The Holy Blue Brethren
Various Notes Transcribed From the Original Cipher of the Holy Alien
Tryptamine Glossalalia as Shown Forth
Unto Our Beloved Brother the V.H. Fra. Terence McKenna and Released
Forthwith Unto This Third Density Plane
of Hopelessly Mundane Existence in the Sincere Hope that
A Grand and Glorious Novelty Will One Day Arise
and Wax Valiant on Our Behalf
"We are part of a symbiotic relationship with something which
disguises itself as an extra-terrestrial invasion
so as not to alarm us."
Omega Man: A Profile of Terence McKenna
By Richard Gehr
from the Village Voice, 5 April 1992
"My life is science fiction," Terence McKenna assures me.
We were discussing the events of March
1971, the weirdest month of this outlaw scholar's strange life. The
place was La Chorrera, Colombia, a small village in the Upper Amazon
chosen as the site of a psychedelic experiment that Terence and his
brother Dennis, then 25 and 21 years old respectively, were
convinced would change the world as we know it. The test involved
hefty doses of psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca, the local
dimethyltryptamine (DMT)-laden hallucinogenic brew. If Dennis's
intuitive theories involving molecule bonding and electron spin
resonances were correct, their thinking went, the conjunction of the
drugs and certain vocal manipulations would summon the philosopher's
stone of Hermetic alchemical lore, recapture paradise, and create an
interface with the "memory bank of galactic history."
The results, although objectively indeterminate, were immensely
important to Terence's ensuing career. In retrospect he deems the
experiment a qualified success insofar as it catalyzed his research
into time, psychedelic self-transformation, and meetings with
remarkable mushrooms. When McKenna speaks today of a contemporary
"archaic revival," the term not only connotes the way in which he
sees Freud, surrealism, and even National Socialism as offering
20th-century recuperations of late- neolithic cultural modes; it
also suggests Amazon afternoons spent ruminating upon the
neurobiological foundations of shamanistic psychedelic practices.
McKenna blew in from the West Coast last month on the snows of
yesteryear. He delivered an introductory lecture titled "The Limits
of Art and the Edges of Science"; at a midtown church, then
conducted a pair of daylong workshops at the Open Center in SoHo:
"Mapping the End of History"; and "Exploring the Hermetic
Tradition." Catalog-provisional, these titles suggest the skeleton
of McKenna's speculations, which tend to spiral inward upon
themselves in pursuit of what he terms the "Wholly Other" with the
relentless complexity and eerie beauty of a rhetorical Mandelbrot
The first thing you'd probably notice about the charismatic
explorer, raconteur, ethnonaturalist, and metaphysician would be his
voice. From this remarkably facile instrument of speculation and
droll wit--with its immaculately enunciated consonants, hypnotic
cadences, and perfect prankster timing-- emerges a mesmerizing skein
of arguments, aphorisms, and anecdotes enveloping everything from
quantum physics to macromegacosmic concerns. The occasional vaulting
segue or question-begging assertion is easily overlooked in the
persuasive, inspirational drift. His dozens of lecture tapes have
been bootlegged and disseminated like viral spores among the more
theoretically inclined members of the metaphysical community and the
psychedelic underground, whose numbers might be extrapolated from
the more than 100,000 copies of the McKenna brothers' Psilocybin:
Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide that have been sold since its
appearance in 1976.
McKenna's fractal spiels have concresced into a provocative pair of
recently published books: Food of the Gods: The Search for the
Original Tree of Knowledge (Bantam) and a collection of lectures,
interviews, and essays -- his greatest hits, as it were -- titled
The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the
Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of
the Goddess, and the End of History (Harper, San Francisco). An
upcoming autobiographical volume, True Hallucinations, is on the
verge of being optioned for a feature film, British hippie-house
group the Shamen have sampled one of his raps for a summer dance
track ("pure, hard-hitting propaganda," he promises), and
documentary filmmakers Joie Gregory and Bill Rosser plan to mount an
expedition that would return McKenna to the primal scene at La
Chorrera. His multimedia presence suggests a flexible pop-cult brand
of futurist politicking.
When not working the New Age or fringe-science lecture and
conference circuits, McKenna divides his time between residences in
northern California and on the Big Island of Hawaii, where the
19-acre Botanical Dimensions preserve he co-founded is located. The
nonprofit organization is dedicated to collecting and propagating
medicinal and shamanic plants from the world's tropics, as well as
the rapidly disappearing "folkdata" associated with them.
"Eighty-five percent of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs
can be traced to natural sources," McKenna says, and today the world
risks losing its collective botanical traditions as the children of
the tropics mortgage their folklore for motorboats and Madonna.
Mostly, however, Terence McKenna's reputation rests on his
articulate and perversely unfashionable advocacy of chemical
"A specter is haunting planetary culture -- the specter of drugs,"
begins Food of the Gods; and the nod to this century's other great
millenarian influence is no accident. Like Marx, McKenna offers maps
for comprehending the past and techniques for adjusting to a
dysfunctional present and increasingly complex future. On the one
hand, he follows feminist historian Riane Eisler (The Chalice and
the Blade) in waxing nostalgic for a lost, archeologically evidenced
paradise. McKenna finds evidence for such a "partnership" society --
that is, matrilinear and nonproprietary -- on the Tassili-n-Ajjer
Plateau in Southern Algeria, where an abundance of game and
psychedelic mushrooms created an Edenlike environment some 14,000
years ago. In fact, McKenna argues, language and even consciousness
itself may have been sparked by the consumption of psilocybin
mushrooms by our African ancestors. The bad news, however, is
humanity's subsequent subjection to the bad-news "dominator" values
of agriculture, materialism, and male domination.
"History is in fact a kind of fall from a state of dynamic
completion," McKenna tells a rapt audience of more than 400 at the
Community Church. Animated by a certain furtive glee, his listeners
are all but totally white, mainly in their thirties and forties, and
peppered with post-hippies, cybernauts, mycophiles, and New Age
steppers of many persuasions.
They are not unlike the man seated onstage, a bearded,
conservatively dressed 45-year-old gnome who could be taken for at
least five years older. After two decades on McKenna can blow
endless permutations on a rap that feels at the same time both old
as the hills and as high-tech as tomorrow's computer implants. After
all, he notes, "Drugs are becoming more like computers, while
computers are becoming more like drugs." At lectures such as this he
resembles a virtual idea machine, riffing with laid-back energy on
how humankind is nothing more nor less than an anomalous "chaostrophe"
heading toward a "secular apocalypse consisting of transcendence
without moral retribution."
The future McKenna foresees is, if not as blissed-out as the past,
still bound to be a gasser. At 6 a.m. on December 21, 2012, he
predicts, humanity will confront the "transcendental object at the
end of history." This date, which coincidentally marks the end of
the calendar devised by Mayan mushroom chompers, marks an Omega
moment he suggests can best be prepared for by judiciously partaking
of "heroic" or "committed" doses of tryptamine-based hallucinogens,
specifically DMT and psilocybin mushrooms. Only the heaviest
psychedelic experiences provide access to the Other, an alien
dimension "just over yonder" that is populated by
"self-transforming, hyperdimensional machine elves" who will meet
and greet the courageous visitor to hyperspace.
McKenna graphically described the DMT experience during a WBAI
interview to be broadcast May 9 in tones not unlike those one might
invoke during a dramatic reading of H.P. Lovecraft. "It is as though
one had been struck by noetic lightning. The ordinary world is
almost instantaneously replaced, not only with a hallucination, but
a hallucination whose alien character is its utter alienness.
Nothing in this world can prepare one for the impressions that fill
your mind when you enter the DMT sensorium.
"The extraordinary brevity of the experience," he continued, "argues
that it is incredibly harmless. It virtually disappears from the
organism in about ten minutes. The paradox is that DMT is the most
powerful yet most harmless of all these things. This is probably
because, for reasons which are mysterious to us, DMT occurs in
normal brain metabolism [in Serotonin]."
Which means we are all permanently bustable. Since the acid scare of
the '60s, it has been illegal to visit crooning DMT elves or tune
into the informative alien voice a committed dose of mushrooms (five
grams; about five times the typical party portion) elicits. To
rectify this state of affairs, McKenna offers a reasoned clarion
call for the civil rights of consciousness. Specific drugs are of
course sanctioned at any given historical moment for a reason. Thus
caffeine, sugar, and tobacco keep us pumped up at dreary, repetitive
jobs, while alcohol and television prevent us from plumbing the
depths of despair too deeply. Psychedelics, on the other hand, are
deconditioners and deconstructors of hierarchical relationships,
consciousness catalysts that suggest time and again, in the words of
McKenna's most frequently articulated mantra, that Life is not only
stranger than we suppose, it is stranger than we can suppose.
Terence McKenna entered the world in 1946 and was raised in the
small cattle-ranching town of Paonia, on the western slope of
Colorado. His father was an Irish Catholic traveling salesman, his
mother a Welsh Episcopalian housewife. "My mother was an exceptional
person and I really don't understand why," McKenna tells me after a
day of interviews and flesh pressing at the Bantam offices. "She was
not college educated, but she had a large vocabulary and an
appreciation for classical music and good literature. I was a very
alarming kid. I have a 14-year- old of my own, and I thank God every
day that this kid is not as weird as I was.
"The thing that characterized my life is I have always been
extraordinarily obsessive about a certain kind of iridescence, a
certain quality that can haunt matter, or people, or a painting. My
first obsession was minerals. I went from minerals to butterflys,
and from butterflys to science fiction, which I definitely consider
a psychedelic drug because it empowers the imagination."
Understand Philip K. Dick" is the title of his afterward to the late
writer's recently published In Pursuit of Valis.]
Barely an adolescent, he subscribed to the Village Voice and
"It was only because my parents had an ironclad
rule that I could read anything that they tolerated them in the
At one point, a town meeting was called to discuss whether
he should be allowed to read Brave New World. "That gave me a real
respect for Aldous Huxley," recalls McKenna, "and of course that's a
notoriously drug-phobic book." While making his way through Huxley's
novels, however, he came across The Doors of Perception and, you may
not be surprised to learn,
"I got it! I can remember following my
mother around the kitchen, reading her passages and saying, 'If 10
percent of this is true, this is the biggest news ever!' From my
vantage point now, of course, The Doors of Perception seems an
incredibly understated, conservative, and restrained book about
Mescaline being not readily available in Colorado, McKenna talked
his parents into packing him off to California, where he spent his
final two years of high school in Stanford.
Revelation arrived shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1966. While
attending Berkeley as an art-history major, McKenna lived across the
hall from "this strange guy who had blacked out his windows, painted
all the lightbulbs in his apartment red, and sat around all day long
playing the chords to 'Freight Train' on his guitar." The
Coloradan's guide into the world of pot and Sandoz acid was Barry
Melton, lead guitarist of Country Joe and the Fish. McKenna's first
psychedelic experience is no doubt at least as memorable for him as
his initial sexual encounter.
"It had qualities that were never
repeated," he recalls. "For about an hour I just ricocheted between
tears of awe and tears of hilarity."
Some 150 LSD experiences later,
however, McKenna is less enthralled with the synthetic drug.
this doesn't insult current LSD fans, but the last time I did it, it
seemed like a Sopwith camel or something. We were airborne, and
below us were the green fields of France, but you could hear the air
shrieking over the control surfaces and feel the wind blasting your
face. What I had become used to was the cockpit of the space
shuttle. Yes, LSD is a psychedelic drug. But it's a psychedelic drug
in the same way a fruit fly can fly."
Bummed out by Berkeley's activist anarchy -- "We were not Marxists,
we were not anything, we just loved to heave paving stones through
bank windows" -- McKenna hit the road. After spending time in
Israel, he visited the Seychelles before undertaking a brief yet
apparently lucrative career as a hash smuggler in India. There the
"psychedelic thing" motivated him to seek out some of the more
"The one thing they never tell you about Indian
spirituality is that you don't even talk about it until you've
smoked four or five chillums. I found some of the most outrageous
shuck and jive there I'd ever heard. I mean, 90 percent of these
guys are basically trying to get it up your ass and get their
Eventually coming under indictment for his smuggling activities,
McKenna laid low, continuing his psychedelic research while
collecting butterflies in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. His mother
died during his exile, which saddened him deeply, but he eventually
negotiated a settlement with the government. "I've been a model
citizen ever since," he says. While Terence traveled, however,
Dennis was hatching the notions that would change both their lives
The watershed La Chorrera experiment of 1971 is theoretically
justified in the McKenna brothers' difficult yet evocative 1975 book
The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching. The
experiment's goal was to "bind molecules into a human being," so
that the collective knowledge of humanity embedded in our DNA could
be realized as holographic imagery. The book begins with Terence's
reflections on the shaman, those members of preliterate tribes who
travel into alien realms and bring the news back home. By means of
stropharia cubensis mushrooms and what proved to be relatively low
doses of ayahuasca, the McKennas induced an artificial shamanistic
schizophrenia that evidently drove Dennis mildly psychotic, and
which Terence claimed kept him awake for ten nights of telepathy,
communication with the mushroom spirit, and a UFO visitation.
During his visionary vigil, Terence received preliminary
instructions regarding a theory of "temporal resonance," which he
claimed as "my only original idea" and centerpiece of his thought.
As he related at the Open Center, the mushroom informed him that
"What you call man, we call time," and suggested he take a very
close look at the I Ching. By quantifying permutations of the book's
hexagram sequence, McKenna arrived at a fractal "map of all
eternity." Although the time wave appears to depend on a subjective
interpretation of what exactly constitutes important historical
changes, McKenna makes a compelling argument for the steamrolling
concrescence of novelty, innovation, and the increasing complexity
of life on earth, an intuition any halfway conscious person's daily
life should easily bear out.
According to McKenna, there's a "rough ride ahead" as we travel
time's fractal rollercoaster to the year 2012, when something --
maybe something good, maybe something bad -- is scheduled to occur.
It might take the form of rapture, an interplanetary collision, the
invention of time travel, or a manifestation of high gnosticism in
which the death of matter sparks a spiritual renewal. Strangely, not
every listener agreed with McKenna's intuition. "You went to
Catholic school. Grow out of it!" complains a frustrated listener
during his workshop, and McKenna either doesn't hear or ignores him.
"He has got the gift of blarney," agrees Dennis McKenna, now a San
Francisco pharmacologist. "I think his model has serious flaws in
it, but I think his vision of where we're headed may be right. It's
amazing how many of the farthest-out ideas we put into The Invisible
Landscape have held up. For instance, the idea that macromolecules,
such as DNA, can under certain instances act like superconductors.
This is not such a far-out notion now."
Dennis, who will discuss plant-human interaction June 13 and 14 at
the Open Center, remains skeptical but understands his brother's
"I've never seen anyone stand up and give him a run for his
money," he notes, "even when he's addressing scientists. Everyone
just sits there and says, 'Oh wow.' It's this type of people who are
drawn to cults. The last thing they are going to do is criticize the
tenets of a saint."
Sainthood, however, is not on Terence McKenna's agenda. Which isn't
to say that his life and work lacks a messianic component.
fatalistic," he admits. "Anyone who'd discovered the timewave would
be. It just says, 'You don't have to walk anywhere. You're on the
train.' So any walking you do is your own choice."
The La Chorrera mushroom spirit offered Terence not only a personal
glimpse, but also an agenda with admittedly biblical overtones.
said [the timewave] theory is right, it will take years to surface,
you will meet considerable opposition, and you mustn't be in a hurry
-- that eventually all things will be delivered unto you."
really a rap. It was more images of Dennis addressing roomfuls of
people in white coats. He was a nobody at La Chorrera. Now he's
chief of pharmacology and drug strategy at Shaman Pharmaceuticals,
he has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and molecular pharmacology, and
has become who he assumed he was.
"I was penniless and wanted, and
now I'm in pretty good shape, all behind just mining the material
that was delivered during that three-week period."
Is the DMT experience as compellingly radical and edifying as
McKenna promises? After five years in therapy, a 20-minute
consultation with hyperspace seems a thoroughly modern alternative.
One of the hindrances to DMT's widespread usage, however, is that in
order to break on through to the other side you must hold in at
least two enormous hits of bitter, plastic- tasting smoke sucked
from a freebase pipe. Anything less than about 40-50 mg (barely a
smidgen of orangeish shmootz), and you'll merely get a case of the "tryptamine
giggles," a brief, not- unpleasant state of psychdelic euphoria.
During my second hit, an invisible horn section mounted a rapid
crescendo as my body began to vibrate symphathetically. Ontological
warp speed arrived in a startlingly immediate flash as the universe
quite literally deconstructed itself in front of my eyes into a
complex green and red geometrical grid that artist Alex Grey has
rendered as the "Universal Mind Lattice." An impossibly elaborate
onrush of candycolored, chaotically presented patterns of pure
visual information then ensued as the intergalactic Wagnerian horn
section continued to blow a spectacular fanfare. The emotional
content was one of genuine awe, a briefly terrifyingly integration
of my neurology into the submolecular fabric of the universe.
Regretfully, there was no encounter with tryptamine Munchkins. But I
did feel recognized, perhaps even initiated, into something bigger
and weirder than my acid dreams ever suggested.
Following this convincing brush with eternity, or something
suggesting death, I was transported into an cunningly decorated
alien spacecraft of insectoid design, perhaps a gigantic beetle
carapace. Located somewhere in the cosmos, it seemed as empty as a
parking garage. A distinctive elvish giggling could be heard as I
glanced around the premises, which drifted apart as I began to come
down. After a pleasant three-dimensional stroll through some of
Jackson Pollock's finest unpainted works, I returned to my
livingroom sofa with both a chill of regret at coming down and a
renewed fondness for terra firma. I enjoyed a few minutes of mild
euphoria before my body returned to a nontoxic normality. I had
tranced out for about 15 minutes.
This will probably impress many readers as just another boring dope
story (why do we often care so little about the dreams of others?).
It seemed substantially surreal to me, however, and without the
typical psychoanalytic ooginess of acid or even pot. So yes: There
is a There there, and it is in-fucking-tense. Enter at your own
(Research suggestion: An upcoming Mondo 2000 anthology will
contain the clearest and most practical tryptamine tips to date in
the form of pseudonymous psychonauts "Gracie and Zarkov's Notes From
Underground." Don't visit the Overmind without it.)
Western culture does not approve of revelations achieved so
economically. But for those who find meditation too boring, LSD too
time-consuming, and organized religion too self-flagellatory, DMT
certainly offers an effective alternative. Moreover, in DMT's
"mini-apocalypse," as McKenna calls it, one indeed catches a glimpse
of something infinitely complex at the end of history's tunnel, a
value-free vision that make the here-and-now seem that much more
precious and worth cultivating. Hence the activist rants that so
frequently cap McKenna's talks. DMT is a trip for sure, but hardly a
match for the utter strangeness of everyday life.