Who Is Terence McKenna: A Pioneer Of Psychedelics And Counter Culture

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Who Is Terence McKenna: A Pioneer Of Psychedelics And Counter Culture

Terence McKenna lived an exceptionally interesting live as author, lecturer and psychedelic explorer. His in depth work has turned many onto the self exploration and study of natural entheogens such as mushrooms, DMT and cannabis.

“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 dis-empowered, 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, and what is real is you and your friends and your association's, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told “no”, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. “Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that”. And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in 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.”

Those are the profound, empowering and insightful words of ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonauts, lecturer and author Terence Mckenna. Having been given the title the “Timothy Leary of the 90’s”, McKenna has massively interested in psychedelic compounds, how they have been used throughout history, the true potential they hold and how they could play a significant role in the future of humanity.


McKenna was the author of multiple books and gave many hours of lectures that are now available on the internet. He covered a diversity of topics that all seem to interweave and share a common ground in regards to exploration of the human psyche and the mystical and metaphysical aspects of what it is to be a human being. Topics he spoke upon include entheogens, shamanism, environmentalism, language, technology and more.

McKenna’s words, both those written and spoken, seem to have influenced a great many people and served as an introduction into the domains of study of the subjects he spoke upon. It can be said that he played the part of a pioneer, assisting in pulling psychedelics into the mainstream, catalysing great levels of interest and popularity around them.


It seems that McKenna’s study into psychedelic and the human mind started very early on in his life and remained as a theme throughout. He was born in Paonia, Colorado, and began delving into the wonder of nature at a young age, engaging the the activity of fossil hunting. It has been reported that at the young and curious age of ten, McKenna developed an interested in psychology and even read in depth works such as Psychology and Alchemy penned by Carl Jung.

At the age of 16 McKenna is said to have been introduced to the works of Aldous Huxley and his works Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Perhaps Huxley and his insights and ideas were a large driving force behind McKenna’s passionate interest in psychedelics. McKenna is also thought to have said that one of his early psychedelic experiences, which involved the ingestion of morning glory seeds, showed him “that there was something there worth pursuing”.


McKenna smoked cannabis for the first time at the age of 18 during the year 1965. McKenna is on record stating, “The mere smoking of a small amount of vegetable material could completely invert the structures of my personality and socialise me, as it were, into a reasonably functioning member of the community in which I found myself.”


McKenna started studied at the University of California in Berkeley in 1965 where he began diving into the topics of shamanism, particularly Tibetan folk religion. McKenna made a trip to Napal in 1969 to pursue his interest in shamanism within the area, a trip which saw him ending up working as a hashish smuggler, eventually heading to southeast Asia for further exploration.


In 1971, McKenna set off to the Amazon in search of exotic hallucinogenic plants with is brother, now ethnopharmacologist, Dennis McKenna. This trip ended up becoming a particularly famous part of McKenna’s life, and his time spent there was documented in his book “True Hallucinations”, and also discussed in Dennis McKenna’s more recent book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss”.

These titles in part talk about what is now referred to as the “Experiment at La Chorrera”. In the Amazon the brother stumbled across fields of psilocybin mushrooms and began somewhat of a psychedelic experiment.

Dennis Mckenna has commented on the events, stating that “Whether the ideas that seized us over those days were telepathically transmitted by the mushrooms, or by a mantis-like entity on the bridge of a star ship in geosynchronous orbit above the Amazon (which we considered), or created within our own minds, i’ll never know. I do know that our lively discussions led us to speculate about how the phenomena might be assessed. I should clarify that. By then, the Teacher had suggested the outlines of an experiment to me. Or I believed so anyway, in my state of hypomania”.


Whatever happened to the brothers in the Amazon was clearly a profound experience. Dennis’ more recent comments on the ideas behind the book “The Invisible Landscape” include, “The first half talks a lot about speculation of a drug interaction with neural receptors and DNA, and all that.. Well, all of that is bunk. There is progress in those areas and what the hallucinogen receptors look like, we understand their complete tertiary structure. So, that work has been replaced by reality and scientific progress.”

Terence McKenna was also inspired to explore a text called the I Ching which eventually led him onto his some what famous Novelty Theory, an idea that explores the structure of time.


The brothers also developed a technique for growing magic mushrooms and actually published a book on the topic named “Psilocybin, Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide”. The book was published under the pseudonyms “O.T. Oss and “O.M. Oeric.” Their technique was easy and simple and involved the use of common equipment found within people's homes. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and have no doubt played a role in the cultivation and consumption of many magic mushrooms.


Mckenna authored the booked “Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution”. The book touches on the use of psychedelic substances within ancient cultures throughout the world. One of the main topics within the book is the idea of “stoned ape theory”. This theory of McKenna’s expresses the concept that naturally occurring psilocybin mushrooms played a key part in human evolution. It proposes that hominids ingesting these mushrooms may have been the environmentally catalyst that gave birth to the abstractions of religion, self awareness and language.


McKenna gave many workshops and lectures on the topic of mainly naturally occurring hallucinogens. He became hugely popular within psychedelic and rave culture and has given many lectures and largely popularised the mysterious psychedelic compound DMT.


In 1985 McKenna created Botanical Dimensions along with his wife at the time. Botanical Dimensions was created as being a nonprofit ethnobotanical reserve on the Big Island of Hawaii. McKenna’s idea here was to collect, protect and study many psychedelic plants.

Sadly, McKenna passed away in April, 2000, at the age of 53. After series of painful headaches and brain seizures, which McKenna claimed were highly psychedelic, he was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer.


McKenna was interviewed close to his death, to which he expressed these words, “I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you’d have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it’s kind of a blessing. It’s certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you’re going to be dead in four months definitely turns the lights on. … It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnosis, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.”

McKenna will forever be remembered as a pioneer in the field of psychedelic exploration, their role in human history and future alike.