Eighteen years ago today, April 3, 2000, Terence McKenna passed on as a result of a rare brain tumor. In it’s May/June issue of that year, the pagan-oriented magazine Green Egg published a full-page memorial that mostly consisted of a standardized description of Terence’s bio (similar to what appeared on his own books). However, it begins with a set of excerpts by Terence from Esalen in December of 1999, only a few months before Terence’s death, which I thought would make an appropriate object of attention for our remembrance…
“Everything is a blessing and everything comes as a gift. And I don’t regret anything about the situation I find myself in. If psychedelics don’t ready you for the great beyond, then I don’t know what really does. And we’re all under sentence of ‘moving up’ at some point in our lives.
“I have an absolute faith that the universe prefers joy and distills us with joy. That is what religion is trying to download to us, and this is what every moment of life is trying to do — if we can open to it. And we psychedelic people, if we could secure that death has no sting, we would have done the greatest service to suffering intelligence that can be done.
“And I feel that death is close, and I feel strong because of the (psychedelic) community and these people and plants that it rests on, and the ancient practices that it rests on, and I am full of hope, not only for my own small problems, but for humanity in general.”
-Terence McKenna (Esalen, December 1999)
I’d also like to re-share Robert Hunter’s all-too-little-known poem ‘Words for Terence’, written on the occasion of Terence’s death and read aloud by Phil Lesh at a memorial:
The Foundation has produced a documentary on Harner’s legacy, which you can view on their website, or below:
As for connections between Terence McKenna and Michael Harner….it was a curious mis-citing of Harner’s work that, in a very direct way, launched Terence’s career. I think that’s the story I’ll choose to tell on this occasion, as it is both amusing and formative on the careers of both McKenna brothers as well as involving Harner’s early influence on the study of ‘psychedelic shamanism’.
The Search for the Violet Psychofluid
When Terence and Dennis McKenna (and some friends) arrived in the Colombian Amazon, they were not looking for the psilocybin mushrooms that came to be the focus of their attention and which, one might say with only minimal exaggeration, launched their careers. During their “experiments” at the tiny mission site of La Chorrera, combining the beta-carboline alkaloids deriving from the Banisteriopsis caapi (ayahuasca) vine with the psilocybin-containing mushrooms that they found plentifully in the surrounding pastures, it was Dennis who seems to have recalled an article by Harner, from which he recalled mention of a magical fluid that shamans produced from their mouths.
In the following passage from True Hallucinations, Terence describes being at La Chorrera and reading Dennis’ personal journal:
…I suggested to Dennis that, rather than arguing with people about the nature of the experience, he should go off by himself and write down all that he thought about the strange sound that he had made. He accepted this advice and made his way back up the hill to the knoll house to be alone and to write:
February 28, 1971
“I approach these pages with a peculiar sense of urgency as a man might who had confronted an unexplainable phenomenon as some impossible creation of dreams or unaccountable natural principle…
Before going further, something tells me that I must consider who I am. Twenty-four hours ago, I thought I knew — now this has become the most perplexing question I have ever been confronted with… These may be the last characters of a crude language that I will ever apply to the description of anything…”
When I read this prologue later, it seemed to me both grandiose and alarming, but Dennis had an aura of calm certitude that seemed to command respect. I felt that the Logos was struggling with the vocabulary of its newest vessel. He seemed to be making more and more sense, to be on to something. I read on:
“Since any phenomenon is, to a point, describable in empirical terms, so too with this one. It has to do with controlling one’s body chemistry in such a way as to produce very specific vocal and audial phenomena: the state becomes possible when highly bio-dynamic vegetable alkaloids, specifically tryptamines and MAO-inhibitors, are introduced into the body under carefully regulated parameters. This phenomenon is apparently possible in the presence of tryptamines alone, though MAO inhibition definitely helps trigger it by facilitating tryptamine absorption. The phenomenon has now been triggered by two people within our group: Terence has been experimenting with vocal phenomena under the influence of DMT for some years now.
Until last night, when I triggered and experienced this sound wave for a few brief seconds under the influence of nineteen Stropharia mushrooms, Terence was the only person I knew who claimed ability to perform this sound…”
Terence goes on telling the story…
Later that afternoon, Dennis came back down to the edge of the river looking for me… There we sat and talked. It had been about sixteen hours since the previous evening’s episode with the strange sound. Dennis said that the writing exercise had been very useful.
[Terence:] “Great! And so what have you come up with?”
[Dennis:] “I’m not sure. I’m very excited, but whatever it is that’s the cause of my excitement is also developing ideas in my mind nearly faster than I can write them down.”
[T:] “Ideas? What sort of ideas?”
[D:] “Funny ideas. Ideas about how we can use this effect, or this stuff, or whatever it is. My intuition is that it is related to the psychofluids that Michael Harner reported in the July 1969 issue of Natural History and to what happened to you in Boudanath. Remember how Harner implied that ayahuasqueros vomited a magical substance that was the basis of their ability to divine? This is like that, some sort of translinguistic stuff made with the voice.”
We talked at length by the river’s edge, ranging over the options and the possibilities. He was insistent in linking my experience in Nepal with a very strange phenomenon that occurred in Jivaro shamanism in Ecuador. The people take ayahuasca after which they, and anyone else who has taken ayahuasca, are able to see a substance that is described as violet or deep blue and that bubbles like a liquid. When you vomit from taking ayahuasca, this violet fluid comes out of your body; it also forms on the surface of the skin, like sweat. The Jivaro do much of their magic with this peculiar stuff. These matters are extremely secret. Informants insist that the shamans spread the stuff out on the ground in front of them, and that one can look at this material and see other times and other places. According to their reports, the nature of this fluid is completely outside of ordinary experience: it is made out of space/time or mind, or it is pure hallucination objectively expressed by always keeping itself within the confines of a liquid.
Harner’s work among the Jivaro did not stand alone. Since the beginnings of ethnographic reporting out of the Amazon there have been rumors and unconfirmed reports of magical excrement and magically empowered psychophysical objects generated out of the human body using hallucinogens and song. I recalled the alchemical observation that the secret is hidden in feces.
[T:] “Matter that is hyperdimensional and therefore translinguistic? Is that what you mean?” I asked Dennis.
[D:] “Yes. Whatever that means, but something like that, I suppose. Gad! Why not? I mean it’s pretty nuts, but it’s also the symbol system we brought with us running into the shamanic magic that we came here looking for. ‘This is what you shipped for, men, to chase the White Whale over all sides of ocean and both sides of earth till he spout black blood and roll fin out.’ Isn’t that your rap?”
The resort to Melvillian rhetoric was unexpected and not like him. Where did he get this stuff? [T:] “Yes, I suppose.”
[D:] But here is the thing; if there is something weird going on, then we should observe it and see what it is and try to reduce it to some coherent framework. Granted we don’t know what it is that we are dealing with, but on the other hand, we know that we came here to investigate shamanic magic generally, so now we have to go to work on this effect, or whatever it is, and just hope that we know what we are doing and have enough data to crack it. We are too isolated to do anything else, and to ignore it might be to squander a golden opportunity.”
Okay, so the above is the setup for the story. Terence and Dennis…in the Amazon….twenty-something….eager to uncover the secrets of psychedelic shamanism……and armed with past experience and a lot of literature on the brain.
The mention of Terence’s experience in Boudanath, Nepal, which Dennis considered comparable to Harner’s description of the shamanic psychofluid is in reference to what has come to be know as the ‘Kathmandu Interlude’ (due to its place and function in True Hallucinations, which involves a sexual encounter between Terence (on LSD) and a woman (on datura) who both smoke DMT and……well, you’d better just listen/read (p. 55) yourself! …Needless to say, there is a psychedelically-derived psychofluid involved…
Oh, what the hell! Here’s part of it:
Then we made love. Or rather we had an experience that vaguely related to making love but was a thing unto itself…
Reality was shattered. This kind of fucking occurs at the very limit of what is possible. Everything had been transformed into orgasm and visible, chattering oceans of elf language. Then I saw that where our bodies were glued together there was flowing, out of her, over me, over the floor of the roof, flowing everywhere, some sort of obsidian liquid, something dark and glittering, with color and lights within it. After the DMT flash, after seizures of orgasms, after all that, this new thing shocked me to the core. What was this fluid and what was going on? I looked at it. I looked right into it, and it was the surface of my own mind reflected in front of me. Was it translinguistic matter, the living opalescent excrescence of the alchemical abyss of hyperspace, something generated by the sex act performed under such crazy conditions? I looked into it again and now saw in it the lama who taught me Tibetan, who would have been asleep a mile away. In the fluid, I saw him, in the company of a monk I had never seen; they were looking into a mirrored plate. Then I realized they were watching me! I could not understand it. I looked away from the fluid and my companion, so intense was her aura of strangeness.
The article of Harner’s that Dennis had recalled on that day in La Chorrera actually appeared in the July 1968 (not 1969) issue of Natural History and was titled “The Sound of Rushing Water,” now considered among Harner’s iconic contributions…and, you can find it cited in the first edition of The Invisible Landscape (1975), the messy nature of the real-time referencing in the Amazon cleaned up for publication, as the sole reference to the ethnographic literature on shamanically-produced psychofluids.
From Chapter 6: An Experiment at La Chorrera:
During the course of our investigation of the shamanic dimension, our attention was drawn to a report of ayahuasca usage among the Jivaro (Harner 1968); the shamans, under the influence of potent monamine oxidase-inhibiting, harmine- and tryptamine-containing Banisteriopsis infusions, are said to produce a fluorescent violet substance by means of which they accomplish their magic. Though invisible to ordinary perception, this fluid is said to be visible to anyone who has ingested the infusion. Ayahuasca is frequently associated with violet auras and deep blue hallucinations; this suggests that ayahuasca may enable one to see at ultraviolet wavelengths, and that this substance may be visible only in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. We also had occasion to ingest synthetic tryptamines and had observed as a regular feature of the tryptamine intoxication a peculiar audile phenomenon…Individual reports of the subjectively perceived phenomenon exhibit a high degree of similarity.
Our desire to pursue the investigation of this audile phenomenon at greater depth, combined with the curiosity and incredulity which Harner’s report had aroused, led us to travel, in March of 1971, to the tiny mission settlement of La Chorrera, 43 minutes south, 73 degrees west, on the banks of the Rio Igara-parana in Comisaria Amazonas, Colombia. We felt that here we could carry out firsthand observations into the phenomenology of the tryptamine dimension.
It was Harner’s article, then, that provided a significant portion of both the impetus for, and the interpretation of, the experiences that the McKenna brothers were experimenting with and trying to explain…
The irony of all of this is…….Harner’s article contains no mention of this phenomenon whatsoever!! Go ahead, read it yourself….(Harner does mention magical darts but nothing resembling the sort of fluid described by Dennis or Terence for which they specifically cite Harner’s 1968 article on multiple occasions).
Persistent is the idea that these ayahuasqueros vomit or produce out of their bodies some kind of substance, a magical substance, that is the basis of their witchcraft. And, you know, your attitude toward this can be that it’s sleight of hand or that it’s lying or that it’s absolutely true…
Uh, Dennis, in 1970, came across a reference to this in some piece of literature. I confess that I have occasionally cited it as Michael Harner’s article ‘The Sound of Rushing Water’, which appeared in Natural History magazine in 1967 [it’s 1968]. Just to confirm Marlene [Dobkin de Rios]’s opinion, if you actually read that article, you will discover there is no reference to this in there. Uh, I couldn’t find a reference in the literature until yearsafter our investigation of the phenomenon was pretty much wrapped up. I was amazed to discover that our supposition that such a thing existed actually is supported in the literature. Luis Eduardo Luna…has talked about this in numerous of his more scholarly publications. What is claimed is that there are, among very unacculturated people, a habit, when intoxicated on ayahuasca, of vomiting a material, and then, what’s said of it is that it’s blue, that the shamans use it to accomplish all of their magic, and that when you spread it out on the bottom of a flat bowl that you can see the future in it or the past in it.
So, there you have it……Michael Harner’s non-existent contribution to the careers of the brothers McKenna.
Thanks, Michael, for making the world a more interesting place, as a result of both your real and imagined contributions!
I’m very sad to hear, today, that one of the great poets of the psychedelic community, Dale Pendell, is no longer with us. I had the pleasure of seeing Dale read his poetry on several occasions, and he made an immediate impact–he’s not the kind of person you’re likely to forget. We’ve lost another irreplaceable wordsmith. Terence said of Dale’s original masterpiece, Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft:
“Dale Pendell reactivates the ancient connection between the bardic poet and the shaman. His Pharmako/Poeia is a litany to the secret plant allies that have always accompanied us along the alchemical trajectory that leads to a new and yet authentically archaic future.”
Dale Pendell’s Pharmako Trilogy
From L to R: Ralph Metzner, Jonathan Ott, Rob Montgomery, Daniel Siebert, Kat Harrison, Dale Pendell, Breitenbush Staff, Bret Blosser
“Dale’s trilogy, Pharmako/Poeia, Pharmako/Dynamis and Pharmako/Gnosis are among the very best… There is no better writing or writer on plants and consciousness. We have lost a wise man and I another beloved Friend. My greatest literary achievement is an acknowledgement in his first book for reading the manuscript and telling him: ‘Don’t change a word’.”
Every plant is a teacher
But as in every crowd
There are always
A few loudmouths
The Rime Sparse
So many are grabbing for the money, so many
Want a free lunch, or are cynical and settle
For entertainment, that the world has adopted
Shallowness as its habit, and what was once
Our birthright is now considered deviation.
So squandered is our natural wisdom, that he
Who seeks the source of the flowing itself,
—the Muse’s spring—is thought a fool:
Who really desires laurel, or myrtle either?
“Goddess-lover, go, in the rags you deserve!”
Is what they’ll say, themselves pursuing
More material gains. You’ll find few comrades
On your chosen path; but for that reason I pray
All the more that you will not falter.
–translation by Dale Pendell
He mentions Terence, here, in his discussion of building up to taking DMT:
“I wasn’t anxious to meet Terence’s elves.” -Dale Pendell
The writer, and editor of Towards 2012 and Dreamflesh, who goes by the name Gyrus, in reviewing Pendell’s work made an interesting comparison with Terence:
“Like Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods, Pendell’s trilogy promises to unravel your preconceptions about the role of plants in human life. Unlike McKenna’s brilliant but inevitably flawed work, which re-visions our image of history around our interactions with plant chemistry to create a bold new emphasis that is bound to falter in its details, Pendell works in a more carefully particular, less declamatory mode. He has the open-hearted suspicion of the modern world that marks all good poets, but his occasional attempts to sketch coherent images of history, seen through the lens of our alliance with plants, are most often pithy asides, wry quips. That plants are significant powers is drawn out clearly; but there’s little presumption to grasp the total shape of their projects. McKenna walked a tightrope between humanist exuberance in the power of our species and animist deference to the larger system of nature. Pendell—while being very, very far from lacking exuberance or concern with power—sides with the animists, it seems. For a book on plants, this is a greater boon than anything else.”
Here’s Dale doing a reading from just a few months ago. The first poem, about dust, seems particularly poignant:
“There is only one truth: this dust comes home to us.”
I found out yesterday that John Major Jenkins, an important figure in the development of the 2012 phenomenon and a friend and collaborator of Terence McKenna’s, died of cancer on July 2, two days ago relative to this post. For me, it was rather unexpected, and the first thing I did was to relisten to the interview that I recorded with JMJ at his home in Windsor, Colorado in April of last year while on a roadtrip through Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado (during which I also visited Terence’s & Dennis’ hometown of Paonia). While I wasn’t planning on publishing the interview anytime soon, since I expected to have plenty of other opportunities to follow up with John and am also gathering quite a few interview with people about Terence, and since I plan to do something with them collectively. However, in light of his sudden passing, I thought it appropriate to share that conversation with you all.
The interview covers a range of historical information about JMJ, his awareness of Terence and his ideas, his interactions with Terence over the years, a variety of personal synchronicities between the two, and a final reflection on Terence’s legacy and significance (as well as absence) in the present world.
My primary recording device was dead at the time, and I had to record on my phone. So, I apologize in advance for any moments where either of us lean away from the table where the phone was sitting and the volume goes down.
John and I have a had a complex relationship over the years, often going back and forth between cordial sharers of information of mutual interest to antagonistic intellectual opponents. In the end, I’m incredibly glad that we met (for the second time) at his house last year, where he was a very kind host and offered me a place to stay for the night on my road trip. I certainly didn’t know it would be the last meeting would we have. As I’ve done for Terence (and for Jose Arguelles), I’m hopeful that I can be among those who help ensure that JMJ’s significant historical documentation (you’ll notice his very specific recollections, references, and references to documents he owns in the interview) can be preserved for future researchers. What John really wanted in life was for people to take his ideas seriously.
And, without further ado, here’s my interview with John Major Jenkins, about Terence McKenna, from April 11, 2016:
Here’s my library of John’s work (I do keep archives of more than just Terence). I’ve got a lot more than this, but can’t find some of it just now and have a lot stored digitally:
Annotations to the John Major Jenkins Interview:
(0:08) JMJ originally states the date as “August 11th” and then corrects himself to “April 11th.” This may seem innocuous but shows how much time he spent with his head in the Maya Long Count calendar. August 11th is (one of the candidates for) the base-date of the Long Count calendar, August 11, 3114 BC.
(6:11) After mentioning that he cites The Invisible Landscape in his 1989 book Jouryney to the Mayan Underworld (“for the shamanism”), he mentions that it was through seeing an article by (or interview with) Terence in Magical Blend magazine that he realized that this “put him on the map as some kind of cultural icon or something, a real guy that was out there, because of course, [in] the late ’80s, you couldn’t just go on Google and look people up; where are these people? I don’t know, they don’t have a Facebook.” This realization led to their eventual contact through an I Ching mailing network that they were both members of.