Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Life and Work of Terence McKenna - The Archaic Revival


Terence McKenna came from simple beginnings in the city of Paonia, Colorado.[1] Early in his life, he was introduced to geology by his uncle, which led to a hobby of solitary fossil hunting in the creeks and rivers near his home. From this long, solitary time spent outdoors, Terence developed a deep and intimate connection with Mother Nature.[2] At the age of 16, Terence moved to Los Altos, California to live with close family friends for a year and finished out high school in Lancaster, California. In the year of 1963, Terence was first introduced to psychedelics through literature by Aldous Huxley in his books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. He also read about psychedelics in certain issues of the magazine, The Village Voice.[1] Terence said that one of his earliest psychedelic experiences was with morning glory seeds (used in the synthesis of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide or LSD), in which the seeds showed him “that there was something worth pursuing.” Later in an audio interview, Terence claimed to have started smoking cannabis regularly during the summer after his 17th birthday.[1]

Academics and Traveling

In the year of 1965, Terence enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study art history.[1] In 1967, while in college. Terence was introduced to and began studying shamanism through his interest in Tibetan folk religion.[3] He also labeled that year as his “opium and kabbala phase.” He also traveled to Jerusalem that year where he met his future wife, Kathleen Harrison.[4]

In the year of 1969, Terence traveled to Nepal, driven by his “interest in Tibetan painting and hallucinogenic shamanism.” While in Nepal, he studied the intricacies of the Tibetan language and found a job as a hashish smuggler, until “one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of the U.S. Customs.” In an attempt to avoid being captured by Interpol, Terence was forced to leave Nepal and live on the run.[4] He found himself wandering through Southeast Asia studying ruins, made his way to Indonesia where he collected butterflies, and landed himself a job teaching English in Tokyo, Japan. He then went back to Berkeley, to follow “his first love”, biology.[4]

Before fully completing his studies, and after his mother’s death from cancer in 1971,[5] Terence, along with his brother Dennis and three other friends, journeyed to the Colombian Amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant concoction rumored to contain Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Instead of finding the legendary oo-koo-hé, they discovered various forms of Ayahuasca, or yagé (also containing DMT), and gigantic Psilocybe Cubensis mushrooms which became the new directive of the expedition.[4] While in La chorrera, after being convinced by his brother, Terence was the subject of a psychedelic experiment which he claimed put him in contact with “Logos” – a divine and informative voice which he believed was universal to visionary religious experiences.[4] Through the voice’s repeated revelations, along with his brother’s simultaneous peculiar experience, Terence was prompted to explore the structure of the I Ching, also known as the Classic of Changes. This book is one of the oldest of the Chinese classical texts. The book contains a divination system comparable to Western Geomancy or the West African Ifá system; in Western cultures and modern East Asia, it is still widely used for this purpose.[6] This text is what led to the development of his Timewave Zero Theory. Timewave Zero is a numerological formula that claims to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty,” defined as increase over time in the universe’s interconnectedness or organized complexity. According to Terence, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increase interconnectedness, which would eventually reach a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which everything imaginable would occur simultaneously.[7] Terence expressed “novelty” in a computer program which produces a waveform known as “Timewave Zero.” Based on Terence’s interpretation of the King Wen sequence of the I Ching, the graph purports to show great periods of novelty corresponding with major shifts in humanity’s biological and sociocultural evolution and development. He believed that the events of any given time are resonantly related to the events of other times, and chose the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as the basis for calculating his end date of November 2021.[8] When he later discovered this date’s proximity to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun of the Mayan calendar, he revised his hypothesis so that the two dates matched.[9] The 1975 first edition of The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 edition, Terence employed Sharer’s date of December 21st, 2012 throughout.

A screenshot of the Timewave Zero program

Finally in 1972, Terence returned to Berkeley to finish his studies. He switched his major to a Bachelor’s of Science in Ecology and Conservation, in a then new experimental section of the same university called the Tussman Experimental College.[1] During his studies there, along with his brother Dennis, they perfected techniques for cultivation psilocybin mushrooms.[4]

Soon after graduating, Terence and Dennis published a book inspired by their experiences in the Amazon, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching. Terence also began his career as a lecturer. The experiences gather in the Amazon would later play a major role in Terence’s book, True Hallucinations, published in 1993.[4] In 1976, the brother published a book about their new found passion, the cultivation of mushrooms, titled, Psilocybin – Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide under the psuedonyms “OT Oss” and “ON Oeric.”[10]

Later Life and Death

In the early 80’s, Terence began to lecture publicly on the topic of psychedelic drugs, speaking extensively and conducing weekend workshops. Though associated with the New Age and human potential movements, Terence himself has little patience for New Age sensibilities. He often stressed the importance and primacy of felt experience, as opposed to dogma.[11] Timothy Leary once introduced him as “one of the five or six most important people on the planet.”[12] He soon became a fixture of popular conuterculter. His growing popularity culminated in the early and mid 90’s with the publication of several books: True Hallucinations, Food of the Gods, and The Archaic Revival.

A longtime sufferer of migraines, in mid-1999 Terence returned to his home on the big island of Hawaii after a long lecturing tour. He began to suffer from increasingly painful headaches. This culminated in three brain seizures in one night. Which he claimed were the most powerful psychedelic experience he had ever known. During his emergency trip to the Oahu Hospital, he underwent various treatments, including experimental gamma knife radiation treatment. According to Wired Magazine, Terence was worried that his tumor was caused by his 35-years of smoking cannabis; though doctors ensured him there was no causal relation.
In late 1999, Erik Davis conducted what would be the last interview of Terence Mckenna.[13] During the interview, Terence also talked about the announcement of his death:

                “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. 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 on the lights. ... It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, 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.”[14]

Terence died on April 3, 2000, at the age of 53, with his loved ones at his bedside. He is survived by his brother Dennis, his son Finn, and his daughter Klea.

Stoned Ape Theory and The Archaic Revival

A short comedy based animated explanation of Terence's Stoned Ape Theory, created by Duncan Trussell.

In his book, Food of the Gods, Terence proposed that the transformation from human’s early ancestors Homo Erectus to the species Homo Sapiens mainly had to do with the addition of the mushroom Psilocybe Cubensis in its diet – an event which according to his theory took place in about 100,000 B.C. (this is when he believed that the species diverged from the Homo genus). He based his theory on the main effects produced by the mushroom. One of the effects that comes about from inestion, which agrees with one of scientists Roland Fischer’s findings from the late 1960’s-early-1970’s, is that is significantly improves the visual acuity of humans.[15] This effect would have definitely proven to be of evolutionary advantage to humans’ omnivorous hunter-gather ancestors that would have stumbled upon it “accidentally”; as it would make it much easier for them to hunt.

In high doses, Terence claimed the mushrooms act as a sexual stimulator, which would make it even more beneficial in an evolutionary sense, as it would produce more offspring in communities using mushrooms. At even higher doses, mushrooms acted to “dissolve boundaries,” which would have promoted community-bonding and group sexual activities that would result in a mixing of genes, therefore producing greater genetic diversity. Generally, Terence believed that periodic ingestion of the mushroom would have acted to dissolve the ego of humans before it ever got the chance to grow into the destructive proportions we have allowed it to become today. He likened the ego to a malignant tumor that will grow uncontrollably and become destructive to the host:

                “Wherever and whenever the ego function began to form, it was akin to a cancerous tumor or a blockage in the energy of the psyche. The use of psychedelic plants in a context of shamanic initiation dissolved-as it dissolves today-the knotted structure of the ego into undifferentiated feeling, what Eastern philosophy calls the Tao.”
—Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods

According to Terence, the mushroom would have also give humans their first truly religious experiences (which he believed were the foundation for all of the subsequent religions to date). Joe Rogan, a comedian and philosopher also believes the psychedelic experiences, along with intense out of body experiences due to the natural release of DMT, are responsible for a large portion of modern alien abduction stories. Another factor that Terence talked about was the mushrooms potency to promote linguistic thinking. Many people who have done mushrooms have reported hearing color’s and feeling words and sounds. The mushrooms would have promoted vocalization, which in turn would have acted cleansed the brain (based on a scientific finding that vibrations from speaking cause the precipitation of impurities from the brain to the cerebrospinal fluid), which would further cause the brain to mutate and evolve. All these factors, according to Terence, were the most important factors that promoted evolution towards the Homo Sapien species. After this transformation took place, the species would have begun to move out of Africa to populate the rest of the planet.[16] Later in his life, Terence named this theory “The ‘Stoned Ape’ Theory of Human Evolution[17]

Alex Grey's "Stoned Ape:

The Archaic Revival

“History is ending because the dominator culture has led the human species into a blind alley, and as the inevitable catastrophe approaches, people look for metaphors and answers. Every time a culture gets into trouble it casts itself back into the past looking for the last sane moment it ever knew. And the last sane moment we ever knew was on the plains of Africa 15,000 years ago rocked in the cradle of the Great Horned Mushroom Goddess before history, before standing armies, before slavery and property, before warfare and phonetic alphabets and monotheism, before, before, before. And this is where the future is taking us because the secret faith of the twentieth century is not modernism, the secret faith of the twentieth century is nostalgia for the archaic, nostalgia for the paleolithic, and that gives us body piercing, abstract expressionismsurrealismjazzrock-n-roll and catastrophe theory. The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are. And why does this matter? It matters because it shows that the way out is back and that the future is a forward escape into the past. This is what the psychedelic experience means. It’s a doorway out of history and into the wiring under the board in eternity. And I tell you this because if the community understands what it is that holds it together the community will be better able to streamline itself for flight into hyperspace because what we need is a new myth, what we need is a new true story that tells us where we're going in the universe and that true story is that the ego is a product of pathology, and when psilocybin is regularly part of the human experience, the ego is suppressed and the suppression of the ego means the defeat of the dominators, the materialists, the product peddlers. Psychedelics return us to the inner worth of the self, to the importance of the feeling of immediate experience - and nobody can sell that to you and nobody can buy it from you, so the dominator culture is not interested in the felt presence of immediate experience, but that's what holds the community together. And as we break out of the silly myths of science, and the infantile obsessions of the marketplace, what we discover through the psychedelic experience is that in the body, IN THE BODY, there are Niagara’s of beauty, alien beauty, alien dimensions that are part of the self, the richest part of life. I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex. It means that you never figured out what it is all about. The mystery is in the body and the way the body works itself into nature. What the Archaic Revival means is shamanism, ecstasy, orgiastic sexuality, and the defeat of the three enemies of the people. And the three enemies of the people are hegemony, monogamy and monotony! And if you get them on the run you have the dominators sweating folks, because that means you’re getting it all reconnected, and getting it all reconnected means putting aside the idea of separateness and self-definition through thing-fetish. Getting it all connected means tapping into the Gaian mind, and the Gaian mind is what we're calling the psychedelic experience. It’s an experience of the living fact of the entelechy of the planet. And without that experience we wander in a desert of bogus ideologies. But with that experience the compass of the self can be set, and that's the idea; figuring out how to reset the compass of the self through community, through ecstatic dance, through psychedelics, sexuality, intelligence, INTELLIGENCE. This is what we have to have to make the forward escape into hyperspace.”
- Terence McKenna


  1. Terence McKenna Interview, Part 1. Accessed on 1/15/13
  2. McKenna, Terence (Unknown (1985)). Under The Teaching Tree (Speech). Ojai Foundation, Upper Ojai, California.
  3. Erowid Terence McKenna Vault: The High Times Interview, Accessed 1/16/13
  4. True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise. Terence McKenna, 1993
  5.  Martin, Douglas (April 9, 2000). "Terence McKenna, 53, Dies; Patron of Psychedelic Drugs".  The New York Times. Accessed 1/16/13
  6. Wilhelm, R. I Ching Introduction. English translation by Cary F. Baynes; HTML edition by Dan Baruth.  Accessed on 1/16/13.
  7. Art Bell (22 May 1997). "Terence McKenna with Art Bell".  Accessed on 1/16/13.
  8. Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna (June 1983). "Dynamics of Hyperspace". Santa Cruz, California: Ralph Abraham. Accessed 1/16/13.
  9. Sacha Defesche (2007)."'The 2012 Phenomenon': A historical and typological approach to a modern apocalyptic mythology."  Accessed 1/16/13.
  10.  Psilocybin - Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, OT Oss and ON Oeric, 1976.
  11. The Invisible Landscape (lecture)". Terence Mckenna.
  12. Introduction by Timothy Leary to "Unfolding the Stone" lecture by Terence McKenna, c. 1992
  13.  "Wired 8.05: Terence McKenna's Last Trip". Wired
  14.  Terence McKenna Vs. the Black Hole: by Erik Davis". 2005-01-13. Accessed 1/16/13.
  15.  Fischer, Roland; Hill, Richard (1970). "Psilocybin-Induced Contraction of Nearby Visual Space". Agents and Actions 1(4): 190–197. PMID 5520365
  16. McKenna, Terrence (1992) [1993]. Food of the Gods: the Search for the original Tree of Knowledge. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-37130-4.


  1. hell yeah McKenna!

  2. Quick comment, Morning Glory and Baby Woodrow create LS-A, Ergot a fungus of Rye creates LSD, hardly a big deal but starting off a great piece with a error in synthesis through me off and you start to try and pick out errors instead of take in great information.

  3. Very interesting. I wish he were still, MORE... alive.