Who is Terence Mckenna?
First a few Terence Mckenna quotes:
“Nobody knows jack shit about what is going on”
“What’s big news is, if you set your life as a quest, you will actually find something transcendental and unimaginable.”
“We have to stop consuming culture . Create your own roadshow”
“The cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation”
“Ideology is not your friend”
“Culture is not your friend”
“In my humble opinion, ideology is only going to get in your way. Nobody understands what is happening. Not Buddhists. Not Christians. Not government scientists. Not… you know. No one!… understands what is happening. So, forget ideology. They betray. They limit. They lead astray. Just deal with the raw data and trust yourself.”
“Nobody is smarter than you are. And what if they are? What good is their understanding doing you? People walk around saying ‘Well, I don’t understand quantum physics but somewhere somebody understands it’. That’s not a very helpful attitude towards observing the insights of quantum physics.”
“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.”
― Terence McKenna
Who is Terence McKenna?
Terence McKenna (1946-2000) was an American author, ethnobotanist, and psychedelic advocate. McKenna gained a lot of attention for his advocacy for the use of natural psychedelic plants. McKenna was part of the psychedelic culture but also admired by many for his views and ideas. We will look at some more Terence McKenna quotes as well as some of Terence McKenna books.
McKenna has authored different books. Among them, Terence McKenna’s Food of The Gods stands out. He has also given lectures around the country and world. In order to learn more about McKenna, let’s take a look at a short bio.
Biography: Early Years
“You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.” – Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna was born in 1946 Colorado. Since a young age, he showed an interest in nature and in psychology. He read his first Carl Jung’s book at the age of 10.
McKenna moved to California with some family friends at the age of 16. It was in 1963 that he was first introduced to psychedelics.
At first, this happened through literature. He read different books associated with the use of psychedelics, for example, Aldous Huxley’s books. After reading this, McKenna began to experiment with psychedelics. For him, it was something worth examining and pursuing.
McKenna studied at the University of California. In 1967, while in college, he first discovered shamanism that would lead him on a life-long journey.
He traveled to Jerusalem, and then to Nepal, pursuing the interest he had in shamanism and hallucinogens. Terence McKenna studied with a monk and held a series of exotic professions. His curriculum included jobs like butterfly collector and hashish smuggler. That’s quite a resume so far. A unique individual
In 1971, McKenna traveled to the Amazon, looking for a specific plant. While he did not find it, he did find a lot of psilocybin mushrooms and focused on that instead. McKenna and his brother engaged in a psychedelic experiment that, according to Terence, put him in contact with the voice of the universe. This inspired his future work.
Despite his many travels, McKenna finished Berkeley in 1975. In addition, he had a degree in ecology, shamanism, and conservation of natural resources. After graduation, Terence McKenna published a book about hallucinogens, the I Ching, and the Amazon.
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third-story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.” – Terence McKenna
McKenna continued his study of psychedelics. He found a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms, later publishing a guide to magic mushrooms. He was one of the first to cultivate these mushrooms at home.
Since the later 1980s, McKenna has spoken publicly on the topic of psychedelics. He focused mainly on naturally occurring drugs, like ayahuasca, cannabis, DMT, and, of course, the mushrooms. Also, he did tours and workshops where he promoted psychedelics. He saw them as a way to explore the universe, stimulate the imagination, and get in touch with nature. And he believed that direct experience was the way to go about exploring the universe and the self. He became an important figure of the counterculture and would often speak at raves when they became popular in the 90’s.
“Nature is not our enemy, to be raped and conquered. Nature is ourselves, to be cherished and explored.”― Terence McKenna
In 1985 McKenna founded Botanical Dimensions. It was a non-profit ethnobotanical preserve located in Hawaii. This reserve’s purpose was to study and preserve plants. It mostly focused on those that had ethnomedical significance or spiritual significance. It contained plants that were used by the indigenous people and many had healing or hallucinogenic properties.
Botanical Dimensions still exists. However, McKenna retired from the project in 1992. From that point on, he lived permanently in Hawaii.
“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 a kind of blessing.” – Terence McKenna
McKenna began to experience strong headaches and seizures in 1999. He was diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite treatment, he died in 2000 due to this condition. He was 53 at the time of his death.
Terence McKenna: Food of the Gods
“We can begin the restructuring of thought by declaring legitimate what we have denied for so long. Lets us declare nature to be legitimate. The notion of illegal plants is obnoxious and ridiculous in the first place.” – Terence McKenna
As can be seen from the Terence McKenna quotes and his story, he was certainly an interesting figure. McKenna was someone involved both in science and spirituality. Among Terence McKenna’s books, there are many works dedicated to psychedelics and shamanism. One of his books is the Food of the Gods. The full title of the book by Terence McKenna is Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: a Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution.
This book proposes the theory that magic mushrooms are the original tree of knowledge. As Western society does not encourage the use of psychedelics, it is heading towards collapse. McKenna believed that the use of psychedelics stimulated the development of human imagination. It made people evolve from apes (aka nickname “stoned ape theory”). Psilocybin was what stimulated language and so people who did mushrooms would have been at the front of evolution.
McKenna believed that drugs were outlawed due to an anti-spiritual society. He proposed that people still sought substitutes. These substitutes were alcohol, coffee, tobacco, sugar, and other substances. Unlike psychedelics, McKenna saw them as addictive and destructive.
For McKenna, the magic mushrooms were the only way to reach a greater consciousness and promote human evolution.
Other Terence McKenna books also talked about psychedelics, shamanism, and other related topics.
Mushroom use controversy
There was some controversy regarding Terence Mckenna and his use of mushrooms. His brother Dennis Mckenna wrote a book, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.
In the book he claimed his brother had a bad trip in the late 1980’s. Thereafter, he never took mushrooms again. However, he did use on rare occasion DMT and Ayahuasca. Thus, this is an interesting point if true because as he was preaching the wonders of the mushrooms use he himself was no longer using them.
Final thoughts on Terrence Mckenna & His Short Trip Here on Earth
Terence McKenna was a provocative and influential figure, to say the least. Anyone who could argue that psychedelics were the engine of human evolution in this society had to be. He was one of the core members of the counterculture and while his ideas might be controversial, he had a huge influence on culture.
Terence tried to promote a new understanding of nature and the human mind. Mckenna was a true individual who pushed the boundaries. He expanded what it means to be human. And he looked under the nooks and crannies that other people ignored or couldn’t see or didn’t care to bother to see. We need people like him:
- Who challenge conventional wisdom, limits, boundaries, conclusions & the status quo
- expand other’s minds
- Those that care about humans and what happens to the human race
- Individuals not afraid to walk their own path and who can endure the ridicule and ostracization this creates
- People who are intelligent enough not to just accept the cultural view of “what is”
- One who stands for individual empowerment
Terence Mckenna was flawed human like all of us. But a shining gem in a gray and chilly landscape. Therefore, he is missed.
PS Here are some of my favorite and powerful videos with Terence Mckenna speaking and spinning his wordsmith wizardry of wisdom (plus one song by Robin Sylvan)….
Inner & Outer Space Are Exactly The Same (A song in the Terrance Mckenna documentary True Hallucinations)
PSS If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy my other article What are psychedelics
& check out some great artistic images of Terence Mckenna here