by Daniel Hand At 25, a friend introduced me to “Surfing Finnegans Wake,” in which a nasally man lectures for three hours, ostensibly off-the-cuff, on the psychedelic, boundary-dissolving experience of reading James Joyce. I remember thinking his voice sounded extra-terrestrial. It was Terence McKenna. Here’s a quote from the lecture, which will hopefully be blurbed on the next jacket cover of Finnegans Wake: “This
comes about as close as anybody came to pushing the entire contents of the universe down into approximately 14 cubic inches.”
A year or so later, having forgotten about McKenna, I found the Psychedelic Salon, a podcast hosted by a friendly man named Lorenzo. It had hundreds of archived talks given by what seemed to be a community of people dedicated to psychedelics, and to a counter-culture movement of sorts. I wasn’t prepared to discover McKenna’s oeuvre. It was like I’d missed out on a grade level or college degree. He was, and still is, by way of these lectures and his books, one of the most well known psychonauts in recent history (up there with Timothy Leary and Alexander Shulgin).
In his works, it’s clear that McKenna was a student of many things besides botany and entheogens. He was a renaissance man, capable of lecturing on literature, history, Western and Eastern philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, ecology, shamanism, chemistry, biology. He had insight into our collective experience as technological creatures, and predicted a future world of virtual reality and simulation. He passed away in 2000, but I wish he could have been here for the Oculus Rift. He was a storyteller, a feminist and an environmentalist. A fair amount of his lectures are collected online here, and on YouTube, and the Psychedelic Salon.
McKenna advocated for the “legalization of nature.” He thought it was dangerous to forbid access to any plant medicine. But he wasn’t ignorant of the addictive nature of heroin and cocaine, modern inventions that need regulation.
Of the few psychedelic thinkers whose strange ideas breached the bland guard of the mainstream, McKenna’s facility with language sets him apart. He has endeared himself to the psychedelic community by way of his earnest and sci-fi-like descriptions of DMT, which has helped to assemble a new psychedelic vocabulary.
There is the issue of the Timewave Theory, where, combining historical events with the I Ching, he predicted the end of the world (or ‘beginning,’ somehow, it’s unclear) on December 21, 2012. There were ironic parties that night, and since the world didn’t end, maybe it was a premeditated jest to avoid becoming a cult figure, a seed of doubt for the devout.
It’s a brave and rare thing to expose idiosyncratic and alienating personal truths. McKenna made a career of it. I imagine McKenna is like a boat at sea. It’s lonely, probably, but he’s also free from our rote and dominant Western culture. There aren’t many people but your boat mates. Other sailors are few and far between. That’s the life of an explorer. McKenna touched land somewhere, met some little elves, and came back to tell us about it. And now, many others have taken McKenna’s lead, manning their own expeditions into the psyche.
I recommend experimenting; allow yourself a moment to wander through the elfish, “self-dribbling machine” land of McKenna’s famous DMT description. It captures the psychedelic experience in a way that has definitely never been written about in the history of humanity. I’m sure of it. It will remind you the world is strange and magical. His ideas enlarge, add to, increase and create complexity. McKenna was among the best at that. He had an ethos of novelty.
I’ve culled these quotes down to give you a fair picture of the variety of things McKenna thought about. If you want more, I recommend reading one of his books or exploring the many hours of lectures online.
Without further ado, here is McKenna, organized by topic, sourced mainly from his book, Food of the Gods (1992). Enjoy:
Continued via Reset.me.
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