Psychedelica expert, writer, philosopher, explorer of the Time Wave
The American Terrence McKenna became, as a leader of the psychedelic movement in the United States (in imitation of Timothy Leary) very popular in the sixties. His books, theories, readings (documented on many famous audiotapes) and speculations made him a true icon for psychedelic partisans and sympathisants.
After graduating from the University of Berkeley in 1969 with Ecology, Resource Conservation, and Shamanism as his major, McKenna starts traveling. Firstly as a smuggler of hashish but more and more with the purpose to ‘explore’ the role drugs are playing in different cultures as a spiritual component. He specializes in shamanism and the ethnomedicine of the Colombian Amazon area. As a result of a psychedelic experiment (a DMT-trip) while traveling in through this area in 1971, claims McKenna to have been in contact with what he calls the Logos, an unconscious spiritual world. In an attempt to understand this experience better, he starts to study, back home in California, the I Ching, one of the oldest Chinese classical texts. This describes the system of cosmology and philosophy and is the basis for many Chinese cultural beliefs. This study finally leads to the construction of McKenna’s famous Novelty Theory.
According to this theory is time as we know it, only a fraction of the ‘wave of increasing novelty’ that is doomed to come to a dramatic end. With the help of the I Ching McKenna creates a graph that he calls The Time Wave. McKenna puts the graph next to human history and discovers that when the graph goes down more novelty enters the world. He defines point zero, the Eschaton, which should take place on 21 December 2012 (coincidentally this is the end of the 10.000-year calendar that was used by the Mayas as well). Although not scientifically proven and with some derision talked about by experts, is McKenna’s a holy believer of his own Novelty Theory (on his website there is a real active ‘Timewave Zero Countdown’ to be found). Like a true evangelist he keeps on preaching until his death to anybody who is interested:
‘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 at those levels that the constituent modalities of reality are being laid down.’
To be short: we do not know even half of what is going on. McKenna has lots of examples to clarify this. In his book The Archaic Revival, for example, he says that DMT-containing hallucinogenics (like ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms) are just vehicles to accomplish communication with other forms of life in ‘hyperspace’. You could meet entities in a DMT- trance that is called ‘tryptamine-men’ by McKenna, according to him ‘reflections of a before hidden and all of a sudden autonomous part of our own psyche’.
Another outstanding theory of the always surprising and original McKenna is his view on human evolution and the creation of our conscience. A high dose of psilocybin mushrooms, says McKenna in his theory, activates our verbal centers in our brain. This did awaken a certain language of sounds in primates (that were already taking psychedelics on a regular basis according to McKenna). Firstly these sounds were very random, but as time went by the primates started to associate the sounds with communicative concepts. Finally, language became a learned behavior.
‘We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for psychedelic drugs. (…) The fact is that, in terms of human evolution, people not on psychedelics are not fully human. They’ve fallen to a lower state, where they’re easily programmed, the boundary defined, obsessed by sexual possessiveness which is transferred into fetishism and object obsession. We don’t want too many citizens asking where the power and the money really goes. Informed by psychedelics, people might stop saluting. ‘Take your political party, your job, whatever, and shove it.’
Heavily frustrated about the fact that (almost) all hallucinogenic substances were illegal and still are he once said: ‘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.’.
McKenna is the author of books like Food of the Gods, True Hallucinations and The Archaic Revival. But probably his best-known work is Psilocybin – The Magic Mushroom Growers Guide, a guide for the cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms. An incredibly popular little book that was sold out regularly, even years after it came out. The ban of the American government on mushrooms but not on spores had lots to do with it. To prevent trouble McKenna and his brother used the pseudonyms ‘O. T. Oss and O. N. Oeric’ for publishing. McKenna had by then already appeared once on the blacklist of Interpol in relation to trafficking drugs.
McKenna was, next to his job as a writer, also co-founder of Botanical Dimensions, a botanic garden on the island Hawaii. Here where ethnic-farmaceutical plants that are threatened with extinction are kept. McKenna spent the last days of his life here. He died at 54 in 2000 of a brain tumor.
‘When you make the campfire bigger, more darkness is revealed. I found more questions than answers in my search’.