throughout the world and establish this new intellectual order, which will be then the salvation of mankind, I firmly believe– because it is a collectivity, and people will then feel the interrelatedness of their fates, feel the interrelatedness as a thing which transcends national divisions, ideological divisions, feel the primacy of being part of the human family.
Technopagans at The End of History (1998)
- I think we have to have character models built of ourselves, and turn the whole thing over to our writers; and we'll just go off to Tahiti, and the writers can — it's the "Uncle Duke" solution. If you can turn yourself into a cartoon character, you can retire, and a whole team of people will keep you au courant. ... You know, I think the only way to keep your career going is to retire the "bod", and create an online character– a Saturday morning cartoon show apparently is where the action is.
- It's strange — you know, the Net is denounced as austere, the product of the engineering mentality, so forth and so on. It's the most feminine influence that Western civilization has ever allowed itself to fall under the spell of. The troubadors of the fourteenth century were as nothing compared to the boundary-dissolving, feminizing, permitting, nurturing nature of the Net. Maybe that's why there is an overwhelming male preference for it, in its early form, because that's where that was needed. But it is Sophia, it is wisdom, it is the penetrating archetypal female logos of the world-soul, leading us away from what was very sharp-edged and uncomfortable and repressive to our creativity and our sexuality and our relationships to each other and to the Earth.
- Virtual reality is a fairly new concept to us; but once you grok it, it seems clear that any civilization that was capable of starflight and longevity extension, and so forth and so on, would also have a full VR toolkit under control. Well then, that means that when we go looking for the extraterrestrial, what will be the footprint? Perhaps vanished races are all around us, but downloaded into solid-state matrices that we have only recently come to the point where we could even recognize that possibility.
- Mark mentioned the vector of virtual reality, nanotechnology, global communications — it's clear that we're moving toward, if not the Eschaton itself, then some kind of historical echo of it, in simulation, that, for all practical purposes, will be the same thing, as far as the impact it has on our lives.
For example, you could doubt my much-vaunted prediction that the world will become unrecognizable by 2012; but do you doubt for a moment that by 2012, every major religion on Earth will have vast simulations of its eschatological vision for you to wander in and try out– so that you can look in on Nirvana.com, or lope over to the Celestial City, or look in on Sufi paradise? I mean, religious ontologies will be marketed like beers! And will be made as realistic and compelling as possible!
Well then, who is to say what is real and what is not? "Real" is a distinction of a naïve mind, I think. We're getting beyond that. I mean, naïve empiricism worked well enough, until the discoveries of quantum physics seventy or eighty years ago revealed the hideous secret that the bedrock of reality is a funhouse basement!
History Ends in Green (1983)
- Excerpts from an eight-hour lecture in March 1993 discussing human cyclical history, its future attractor and ultimate dissolution.
- Somewhere around 1945 we began to loot the future as a strategy for survival, some ethical norm was shattered.
- What's happening is that 8% of the world's people use 35% of the world's petroleum, and are ready to blow everybody off the map to keep it that way. This is nothing more than a manifestation of junkie psychology on a mass scale. We're addicted, they got it, we're happy to pay for it, but if they won't sell it we'll break into their house and take it, because by god it will go into our right arm. that's the plan.
- if we are all god's children than why have we rigged the earth with dynamite and are flipping coins to see gets to set it off
- We've been infected with the idea of original sin, that's what keeps us infantile... Politics without responsibility IS fascism.
- The nightmare of every government on earth is a million people assembled in the town square of your capital city, demanding that you pack up to Switzerland. no body can say No to a million people on the streets.
- You need an Ego, if you didn't have an ego you wouldn't know who's mouth to put food in, when eating in a restaurant.
- People had group values, because the children were group-owned. and that made a tremendous difference in the way the society imaged it self. people lived for the group, and in the core of the group were the children, and people always put them first. So everyone identified with the children, everybody was willing to face risk to preserve the younger gene pool. This concern for male paternity is really a poisonous factor...
- To my mind this makes psychedelics central to any political reconstruction, because these are the only force in nature that actually dissolve linguistics structures; lets the mechanics of syntax to be visible, allows the possibility for rapid introduction and spread of new concepts; gives permission for new ways of seeing; and this is what we have to do, we have to change our minds.
- Closing statement.
Global Perspectives and Psychedelic Poetics (1994)
- The psychedelic community has not yet recognized or named itself as a community. We are well behind gays and black people and all those other mi-...we are still trying to figure out if we are a community. And if we are a community, and we have a domain of action, I think where it lies - it's not that we are all supposed to become dope dealers, it's that we are all supposed to become artists; that the transformation of culture through art is the proper understanding of what you can do with psychedelics besides blow your own mind. And I really think, you know, what we need to do is put the art-pedal to the floor, and understand that this is art - we are involved in some kind of enormous piece of performance art called Western civilization and, you know, it's been a C-minus performance so far... And they are just about to reach out with the hook and drag us offstage, unless we begin pulling rabbits out of the hat pretty furiously.
- Terence Mckenna's website
- Brief biography at Rotten.com
- Terence McKenna Land
- She Who Remembers Audio Archives of Terence McKenna speeches (MP3s).
- Terence McKenna Bibliography
- Botanical Dimensions (founded by McKenna)
- Terence Mckenna's opinions on the evolution of consciousness in the movie Cognition Factor (2009)