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 curiousity 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 eunichs, 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)
- 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)
- 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 socketed 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)
- 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."
- 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"
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 psychedic 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 uncounscious 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!
- Progress of human civilization in the area of defining human freedom is not made from the top down. No king, no parliment, 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 psycedelic 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 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."
-From "True Hallucinations"
- Apparently there is a great discovery or insight which our culture is deliberately designed to supress, distort and ignore. That is that Nature is some kind of minded entity. That Nature is not simply the random flight of atoms through electromagnetic fields. Nature is not the empty, despiritualized lumpen matter that we inherit from modern physics. But it is instead a kind of intelligence, a kind of mind.
- If the words 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' don't include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn't worth the hemp it was written on.
- For monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. Where is it writ large that talking-monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a racoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident, but in our case we make an exception.
- I can't preach Scientism cause I don't believe it. I can't preach Buddhism cause I can't understand it. The only thing I can preach is the felt presence of immediate experience which for me came through the psychedelics, which are not drugs but plants. It's a perversion of language to try to derail this thing into talk of drugs. There are spirits in the natural world that come to us in this way and so far as I can tell this is the only way that they come to us that is rapid enough for it to have an impact upon us as a global population.
- In the Amazon and other places where visionary plants are understood and used, you are conveyed into worlds that are appallingly different from ordinary reality. Their vividness cannot be stressed enough. They are more real than real, and that's something that you sense intuitively. They establish an ontological priority. They are more real than real, and once you get that under your belt and let it rattle around in your mind, then the compass of your life begins to spin and you realize that you are not looking in on the Other; the Other is looking in on you. This is a tremendous challenge to the intellectual structures that have carried us so far during the last thousand years. We can do tricks with atoms, there's no question about that, but these tricks immolate us. The higher-order structure of molecules, let alone organelles and that kind of thing, is intellectual incognita to us. We have no notion of how these things work or what is going on. Yet it is from those levels that the constituent modalities of reality are being laid down.
- It's only in western civilization that you get this steady focus on this monotheistic ideal, and working out the implications of what is essentially a pathologial personality pattern. The pattern of the omnicient, omnipresent, all-knowing, wrathful male diety. No one you would invite to your garden party.
- The 20th Century is the shudder that announces the approaching cataracts of time over which our species and the destiny of this planet is about to be swept.
- To a large degree I think the sixties were probably misplayed. But on the other hand it seems to be the last decade when anything happened. The lid has been utterly on ever since. It's an illusion all this change. There is no change. We're living in some sort of weird eschatological hiatus while the people who rig the game try to send out for new batteries or something. I don't know what's going on. There's energy for change building. I think that when it ultimately comes it will be fairly spectacular. It's astonishing actually the way in which change has been halted. Everyone is running around saying "change change change" but on the other hand there is a curious sense in which things have become eerily dreamlike and still, while we just teeter on the edge of the end of history; and the same personalities, the same design elements, everything has looked the same in the galleries for twenty years. There is an eerie suspension.
- We are so much the victims of abstraction that with the Earth in flames we can barely rouse ourselves to wander across the room and look at the thermostat.
- Ego is a structure that is erected by a neurotic individual who is a member of a neurotic culture against the facts of the matter. And culture, which we put on like an overcoat, is the collectivized consensus about what sort of neurotic behaviors are acceptable.
- Let us declare nature to be legitimate. All plants should be declared legal, and all animals for that matter. The notion of illegal plants and animals is obnoxious and ridiculous.
- People are so alienated from their own soul that when they meet their soul they think it comes from another star system.
- Some kind of dialog is now going on between individual human beings and the sum total of human knowledge and...nothing can stop it.
- People say, "Don't you think you ought to be able to do it 'on the natch?'"(without the use of plants) And I love this question because the answer is: No, you can't do it 'on the natch.' That's the entire message of the last 10,000 years of human history. The self is insufficient. The ego will not suffice... you must humble yourself to the point where you admit that you can't do it without the help from someone whose idea of of a good time is growing in a cow flop.
- The whole folderol and whoop-de-woo about the 1960s was that the crypto-fascist bullshit agenda was damn near overthrown by a bunch of 19 and 20 year olds on campuses scattered around the high tech world. The male dominant agenda is so fragile that any competitor is felt as a deadly foe.
- 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)