Terence McKenna and the Secret Chief (Crowdfund Acquisitions #4)

This item is one that I had long held-off on spending archives money on simply because I knew I could eventually get it, and I had previously chosen to use the limited funds available in order to acquire rarer and more pressing items for the collection. Thanks to your kind donations to our ongoing crowdfund effort, however, I’ve since acquired a 1st edition copy of Myron Stolaroff’s The Secret Chief: Conversations with a Pioneer of the Underground Psychedelic Therapy Movement (1997).

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Stolaroff’s now classic and important book addresses the life and underground work of a man only identified in the text as “Jacob.” Jacob was a U.S. soldier who became a Jungian psychotherapist, discovered what he deemed to be the therapeutic value of psychedelics, and never turned back, administering them to his patients and sharing them with other therapists while they were still legal, and continuing to do so, underground, after their use was criminalized.

In particular, Jacob is substantially responsible (opinions sometimes vary on exactly what that responsibility entails) for the significant proliferation in the use of MDMA among psychotherapists in the late-70s and early-to-mid-80s with some close to him speculating that he delivered the method–and, of course, often the MDMA–to more than 4,000 therapists. The book, published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is based on interviews that Stolaroff and his wife conducted with Jacob in 1981 at the behest of Ann & Sasha Shulgin who had originally introduced him to MDMA in 1977 (the same individual who is called “Jacob” in Stolaroff’s book is referred to as “Adam Fisher” in the Shulgin’s own book Pihkal). Following this initial encounter, Jacob became a quick convert and is credited with coining the nickname “Adam” for the substance to indicate his conviction that the experience stripped away the ego’s self-defense mechanisms, anxieties, and inhibitions and returned one to a psychological state of primordial innocence. Jacob’s efforts to popularize MDMA, ironically, both carried it out to thousands of people and, also, in part, resulted in therapeutic access to MDMA being more restricted once it was finally criminalized as a result of that rising popularity.

Terence McKenna claims to have taken a very quick liking to Jacob when they first met in the early 1980s and, in fact, it is Terence’s nickname for Jacob that became the title of Stolaroff’s book. It was Terence who called Jacob, “the secret chief”…..and, Myron, with Terence’s permission took it for the title of his book.

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Eventually, with the permission of Jacob’s family, Stolaroff produced a revised edition, The Secret Chief Revealed (2004), in which he finally identified “Jacob” as Leo Zeff.

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Zeff’s part of the MDMA story appears briefly in the delightful Trick Publications pamphlet (modeled after the classic evangelical Chick Tracts) called ‘Adam & Evil?!’:

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Zeff died in 1988 and Terence McKenna attended and spoke at his memorial on April 17 offering an thoughtful and heartfelt remembrance that includes his application of the name “the secret chief.”

“I’m Terence McKenna. I knew Leo the last five years of his life. I feel deeply honored to be asked to speak at this occasion.”

“I felt, when I stood near Leo, that I was standing next to a giant; and what the experience of standing near a giant was was the experience of the wisest, kindest, gentlest, funniest man that I’ve ever had the privilege to know.”

“When I first met Leo, I was so impressed by his vitality [that] after the public meeting at which we met, I cornered him in private, and I said, ‘Leo, I want to ride in your canoe. I don’t care where you’re going. I just want to be in your canoe.’ And, he said, ‘You’re always welcome in my canoe’.

And, I felt that his saying that to me inducted me into a group of people that I think of as Leo’s Tribe, Leo’s People–and for Leo’s Tribe, Leo was our chief…he was the secret chief. He had no theory to push, he had no axe to grind.”

“In his chosen field, which was psychology and the healing of the soul, he understood better than anyone I’ve ever met that it’s a matter of letting the psyche grow and flower according to its own rules. You stand present, you stand ready, and then you do as little as possible. And, everyone who has ever had Leo sit for them knows that that was exactly how he worked.”

“One of the goals of Leo’s life was the search for the perfect high [much laughter], and he inspired many of us to follow in his footsteps [more laughter]. I trust that he has found that perfect high [even more laughter].”

[Terence reads a selection from ‘Letter Three’ of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and mentions its importance to Zeff]

“Sometimes when Leo would sit with people, they would come out of their reveries and want to talk with him about what they were learning and seeing, and Leo would listen for a few minutes, but he, then, would always say, ‘That’s fine. That’s good. Now return to the music.’

And, I think — I like to think — that Leo has now returned to the music.

And, someday, so shall we. And, to whatever degree we follow his example, life here and the passage to whatever lies beyond will be made much easier.

Leo showed the way, because Leo knew the way. And, I salute him for that. I say, for all of us who were his tribe, ‘Goodbye to the secret chief. Goodbye to the man who saw most deeply. It’s now for us to do as he would have had us do.”

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