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:
This first volume in the series, edited by anthropologist Christian Rätsch, is the only one that is sold-out and otherwise apparently unavailable online. I have a scan of Terence’s chapter, but the archives does not currently hold a physical copy of the volume. If you have a copy that you would like to donate to be housed in the archives, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terence’s contribution is a transcription of the first talk he ever gave at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California…a location where he would become a staple presenter over the next nearly two decades. The talk, titled ‘Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness’ was presented as part of the [John] Lilly/[Amit] Goswami Conference on Consciousness and Quantum Physics, and there is a bit of historiographical confusion about whether this conference took place in December of 1982 or 1983–different sources make different claims, none apparently definitive. You can see a further commentary and some other links related to this confusion on our post about the same talk as it appears in The Book of Lies. Again, anyone who was at the event or who has an Esalen catalog or some other definitive evidence, please let us know.
In an earlier ‘weekly haul’, I mentioned that the archives received a copy of Paul Krassner‘s book Murder at the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities, which contains Krassner’s interview with Terence under the title ‘Further Weirdness with Terence McKenna’. The same interview appears, with slightly different edits each time, in two of Krassner’s other books: Sex, Drugs, and the Twinkie Murders and Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs. The latter two books contain an extended Q&A (“in person and by e-mail”) that doesn’t appear in Murder at the Conspiracy Convention. The interview originally appeared in High Times #266 (October 1997) under the title ‘The Mushroom Apocalypse of Terence McKenna’.
The item that was selected through the random number generator for today is the 2nd edition of Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs (the 1st edition was self-published by Krassner). I don’t own a copy of either edition (I’ve never seen a copy of the 1st), but I was able to scan the relevant pages of a copy just to make sure that it is at least digitally represented in the archives. If you’d like to donate to help acquire a copy, which I’ve found online for $13.92, you can do so at the Transcription Project or through our crowdfund store (I’ve also found a copy of the original High Times for $9.97). Rather than continue to have individual blog posts for each of Krassner’s books that contain the interview, I am just going to finish out the series here with one final post about all of them, including some selections from the interview. I almost encountered Paul Krassner a few days ago at a Robert Anton Wilson event in Santa Cruz (about which I will post more soon), but he was was unable to attend. In the meantime, these are where you can find his interviews with Terence McKenna…Also of note is the Dedication to McKenna in Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs:
And, some excerpts from Krassner & Terence (passages set off by quotation marks are McKenna’s words):
With his curly brown hair and beard, a twinkle in his eye, and a lilt to his voice, he could easily pass for a leprechaun.
“I’m convinced that probably for most people, the most important thing in a workshop is nothing that I will say or do, but who you might meet here.”
He is a psychedelic adventurer and visionary author who serves as a missing link between botany and technology.
He handles the role with intelligence, grace, and humor. In person, he is spontaneously charming and effortlessly witty. He loves language, and though he is glib without being speedy, he chooses his words carefully. He communicates with the precision of an architect and the passion of a poet, speaking in a friendly, entertaining twang. He is, in short, a Mr. Rogers for grown-ups, and the neighborhood he welcomes you to explore is your own inner space.
Krassner describes an incident that occurred in San Francisco following the Saint Stupid Day Parade and a fundraiser event for Jack Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, in which he was arrested for possession of a bag of mushrooms that he hadn’t entirely been aware that he had possessed. It was, apparently, that incident that prompted his mission to meet and talk with Terence McKenna, which led to the present interview:
The cop’s question–“So, you like mushrooms, huh?”–was asked with such archetypal hostility that it kept reverberating inside my head. So you like mushrooms, huh? It was not as though I had done anything which might harm another human being. This was simply an authority figure’s need to control. But control what? My pleasure? Or was it deeper than that? This need to understand the basis of my plight became the impetus for my decision to meet Terence McKenna. He was, after all, the Head Mushroom Guru.
I contact McKenna in Hawaii, where he lives in happy isolation. “My website is on a machine in the Bronx, although I administer it from the Big Island.”
The workshop convenes… Everybody has arrived with their own personal agenda, and each will hear McKenna through their own individual filter.
Someone else publicly confides to him, “If my life were a ride through the fun house at Disneyland, you’re like one of the characters who keep popping up.”
McKenna confesses, “I’m an epistemological cartoon.”
“Why is there so much social tension over this psychedelic issue? Nobody who has informed themselves claims that great criminal fortunes are being made or that kids are being turned into psilocybin runners in the ghetto. We know that all the stupid reasons given for suppressing psychedelics are in fact some kind of lie.”
“Strangely enough, the way you cheat the grim reaper is by living as fast as you can, because all time is [is] the seriality of events, and the more events there are, the more time you have, so awareness becomes very important, and even, as the Buddhists say, awareness of awareness.”
Saturday morning at Esalen. Fresh fruit and vegetables galore. Hot cereal and stewed prunes. People will be passing gas all over the place…
McKenna maintains that “There are not good beliefs, there are just bad beliefs, because they inhibit human freedom.”
“Our legacy is the legacy of the children of the stoned monkeys.”
“If yoga can do it, great. If Transcendental Meditation can do it, great. The pope and the Dalai Lama, fine. But, in my experience, the only thing that changes consciousness as fast as we’re going to have to change it is psychedelics. We have to change it on the dime, because the processes that we have set in motion are going to drag us down.”
“We need to unify heart and head in the presence of super technology.”
“If psychedelics are so great, then what’s so great about us? Are we better than those poor people who have never taken psychedelics? Are we morally better? Are we wiser? Or are we just some kind of screwball cult like Mormons, who congratulate themselves on having achieved this supreme understanding, and yet to everybody else they just look like geeks? And we look like geeks. This really is a problem I carry with me, because I’ve advocated psychedelics my entire life, yet I often see incredibly bad behavior and stupidity and cruelty and insensitivity committed by psychedelic people.
The bottom line of psychedelics is not how good it makes you feel but how creative you are, and the acceleration of creativity that is taking place is immense, and if you can get off with the people who are responsible for most cutting-edge phenomena, they will admit that they began with psychedelics.”
“I really believe our evolutionary past holds the key to our evolutionary future.”
“The end of the Mayan calendar is the same day that I had calculated [archivist’s note: this is not actually true]. Well, this is not a reason for believing my theory, for you, but for me it was a reason. Too weird a coincidence. The only thing that I have in common with the Mayan civilization is that we both used psilocybin, and it’s almost as though when you purge the virus off your disc, there is at the bottom line, written in assembly code that cannot be expunged, a discard date that says, ‘Abandon this locality before December 21, 2012 AD.”
Someone else asks, “What book are you currently reading?”
I’m reading a book , it’s a hoot, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphyics, and Science Fiction by Paul Nahin. It’s published by the American Institute of Physics, so you need not hang your head in the subway.”
Another person asks, “How’s your website coming?”
“I’m just so damned proud of having hacked it in the first place. The things we’re discussing here, if you go there and download, it’s all there in high detail, and you can take your time. I think of it–in terms of my intellectual life–it’s more who I am than who I am sitting here, because I might forget a reference or skip over something. On the website, we got it right.”
Except that on the website you can’t appreciate McKenna’s speech patterns. He would pronounce pat-tern, as though his inner dictionary were separating syllables, certainly a shat-tering experience.
“Aliens don’t talk to individuals, they talk to species. And they don’t say things like, ‘Be vegetarian,’ the say things like, ‘Now do language. Now physics.'”
“[The universe] wants to conserve novelty at all costs. That seems to be more important to it than conserving biology. It will sacrifice biology if necessary to save novelty. Novelty is the top of the value hierarchy, as I see it, and biology, culture, technology, physics–all are simply means to an end.”
And, Krassner adds his own thought to the matter:
I remember the first time I came to Esalen, in 1970, for a workshop with John Lilly. He played a tape loop of one word being repeated continuously, but after a while you would begin to hear other words.
“When faced with repetition,” Lilly explained, “your human biocomputer automatically programs in novelty.”
“Finally, after I had alarmed a number of people, and my friends were meeting, speaking of intervention–on an idea for god’s sake–Ralph Abraham came to see me on his own, he wasn’t delegated by the interventionists, and said, ‘The problem here is that you have an occult diagram. Only you understand it, and only you can interpret it, and therefore it’s not very persuasive.”
“For me, this [discussion of the Timewave] is sort of the payoff of doing these weekends. In the other parts of the weekend, I basically function as the nutty professor. This is so personal that no one has ever tried to steal it. That’s how uniquely and wholly and totally mine it is. So if it’s malarkey I get all the blame, and if it’s true I get all the credit.”
“For those of you who are true fans of predictive accuracy, the day of the Human Be-In, January 13, 1967, is the day we go over the hump… We’re right about here [in the late 90s]. This is the pause before the storm. This is the most habituated moment that we will know for maybe the rest of time.”
“I suppose if I were a different kind of personality,” McKenna observes, “I would haunt the hallways of major universities and try to drag these guys into my theory. But for some reason, I think the Timewave itself empowers a certain kind of fatalism, and I just say if I’m right, I’m right; if I’m wrong, I’ve probably told enough people already.”
When Krassner asked Terence about the recent Heaven’s Gate mass-suicide:
“I encountered Do (then Bo) and Peep in 1972. They were contemptible, power-crazed new age creepoids then, and apparently things didn’t get better.”
When Krassner asked Terence about the “posteschaton”:
“I’ve created a series of scenarios in ascending weirdness which answers the question.
A low weirdness answer would be, suddenly everyone begins to behave appropriately. This is kind of a Buddhist, Taoist approach…we would just dissolve into appropriate behavior. Since we’ve never had that, we can’t imagine what it would be like.
Then there’s the transformation-of-physics scenario, which basically says, ‘All boundaries dissolve.’ What that would probably be like, the first hour of it would be like a thousands micrograms of LSD. After that, we can’t imagine or predict, because again it would have so totally changed the context…
Then there are the catastrophic scenarios that revolve around the question, “Death, where is thy sting?” And probably the most efficient of those is the planetesimal-impact scenario. A very large object strikes the earth and kills everybody, and that’s it…[or] the sun will explode. that would certainly clear the disc and fulfill the whole thing. The planet vaporizes, and collectively we and all life on earth move into the shimmering capsules of the post-mortem realm, whatever that is. Novel, novel.”
“The rise of the Web has been a great boost to my fantasies along these lines, because now I can see with the Web from here to the eschaton. Apparently, it’s a technology for dissolving space, time, personality, and just releasing everybody into a data stream, something like the imagination.”
One idea I have for an end-of-history scenario: Time travel becomes more and more discussible; finally there are laboratories working on it; finally there is a prototype machine; finally it’s possible to conceive of a test; and so on the morning of December 21, 2012, at the World Temporal Institute headquarters in the Amazon Basin, by a worldwide, high-definition, three-dimensional hook-up, the entire world tunes in to see the first flight into time. And the lady temponaut comes to the microphone and makes a few brief statements, hands are shaken, the champagne bottle is smashed, she climbs into her time machine, pushes the button and disappears into the far-flung reaches of the future. Now, the interesting question is, what happens next? And I already established for myself that you can travel backward into the past, but you can’t travel further into the past than the invention of the first time machine, for the simple reasons that there are no time machines before that, and if you were to take one where there are none, you get another paradox.
So, what happens when the lady temponaut slips into the future? Well, I think what would happen a millisecond later is tens of thousands of time machines would arrive from all points in the future, having come back through time, of course, to witness the first flight into time…And that’s as far as the road goes. That’s the end of the the time road.
[And, here, Terence goes even beyond this “normal” explanation of his]
But the grandfather paradox persists. One of those time travelers from 5,000 years in the future, on their way back to the first time-travel incident, could stop and kill his grandfather, and then we have this whole problem all over again. So, I thought about this for a long time, and I think I’ve found a way around it. But, as usual, at the cost of further weirdness.
Here’s what would really happen if we invented a time machine of that sort. The lady temponaut pushes the button, and instead of all time machines appearing instantly in the next moment, in order to preserve the system from that paradox, what will happen is, the rest of the history of the universe will occur instantly. And so that’s it. I call it the God whistle.
This is because you thought you were building a time machine, and in a sense you were, but the time machine isn’t what you thought it was. It caused the rest of time to happen instantaneously, and so the furthest-out developments of life, matter, and technology in the universe come right up against you a millisecond after you break that barrier, and in fact your discovery that traveling time is not traveling time, it’s a doorway into eternity, which is all of time, and that’s why it becomes more like a hyperspatial deal than a simple linear time-travel thing.”
In 2005, a new edition of The Evolutionary Mind was published, consisting of transcribed selections from the trialogues between chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham, renegade biologist Rupert Sheldrake, and explorer of the “ontological foundations of shamanism and the ethnopharmacology of spiritual transformation” Terence McKenna, which took place at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. David Jay Brown, whose own interviews with Terence will come up in future blog posts, reviewed the new volume for Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness, the (former) quarterly magazine of The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS).
“The deep thinking and imaginative speculation in this book cover an incredible range of topics from the nature of time to the end of reality. Each participant takes a turn initiating a discussion, and then the other two join in, almost like circus jugglers adding layers of complexity to their performance. A rare alchemy is created when these three scholars and close friends begin exchanging ideas, provoking and challenging one another into new dimensions of thought…
What emerges from these conversations is a kind of collective intelligence that appears to transcend each thinker’s individual limitations. The combined perspectives form a single mind that is more imaginative and intellectually balanced than one might expect examining their ideas separately. It’s as though each holds a piece to the cosmic puzzle, and the pieces begin to fit when they explore the frontiers of thought creatively together.”
I thought I’d start another new feature here at the Terence McKenna Archival Blog. In addition to the ‘Weekly Haul‘ and other featured items that I select from the archives, I decided that one way to get through some of the archives is to do a more regular ‘Random Item’. I’ve given each item in the archive a number (well, most of them, anyway) and will use a random number generator to choose which from among them to include in the blog feature.
The first item from the archives, randomly selected for your viewing pleasure, is from the third published volume (1995) of Alexandria: The Journal of the Western Cosmological Tradition, edited by David Fideler, published by Phanes Press (which Fideler sold to Red Wheel/Weiser in 2004), and funded by the members of the Alexandria Society. The theme of this volume is ‘Education’ with an aim, as Fideler notes in his introduction, “to reconsider and revision the role of education in contemporary society” as “a truly philosophical enterprise in a time when true philosophy, when true discussion, is only rarely to be found within the halls of Academe.” It is in this context that they reprinted a section of a trialogue at Esalen, originally published in Trialogues at the Edge of the West, by Ralph Abraham, Terence McKenna, and Rupert Sheldrake, titled ‘Education in the New World Order’. Terence recommends that archaeology replace physics as the paradigm of the educational system in order to “release us from the post-industrial notion of history as a kind of trendless fluctuation or class struggle or some other very dreary model of the human journey through time.” Echoing his Whitehead-inspired Novelty Theory, Terence suggests that “[i]n reformed education, people must be taught that history is a system of interlocking resonances in which we are all imbedded [sic].” He continues, “Without some knowledge of history from the birth of the universe down to yesterday’s headlines, we’re not in a position to act in our own best interest. I define education broadly as the inculcation of attitudes that cause us to act generally in the interest of all.”
This week’s intake at the Terence McKenna Archives was much more modest than last week’s substantial haul. The only hard copy publication that arrived just came in today:
Disinformation’s Book of Lies.
The Book of Lies, as most of these large Disinformation Guides, consists of dozens of chapters by a smorgasbord of authors from a wide swath of the countercultural milieu, this time ‘focusing’ on “Magick and the Occult.” The small section on “Chemognosis” contains only two chapters (it’s the heading with the least number of contributions in the volume), one of which is an edited transcript of Terence McKenna’s first talk at Esalen during the Lilly/Goswami [that’s John and Amit] Conference on Consciousness and Quantum Physics, titled ‘Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness’. There seems to be some dispute about when this conference actually took place. Anyone who was there or has a photo or scan of an original catalog can help with this. Both The Book of Lies and Jeffrey Kripal in his book, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion describe the event as taking place in December 1983. However, as you can see here, the actual tape (not published by Dolphin Tapes until 1997) lists it as taking place in 1982, as does Erowid, though citing the Dolphin Tapes published version. I have tended to favor the 1982 dating, though I can’t now remember all of my reasons for doing so (most, like Jesse Jarnow and Graham St. John, have gone with the 1983 date–it would be great to clear this up, as, historically speaking, it’s not entirely insignificant when this took place–you can see this same issue playing out on the Psychedelic Salon page for the talk).
Even though this is among Terence’s most well-known and most-published talk, I thought it would still be worth including some of the selected quotations for your edification and amusement:
2. This week, in a conversation with R. Michael Johnson (one of the movers behind the excellent RAWilsonFans website–you can read a good chunk of his introduction to the brand new edition of Robert Anton Wilson’s Email to the Universe by Hiliritas Press on Amazon), he took me through his list of a great many places where he knew Terence cropped up in various literature. Most of the items he mentioned are already represented in the archives, but he definitely gave me several significant leads that I hadn’t had on my radar (thanks, Mike!). The most embarrassing of the items he mentioned was Robert Anton Wilson’s Everything is Under Control, because it has been sitting on the same bookshelf as most of the McKenna archive for quite a long time without my realizing it contained both an entry on Terence himself as well as an even longer entry on Food of the Gods (which is distinct from RAW’s review of the book which appeared in his Trajectories Newsletter #10, 1991 and is reprinted in Chaos & Beyond: The Best of Trajectories).
3. Beyond that, I rediscovered that Google Books allows you to also search through magazines (whichever ones they have in their database). This caused me to come across some magazine articles that mentioned Terence which I hadn’t encountered before as well as a whole slew of advertisements.