Terence McKenna, Entheobotany Seminars & Sierra Madre Talks

[My apologies to everyone for a long hiatus in posting on behalf of The Terence McKenna Archives. It’s been an excessively busy summer thus far, and I just haven’t had the time to keep up on regular posting. After having finished a rigorous teaching schedule for a summer course, I now hope to be able to return to a more regular posting schedule]

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to visit the pleasant foothill community of Sierra Madre, just north of Los Angeles, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and 2018-08-29-01-41-09.jpgthe Angeles National Forest along with Bruce Damer (whose continued work on the problem of the origins of life on Earth has received renewed attention in a recent special issue of Scientific American).

The reason for our visit was to talk with Ken Symington, who, among a range of other noteworthy life-achievements that are not the focus of my immediate attention, was the co-founder (along with Terence McKenna, Rob Montgomery, and Jonathan Ott) of the Entheobotany Conferences that took place every year from 1994 to 2001, often held at Chan-Kah resort near the Maya archaeological site of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico–here’s a short video of Terence being interviewed near the hotel pool during one of these conferences in January, 1996:


(From Left: Ken Symington, Jonathan Ott, and Christian Rätsch at Hotel Chan-Kah near Palenque)

Of the four founders of the Entheobotany Conference, Terence died in 2000, Rob Montgomery, sadly, died last year (2017), and word from Jonathan Ott has been sparse since the tragic burning of his home in Mexico by arson in 2010. Ken, then, at 86, is the only major available source of organizational information about these seminal psychedelic conferences. Ken is the founder of the Botanical Preservation Corps, which the Entheobotany Conferences were produced under the banner of. He also translated Cesar Calvo’s The Three Halves of Ino Moxo: Teachings of the Wizard of the Upper Amazon among other projects and has recently self-published Hypomnemata: Stories, Fables, Memories (which he kindly signed a copy of for me). Ken was a very gracious host and wonderful story teller…


And, importantly for purposes of The Terence McKenna Archives, Ken had kept a folder of material from the history of the Entheobotany conferences, which he kindly allowed me to photograph.



I’ll post a few of the highlights from the folder below. Before doing so, however, I’d like to highlight another aspect of the visit to Sierra Madre, which was the adjacent small theater where some of Terence’s talks were hosted (including ‘In the Valley of Novelty’ & ‘The World and Its Double’).

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Bruce Damer in the Nature Friends theater in Sierra Madre

Here is one of Terence’s talks that took place here:

And, here are some of the highlights from Ken’s Entheobotany Conference folder:

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2 thoughts on “Terence McKenna, Entheobotany Seminars & Sierra Madre Talks

  1. The caption on one of the photos in this article incorrectly lists Rob Montgomery as one of the three men pictured. That is Christian Rätsch together with Ken Symington and Jonathan Ott, not Rob (their facial hair was quite similar at the time).

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the correction! I’m actually glad to have my own initial identification seconded. As soon as I saw the photo, I started saying, “Oh, that’s you and Jonathan Ott and Christian Rätsch…” And, simultaneously, as I was finishing my sentence and saying “Christian Rätsch,” Ken was saying “Rob Montgomery.” It wasn’t so much a correction from him as, what I took to be, his attempt to finish my sentence. I had thought to myself that I had a fairly clear sense of what Christian looked like but figured that, since I hadn’t known Rob or what he looked liked, maybe they just looked similar….and I didn’t think to press it at the time and, in writing the blog post, took Ken’s in-the-moment identification for granted (even as I continued to think…’wow, that really looks like Christian Rätsch’). It’s, in fact, quite difficult to find quick-access photos of Rob on the internet. But, now that I have found some (both of which, coincidentally, have him sitting with Christian), it’s quite clear that, although they both sport impressive beards, they look quite different. See, for instance, here: http://pn.matrixmasters.com/MiscMP3s/TerenceMcKenna1999.html & here: https://www.scoop.it/t/ayahuasca/p/4084963159/2017/09/16/rob-montgomery-una-historia-personal

      Anyway, I greatly appreciate the correction and am glad to see you around here. I’d love to talk with you sometime about your own experiences of and thoughts on Terence at some point, as well, of course…Warm regards!

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