Terence McKenna

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Terence McKenna
Born (1946-11-16)November 16, 1946
Paonia, Colorado, United States
Died April 3, 2000(2000-04-03) (aged 53)
San Rafael, California, United States
Occupation Author, lecturer
Language English
Nationality American
Education BS in ecology, resource conservation, and shamanism
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Period 20th
Subject Shamanism, ethnobotany, ethnomycology, metaphysics, psychedelic drugs, alchemy
Notable works The Archaic Revival, Food of the Gods, The Invisible Landscape, Psilocybin Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, True Hallucinations.
Spouse Kathleen Harrison (1975—1992; divorced)
Children Finn McKenna & Klea McKenna
Relatives Dennis McKenna (brother)

Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer, and author who spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness. He was called the "Timothy Leary of the '90s",[1][2] "one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism",[3] and the "intellectual voice of rave culture".[4]

McKenna formulated a concept about the nature of time based on fractal patterns he claimed to have discovered in the I Ching, which he called novelty theory,[3][5] proposing this predicted the end of time in the year 2012.[5][6][7][8] His promotion of novelty theory and its connection to the Mayan calendar is credited as one of the factors leading to the widespread beliefs about 2012 eschatology.[9] Novelty theory is considered pseudoscience.[10][11]


Early life

Born and raised in Paonia, Colorado,[5][12][13] Terence McKenna had Irish ancestry on his father's side and Welsh forebearers on his mother's.[14] Introduced to geology through his uncle, he developed a hobby of solitary fossil-hunting in the arroyos near his home.[15] From this he developed a deep artistic and scientific appreciation of nature. He also became interested in psychology at a young age, reading Carl Jung's book Psychology and Alchemy at the age of 10.[6]

At age 16 McKenna moved to Los Altos, California to live with family friends for a year. He finished high school in Lancaster, California.[13] In 1963, he was introduced to the literary world of psychedelics through The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley and certain issues of The Village Voice that talked about psychedelics.[3][13]

McKenna said that one of his early psychedelic experiences with morning glory seeds showed him "that there was something there worth pursuing",[13] and in interviews he claimed to have smoked cannabis daily since his teens.[16]

Studying and traveling

In 1965, McKenna enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and was accepted into the Tussman Experimental College.[16] In 1967, while in college, he discovered and began studying shamanism through the study of Tibetan folk religion.[3][17][18] That same year, which he called his "opium and kabbala phase"[19][6] he traveled to Jerusalem, where he met Kathleen Harrison, who would later become his wife.[6][16][19]

In 1969, McKenna traveled to Nepal led by his interest in Tibetan painting and hallucinogenic shamanism.[20] He sought out shaman of the Bon tradition, which predated Tibetan Buddhism, trying to learn more about the shamanic use of visionary plants.[12] During his time there, he also studied the Tibetan language[20] and worked as a hashish smuggler,[6] until "one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. S. Customs."[21] He then wandered through southeast Asia viewing ruins,[21] spent time as a professional butterfly collector in Indonesia,[6][22][23] and worked as an English teacher in Tokyo, before finally returning to Berkeley to continue studying biology, which he called "his first love".[24]

After the partial completion of his studies, and his mother's death[25] from cancer in 1971,[26] McKenna, his brother Dennis, and three friends traveled to the Colombian Amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant preparation containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT).[5][27] [25] Instead of oo-koo-hé they found various forms of ayahuasca, or yagé,[28] and fields full of gigantic Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, which became the new focus of the expedition.[5][6][12][29][25] In La Chorrera, at the urging of his brother, McKenna was the subject of a psychedelic experiment[5] in which the brothers attempted to bond harmine (harmine is another psychedelic compound they used synergistically with the mushrooms) with their own neural DNA, through the use of a set specific vocal techniques. They hypothesised this would give them access to the collective memory of the human species, and would manifest the alchemistsPhilosopher’s Stone which they viewed as a "hyperdimensional union of spirit and matter".[30] McKenna claimed the experiment put him in contact with "Logos": an informative, divine voice he believed was universal to visionary religious experience.[31] The voice's reputed revelations and his brother's simultaneous peculiar experience prompted him to explore the structure of an early form of the I Ching, which led to his "Novelty Theory".[5][8][32] During their stay in the Amazon, McKenna also became romantically involved with his interpreter, Ev.[33]

In 1972, McKenna returned to U.C. Berkeley to finish his studies[16] and in 1975, he graduated with a degree in ecology, shamanism, and conservation of natural resources.[3][22][23] In the autumn of 1975, after parting with his girlfriend Ev earlier in the year,[34] McKenna began a relationship with his future wife and the mother of his two children, Kathleen Harrison.[8][16][27][19]

File:Psilocybin Magic Mushroom Growers Guide book cover.jpg
Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (1986 revised edition)

Soon after graduating, McKenna and Dennis published a book inspired by their Amazon experiences, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching.[5][16][35] The brothers' experiences in the Amazon would later be the main focus of McKenna's book True Hallucinations, published in 1993.[12] McKenna also began lecturing[16] locally around Berkeley and started appearing on some underground radio stations.[6]

Psilocybin mushroom cultivation

During McKenna's studies, he developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with Dennis[34][27][29] and in 1976, the brothers published what they had learned in a book entitled Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, under the pseudonyms "O.T. Oss" and "O.N. Oeric".[12][36] McKenna and his brother were the first to come up with a reliable method for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms at home.[12][16][27][29] As ethnobiologist Jonathan Ott explains, "[the] authors adapted San Antonio's technique (for producing edible mushrooms by casing mycelial cultures on a rye grain substrate; San Antonio 1971) to the production of Psilocybe [Stropharia] cubensis. The new technique involved the use of ordinary kitchen implements, and for the first time the layperson was able to produce a potent entheogen in his [or her] own home, without access to sophisticated technology, equipment, or chemical supplies."[37] When the 1986 revised edition was published, the Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide had sold over 100,000 copies.[38][12][36]

Mid- to later life

Public speaking

In the early 1980s, McKenna began to speak publicly on the topic of psychedelic drugs, becoming one of the pioneers of the psychedelic movement.[39] His main focus was on the plant-based psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms (which were the catalyst for his career),[12] ayahuasca, cannabis, and the plant derivative DMT.[6] He conducted lecture tours and workshops[6] promoting natural psychedelics as a way to explore universal mysteries, stimulate the imagination, and re-establish a harmonious relationship with nature.[40] Though associated with the New Age and Human Potential Movements, McKenna himself had little patience for New Age sensibilities.[3][7][8][41] He repeatedly stressed the importance and primacy of the "felt presence of direct experience", as opposed to dogma.[42]

In addition to psychedelic drugs, McKenna spoke on a wide array of subjects[27] including; shamanism; metaphysics; alchemy; language; culture; self-empowerment; techno-paganism; artificial intelligence; evolution; extraterrestrials; science and scientism; the web; virtual reality (which he saw as a way to artistically communicate the experience of psychedelics); and aesthetic theory, specifically about art/visual experience as information representing the significance of hallucinatory visions experienced under the influence of psychedelics.

McKenna soon became a fixture of popular counterculture[5][6][40] with Timothy Leary once introducing him as "one of the five or six most important people on the planet"[44] and with comedian Bill Hicks' referencing him in his stand-up act[45] and building an entire routine around his ideas.[27] McKenna also became a popular personality in the psychedelic rave/dance scene of the early 1990s,[22][46] with frequent spoken word performances at raves and contributions to psychedelic and goa trance albums by The Shamen,[7][27][40] Spacetime Continuum, Alien Project, Capsula, Entheogenic, Zuvuya, Shpongle, and Shakti Twins. In 1994 he appeared as a speaker at the Starwood Festival, documented in the book Tripping by Charles Hayes.[47]

McKenna published several books in the early-to-mid-1990s including: The Archaic Revival; Food of the Gods; and True Hallucinations.[6][12][22] Hundreds of hours of McKenna's public lectures were recorded either professionally or bootlegged and have been produced on cassette tape, CD and MP3.[27] Segments of his talks have gone on to be sampled by many musicians and DJ's.[4][27]

McKenna was colleagues and close friends with chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham, and author and biologist Rupert Sheldrake. He conducted several public and many private debates with them from 1982 until his death.[48][49][50] These debates were known as trialogues and some of the discussions were later published in the books: Trialogues at the Edge of the West and The Evolutionary Mind.[48][3]

Botanical Dimensions

Botanical Dimensions ethnobotanical preserve in Hawaii.

In 1985, McKenna founded Botanical Dimensions with his then-wife, Kathleen Harrison.[22][51] Botanical Dimensions is a nonprofit ethnobotanical preserve on the Big Island of Hawaii,[3] established to collect, protect, propagate, and understand plants of ethno-medical significance and their lore, and appreciate, study, and educate others about plants and mushrooms felt to be significant to cultural integrity and spiritual well-being.[52] The 19 acres (7.7 hectares) botanical garden[3] is a repository containing thousands of plants that have been used by indigenous people of the tropical regions, and includes a database of information related to their purported healing properties.[53] McKenna was involved until 1992, when he retired from the project,[51] following his and Kathleen's divorce earlier in the year.[16] Kathleen still manages Botanical Dimensions as its president and projects director.[52] After their divorce, McKenna moved to Hawaii permanently, where he built a modernist house[16] and created a gene bank of rare plants near his home.[22] Previously, he had split his time between Hawaii and Occidental, CA.


Terence McKenna during a panel discussion at the 1999 AllChemical Arts Conference, held at Kona, Hawaii.

In mid-1999, after a long lecturing tour, McKenna returned to his home on the Big Island of Hawaii. A longtime sufferer of migraines, McKenna had begun to have increasingly painful headaches. His condition culminated in three brain seizures in one night, which he claimed were the most powerful psychedelic experiences he had ever known. McKenna was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer.[7][12][29] For the next several months he underwent various treatments, including experimental gamma knife radiation treatment. According to Wired magazine, McKenna was worried that his tumor was caused by his 35 years of smoking cannabis, although his doctors assured him there was no causal relation.[29]

In late 1999, Erik Davis conducted what would be the last interview with McKenna.[29] During the interview McKenna also talked about the announcement of his death:

McKenna died on April 3, 2000, at the age of 53.[7][8][16]

Library fire

On February 7, 2007, McKenna's library of rare books and personal notes was destroyed in a fire that burned offices belonging to Big Sur's Esalen Institute, which was storing the collection. An index maintained by his brother Dennis survives, though little else.[55]



Terence McKenna advocated the exploration of altered states of mind via the ingestion of naturally occurring psychedelic substances.[5][35][46] For example, and in particular, as facilitated by the ingestion of high doses of psychedelic mushrooms,[27][56] ayahuasca and DMT,[6] which he believed was the apotheosis of the psychedelic experience. However he was less enthralled with the synthetic drugs[6] stating that "I think drugs should come from the natural world and be use-tested by shamanically orientated cultures...one cannot predict the long-term effects of a drug produced in a Laboratory."[3] McKenna always stressed the responsible use of psychedelic plants saying: "Experimenters should be very careful. One must build up to the experience. These are bizarre dimensions of extraordinary power and beauty. There is no set rule to avoid being overwhelmed, but move carefully, reflect a great deal, and always try to map experiences back onto the history of the race and the philosophical and religious accomplishments of the species. All the compounds are potentially dangerous, and all compounds, at sufficient doses or repeated over time, involve risks. The library is the first place to go when looking into taking a new compound."[57] He also recommended and often spoke of taking, what he called, 'heroic doses,'[35] which he defined as five dried grams of psilocybin mushrooms,[6] taken alone, on an empty stomach, in silent darkness and with eyes closed.[27][29] Stating that when taken this way one could expect a profound visionary experience,[27] believing it is only when slain by the power of the mushroom that the message becomes clear.[56]

Although he avoided giving his allegiance to any one interpretation (part of his rejection of monotheism), he was open to the idea of psychedelics as being "trans-dimensional travel"; proposing that DMT sent one to a "parallel dimension"[8] and psychedelics literally, enabled an individual to encounter 'higher dimensional entities'[58] or what could be ancestors, or spirits of the Earth,[59] saying that if you can trust your own perceptions it appears that you are entering an "ecology of souls."[60] McKenna also put forward the idea that psychedelics were "doorways into the Gaian mind"[46][61] suggesting that "the planet has a kind of intelligence, it can actually open a channel of communication with an individual human being" and that the psychedelic plants were the facilitators of this communication.[62][63] In a more radical version of biophysicist Francis Crick's hypothesis of directed panspermia; another idea McKenna speculated on, was that, psilocybin mushrooms are a species of high intelligence,[3] which may have arrived on this planet as spores migrating through space[8][64] and are attempting to establish a symbiotic relationship with human beings. He postulated that "intelligence, not life, but intelligence may have come here [to Earth] in this spore-bearing life form" pointing out that "I think that theory will probably be vindicated. I think in a hundred years if people do biology they will think it quite silly that people once thought that spores could not be blown from one star system to another by cosmic radiation pressure" and believed that "Few people are in a position to judge its extraterrestrial potential, because few people in the orthodox sciences have ever experienced the full spectrum of psychedelic effects that are unleashed."[3][17][18][7]

McKenna was opposed to Christianity[65] and most forms of organized religion or guru-based forms of spiritual awakening, favouring shamanism, which he believed was the broadest spiritual paradigm available, stating that:

"What I think happened is that in the world of prehistory all religion was experiential, and it was based on the pursuit of ecstasy through plants. And at some time, very early, a group interposed itself between people and direct experience of the 'Other.' This created hierarchies, priesthoods, theological systems, castes, ritual, taboos. Shamanism, on the other hand, is an experiential science that deals with an area where we know nothing. It is important to remember that our epistemological tools have developed very unevenly in the West. We know a tremendous amount about what is going on in the heart of the atom, but we know absolutely nothing about the nature of the mind."[66]

Either philosophically or religiously, he expressed admiration for: Marshall McLuhan, Alfred North Whitehead, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, Plato, Gnostic Christianity and Alchemy, while regarding the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as his favorite philosopher.[67]

He also expressed admiration for the works of Aldous Huxley,[3] James Joyce; calling Finnegans Wake "the quintessential work of art, or at least work of literature of the 20th century,"[68] the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick who he described as an "incredible genius,"[69] fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, with whom McKenna shared the belief that; "scattered through the ordinary world there are books and artifacts and perhaps people who are like doorways into impossible realms, of impossible and contradictory truth"[8] and Vladimir Nabokov: McKenna once said that he would have become a Nabokov lecturer if he had never encountered psychedelics.

During the final years of his life and career, McKenna became very engaged in the theoretical realm of technology. He was an early proponent of the technological singularity[8] and in his last recorded public talk, Psychedelics in The Age of Intelligent Machines, he outlined ties between psychedelics, computation technology, and humans.[70] He also became enamored with the Internet calling it "the birth of [the] global mind",[16] believing it to be a place where psychedelic culture could flourish.[29]

Machine elves

McKenna spoke of hallucinations while on DMT in which he claims to have met intelligent entities he described as "self-transforming machine elves".[3][8][71][72]

"So I did it and...there was a something, like a flower, like a chrysanthemum in orange and yellow that was sort of spinning, spinning, and then it was like I was pushed from behind and I fell through the chrysanthemum into another place that didn't seem like a state of mind, it seemed like another place. And what was going on in this place aside from the tastefully soffited indirect lighting, and the crawling geometric hallucinations along the domed walls, what was happening was that there were a lot of beings in there, what I call self-transforming machine elves. Sort of like jeweled basketballs all dribbling their way toward me. And if they'd had faces they would have been grinning, but they didn't have faces. And they assured me that they loved me and they told me not to be amazed; not to give way to astonishment."[73]

— Terence McKenna, Alien Dreamtime

"Stoned ape" theory of human evolution

In his book Food of the Gods, McKenna proposed that the transformation from humans' early ancestors Homo erectus to the species Homo sapiens mainly had to do with the addition of the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis in its diet,[27][74][75] an event that according to his theory took place in about 100,000 BCE (this is when he believed that the species diverged from the Homo genus).[22][76] McKenna based his theory on the main effects, or alleged effects, produced by the mushroom[3] while citing studies by Roland Fischer et al. from the late 1960s to early 1970s.[77][78]

McKenna stated that due to the desertification of the African continent at that time, human forerunners were forced from the increasingly shrinking tropical canopy in search of new food sources.[6] He believed they would have been following large herds of wild cattle whose dung harbored the insects that, he proposed, were undoubtedly part of their new diet, and would have spotted and started eating Psilocybe cubensis, a dung-loving mushroom often found growing out of cowpat.[6][7][46]

File:Psilocybe Cubensis.JPG
Psilocybe cubensis: the psilocybin-containing mushroom central to McKenna's "stoned ape" theory of human evolution.

McKenna's hypothesis was that low doses of psilocybin improve visual acuity, meaning that the presence of psilocybin in the diet of early pack hunting primates caused the individuals who were consuming psilocybin mushrooms to be better hunters than those who were not, resulting in an increased food supply and in turn a higher rate of reproductive success.[3][7][27][46] Then at slightly higher doses, he contended, the mushroom acts to sexually arouse, leading to a higher level of attention, more energy in the organism, and potential erection in the males,[3][7] rendering it even more evolutionarily beneficial, as it would result in more offspring.[27][46][75] At even higher doses, McKenna proposed that the mushroom would have acted to "dissolve boundaries," promoting community bonding and group sexual activities.[12][46] Consequently, there would be a mixing of genes, greater genetic diversity, and a communal sense of responsibility for the group offspring.[79] At these higher doses, McKenna also argued that psilocybin would be triggering activity in the "language-forming region of the brain", manifesting as music and visions[3] thus catalyzing the emergence of language in early hominids by expanding "their arboreally evolved repertoire of troop signals."[7][27] Also pointing out that it would dissolve the ego and "religious concerns would be at the forefront of the tribe's consciousness, simply because of the power and strangeness of the experience itself."[46][79]

Therefore, according to McKenna, access to and ingestion of mushrooms was an evolutionary advantage to humans' omnivorous hunter-gatherer ancestors,[27][80] also providing humanities first religious impulse.[81] He believed that psilocybin mushrooms were the "evolutionary catalyst"[3] from which language, projective imagination, the arts, religion, philosophy, science, and all of human culture sprang.[7][8][29]

Later on this idea was given the name "The 'Stoned Ape' Hypothesis."[46][74]

McKenna's "stoned ape" theory has not received attention from the scientific community and has been criticized for a relative lack of citation to any of the paleoanthropological evidence informing our understanding of human origins. His ideas regarding psilocybin and visual acuity have been criticized by suggesting he misrepresented Fischer et al., who published studies about visual perception in terms of various specific parameters, not acuity. Criticism has also been expressed due to the fact that in a separate study on psilocybin induced transformation of visual space Fischer et al. stated that psilocybin "may not be conducive to the survival of the organism".[82] There is also a lack of evidence that psilocybin increases sexual arousal, and even if it does, it does not necessarily entail an evolutionary advantage. It may even be a disadvantage in the context of the presumed higher sexual competition in Homo Erectus as indicated by its higher sexual dimorphism relative to Homo sapiens.[83] Others have pointed to civilisations such as the Aztecs, who used psychedelic mushrooms (at least among the Priestly class), that didn't reflect McKenna's model of how psychedelic-using cultures would behave, for example, by carrying out human sacrifice.[12] Although, it has been noted that psilocybin usage by the Aztec civilisation is far removed from the type of usage on which McKenna was speculating.[46] There are also examples of Amazonian tribes such as the Jivaro and the Yanomami who use ayahuasca ceremoniously and who are known to engage in violent behaviour. This, it has been argued, indicates the use of psychedelic plants does not necessarily suppress the ego and create harmonious societies.[46]

Archaic revival

One of the main themes running through McKenna's work, and the title of his second book, was the idea that Western civilization was undergoing what he called an "archaic revival".[3][27][84]

His notion was that Western society has become "sick" and is undergoing a "healing process", in the same way that the human body begins to produce antibodies when it feels itself to be sick, humanity as a collective whole (in the Jungian, sense) was creating "strategies for overcoming the condition of dis-ease" and trying to cure itself, by what he termed as "a reversion to archaic values." McKenna pointed to phenomena including: surrealism, abstract expressionism, body piercing and tattooing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, jazz, experimental dance, rave culture, rock-n-roll and catastrophe theory, amongst others, as his evidence that this process was underway.[85][86][87] This idea is linked to McKenna's "stoned ape" theory of human evolution, with him viewing the "archaic revival" as an impulse to return to the symbiotic and blissful relationship he believed humanity once had with the psilocybin mushroom.[27]

In differentiating his idea from the "New Age", a term that he felt trivialized the significance of the next phase in human evolution, McKenna stated that: "The New Age is essentially humanistic psychology '80s-style, with the addition of neo-shamanism, channeling, crystal and herbal healing. The archaic revival is a much larger, more global phenomenon that assumes that we are recovering the social forms of the late neolithic, and reaches far back in the 20th century to Freud, to surrealism, to abstract expressionism, even to a phenomenon like National Socialism which is a negative force. But the stress on ritual, on organized activity, on race/ancestor-consciousness – these are themes that have been worked out throughout the entire 20th century, and the archaic revival is an expression of that."[3][17][18]

Novelty theory and Timewave Zero

Novelty theory is a pseudoscientific idea[10][11] that purports to predict the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe as an inherent quality of time. Proposing that time is not a constant but has various qualities tending toward either "habit" or "novelty".[5] Habit, in this context, can be thought of as entropic, repetitious, or conservative; and novelty as creative, disjunctive, or progressive phenomena.[8] McKenna's idea was that the universe is an engine designed for the production and conservation of novelty and that as novelty increases, so does complexity. With each level of complexity achieved becoming the platform for a further ascent into complexity.[8]

The 64 hexagrams from the King Wen sequence of the I Ching.

The basis of the theory was originally conceived in the mid-1970s after McKenna's experiences with psilocybin mushrooms at La Chorrera in the Amazon led him to closely study the King Wen sequence of the I Ching.[5][6][29]

In Asian Taoism philosophy the concept of opposing phenomena is represented by the Yin and Yang. Both are always present in everything, yet the amount of influence of each varies over time. The individual lines of the I Ching are made up of both Yin (broken lines) and Yang (solid lines).

When examining the King Wen sequence of the 64 hexagrams, McKenna noticed a pattern. He analysed the "degree of difference" between each successive hexagram and claims he found a statistical anomaly, which he believed suggested that the King Wen sequence was intentionally constructed,[5] with the sequence of hexagrams ordered in a highly structured and artificial way, and that this pattern codified the nature of time’s flow in the world.[30] With the degrees of difference as numerical values, McKenna worked out a mathematical wave form based on the 384 lines of change that make up the 64 hexagrams. He was able to graph the data and this became the Novelty Time Wave.[5]

A screenshot of the Timewave Zero software (written by Peter Meyer) showing the timewave for the 25 years preceding a zero date of December 21, 2012.

Peter Meyer, in collaboration with McKenna, studied and improved the foundations of novelty theory, working out a mathematical formula and developing the Timewave Zero software enabling them to graph and explore its dynamics on a computer.[5][7] The graph was fractal, it exhibited a pattern in which a given small section of the wave was found to be identical in form to a larger section of the wave.[3][5] McKenna called this fractal modeling of time "temporal resonance", proposing it implied that larger intervals, occurring long ago, contained the same amount of information as shorter, more recent, intervals.[5][88] He suggested the up-and-down pattern of the wave shows an ongoing wavering between habit and novelty respectively. With each successive iteration trending, at an increasing level, towards infinite novelty. So according to novelty theory, the pattern of time itself is speeding up, with a requirement of the theory been that infinite novelty will be reached on a specific date.[3][5]

McKenna suspected that notable events in history could be identified that would help him locate the time wave's end date[5] and attempted to find the best-fit placement when matching the graph to the data field of human history.[7] The last harmonic of the wave has a duration of 67.29 years.[89] Population growth, peak oil, and pollution statistics were some of the factors that pointed him to an early twenty-first century end date and when looking for an extremely novel event in human history as a signal that the final phase had begun McKenna picked the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.[5][89] This worked out to the graph reaching zero in mid-November 2012. When he later discovered that the end of the 13th baktun in the Mayan Calendar had been correlated by Western Maya scholars as December 21, 2012,[Note a] he adopted their end date instead.[5][90][Note b]

McKenna saw the universe, in relation to Novelty theory, as having a teleological attractor at the end of time,[5] which increases interconnectedness and would eventually reach a singularity of infinite complexity. He also frequently referred to this as "the transcendental object at the end of time."[5][7][91] When describing this model of the universe he stated that: "The universe is not being pushed from behind. The universe is being pulled from the future toward a goal that is as inevitable as a marble reaching the bottom of a bowl when you release it up near the rim. If you do that, you know the marble will roll down the side of the bowl, down, down, down – until eventually it comes to rest at the lowest energy state, which is the bottom of the bowl. That's precisely my model of human history. I'm suggesting that the universe is pulled toward a complex attractor that exists ahead of us in time, and that our ever-accelerating speed through the phenomenal world of connectivity and novelty is based on the fact that we are now very, very close to the attractor."[92] Therefore, according to McKenna's final interpretation of the data and positioning of the graph, on December 21, 2012 we would have been in the unique position in time where maximum novelty would be experienced.[3][5][29] An event he described as a "concrescence",[12] a "tightening 'gyre'" with everything flowing together. Speculating that "when the laws of physics are obviated, the universe disappears, and what is left is the tightly bound plenum, the monad, able to express itself for itself, rather than only able to cast a shadow into physis as its reflection...It will be the entry of our species into 'hyperspace', but it will appear to be the end of physical laws, accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination."[93]

Novelty theory is considered to be pseudoscience.[10][11] Among the criticisms are the use of numerology to derive dates of important events in world history,[11] the arbitrary rather than calculated end date of the time wave[27] and the apparent adjustment of the eschaton from November 2012 to December 2012 in order to coincide with the Mayan calendar. Other purported dates do not fit the actual time frames: the date claimed for the emergence of Homo sapiens is inaccurate by 70,000 years, and the existence of the ancient Sumer and Egyptian civilisations contradict the date he gave for the beginning of "historical time". Some projected dates have been criticised for having seemingly arbitrary labels, such as the "height of the age of mammals"[11] and McKenna's analysis of historical events has been criticised for having a eurocentric and cultural bias.[6][27]

The Watkins Objection

in 1994, the British mathematician Mathew Watkins of Exeter University (then a Cambridge PhD student) conduct a mathematical analysis of the Time Wave. Watkins claimed there were various mathematical flaws in the construction of the wave. He stated that when the mathematics was accurately performed a more trivial and uninteresting waveform was created, which was not fractal but a complex piecewise linear progression.[27]

Critical reception

One expert on drug treatment attacked McKenna for popularizing "dangerous substances". "Surely the fact that Terence McKenna says that the psilocybin mushroom 'is the megaphone used by an alien, intergalactic Other to communicate with mankind' is enough for us to wonder if taking LSD has done something to his mental faculties," Judy Corman, vice president of Phoenix House of New York, a drug treatment center, said in a letter to The New York Times in 1993.[16]

Others had trouble with his self-consciously cosmic literary style. "I suffered hallucinatory agonies of my own while reading his shrilly ecstatic prose," Peter Conrad wrote in The New York Times in a 1993 review of Mr. McKenna's book True Hallucinations.[16]

But some praised his "scholarly" approach. Biologist Richard Evans Schultes, of Harvard University, wrote in American Scientist in a 1993 review of McKenna's book Food of the Gods, that it was; "a masterpiece of research and writing" and that it "should be read by every specialist working in the multifarious fields involved with the use of psychoactive drugs." Concluding that "It is, without question, destined to play a major role in our future considerations of the role of the ancient use of psychoactive drugs, the historical shaping of our modern concerns about drugs and perhaps about man's desire for escape from reality with drugs."[94]

John Horgan in a 2012 blog post for Scientific American also commented that, Food of the Gods was "a rigorous argument...that mind-expanding plants and fungi catalyzed the transformation of our brutish ancestors into cultured modern humans."[8]

His outpouring of unique thoughts was a marvel to many. "To write him off as a crazy hippie is a rather lazy approach to a man not only full of fascinating ideas but also blessed with a sense of humor and self-parody," Tom Hodgkinson wrote in The New Statesman and Society in 1994.[16]

Some found his writing captivating. Mark Jacobson said of True Hallucinations, in a 1992 issue of Esquire Magazine that, "it would be hard to find a drug narrative more compellingly perched on a baroquely romantic limb than this passionate Tom-and-Huck-ride-great-mother-river-saga of brotherly bonding," adding "put simply, Terence is a hoot!"[6]

Wired called him a "charismatic talking head" who was "brainy, eloquent, and hilarious"[29] and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead also said that he was "the only person who has made a serious effort to objectify the psychedelic experience."[16]


  • McKenna, Dennis; — (1975). The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching. New York: Seabury. ISBN 9780816492497.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McKenna, Dennis; —; under the pseudonyms OT Oss and ON Oeric (1976). Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide. Berkeley, CA: And/Or Press. ISBN 9780915904136.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco. 1992. ISBN 9780062506139.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution. New York: Bantam. 1992. ISBN 9780553078688.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Abraham, Ralph H.; —; Sheldrake, Rupert (1992). Trialogues at the Edge of the West: Chaos, Creativity, and the Resacralization of the World. Forward by Houston, Jean. Bear & Company. ISBN 9780939680979.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco. 1993. ISBN 9780062505453.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Abraham, Ralph H.; —; Sheldrake, Rupert (1998). The Evolutionary Mind: Conversations on Science, Imagination & Spirit. Monkfish Book Publishing. ISBN 0974935972.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Spoken word

  • History Ends in Green: Gaia, Psychedelics and the Archaic Revival, 6 audiocassette set, Mystic Fire audio, 1993, ISBN 1-56176-907-X (recorded at the Esalen Institute, 1989)
  • TechnoPagans at the End of History (transcription of rap with Mark Pesce from 1998)
  • Psychedelics in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1999) (DVD) HPX/SurrealStudio
  • Conversations on the Edge of Magic (1994) (CD & Cassette) ACE
  • Rap-Dancing into the Third Millennium (1994) (Cassette) (Re-issued on CD as The Quintessential Hallucinogen) ACE
  • Packing For the Long Strange Trip (1994) (Audio Cassette) ACE
  • Global Perspectives and Psychedelic Poetics (1994) (Cassette) Sound Horizons Audio-Video, Inc.
  • The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge (1992) (Cassette) Sounds True
  • The Psychedelic Society (DVD & Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • True Hallucinations Workshop (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Vertigo at History's Edge: Who Are We? Where Have We Come From? Where Are We Going? (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Ethnobotany and Shamanism (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Shamanism, Symbiosis and Psychedelics Workshop (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Shamanology (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Shamanology of the Amazon (w/ Nicole Maxwell) (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Beyond Psychology (1983) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Understanding & the Imagination in the Light of Nature Parts 1 & 2 (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Ethnobotany (a complete course given at The California Institute of Integral Studies) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Non-ordinary States of Reality Through Vision Plants (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Mind & Time, Spirit & Matter: The Complete Weekend in Santa Fe (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Forms and Mysteries: Morphogenetic Fields and Psychedelic Experiences (w/ Rupert Sheldrake) (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • UFO: The Inside Outsider (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • A Calendar for The Goddess (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • A Magical Journey: Including Hallucinogens and Culture, Time and The I Ching, and The Human Future (Video Cassette) TAP/Sound Photosynthesis
  • Aliens and Archetypes (Video Cassette) TAP/Sound Photosynthesis
  • Angels, Aliens and Archetypes 1987 Symposium: Shamanic Approaches to the UFO, and Fairmont Banquet Talk (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Botanical Dimensions (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Conference on Botanical Intelligence (w/ Joan Halifax, Andy Weil, & Dennis McKenna) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Coping With Gaia's Midwife Crisis (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Dreaming Awake at the End of Time (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Evolving Times (DVD, CD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Food of the Gods (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Food of the Gods 2: Drugs, Plants and Destiny (Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Hallucinogens in Shamanism & Anthropology at Bridge Psychedelic Conf.1991 (w/ Ralph Metzner, Marlene Dobkin De Rios, Allison Kennedy & Thomas Pinkson) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Finale – Bridge Psychedelic Conf.1991 (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Man and Woman at the End of History (w/ Riane Eisler) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Plants, Consciousness, and Transformation (1995) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Metamorphosis (w/ Rupert Sheldrake & Ralph Abraham) (1995) (Video Cassette) Mystic Fire/Sound Photosynthesis
  • Nature is the Center of the Mandala (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Opening the Doors of Creativity (1990) (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Places I Have Been (CD & Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Plants, Visions and History Lecture (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Psychedelics Before and After History (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Sacred Plants As Guides: New Dimensions of the Soul (at the Jung Society Clairemont, California) (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Seeking the Stone (Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Shamanism: Before and Beyond History – A Weekend at Ojai (w/ Ralph Metzner) (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Shedding the Monkey (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • State of the Stone '95 (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Ethnobotany of Shamanism Introductory Lecture: The Philosophical Implications of Psychobotony: Past, Present and Future (at CIIS) (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Ethnobotany of Shamanism Workshop: Psychedelics Before and After History (at CIIS) (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Grammar of Ecstasy – the World Within the Word (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Light at the End of History (Audio/Video Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The State of the Stone Address: Having Archaic and Eating it Too (Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • The Taxonomy of Illusion (at UC Santa Cruz) (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • This World ...and Its Double (DVD & Video/Audio Cassette) Sound Photosynthesis
  • Trialogues at the Edge of the Millennium (w/ Rupert Sheldrake & Ralph Abraham) (at UC Santa Cruz) (1998) (Video Cassette) Trialogue Press



  • Experiment at Petaluma (1990)
  • Prague Gnosis: Terence McKenna Dialogues (1992)
  • The Hemp Revolution (1995)
  • Terence McKenna: The Last Word (1999)
  • Shamans of the Amazon (2001)
  • Alien Dreamtime (2003)
  • 2012: The Odyssey (2007)
  • The Alchemical Dream: Rebirth Of The Great Work (2008)
  • Manifesting the Mind (2009)
  • Cognition Factor (2009)
  • DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010)
  • 2012: Time for Change (2010)
  • The Terence McKenna OmniBus 2012 (2012)

See also


  • a Most Mayanist scholars, such as Mark Van Stone and Anthony Aveni, adhere to the "GMT (Goodman-Martinez-Thompson) correlation" with the Long Count, which places the start date at 11 August 3114 BC and the end date of b'ak'tun 13 at December 21, 2012.[95] This date was also the overwhelming preference of those who believed in 2012 eschatology, arguably, Van Stone suggests, because it was a solstice, and was thus astrologically significant. Some Mayanist scholars, such as Michael D. Coe, Linda Schele and Marc Zender, adhere to the "Lounsbury/GMT+2" correlation, which sets the start date at August 13 and the end date at December 23. Which of these is the precise correlation has yet to be conclusively settled.[96] Coe's initial date was "24 December 2011." He revised it to "11 January AD 2013" in the 1980 2nd edition of his book,[97] not settling on December 23, 2012 until the 1984 3rd edition.[98] The correlation of b'ak'tun 13 as December 21, 2012 first appeared in Table B.2 of Robert J. Sharer's 1983 revision of the 4th edition of Sylvanus Morley's book The Ancient Maya.[99]
  • b The 1975 first edition of McKenna's The Invisible Landscape refers to 2012 (but no specific day during the year) only twice. In the 1993 second edition, McKenna employed December 21, 2012 throughout, the date arrived at by the Mayanist researcher Robert J. Sharer.[90]


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  2. Horgan, John (2004). Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 177. ISBN 9780547347806.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  39. Wojtowicz, Slawek (2008). "Ch. 6: Magic Mushrooms". In Strassman, Rick; Wojtowicz, Slawek; Luna, Luis Eduardo; et al. Inner Paths To Outer Space: Journeys to Alien Worlds Through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. p. 149. ISBN 9781594772245.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  81. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 194.
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