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Terence K. McKenna

Mushrooms, Elves and Magic

“Drugs are part of the human experience, and we have got to create a more sophisticated way of dealing with them…”

with Terence K. McKenna

Terence McKenna is one of the leading authorities on the ontologicaI foundations of shamanism and the ethno-pharmacology of spiritual transformation. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a major in Ecology, Resource Conservation and Shamanism, he traveled through the Asian and New World Tropics and became specialized in the shamanism and ethno-medicine of the Amazon Basin. What he learned in these explorations is documented in The Invisible Landscape, which he wrote with his brother Dennis.

Born in 1946, Terence is the father of two children, a girl of eleven and a boy of fourteen. He is the founder of Botanical Dimensions-a tax-exempt, nonprofit research botanical garden based in Hawaii. This project is devoted to collecting and propagating plants of ethno-pharmacological interest and preserving the shamanic lore which accompanies their use.

Living in California, Terence divides his time between writing and lecturing and he has developed a software program called Timewave Zero. His hypnotic multi-syllabic drawl is captured on the audio-tape adventure series True Hallucinations–soon to be published in book form–which tells of his adventures in far-flung lands in various exotic states of consciousness. Terence is also the author of Food of the Gods, which is a unique study of the impact of psychotropic plants on human culture and evolution and The Archaic Revival, in which this interview appears. His latest book Trialogues at the Edge of the West, is a collection of “discursive chats ” with mathematician Ralph Abraham and biologist Rupert Sheldrake.

This was our first interview It took place on November 30th, 1988 in the dramatic setting of Big Sur. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean we sat on the top floor of the Big House at the Esalen Institute, where Terence was giving a weekend seminar. He needed little provocation to enchant us with the pyrotechnic wordplay which is his trademark, spinning together the cognitive destinies of Gaia, machines, and language and offering a highly unorthodox description of our own evolution.


DJB: It’s a pleasure to be here with you again, Terence. We’d like to begin by asking you to tell us how you became interested in shamanism and the exploration of consciousness.

Terence: I discovered shamanism through an interest in Tibetan folk religion. Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet is a kind of shamanism. In going from the particular to the general with that concern, I studied shamanism as a general phenomenon. It all started out as an art historical interest in the pre-Buddhist iconography of thankas.

DJB: This was how long ago?

Terence: This was in ’67 when I was a sophomore in college. The interest in altered states of consciousness came simply from, I don’t know whether I was a precocious kid or what, but I was very early into the New York literary scene, and even though I lived in a small town in Colorado, I subscribed to the Village Voice, and there I encountered propaganda about LSD, mescaline, and all these experiments that the late beatniks were involved in. Then I read The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, and it just rolled from there. That was what really put me over. I respected Huxley as a novelist, and I was slowly reading everything he’d ever written, and when I got to The Doors of Perception I said to myself, “There’s something going on here for sure.”

DJB: To what do you attribute your increasing popularity, and what role do you see yourself playing in the social sphere?

Terence: Well, without being cynical, the main thing I attribute to my increasing popularity is better public relations. As far as what role I’ll play, I don’t know, I mean I assume that anyone who has anything constructive to say about our relationship to chemical substances, natural and synthetic, is going to have a social role to play, because this drug issue is just going to loom larger and larger on the social agenda until we get some resolution of it, and by resolution I don’t mean suppression orjust

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