Awakening to Archaic Values
May 1990

A weekend workshop held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Part 1

A Stiff Dose of Psychedelics


We will, I think, continue this kind of neurotic behavior until it either is our undoing or until we awaken to archaic values. And that’s why the weekend is called what it is. The archaic revival is a very large cultural wave that… you know, you can trace the beginnings of it, the first swell, back to the turn of the century with relativity and theosophy and surrealism and the work of Freud and Jung on the unconscious. But it’s a discovery, a moving toward a realization that the values that can serve us are archaic values; that we have to go completely outside of history. And we have to make—we’re going to find out the nature of human nature. We can’t have it several ways. We can’t live in obfuscation. I mean, the real question is: is man good? Because we’re going to find out. Because as we move more and more into this cultural domain that I call the imagination, nothing lies between us and the expression of our dreams, you know? And so far, our dreams have been, I think, expressed fairly shoddily. I mean, you know, our cities are like sores. Our contribution to the ecosystem of the planet is plutonium, pesticides, chlorofluorocarbons, so forth and so on. An apologist for the human race would say, “But we had so many strikes against us! The law of gravity, the cost of materials, the resistance of water, air, and so forth and so on.” Well, fine. Then we’re going to get rid of all that. We’re going to enter into the imagination, where the tensile strength of a structure is whatever you say it is.


This is where language comes in, I think. Language is the CAD/CAM, the computer-assisted drawing software for creating the reality of the imagination. I think it’s overwhelming, our situation—the potential and the depth of the strikes against us. I mean, it’s really—what’s going on on this planet is absolutely unique so far a we know. It’s never happened before on this planet: intelligence emerging out of biological organization and actually having a shot at—what? Who knows! I mean, being itself is some kind of opportunity. The reasonable expectation is that nothing exist. Why should anything exist? It seems to me the most conservative universe would be a dimensionless plenum; a homogenous, pointless, dimension-less… that makes sense. Why, then, is there instead multiplicity upon multiplicity? I mean, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, stuff like that. How in the world do you get from utter emptiness to that kind of thing? The richness, the creative force behind it all is awesome.


And I am not religious in any ordinary sense. In fact, I’m violently anti-religious in most senses. I mean, I certainly would lead the charge against priestcraft in any form. But the picture of the universe as a machine subject to a few laws discovered by a bunch of guys in powdered wigs—that’s ridiculous. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding! Science doesn’t deal (as it always pains to point out) with what’s called subjective experience. Well, that’s really too bad because that’s all any of us ever have: subjective experience! So we have—in the interests of I don’t know what, exactly—a curious drive (an obsession of the Greeks, really), an obsession with the physical world that we have not been able to disentangle ourselves with. We can measure the temperature of distant stars, but we don’t know what we think about the woman we’re living with. Stuff like that. Just such a completely overgrown and overdeveloped dichotomous situation that it makes no sense.


So in terms of any kind of conclusion or something like that, it’s that there is an experience. It’s harmless—meaning it can’t kill you, that’s the guarantee there. There is this experience. It is in our cultural heritage. It synergizes the most profound and private dimensions of our being. It allows us to recast ourselves in new forms quickly. And if we don’t turn back toward this style of relating to ourselves, to each other, and to the world, but persist instead in the addiction to syntactical abstraction, then I think we’ll just run it off the edge.


And it will be a tragedy, because it is a horse race. Don’t let anybody kid you. It’s not that the good guys are miles and miles behind, and so you just might as well tear your ticket up and throw it in the air and go home. No, it’s an absolute horse race: neck and neck, photo finish race between education and disaster. We are going to either burst out into a millennium of freedom and caring and decency, or we’re going to toxify the whole thing and just turn it into an ash heap. And the responsibility falls largely on us. And we don’t know. I mean, the momentum, the lethal momentum of these institutions is terrifying. Our position is like that of people who are attempting to turn a battleship 180 degrees, and we’re going it with an oar, you know? I mean, the momentum of it is incredible.


But it is not a closed system. And I say this as a reasonable person. I mean, I want to keep stressing that: that I won’t sit at the same table with the channelers and the people who have good news about Atlantis, and all of this stuff. I mean, if this is your private thing it’s okay. But the rules of evidence preclude it being taken seriously until you get your act more together. But in the psychedelic experience there is confounding paranormal material. It’s the only place I’ve ever found it. I scoured India. These guys, as far as I can tell, it’s a skin game. But outlandish things are going on inside the psychedelic experience. It seems to imply the thing we had hardly dared hope, which is that the world is whatever you say it is if you know how to say it right. And then the whole task becomes: how do we take control of this language that allows us to say it right?


We—I think I speak for most people here—serve the idea that matter is ultimately at the command of mind. But we need to move that forward as a demonstrable principle, because without that the fear of most people is that we’re imprisoned by physics in a sinking submarine. And yet, when you go into these psychedelic spaces, what you discover is that all bets are off. That we can’t even tell how weird it is. I mean, it may be possible to walk to Arcturus if you have the right set of coordinates. And the whole concern is to get the word out, to spread this meme, to empower people to confirm the existence of these realities for themselves, and to begin to form a kind of community consensus about it.


You know, it’s only I guess in 1992 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. 500 years ago people discovered the other half of this planet. And we’re living there now. This is the New World. 500 years ago this didn’t exist. What existed was a vast cataract patrolled by sea monsters. And the oceans of the world poured off this cataract into the infinite abyss. And that was the edge of the world. We, the psychedelic people, are like these early explorers coming back and saying, “I sailed west for sixteen days and I didn’t go mad. Instead, this is what happened. And I bring news of this, this, and this.” And what we’re accumulating are like the diaries of explorers. But there’s a world there. It’s a mental world, yes—but we are mental creatures, take note of that. If we could go there we would go there.


And the thing is: we don’t know that we can’t go there. We have never taken the imagination seriously. We have never taken the self-management of culture seriously. We’ve always sort of thought things should just go along like a random walk. But now, because of the immense technical power that’s come into our hands, the design process of the whole planet is now on our desk. And we’re being asked to essentially step into stewardship of the entire planetary environment. We have to have, then, a vision. We have to have a dream. Not a vision, or a dream—the vision, the dream! And it can’t come from the personality of individual human beings, it has to come out of the bones of the planet. Yeah.


And this is, I think, what the psychedelic experience is broadcasting. It’s broadcasting the hologrammatic, fractal, altogether, all-at-once image of totality that our religions have sensed and called “God,” that the shaman have learned to use as a vast kind of computer for extracting information and for generating healing energy. But there is some kind of controlling, minded, integrated thing behind nature. And we’re not going to understand that this weekend, next week, or ever. This is not a relationship of solving a problem. It’s a relationship of being an initiate of a mystery and then living your live, you know, in the light of that. And the task of understanding is endless, because understanding is simply the integrated coordination of pattern. And nature is pattern upon pattern upon pattern upon pattern upon level upon level—it has no depth; its measure cannot be taken. Everything is infinite and everything is animate and everything is filled with a kind of deep concern for humanity. I mean, we are the lame little brother because we seem to be cut off from all the rest of this. Well, that’s kind of a Blakeian take on it.


[???] the shamanistic cultures themselves have the notion of a fall, and this may just be the people that we happen to interview in our [???] study it. But the old days of shamanism were the good days and what we have now is deluded and… is that just a matter of cultural contact with other cultures and that the original shamanistic cultures were isolated, or is there a different quality to the time of this 20,000 years ago that led to a general fall amongst [???] species, you know; people in general?

14:20 McKenna

Well, it’s a very complicated question. The answer gets pretty technical, or talking about it gets pretty technical. The thing that’s so interesting about psilocybin and DMT is that they’re so closely related to ordinary brain chemistry. The brain chemistry of all higher animals runs largely on serotonin. Serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine. DMT is N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Psilocybin is 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, but the phosphoryloxy group goes off as it crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it’s 4-hydroxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine. So it’s very interesting that these powerful naturally occurring hallucinogens are in many cases only one molecule away from endogenous neurotransmitters. So in answer to your question, it’s possible to suggest that we’re as close as one mutation away from significant shifts in the chemical mix of the human brain.


And, for instance, in the pineal gland there’s an enzyme called a deneral glomerular tropine which is chemically 6-methoxy-tetrahydraharmalane. It’s very closely related to the harmine alkaloids in ayahuasca. Well, the persistent myth about ayahuasca is that it creates states of groupmindedness and telepathy. The original alkaloid was actually named telepathine until it was discovered that it was structurally similar to harmine, which had been previously described by Hochstein and Paradies. So in other words, what’s going on here is the possibility that language, telepathy, and all of these mental abilities that are unique among human beings have to do with a very, very small number of mutations in the brain-amine production pathways.


One of the things that I want to talk about here is the possibility of new forms of communication, and that the psychedelics can stimulate new forms of communication among human beings, even in the way that they created language in the first place. In other words, I see language as a model, a version, of something, which could be made a lot more efficient and better and effective. You had something? And then you. Or did you? Go ahead.


When humankind changes direction and then goes towards the altered state, the novel state, and that projection, what do you think that we will do with science and all of this stuff that we created, that is destroying us?

17:49 McKenna

Well, science—there are different ways to practice science. The Greek style… science was a spiritual undertaking. The purpose was to know. The idea being that, somehow, there was something good about knowing. I mean, I had a philosophy professor who said, “First of all, I’ll teach you how to recognize the truth. Secondly, I’ll try to teach you what’s so great about it.” And this is that kind of a situation. Philosophers of science are perfectly aware of the limitations of science. It’s the thousands and thousands of workbench scientists who think of themselves of servants of a world religion who create the problem. We need to know how matter works, and we need to know the things which science tells us. But it is no basis for extrapolating into human values.


And the culprit there is the concept of social science. This is an obscene idea and we should disabuse ourselves of it immediately. Social science, psychology, intellectual history, even linguistics, I would say, and philology—all of this stuff—these people should find honest work. They’re not scientists, and they’re mucking up—I mean, it was a grand dream of science that it would extend its methods into social phenomena. Having had such great success in the 19th century with Darwin and Wallace and biology, they thought, well, then, Herbert Spencer and all these people, why not just extend it into society? But the problem is: there are emergent properties in society that exceed the descriptive engines of science. There are emergent properties in biology. I mean, biology may also have to be left out of science. I mean, biology is classificatory and it works very well there, but in terms of mechanism and understanding it’s pretty murky. DNA was decoded in 1950. The molecular geneticists promised a golden age shortly to follow and it’s 40 years later and they still don’t understand gene expression or what all this stuff is in the DNA. It’s been very disappointing, considering what was promised. I think science is an art. Everything is an art. Because we have no sure knowledge of anything. I mean, maybe mathematics is not an art because there you work from artificially constructed premises. I’m very much very keen on science, I just don’t like its philosophical pontifications. As a method it’s been very effective. But it’s bred great pride in it, and it’s thought that it can turn itself to domains where it was completely inappropriate.



I have a lot of questions. I want to try and limit them [???] few. I haven’t tried mushrooms yet [???]. But a lot of the things that you’ve been explaining, describing, to me have become a reality over the last year. Just the usage of hashish, just ingestion of it on a very, I’d have to say, a very probably limited, because I’m comparing my experience to the psilocybin descriptions that you give, and they sound tremendous. I think the question I’m looking for is: before you, I guess, got involved with psilocybin and DMT, were you predisposed to saving the planet and being a humanistic type of person, and did the DMT and psilocybin take you to a more profound awareness of what you as a human wanted to do?

22:25 McKenna

Well, I’ve thought about all of this, because it’s weird to have the life I have. You know, it’s so strange. I mean, until I went into therapy I thought I had the most ordinary family in the world. And then, once you’re in therapy, you discover that, no, it was the most insane scene you’ve ever heard of and you just didn’t notice. But I’ve always been interested in nature, and I’ve always been interested in beauty. And I think it was the pursuit of beauty that served me best, because when I was a kid, first I started out collecting rocks, and then I collected butterflies. And then, in my emergent phallic phase I was an amateur rocketeer. And the major thrill there was setting off these explosive fuels and watching the possibility of shrapnel and all this stuff. And then, as I got into rockets, I got into science fiction. And science fiction I really consider a proto-psychedelic drug, because what science fiction does is it gives permission to imagine. It says, “Try it this way! This way! This way!” And then you get, as a kid, you get the idea that anything is possible. That’s what science fiction teaches you. And I was really obsessive about science, and I wanted to be an astronautical engineer, and Wernher von Braun was my hero and all that. And then it sort of flipped at some point and I decided that I had been terribly narrow.


And I was figuring all this out for myself. I was in some little town in Colorado. And I decided I’d been terribly narrow and that it was all in the humanities. And I began reading Henry James and all this stuff. And I was into Aldous Huxley—as an example of an English novelist—and read Antic Hay, Crome Yellow, After Many a Summer Must Die The Swan, and so forth and so on. And then came upon The Doors of Perception and just, you know… I was, like, fourteen years old and it was astonishing! And I said, “If a tenth of this is true, then this is the most amazing thing there is.” Well, if you’ve read The Doors of Perception, you know it’s actually a terribly conservative gloss. I mean, it’s all about looking at pictures and seeing the [???] in the folds of your trousers and thinking how that relates to Meister Eckhart. And all this Huxleyan type stuff. But that gave me the idea. And then I stuck with it. I stuck with it, somehow, and found marijuana, and that went on to LSD, and then my great good fortune, I think, is just a few months after I took LSD, somebody brought me DMT. And DMT is a miracle. I mean, DMT is like something that fell out of a flying saucer. I mean, it is so strong and so psychedelic. I can’t imagine being more smashed than that, or wanting to be. It’s more like a near-death experience than any near-death experience I ever heard anybody describe. They sound absolutely pedestrian compared to a DMT trip where, you know, you’re sure you’re dead. You say, “What the hell else could it be?” you know?


And then I went to Asia. I was at Berkeley when I had all these drug experiences. And then I went to Asia and tried to find it with yogas and all that and ended up smoking a lot of hashish and becoming more cynical than ever about spirituality, and just saying… hashish and LSD, that was—before I went to the Amazon, that was what I discovered that really convinced me you could get somewhere. Was, you know, take a bunch of LSD and then smoke great hash on top of that, and really crazy things do go on. And then I went to the Amazon and, you know, incredible shamanism is happening there. They don’t hold back. The method I used in India was: I would just say, you know, “What can you show me? I’ve read all these books. I know how to manipulate all this multisyllabic mumbo-jumbo, but just one thing!” And they’d say, “Uuuuh, uhmmm, eehhhh, very pushy.” But then, when you go to South America, they just say, “Okay, let’s go out in the forest. We’ll get the stuff, we’ll cook it up, and tonight we’ll show you our best trick.” And it slams you to the wall. I mean, you plead for mercy.


And it was a vindication, because the thing I want to stress—and I don’t know if it’s as important to you as it is to me—but you do not have to sell out to any form of airheadism. You can be as tight-assed as you want. You can be as hard-nosed as you want. You can be as demanding, analytical, rational as you want. And the thing is bigger than you are. It’ll just take you apart. It’ll make you weep like a baby. So there’s nothing about faith and sensitivity, and reaching, and… no, no, no. When it comes, it kicks in the front door and takes you prisoner! And that was what the flying saucer meant when it said—because you didn’t believe in anything. This is the way to get somewhere. You’ll never get anywhere if you believe in stuff, because it’ll take you six months to work through Bābājī, and then you have to go on to somebody else, and life is just not long enough to give all these guys a crack at your enlightenment. So you sort of have to goose it along.


And the great vindication is, then, that when you behave like that—when you take that stance, which you would expect would betray you into nihilism, depression, so forth—instead, no. That works. That’s the method. Then the gold: reject everything but gold. And you know what gold is. It looks like gold, it feels like gold. It’s not something that you have to… eeeehhh, you know. I mean, I’m amazed at what thin soup is dished out as spiritual food. And it’s because we are, as individuals, conflicted. I feel this in myself. It’s hard to take psychedelics. It’s not hard to sweep up around the ashram, but it’s hard to take psychedelics.


You know, I’ve read some stuff by Andrew Weil where he was talking about going in search of the ayahuascero, the curanderos, and he talks a lot about these guys that are mixing up these sloppy brew, and they’re drunks, and they’re just… you know, I don’t even know if you could go down to the Amazon and find… I don’t know what you could find. I haven’t been there. But what his accounts were is there’s a lot of slop and drunk stuff happening. That a lot of these guys are alcoholics, you know?


No, you’re absolutely right.


And that’s the main thing happening, was the alcohol and the Christianity just kind of pervaded so much of this stuff that I wonder what’s left, and how you find it anymore.

30:38 McKenna

Well, it really helps to do your homework. I really helps to go down there knowing as much as you possibly can about all this, meaning—


Apparently, so much of what we get out of it has to do with how it’s made—


That’s right.


—who makes it, how it’s mixed, and so on. And if you don’t make it yourself, and if you don’t know what’s happening, then what have you got?

30:56 McKenna

Because ayahuasca is a combinatory drug—it isn’t like peyote or mushrooms or morning glories where you get the thing and eat it, and if you eat it in sufficient amounts it works. This is something where two plants have been combined, and the proportions must be correct, and the method must be correct. So there’s a huge room for personalities to come into it for fast shuffles of all sorts and mind games of all sorts to take place.


And apparently, these guys—a lot of them are very egotistical, too. There’s a lot of [???] involved.

31:29 McKenna

It’s true. No, what you have to do if you’re into ayahuasca, or what we did was: we just, first of all, we drank a huge amount of swill. And we worked our way slowly through these people. And if somebody appeared to be an asshole, they were so classified and moved on. And eventually we got to good people. But what we did, then, was: we got samples of their stuff, brought it back, put it through mass spectrophotometers and high-pressure liquid chromatography, saw what the proportions were, collected the live plants, moved them to Hawai’i, grew the plants, reconcocted the thing, re-mass-specced what we did, and made it as much like the good stuff as possible. So it was a project of fifteen and really maniacal dedication. But I have the faith. You know, I mean, that if—given sufficient time to work on ayahuasca, you could produce a drug out of there so good that it would be ludicrous to suggest that it was illegal. I mean, because—you see, this is brain soup. These are all neurotransmitters. There’s not a non-endogenous neurotransmitter in the whole beverage. So really, what you’re—


There’s not a what?

32:53 McKenna

A non-endogenous neurotransmitter. Meaning: everything in this drug that you’re about to drink is already in your head. There’s nothing unusual. Where drugs like ketamine, mescaline, LSD—there’s none of that in your body.


So what’s it like? What’s the trip like?

33:10 McKenna

It’s like a slow-release DMT trip. It lasts four to six hours, and it’s intensely visual, and unlike psilocybin it doesn’t have this outer-space, science-fiction, mega-apocalyptarian kind of take on it, which is what psilocybin does. I mean, psilocybin shows you the machines preparing to transport the faithful away from a burning Earth. That’s not what ayahuasca is about. It’s about nature, water, flow, life, energy. It’s almost—you know, when MDMA was so hot and people called it an empathy drug and said it makes you empathetic with the people you’re with—ayahuasca makes you empathetic with the people you’re not with. And that’s a much more profound experience, because there’s so much more of them, you know?


I don’t understand how you mean that: empathetic with the people you’re not with. I don’t quite get it.

34:17 McKenna

You feel the poignancy of the human situation. You feel—well, see, I’m usually in a hut somewhere surrounded by a bunch of Indians, and suddenly I understand what the songs are about. And they’re always about the same thing: they’re about the water, and the people, and the life, and the fish, and lost love. But you have this heart-opening thing. They say the folk, this is their mystery. I’m getting it now. I’m feeling it. This huge wave of the wisdom of the folk. And they say this to you in Peru. They say, “This is our university. You went to Harvard? We went to ayahuasca.”



I’m wondering if you can comment on morning—was it jimsonleaf?—which I believe is the same thing as morning glory seeds?

35:18 McKenna

No, it’s different.


But I’m curious about jimsonweed, because it grows wild all over. It’s on the [???]. It’s toxic also.

35:27 McKenna

It’s quite toxic. It’s used shamanically in pre-contact California. The California Indians had what was called the [???] religion. And they used jimsonweed seeds to initiate people at puberty. Boys, mostly. I’m kind of Pollyannish about drugs. I mean, I’m after a certain thing which these tryptamine hallucinogens do, and I tend to not pursue these other things too far. I didn’t like datura. It’s very hard to have the degree of clarity that I think you should have on a drug. The tryptamine hallucinogens don’t interfere with your clarity at all. You know who you are, where you are, what you’re doing. I’ve seen people on datura—I had an experience with someone on datura where, in the course of conversation, it came out that the guy thought we were in his apartment. And I had actually encountered him in the marketplace. Well, that’s a serious delusion, you know? That’s a serious problem. When I took datura—all this was in Nepal years ago—I did have peculiar experiences. It is magical. It is delusory. Reality begins to come apart. These wraith-like, ghost-like creatures would come through my window. And I was waiting to get high, and then my attention would drift, and these things would come through my window, and they would let loose these sheets of newsprint that would flutter down over my—and I would fall forward reading these things that were—and as I read, amazement would grow in me, and I’d say, “This is it! This is the answer! This is it!” And then I would pull out and say, “Huh? Is it working? Is anything happening?” And that went on with several passes with that. And then it caused me to throw my leg up around my neck, and I got into this kind of thing. And I very carefully unfolded myself and laid back down. And then it happened again. And I thought to myself, “I’m really glad I’m alone, because I think this would freak anybody out.” But it was definitely strange. I mean, the guy down the hall from me—I had taken it, he had taken it, and he had the impression in the night that this woman that he was scheming on came to him, and that they made love. And in the middle of the night I got up to go to the john, and I had to cross through his room, and it was also my impression that she was in bed with him. Well, when we sorted it out the next morning, she’d been thirty miles away throughout the whole incident and had never been there.


So it’s interesting. There are a lot of altered states. Maybe that’s a good point to make. There are all kinds of strange states of mind. And many plant-induced. From sorting through them, I’ve just become sort of fixated on these tryptamine things, because they seem to me somehow the most promising and the most real. The hallucinations of jimsonweed are related—in my mind it’s some kind of association scheme—they are like séances and table-tapping and Victorian women in shredded lace dresses. That’s about as far from a DMT hallucination as you can get. DMT hallucinations are three- if not four-dimensional, brightly colored, high-tech, organo-insectoid, so forth and so on.



Talk about the [???] is so strong, and in having to change it. And I think of all the people that are opposed to drugs, and they think every drug is the same, [???] it just seems like an impossible task to be able to educate where these drugs [???] people to take them, and they see the world in a healthier way. What do you have to say about a question like that?

40:17 McKenna

Well, it’s this struggle about human nature; defining human nature. You know, is it good to take certain drugs? Is it always bad to take drugs? Can you always tell a drug from a food from a spice? What do these words really mean? All we can do is what we are doing, which is replicate the meme: hold these workshops, try to build a core of consensus about what we’re talking about. And this is itself quite elusive, you see, because what we’re talking about is a mental event. Less focused than, let us say, orgasm. But even if you’re talking about orgasm—here we use this word, but it must mean something different to everybody. Well, the problem is much worse with the psychedelic experience. Because nobody wants to be left out. So anybody who’s ever taken anything thinks they’ve had the psychedelic experience and feels fully qualified to hold an opinion on it when, in fact, it’s pretty elusive, the real thing. You have to take a heroic dose under the right conditions to really smash through. I mean, yes, there are all kinds of approaches to it: insight into childhood trauma, recovery of lost memories, opening to your emotional side, insights into the dynamics of the life and people around you—all of it. But that is not anywhere near the bullseye. That’s just dancing around the rim of it. So we have to, as a community, try and build consensus about what happens at the real center. What’s happening at the center of the mandala? What kind of a modality can we describe and create a shared map of that we can come back to the rest of the folks and talk about?


And then the other thing is—well, I’m just banking on curiosity to do a lot of the footwork for the revolution. This is too good to miss. You know, it’s like placing sex off limits or something, and then expecting people not to find out about it. Now that Marxism has collapsed, if we don’t substitute something for consumer values, then we’re just going to rape the Earth in an effort to create crap for everybody. Well, the only counterpoise to consumer values, to materialism, is spiritualism. And I don’t mean some bloodless, carol-singing kind of namby-pamby abstraction, I mean there has to be as much inner richness as there previously was outer richness. And this is why, to the alarm of some people, I’ve been fairly interested in virtual realities. Because I think if everybody wants to live in Versailles, the only way you’re going to be able to do that is if you make Versailles a disk for $3.95 that they can plug in and then go live in it. So we can’t preach to the have-nots the virtue of voluntary simplicity when we’re riding around in BMWs and collecting Monets. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.


So building a core consensus—this is still in answer to your question, “what can we do”—and then replicating the meme. And I introduce this concept in each of my workshops because I think it makes it easier for you to understand what’s happening here. A meme is the smallest unit of an idea. It’s like a gene is to proteins. Proteins are made by genes, and genes code for proteins. Okay, well, ideas are made out of memes. You link a few memes together and you have an idea. Memes, like genes, can be replicated. You replicate them by either telling the meme to many people, or telling a lot of people all at once. And then these people you’ve told, they become potential replicators of the meme. And there is a domain of culture that is like an environment of competing ideas. And the memes go off and live in this ideological environment. And some flourish, and some are consumed by others, and some are incorporated into others. And the idea is to keep the psychedelic meme alive and to make it grow and to allow its claim to be heard. It’s not in danger of dying. It’s a very persistent meme. It’s been around for about 20,000 years and it’s been highly repressed in many cultures for the last couple of thousand years. Yet, we’re trying to rebirth it. So thinking about it that way—thinking of yourself as a replicator of this thing which wishes to move through society—gives a mechanical model for understanding what is really ideological war, you know? A war about the definition of human nature: that’s what’s at stake. What shall we become? What can we become? There’s no question that we need a greater consciousness of who we are. And if psychedelic drugs are to be taken seriously at all as consciousness-expanding agents, then they have to be given their due place in the great dialogue that’s taking place about the future creating it and then realizing it—the future of the species.


I wanted to say something further about the Book of Genesis and the notion of getting to the center. There are two cherubims guarding the gate at the flaming [???], and that they represent a pair of opposites: fear and desire. And the part of the problem of getting a bite of that tree of immortal life is getting to the realm beyond a pair of opposites, beyond fear and desire. And the other related thing is the question of why this world is not one of just homogeneous perfection instead of a world of multiplicity of forms and conflicts? [???] drop of ignorance that spills into undifferentiated perfection, and from that one drop of ignorance proceeds the multiplicity of the world we experience.

47:57 McKenna

This is a gnostic idea: the drop of ink in the pure glass of water. Yeah, well, gnosticism was the idea. I mean, it had many forms, but the basic idea was that light had been scattered through the universe and that the task of salvation was to gather this light together and to somehow transmit it back to its source in some higher dimension. Which is a pretty good metaphor. One of the issues that comes up in these workshops inevitably—and I confess, I don’t have a real answer for this—is: are we a part of nature and the stewards of nature, or are we out of nature? Are we of another ontos and sculpted for a different destiny? It’s very clear that the life of the planet and our success as a conscious species, these two things have to either be split away from each other, or one is going to be the undoing of the other. And this is a real problem. This problem haunts Western thinking. It’s nothing new. Is nature God, or is nature the devil? I mean, that’s the harshest statement of this problem.


One of the ways of detecting breast cancer is with [???], where they look through a hot spot on the breast, and that’s a suspicious area. And I think, when I go up in an airplane at night and I look down on Gaia, I think of this as an organism, a giant organism, and say, “Gee, there’s a cancer down there! It’s hot! You can see it. It’s glowing.” And you go down there, and what you find is—if you look upon us as sort of the cells which have gone awry, and the way in which we’ve gone awry is the nature of our consciousness; that it’s focused in terms of time and space and causality. And then the thumb, the ability to do something about it, because I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that the dolphins could have their consciousness with a sense of time and they might have some of the same time-space causality understanding of the physical world that we do, but they lack the ability to do anything about it.


To project force into the world.


So that, given those two qualities—this quality of our lives to look upon the world in this way: time, space, and causality, and that thumb—we have become the cancer on the organism of the Earth. It’s quite a negative thought—

50:59 McKenna

Well, see—it is negative, and I’m not sure that I buy into it, and I’m not sure that I don’t buy into it, either. This is the question: is the evolution of historical society and science and all the ugly adumbrations of that—sexism, fascism, racism—is that part of the process or is it a breaking-away? Is there some good in it? Was history for something or would we have just been better off without it? And I don’t know. I think of Western civilization as the prodigal son. We went forth, we left our father’s house, which was the archaic style of existence. We left our father’s house and we wandered into matter and cut deals with demonic forces, and millennia have passed, and now the Earth is polluted and we are back at the longhouse saying to these people, “Do you have any wisdom that can save us from our fate?” Well, they do—to a degree. They have this deep insight into natural dynamics and curing and maybe more. I mean, maybe there is magic in this world. But we know some things, too. We can summon the energy of the stars, if necessary, down to the deserts of this planet, or to the cities of our enemies if necessary. And this is no small accomplishment. On any scale this is quite impressive. I mean, my god! That cytoplasm could create a strategy for triggering fusion? It’s amazing.


So I would like to think that this perigrination into matter went for something. That these are skills that we may need out in the universe when we really get our wings and take off. And that this deep involvement with matter—it was a kind of an addiction. And if we can pull out of it, a great deal has been learned. I mean, after all, if people had stayed in the rainforests then we would have been ineluctably linked to the destiny of this planet as an animal species. And what if this is the only intelligence in the universe? Then I would think we have a certain obligation to preserve it past the life of the existence of the solar system. So if we’re not willing to commit ourselves at any phase of our evolution to a technical phase that involves mastery over matter, then we have no more defense against the larger universe than raccoons and katydids if push comes to shove.


I don’t know. I mean, I’ve stressed that there’s no easy resolution on this. It haunts all thinking about conservation. I mean, I thought throughout the 80s: why aren’t the conservationists space colony enthusiasts. Why don’t the save-the-world people support the high-tech solutions that would move industry off the planet? Why are these various factions unable to make common cause behind a very large vision? And I don’t know. But I think as pressure mounts for solutions this will have to be done. I would like to live in a world where the entire Earth was a bio-reserve. I would like to live in a situation where the idea that there would be heavy industry inside the bio-reserve would be thought an abomination. All that stuff can be done on the Moon or in the asteroid belts. It’s as inappropriate as having a nuclear power plant in the middle of a rainforest to have heavy industry on the surface of the Earth.


We need to think on very large timescales and we need to figure out how to create political machinery to do that. We’ve been living a potlatch existence—just a frenzied, consumerist kind of unthinking abuse. And I think the best inoculation for that style of life is a stiff dose of psychedelics. You can’t evade it, you know? It dissolves boundaries, it allows you to feel what you’re doing. I mean, the level of denial in this society is incredible! My god, we don’t feel it! We read the newspaper but we don’t feel what it’s telling us! Because if we felt it, we would probably be an emotional wreck. But there’s something to be said for opening up to some of that. There’s a notion in therapy that if you want the client to actually make progress, you raise the alarm level. Guy comes to you for therapy, you say to him, “You think you’ve got problems? You have no idea what problems you have!” and then work from there.


So it’s very serious business. It’s trying to steer a society back toward a faith that was lost. God is like a lost continent in the human mind, and it’s the only continent where there is safe harbor in the present historical situation.

Well, why don’t we knock off, and we’ll meet at four o’clock. Thanks very much.

Part 2

The Psychedelic Option


Well, I’ll just say a little bit about myself and how I relate to this. I don’t really like to talk about it in those terms, but since this is the getting-to-know-each-other thing….

It’s very important to what I understand that everybody else understand that there’s nothing special about it or me. In other words, for what I’m trying to do to make sense, this access to this transcendental realm has to be democratically available. It can’t depend on your spiritual accomplishment or your mastery of a technique or something like that. It isn’t like that. It’s something that is as much a part of us as ordinary people as our sexuality is. And sexuality is not something that is dispensed by gurus. It’s just something you figure out and do, you know? And this is much more along those lines.


How I explain to myself what I’m doing in this position is that I was just simply incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate to be at certain places at certain times when they were handing out the good stuff. And then I sort of see you in the same way. Someone over here, Fred, said he was looking for the answer to the mystery of life. Well, the weird thing about taking that position is that you can fall into positions where you find it, where you find the answer. And I sort of feel like that’s the situation that the deep plant psychedelic community is in. It’s a sense of having found the answer. And now the task changes. It’s a completely different kind of spiritual universe that you live in after you’ve found the answer, because the task becomes facing the answer. Facing it. You now have it, it’s no more about disciplining the passions and all that. No, no. It’s now been handed over, and so what are you going to do with it? And this is, to my mind, in a way, the problem and the challenge that we face globally as a species.


You know, if the holy grail of the Western mind was the ability to release energy and form and matter, and control nature, then this is now achieved. So now the whole context of the problem changes. And the problem becomes changing our own minds: controlling the hand that controls the energy. And this is an entirely different kind of problem. It is not to be solved with the analytical knife plunged again and again into the body of nature. That whole approach is seen to be at best passé, at worst bankrupt. So instead it’s about trying to edge up close to nature and feeling, as individuals and as a society, very peculiar about this. You know, it’s like going back to your rape victim and pleading for their forgiveness. And yet, as I’ve tried to make sense of these psychedelic experiences—first in a general way, saying, “What are these molecules for? Or is that a proper question to ask? What are they doing for the plant? What are they doing for me?” As I’ve tried to come to terms with what this might all be about, I’ve come more and more back to the notion that it all lies in the plants, that our peculiar restlessness—which, in modern circumstances, has evolved into a rapacious appetite for addictive substances of all sorts—our peculiar inappropriateness in all contexts—that we are not quite simply complex mammals, we are certainly not angels, and we just seem to occupy a very uncomfortable place in the hierarchy of creation—I think this has to do with the fact that we are the traumatized inheritors of a dysfunctional relationship. A relationship that grew dysfunctional in the last 15,000–25,000 years. And what we call “history” is the fallout of a dynamic here-and-now, feeling-toned relationship with our environment and into this anticipation of the future, worry about the past—basically, ego.


And I recently spoke in New York, and New York is a very nuts-and-bolts kind of town. And people there took issue with the notion that all of our problems can be boiled down to a single problem. If you trace the thread of every screw-up back into the maze, it all comes back to a single issue, which is: excess of ego. We all have excess of ego. And our entire situation—legalistic, psychological, religious—everything is about this: that it doesn’t work, it’s maladaptive, and yet we have it. Why do we have it? If it’s maladaptive, if it doesn’t promote human values, then how in the hell did it get started and what is it that’s maintaining and sustaining it? Well, this is what I want to talk about over the course of the weekend.


When I pushed the analysis of what the psychedelic experience meant to the limits, I was surprised to discover that it left the domain of my personal relationship to the mystery—you know, what is it, what does it want from me, what is it trying to say?—all that had to also make room for another issue, which is: there’s a political issue here. I think most people in this room, most people who’ve had a psychedelic experience, will agree that the most profound, the most open-hearted, the most moving moments of their lives, some of them have been tied in with those experiences. But we seem unable or unwilling or afraid to extrapolate that conclusion to the notion that this is a general panacea for society because we cannot conceive that the solution to a spiritual dilemma could lie in matter. In other words, we ourselves have been infected by the inside-outside, matter-spirit dichotomies of the dominator culture. But the notion that man—notice the gender thrust here—the notion that man could somehow bootstrap himself to godhead without reference to nature seems to me highly peculiar, and simply nothing more than an expression of hubris, pride; a belief that we can do it our way and alone.


So all of this is very—the shelf life is short on all of these issues, because the planet is in a state of terminal crisis. Does that have anything to do with the psychedelic experience, or are these separate issues? How can they be separate issues if the psychedelic experience is a mirror of the state of the individual and collective psyche, and if the planet is on a collision course with some kind of terminal crisis? It seems to me, then, that nature is struggling to right this disequilibrated planetary ecosystem. So, in a sense, there is nothing to be done except to watch and wait. But on the other hand, we are not apart from nature, we are in some sense a portion of nature which is the most reactive and energetic, because we are reactive and energetic in the domain of epigenetic codes. We can foment rapid change. Until recently, it was a truism of thinking about society that all change had to be gradual. This myth has now been exploded. We know that, you know, you just take ’em all out and hang ’em. And that’s not gradual, and then you’ve got a new world. And this has been done in several places with excellent success recently. So change need not be gradual. And, in fact, I think we’re entering into a historical domain where very little change will be gradual. Gradual change was a luxury of the past.


Well, how to come to terms with these processes, patterns, forming and reforming in our lives, in our relationships, in our families, in our businesses, in the extended relationships we have with people? What is needed, you see, is a kind of collective breakthrough in apperception. I was thinking in the hot tub today that the most politically potent thing you can do for somebody is to educate them, to give them the facts. The facts are now so horrifying, and the means of delivering the facts so effective, that there is no excuse for everyone not beginning to act in an informed manner. And I think this is happening. For instance, a few months ago I was in Belize, which is an extremely poor country; a little chip of land in the armpit of the Yucatan that used to be British Honduras. I didn’t know there were countries this funky in the Western hemisphere. I thought you had to go… you know…. They have the fortune—good or ill—of speaking English as a national language. So when the British left they just simply pointed dishes to the sky and they get 270 channels of American television. It has completely educated the entire population of the country into an extremely sophisticated strategy for surviving in the real world of the present moment. They understand that their only resource is their nature, so they have made the entire country into a nature reserve. They understand that tourism is their only hope, and that for tourism to work they must halt the destruction of their environment.


This informing people at distant points of the value systems operating at the centers where values are being created allows people to position themselves for success. I mean, a lot is being lost. You cannot pretend that the situation we’re in is unambiguously rosy. It isn’t. It’s extremely complicated. Marxism dissolves. What does this mean? It means that now, 21 language groups and 16 tribal groups are open to exploitation, homogenization, leveling of cultural values. Everybody will be turned into a kind of white-bread-consuming citizen in a beige fascist world. And this is the alternative to Armageddon. We hail this as a great step forward. What is happening is that all restrictions are being done away with against the expression of completely rapacious drives for immediate self-gratification. Until 18 months ago, only half the world had permission to behave like assholes. Now this permission is being extended to everyone as quickly as possible as a right. Your right to join in the looting of the planet. Well, certainly Stalinism is a bad thing. But is the only ideological counterpoise to that to be high-tech, mindless, consumer fascism? I don’t think so. In fact, I know not. Because there isn’t enough metal in the planet to put a Volvo in every driveway of 3.5 billion or 4 billion people.


So the search for a serious revolution in values is on. It must come from the spiritual realm. And the spiritual realm, in practical terms, means the imagination: the frontier of our species is the imagination. Now, we would have to take that slogan and somehow turn it into a technology. How can we go to the place where ideas come from? How can we somehow separate our architectonic fantasies from the ongoing momentum of the planet? Both are valid, you see. But we have to recognize that what we are is almost an ontological transformation of life. We are to life what life is to the inorganic realm. And we need to separate ourselves from the planet. The planet—the entire planet—should be a bio-reserve. How many of these oxygen-rich, water-heavy worlds are there? Now, of course it’s pie in the sky to talk about moving all heavy industry into space or to the asteroid belt, or something like that. But on the other hand, when you extrapolate a visionless future even as much as three or four decades into the future, you see the accumulation of problems on such a scale that then there will be no pulling out of the power dive. Because once a society passes a certain point in the process of dissolution, you just don’t make a decision to change. It’s too late. You don’t have the engineering skills, you don’t have the technical community, you don’t have the resource-extraction ability. It’s all slipped through your fingers.


Well, I think psychedelics are catalysts to thought, to imagination, to understanding. And we are like somebody who has been dead drunk while the house was burning down around us. And now we have awakened to the sound of falling timbers and the smell of smoke, and we have a certain limited amount of time to figure this situation out. We don’t have 500 years or 100 years. Anybody who speaks in terms of solutions that require 100 years or even 50 years to implement doesn’t understand the dynamics of the situation. History has some kind of will for its own transcendence, and I think we are now so close to the dropping of the mask and the realization of what the game was all along that the sense of this nearby revelation informs all of our lives. I mean, it drives our dreams, our thoughts, the choices we make, why we’re here in this room this evening. It’s very big news, I think. The world is not at all as we suppose it to be.


I find that very amazing. I mean, that’s the bottom line for me. I always think of these things in reference to that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the anthropoid apes are leaping up and down and screaming and pointing at the monolith. That’s what we’re doing here in this room. I mean, the subject of this weekend is unspeakable. It can only be obliquely indicated. Whatever you say about it is not true. And yet, it is somehow the informing mystery of being—and it is not remote; that’s the big news. That the previous human model—which is that we are all poor, groveling sinners and that gnosis will trickle down to us from the wonderful folks up on top of the steep building nearby where they’re conducting mysterious business with liver-readings and stargazing—that model is insufficient and insulting, considering the situation we have been brought to by those very stargazing men wearing dresses.


So I think what we have to do now is just take the machinery into our own hands. It’s a matter of personal responsibility to find out what the world is really doing, what it is. What do you think is going on? What do you think this is all about? Who do you think you are? What do you think English is? How do you really cognize notions like the future, the past, where I’ve been, what I want? I mean, you know, in Moby Dick Melville says, “If you would strike, strike through the mask.” Everything is a mask. And just behind that mask lurks… well, what? That’s the question. I mean, it’s the thing which informs every individual existence—and that’s fine, and people have always lived in the shadow of that mystery—but it is our weird privilege to live in an age where there is also to be a collective dropping of the mask, a moment of melting and recasting of what reality itself is to be. So discussing this, convincing ourselves of it, and then working out the minute details of how it all is inevitable and couldn’t be any other way is how we will occupy ourselves this weekend.


I’m really conflicted—always in these situations—because I feel, for some reason (I suppose it’s an ego trip), that I want to be correctly perceived. I, as a person, want to be correctly perceived. And I think of myself as a reasonable person, a person sensitive to concepts like evidence, causality, so forth and so on. And yet, what I have to say is completely unreasonable: a messenger bearing news of complete madness approaching from all directions. And I got into that position by staying pretty close to the principle of skepticism. I’m not a believer. In fact, when the aliens draped the mantle over my shoulders they said, “It’s because you don’t believe in anything. That’s why you got this far. Because you didn’t believe in anything.” And it’s a good method. Normally, it’s a method spawned out of futility. You say, “Well, fuck it! I don’t believe in anything.” But it’s also very good for getting rid of a lot of crap. Because the real stuff can take the test of skepticism. The real stuff doesn’t have to be bowed down before. It works. It’s on its own.


The news is—and it’s very hard news to get out because it’s news about the structure of reality—the news is—coming back from 50, 60, 100 years of anthropologists, ethnographers, geographers, botanists dealing with the most “primitive” people in the most remote parts of the world—the news is that reality is not at all as we imagined it to be, and that our prowess in the technical sciences is simply a cultural artifact, an accomplishment of ours. Some people do great tattoos, we send spacecraft to the stars. But it doesn’t mean we understand any more. And in fact the evidence is building that our style of society is the historical equivalent of a temper tantrum. You know? That it has no viability, it’s completely self-limiting, it’s destructive, and it hands nothing on to its receivers.


So I sort of talk to this group, and all the groups that I talk to, from two points of view. I’m trying to convince you of something, and yet, reason dictates that I assume that you’re already convinced, pretty much. So then it’s also an effort to figure out what it is we’re so convinced of. And then, what is so great about it? Because I think this is a real mystery; the only one I know. This is the thing that you hope exists and assume doesn’t—if you’re a reasonable person. Because it’s that all the dreams of childhood, all the sense of magic, and the dissolvability and transcendability of boundaries, is returned, is affirmed in this experience. Well, yet, here we are, having this on the brink of a planetary meltdown of culture and ecosystem. So is this just some kind of dancing on the brink? Is it a kind of ultimate self-indulgence? Does it feed back into the central moral problem of the age, which is: what is to be done? What are we to do? How can we be effective—whatever that means. Is there a discernible role for each of us to play in the metamorphosis and near-death of the planet that we are now experiencing? Or are we simply to witness it?


Well, I don’t think there’s any point in thinking about these kinds of questions unless you draw back to the big picture, to first premises. You know, a good example of what I mean is: suppose we save the rainforests and stabilize the population and so forth and so on, and then, fifty years down the line, the sun explodes? It means we didn’t get it. We were not reading correctly the message nature was trying to hand to us. And so we did the wrong thing and are going to be blown out of the water for such churlishness. So what’s important is to figure out what is going on before you start pushing in the process.


And I don’t think you can do it from within a culture. In other words, if you’re a person of decent intent and moderate intelligence, and you read the great minds of your culture and study their thought, it’s insufficient because everybody is bound within an illusion of language. The entire enterprise of culture is this illusion of language. Homer was as sick with it as Heidegger. So there’s no going back, no Classic recension. What we have to do is reach past to some kind of experience: it must be anchored in an experience. But there is this thing about being human which we as a culture have ignored, repressed, don’t want to talk about, face, or think about, which is: you can get loaded. And nobody knows quite what to make of this. We dance around it with the same kind of furious, ambiguous intensity that we also reserve for sex, which is also a boundary-dissolving, momentary loss of self into some kind of greater whole. And it also just drives us into a frenzy. I mean, we establish boundaries, we have hierarchies, we push it this way and that. It just drives us up the wall. You know, whoever she was who designed this system had the good sense to connect this whole sexual impulse very tightly into the generative process so that there’s no way you can get sex out of the human experience. I mean, people have tried in all times and places in many strange ways. 150 years ago they were putting pants on pianos because it was thought that young men should not see pianos unclothed because it might excite them to impure thoughts. And this is real! In England; in our culture—not New Guinea or the Moon—but in England pianos wore pants.


But the psychedelic option is sort of like an appendix, you know? You can have it, but you don’t need it. Apparently. Apparently—that’s the key thing. In other words, whether or not you have the psychedelic experience does not stand between you and the ability to pass on your genes into time, it does not stand between you and continued existence like the autonomic reflex of breathing. It’s a kind of potential loop in development which we can, as culturally coordinated creatures, choose to follow or choose not to follow. But this development is very recent. Until—pick a number—10,000 years ago, the onset of puberty (which was a wave of hormonal release, basically) was the signal to the social mechanisms of the people to begin the administration of psychedelic plants, to carry people into adulthood, to carry them into a feeling-toned relationship with the mythological material that they had learned as children, but that they now would be expected to exemplify as realized adults within the Th’ung or Cheu culture, or whatever it is that they are.


We, in our anxiety about all this—and I’ll talk about why I’m sure it will come out; but for the present just to say—we have interfered with this. And we have enforced upon ourselves a kind of infantilism. Now, this is a phenomenon that’s well known. It’s called neoteny. Neoteny is the preservation of [juvenile] characteristics into adulthood. Into adulthood. Or infantile characteristics. Or even fetal characteristics. So, for instance, all primate fetuses are hairless, but only the human being retains this fetal characteristic throughout life. The very large head of the human infant, the percentage relationship to body mass, remains very much in the fetal end of the statistics throughout life for human beings. We have large heads. The very prolonged period in which cultural skills are acquired—up to sixteen years. Well, this tendency towards biological neoteny, which was reinforced by mutagenic influences in the diet, is carried over into culture as a cultural characteristic. Have you noticed that every generation views the generation it spawns as more childish than itself? And we look back to our rugged grandparents who slogged across the plains, and I suppose they looked back to people in chain mail who were only four feet high, who could go without eating for six months or something. And it just gets—we have become more and more soft, more and more infantile. And the final phase of this was just the decision that we never needed to grow up at all. We never needed to find out about the nature of our relationship to being at all, and so the psychedelics were suppressed.


And what you have in the pre-adolescent child is an extreme expression of ego. This is the eleven-year-old child, let’s take as an example, is the supreme egoist. And in a sense we got hung up at that place because—we didn’t get hung up in it, we fell into it. We were in balance, but the suppression of psychedelics created the precondition that allowed the generation of ego. And it’s very complicated. A lot of factors are at work, you see. The mushroom style, the shamanic style of the nomadic hunter-gatherer is a style of goddess-worship, and psychedelic shamanism, and orgiastic religion. And the shamanism and the religion overlap each other considerably. The style that replaced that was a style of domination, hierarchy with alpha males, with powerful males controlling females at the center of these hierarchies. And to my mind the concern that caused the shift was the accumulation in the psyche of these hominids of enough ego that there became concern for the line of male paternity. In other words, men wanted to know who their children were, and that made the orgiastic style of religion in conflict, because that was all about—note that children were the children of the group, and sex was a shared activity. Even though there might be bonding. But once men got it into their heads that they wanted to know who their offspring were, then females had to be controlled very rigidly, and there had to be control of sexual… and the whole thing just turned into a nightmare: my women, my property, my children, my food, my territory, so on and so forth.


Well, you see, what had been going on before was a true incipient symbiosis. And this is, I think, the new idea that I want to communicate and that I’m absolutely, one, serious about, and two, literal about. That our glory and our uniqueness and why we are as we are is because we are a plant-animal symbiotic species. Our ordinary state—our state of nature, the way in which we existed until 10,000 years ago—was in a very tightly bound symbiotic relationship with plants. We domesticated them and we spread them. And we created environments for them through the use of burning. And in return for this, this mysterious connection opened up where real information couched in humanly cognizable terms—information about where the reindeer went, who you should marry, what the weather’s going to do, stuff like that—real information began to be traded back and forth.


Now, biologists are familiar with the notion of pheromones: message-bearing chemicals that regulate behavior within a species. But we’re just getting ready to go to the next level and recognize the possibility of what have been called exopheromones: pheromones that regulate behavior between species. And it’s very clear that, in climaxed ecosystems of great age such as the equatorial tropics of this planet, exopheromonal interactions become the major mediating force in all the evolutionary exchanges going on. The old notion of competition and survival of the fittest is now seen to be bankrupt. The way nature works is: it’s the species that can make itself most necessary to other species, the one that can cut energy deals with the most of its neighbors, that is the successful one. So you maximize cooperation, you maximize dependency, you maximize integration. This is the successful evolutionary strategy. I mean, of course you can be a jaguar and crash around in the forest and eat things immediately smaller than you, but jaguars will be a memory in the fossil record of this planet when the plants will still exist, given that man were not part of the picture. So the dynamic of life dictates that these energy levels be held very close.


Is that outside of the natural [???]

1:37:31 McKenna

Well, no. I think nothing is outside of the natural. But all of this can be explained in terms of climatological flux on the African continent. Very briefly, the primates evolved in Africa. Out of the primates came the hominids, which were these gracile, upright, opposable thumb, binocular vision. And there were a number of these. And they existed over the past six million years. But Africa and the planet—because of repeated glaciation—is subject to cycles of drying. And every time the ice moved south, primate populations were bottled up in Africa. And we know there have been four glaciations. Immediately, the last one, the ice melted 20,000 years ago. And out of Africa that last time came pastoralists: people who had domesticated cattle and had a style of following cattle around rather than being just strictly hunter-gatherers.


Well, I maintain what happened was: these arboreal, tree-canopy-living apes came under pressure as the continent dried up to expand their diet, because the forests were disappearing and being replaced by grassland. Well, most animal species eat only one or two kinds of food. This is a general rule in nature. And it’s in order to hold down exposure to mutagenic influence. But when an animal population is in a situation of food scarcity the logical thing to do is to begin to test food sources and to expand your repertoire of food. Well, that’s what these primates coming out of the trees did. Number one, they began eating meat, which gave them a real interest that they had never had in these ungulate mammals that were evolving in the grasslands. And they began to test all kinds of other foods in the environment. Well, when you do that you are exposing your population to mutation, and mutation rates soar.


And it was during this period that the human brain size doubled in a million and a half years. Someone said it was the most rapid evolutionary expansion of a major organ ever seen in the fossil record. Nothing like it ever happened. Why? What was making this happen? Well, it looks like probably huge numbers of mutations were taking place in this population because people were literally eating anything they could get their hands on. And in this environment of the grasslands the mushrooms were growing on the dung of these ungulate animals. Well, now a weird thing about psilocybin is that, in very low doses—doses so low that you don’t feel anything—your vision improves. They’ve done tests with this. And there is an improvement in visual acuity on psilocybin at low doses. Well, you can imagine the evolutionary impact of something like this on a hunting-gathering population where visual acuity is all that stands between you and grim starvation. It means a population of animals, a population of these evolving hominids, that accept the mushroom into their diet have just been given a tremendous leg up on nearby competing troops that don’t have it. It’s like chemical binoculars.


So immediately, then, there is an evolutionary reason for mushrooms to be eaten and for mushrooms to be accepted into the diet as an item, and so forth and so on. Well, so then you take slightly more mushrooms, and like all alkaloids it’s a CNS arousal. It means you feel alert, you feel interested, you want to boogie, and also, if you’re male, you can sustain an erection. So arousal means arousal. So then, this stuff is an enzyme promoting sexual activity at that level. Well, sexual activity—you know, the number of copulations that occur within a population is directly related to the number of successful impregnations. So suddenly you have these horny primates with more interest in sexual contact and partners and all this. This means that these psilocybin-using creatures that are now more successful at hunting and more interested in sex have all kinds of pressures on them that will force them to outbreed the dull, uninteresting folks who don’t use mushrooms at this point.


Well, so then yet higher doses it changes, and it’s no longer about sexual activity or clarity of vision, it becomes about the psychedelic trip—this tremendum which is as awesome to you and me as it was to these so-called primitive folks 20,000 years ago. We don’t know what to make of it, they didn’t know what to make of it, they founded a religion about it, we’re trying to start the engine of the same religion all over again. And the way in which this religious ecstasis manifests itself is in language activity; in cognition, but in glossolalia: in spontaneous outbursts of syntactically organized vocal activity. Well, the great mystery of human emergence, of course, is language. What is it? Where did it come from? How did it ever get going on such a scale? So forth and so on. But it looks to me like what we’re seeing in psilocybin is a kind of neurological enzyme, a catalyst in the environment that could take an evolving primate population and put it through a series of forced changes that produce, ultimately, a self-reflected, minded creature practicing a shamanic mother-goddess religion in this nomadic context.


And that was paradise. And that was the ideal for the archaic revival. In other words, that Eden actually existed, that we are made for better things than what we’ve got. You know, it says in Finnegans Wake “Here in Moy Cane”—Moy Cane was the red light district of Dublin—“Here in Moy Cane we flop on the seamy side, but up n’ent, prospector, you sprout all your worth and woof your wings.” That’s a promise for the future: “up n’ent you sprout all your worth and woof your wings.” But also, [???] we sprouted our worth and woofed our wings. And this whole nostalgia for a perfected shamanism in prehistory is reasonable, I think. I mean, I think we had something, an unimaginably precious gift. We had consciousness and dynamic order. Consciousness as we experience it now within the confines of history is most analogous to cancer. I mean, it’s replicating, spreading. But it once was a dynamic, ordered thing. People lived, they died, they made love, they had children, they herded their flocks, they had ecstatic flights into dimensions which we cannot even conceive of, and they felt no need to break into the Earth, to divert the rivers, to do all of this stuff. And even if we’re not aesthetically attracted to that, we have to make a value judgment on it because it was not a runaway process, it did not push everything toward crisis.


Okay, well then, what happened? What the hell happened if that’s how it was? Well, nature is just an ongoing story. The very drying processes that created those grasslands, that created those pressures on diet, that created that mother goddess religion, that evolved those ungulate animals, that process continued. And the grasslands dried up, and the winds began to blow, and the water holes got further and further apart from each other, and the mushroom festivals went from every Saturday night to the first Saturday of every month, and then to four times a year, and then to once a year, and then to once every five years, and then to never. And in the absence of the psychedelic experience this ego thing gets going. I mean, it is literally like a calcareous growth in the bloodstream of the psyche. If you don’t inoculate yourself against it it will begin to take root and grow. And the boundaries of the world begin to move inward and you no longer see things on a planetary scale or a millennial scale. It’s just about my women, my money, my land, my children—all of this stuff. And at that point you get the appearance of historical civilizations.


You have kingship—kingship, you know? The age of Gilgamesh. My god, when you read the story of Gilgamesh you just wonder what’s going on. Gilgamesh spurned the goddess. And the goddess sent a bull—which, to me, is symbolic of the mystery of the mushroom: the ungulate, herding, horned animal, the crypto-symbol. The goddess sends a bull and he rejects the bull. He rejects the goddess, he rejects the bull. Then he takes Enkidu, the shaman figure, and forces him to go with him into the wilderness. And what do they do in the wilderness? This oldest of all myths, this story of the first man, what do they do? They cut down the tree of life. That’s what they do. They cut down the tree of life and then it goes forward. The earliest stratum of mythology that comes out of these Middle Eastern civilizations is full of this male/female, nature/artificial tension. The story of Genesis is a similar thing. I mean, what’s happening in Genesis is history’s first drug bust. A woman is involved with a plant, and the plant opens their eyes. And they see that they are naked—which happens to be the case; they are naked. So in other words, they see, they grok, their true existential condition. And Yahweh, wandering around mumbling to himself in the Garden, says, “This thing that these people have done! What if they eat of the fruit of the tree of life? Then they will be as we are!” So it’s very clear that there is concern to withhold knowledge. That human beings are to be held in an inferior position. Otherwise, if they were to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they would be as we are. So there’s this whole tension. And in the story in Genesis you’ll recall Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, and an angel is set at the east of Eden with a burning sword. Well, what I take this to be about is: it’s a story from a strata where already the shift to the dominator culture has taken place, but they’re looking backward at the partnership society on the grasslands of Africa. And the angel with the burning sword is nothing more than the sun. That they literally were cast out of Eden: Eden disappeared around them, it dried up and blew away, and there was nowhere to go but the Nile valley and Palestine. And these people who appear in the Nile valley and Palestine at about 9,800 B.C., called Natufian, come out of nowhere with a very high culture and a tremendous ability to exploit plant resources. And I think they are the remnants of this partnership culture.


And, you see, the way in which all this ties into the present—and tends to be more than just a kind of cultural reconstruction of prehistory—is: we’re trying to understand who we are; why we are the way we are. Well, the major thing that—now that we have transcended ideology and nobody gives a hoot whether you’re a Marxist or any of that anymore, because we’ve all seen through that—that the new issue is human nature. And it evolves around this drug thing, you know? Is it the true and purest expression of human nature that you should drink nothing but cold water and eat nothing but raw vegetables, and any departure from this is an abomination? And then, when you get to drugs, this is really an abomination. What should be our relationship to substances, and why are we the addictive creatures that we are? I mean, I know that elephants intoxicate on papayas, and bumblebees get loaded on sugar water, and this and that. But human beings addict to dozens of substances, to behaviors—all kinds of things. A guy goes out in the morning to pick up his paper off his porch and it’s not there, and he has a heart attack, you know? He has to sit down: “My god! What am I going to…?” He has to have instant relief from the traumatic crisis of the non-presence of the morning information fix. And the phenomenon of falling in love, which doesn’t really happen with other animals. I mean, other animals bond, but they don’t go bananas in the way that we do on this issue. We’re chemically highly cued in a way that a lot of animals around us aren’t.


So then history—because of this; because of this addictive drive within us that we have because of this disrupted symbiotic relationship in prehistory. See, we’re looking for the score, but we can’t quite find it. Imperialism doesn’t do it. Heroin doesn’t do it. Sadomasochism doesn’t do it. Nothing quite does it, but we keep trying stuff. Cocaine, money, fascism, mercantilism, ideology. All of this stuff. We are very, very restless. And the path of our restless, frantic peregrinations across the intellectual landscape is what we call “history,” you know? It’s our effort to try and get straight, get back to something which we feel we deserve and that we lost. And we don’t know quite what it was.


Well, meanwhile, in the rainforests, in the arctic tundra, these little brown people have been keeping the gnosis going. Never questioning, never doubting, millennia after millennia, going into these hyperdimensional mindspaces and operating there. While this has been going on we have been elaborating positivism, scientific philosophy, building atom smashers, so forth and so on. We have created, then, out of our infantile cultural style—what Erich Fromm would call a fecal cultural style, because we just excrete stuff; all kinds of stuff—they have held this mystery. But to my mind the mistake that has been made is that it’s been thought that they understood it; that we now go to the shamans and they will explain to us what the inner skin is on all this. That isn’t it. There’s no explaining this. Once you’ve been there you know the futility of a notion like understanding the psychedelic experience. It’s like understanding the ocean or understanding a planetary ecology. We think that things are to be understood, but some things are simply to be—what’s the word?—appreciated, imbibed, to be in the darśan of them.


Well, let’s talk a little bit more as we were this morning. I talked more than I intended to this morning. What is anybody’s take on this, or did anybody not get their licks in this morning? Yeah?


You mentioned the odd, the strange, and the weird. Other than hallucinogens, how can we fool this brain [???] the ego?

1:56:25 McKenna

It’s pretty difficult. I think that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in.


I’m talking about things we could do every day, not once a month.

1:56:39 McKenna

Well, there’s no substitute for awareness in any situation. I mean, part of the work, I think, is the spectacular episodes of intoxication that break down the boundaries of our personality and reorient us and recast it. But then the other thing is just living that out from day to day. And there’s no substitute for hard work. People say, “How can psychedelics be real? You’re saying it’s some kind of shortcut to spiritual wisdom.” Well, it may be a shortcut, but nobody said it’s easy. It isn’t easy. No. It just is that it’s ultimately effective.


I don’t know. I find myself preaching a doctrine that is hardly welcome in the touchy-feely circles that I’m usually teaching in, which is: stifle it. There’s a doctrine to take home from the new age. Stifle it! The ego is much too large. I mean, we need an ego, yes—that’s so that, if you take somebody to dinner, you know whose mouth to put food in. That’s having an ego. But above and beyond that it becomes sort of superfluous. It’s a bad habit. It’s an infantile response that has been culturally supported to the point where it’s become institutionalized.


Do you believe the person needs a strong enough ego before they can transcend or transform it? The reason I’m saying that is because I’ve seen a lot of teenagers in the city, and they experiment a lot with drugs. And especially with psychedelics. And sometimes I wonder if they’re really getting anything out of that early experimentation. I didn’t get into psychedelics until my late twenties, so I….

1:58:47 McKenna

Well, see, it’s a real complicated question. Civilizations evolve folk ways to deal with the drugs that they’re interested in. And this takes hundreds, thousands of years. Part of the question I hear you asking is: you say that these drugs dissolve the ego, but aren’t some of the people in a weakened ego condition when they come upon them? And I think probably you’re right. It’s not clear that the onset of puberty, when there’s a good deal of psychosexual and endocrine confusion going on anyway, is the precise right moment that you ought to drop these psychedelics on somebody—although this is done in many traditional societies. But the problem is that in societies where there is shamanism, there’s an understood way to do it. There’s an understood way to initiate somebody. Kids growing up on the streets taking drugs of all sorts in doses of all sorts—it’s very hard to sort it out, you know? People don’t have intent, they don’t have focus, they don’t have information. They’re just… everything is so fragmented in modern life. Part of what all this yammering about shamanism might eventually lead to is a reformation of psychotherapy along the lines of a shamanic style, so that then people could have these voyages, could have the insight into their problems that you get from psychedelics.


Also, in those cultures and societies where they do use the psychotropic drug at puberty, I think those societies support the individual, the child growing up, in very positive ways and feed their ego in a very constructive, positive way, so that they are not filled with a lot of self-consciousness and self-hatred and lack of self-worth and so forth, like the critical nature, I think, and the lack of nurturing and attention that a lot of the adolescents grow up in our society with that, then, get weak egos from adolescence on into adulthood. And I think that the developmental quality of life and being in the culture has a lot to do with one’s ability to utilize the drug, the plants, effectively.

2:01:38 McKenna

Cooperation is just an automatic response among many of these rainforest hunting-gathering people. When you finish a job, it isn’t your job. When you finish a job, you go on and you do another job until all the jobs are done. And this is clearly a learned response, because these are human beings just like us. But under the extreme pressure of being twenty people trying to hold it together in the rainforest through gathering, they have accepted that the tribal unit is the lowest common denominator, and that everything has to operate in the light of that.

Back here.


I felt that part of what was being discussed here was the difference between discursive and one point of meditation. And discursive meditation is like meditating on the stations of the cross if you’re Catholic, or [???] if you’re a Hindu. It sort of serves years of doing that as an establishing ladder that can take you to the transcendent. And that one part of meditation—and even more profound than the use of psychedelics—can suddenly put you into a transcendent state. And whether you’ll have the capacity to get back is the question. And so that there might be a role for a period of discursive meditation or an education along that way before something that instantly propelled you into an experience of the transcendent.

2:03:22 McKenna

Yes, although this difficulty getting back is an interesting thing to talk about because I certainly know what you mean. I think everybody who takes psychedelics a lot eventually has a trip that stands their hair on end. And the reasonable fear, I’ve always felt about psychedelics, was not that it would kill you—that’s not reasonable. But the somewhat murkier question—could it drive you mad?—is a little harder to just… of course not! Because, hell, why not? I mean, it’s definitely rubbing up against those areas.


But I have real faith that it’s like flipping a coin and getting it to land on its edge. The psychedelic experience represents such a state of disequilibrium that in all almost all cases the entire system is striving to return to normal and will do so very quickly. My life is built around one spectacular exception, where my brother took a bunch of things and had a theory and proceeded to sail off for the better part of three weeks. And this sort of brings up another issue. We sit here relatively down and calm, and we can talk about the LD50 of psilocybin—that’s how much you would have to give to a hundred mice for fifty of them to die. This is what pharmacologists are all about. But when you’re actually stoned in these places you realize, or you have the apparent realization, that of course the mind is in control. And talking about safety—you’re only as safe as you think you are, literally. And if for a moment you decide you’re not safe, the state is very fragile. It’s skittery. Get it going too fast in one direction and it will be very hard to run around and get in front of it and get it halted and moving off in some other direction.


Is that what you meant by self-toxicity?


Did I use that phrase this morning?


Well, no. In a past tape you did mention about self-toxicity and possible negative effects.

2:06:01 McKenna

Well, yeah. I think this is what people fear: that they are self-toxic. And we have all been disempowered—to some degree we are self-toxic. That’s a real tragedy. It means we have been made our own enemies. And then, whether we are or not, we all fear self-toxicity. This is why, in the sixties when LSD first began to appear, people had such violent reactions to it. You know, Tim Leary said LSD is a psychedelic drug which causes psychotic behavior in people who haven’t taken it! This is absolutely true. Well, why would a drug that you don’t take cause you to become psychotic? It’s because the mere fact of its existence is so threatening to you because you know that you’re self-toxic. That’s what I always felt in the sixties: these people all know they’re crazy, and they don’t want to get near anything which would perturb their psychic dynamics. They know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re certifiably insane. And they don’t want to hear about it, so they’re not going to be delving into something which shines a Klieg light on the mechanics of the psyche. It’s the last thing that they are interested in.


If the definition of ego is the reality testing mode of the psyche, the psyche’s ability to perceive reality, then it almost seems that the psychedelic experience augments the ego to a new level rather than it extinguishes the ego. But it gives a truer picture of reality.

2:07:50 McKenna

Well, you know, Freud had this concept that he called the superego. And this term has somewhat fallen out of use because we all tend to be a little more Jungian than that. And we talk about the collective unconscious. But in a way, though I’m more sympathetic to Jung, I like the phrase “superego,” because the phrase “collective unconscious” is a kind of blah concept. It’s like a databank, a repository, whereas “superego” seems to imply organization, intelligence, focus, awareness. And what seems to emerge from these psychedelic experiences is that, where we expected disorder or the absence of organization, we find order and we find mindedness. The superego seems to be everywhere. So in a way it is like that. It is that you’re becoming more informed, but it diminishes your personal importance; the physical atom of your body.


You know, I mean, we believe—and it may be true, but the question is: how important is it?—that we are each unique, and that somehow in this uniqueness is our worth, and that if something were to happen to you we can’t replace you with me, and you can’t stand in for me. But back off to where you’re looking at a scale of a thousand years of this stuff and you see that each one of us actually is expendable. And that the general processes in which we are embedded are so large that it probably doesn’t matter who you are. And I could’ve been you and you could’ve been me. Well then, once you’ve got that nailed down, being becomes a whole different project. Being is something out there that you do. You garden well, you bear and raise children, you feed people, you build objects. It becomes something outside of yourself rather than something interiorized. And I think thousands and thousands of generations of people were born and lived and went into the ground with this kind of a psychology.


And we are all imprisoned by our cultural expectations to such a degree that the real problem is to make ourselves realize how blind we are, how much what we’ve been taught—the words we use, the expectations we have—hem us in. And the psychedelics show that cultural relativism—not as an exercise, not as something that you’re convinced of by rational argument, but that you just see it immediately. See, I think we are very malleable creatures and have held many positions in the last 10,000 years vis-à-vis these structures which we call the ego, the superego, the self, the unconscious. It’s more fluid than we imagine.


Language may have emerged only 40,000 years ago. Imagine that! Language is the software without which we wouldn’t be people, you know? I mean, language allows us to explore realms of subtlety and inclusive understanding that so exceed the animal grasp that they can barely be compared. I think probably in the beginning that language was something that women held almost as a magical power. The reason for this is that there was greater selective pressure on women, the non-men, to develop language because the physically larger male, when there began to be role specialization, the physically larger male was made a hunter. And hunting places a premium on such values as stoicism, patience, and an ability to keep your mouth shut. The women were involved in gathering. And because the children were physically with the women, this area in which the gathering went on was more tightly related to the living space. Well, if you know anything about the science of botany you know that it is the science of the coordination of detail. Everything is about the detail. Here you have fifty species of grasses. To Joe Blow they all look exactly the same. To a specialist in the [???], here is a whole rich universe of taxonomic diversity to be combed over and milked for years as you advance through the academic machinery.


So women had to learn all these differentiations. Women had to be able to make statements like: “It’s the small bush at the bottom of the draw with the wrinkled leaves and the sticky white berries with the silver hairs on them.” See? It’s all color, shape, form, and relationship words. Well, this kind of language is the kind of language that gave us a leg up on animal organization. After a passage of time I think this linguistic thing generally established itself. But it was originally a thing that women were into. Even to this day, when you go into villages in third-world parts of the planet, there’s this phrase in all travel books which is the “chattering of the village women.” And it’s true, they really do chatter. And it’s because they are more collective creatures. The male is this proud, lonely hunting figure and the females represent the village values. And they held the knowledge of the plants. They discovered all this stuff. You even get that in the Eden story: it’s a woman who’s blamed. Somehow these women have a deeper insight and the poor guy is just led to slaughter because he’s trying to get some chow.


Perhaps an appropriate image would be one of climbing a temple. [???] which is probably the most impressive temple that I’ve ever visited. But there, as you walk up to the temple, if you pay attention, you hear [???] experience of Buddhism and different symbologies, but also just basically your vision of the surrounding jungle expands and your sense of self diminishes.


Because you see the larger world.


Yeah. You see the larger world from up on top.

2:15:38 McKenna

Yeah. From the center of the mandala. The same psychology is operating on the Mayan buildings. I mean, the Mayan buildings are barely buildings at all, they’re more like pedestals. This thing is 230 feet high, but when you climb to the top of it there’s room for twelve guys to stand shoulder to shoulder. And that’s the building. And it’s clearly entirely to elevate them above the social space. It was literally a machine for lifting the priesthood into another dimension. And the dimension into which it lifted them was an aerial dimension. They could see, then, the whole world. They could see the sacbes stretching out to the next pyramid. They could see the next pyramid five or ten miles away on the horizon and could see the life of the city and all this.


You know, there’s a funny thing: it’s almost as though biology (and then its ancillary tack-on phenomenon, culture) is a kind of conquest of dimensions that has been going on for a very long time. And this aids me, anyway, in understanding the transformation that I think lies ahead for this planet. The earliest forms of life had only a tactile sense. That means all they knew was what they were bumping up against. And they would move around, and what was edible was eaten and what wasn’t, wasn’t. And a long time passed. 100 million, 200 million years. And certain specialized cells aggregated. And these cells were light-sensitive cells: they could send an on/off signal based on whether or not photons were falling on them. So eye spots developed. And eye spots are just these sensors which tell you if it’s light or dark. And suddenly these creatures could move off after a light source or could retreat from danger into a dark spot. Well then, eventually, these eye spots evolved into the kinds of very finely coordinated optical systems that we have, and octopi have, and so forth. At the same time, motility was developing: the ability to move through space. Well, have you ever noticed that, when you look at something, at a place a few feet from where you’re sitting, and then go there—physically move there—what you have really done is you have coordinated a short trip into the future, because you have looked at a spot and you have said (this is how the brain computer works), “I am not in that place. I want to be in that place. I am in this place now. To get from this place now to that place then, I have to move through the following points.” And when animals began to move, another dimension was added to their repertoire of control. And when they began to coordinate vision another dimension was added to their repertoire of control.


Well, we made, then, a great and fundamental break in our neurological organization. All animal life, as far as we can tell, is imprisoned between very steep temporal canyons having to do with the present moment. Animals are in the present moment in a way that would be very frightening to us, I think. If you could suddenly enter the mind of an animal, the immediate thing that you would notice that would really unnerve you was the absence of a past and a future. That just, you know—talk about be there now. An animal has that down pat. Well, when we—through language; that was the great… language is a strategy for binding time. Language is a strategy for taking the animal mind locked in the present moment and pushing it back (conceivably to the creation of the universe as we do) and forward (conceivably to the end of the universe). So culture is a strategy for intensifying the dimensionality of an animal species.


And when you then get into what’s called epigenetic coding—not simply being able to recall the past neurologically and project the future neurologically, but to actually write down the past and calculate the future—well then, what is happening is: mind is spreading out through the dimensions available to it. And this whole cultural intensification that we call the 20th century, the spinning-down and interconnecting of technologies and animal ecosystems and philosophical systems—all this knitting together is a going hyperdimensional of our species. That, yet, more of the future and more of the past is apparently to be realized. And if you know anything about virtual reality thinking—there, time is to be homogenized completely. I mean, you will not be able to tell whether it’s next week or last week because there they will be approximately equally accessible.


And somehow the psychedelic experience is related to this bootstrapping process of climbing organizationally from one dimension to another, deeper and deeper into complexity. It’s almost as though the psychedelic experience is a viewing of the process from the highest dimension in the plane. One way of putting this that isn’t so mathematical is to say: what you experience in the psychedelic experience is eternity. All of time. You leave the slowly revolving torus of time, just as one would leave the galaxy in a spaceship, and you go outside and then you look back. And you see all of time: you see the beginning of life, the end of life, the fiery death of this planet, millennia hence, whatever it is. And I think that this is a true vision, that this is what shamans have achieved, This is what we with all our sophistication are confounded by. A shaman is someone who has seen the end. A shaman is somebody who has seen it all. They’ve run the movie, and run the movie, and run the movie, and they’ve satisfied themselves that they understand the movie. Then they go back to their place in the movie and they live it—with a small smile, because they know the end. They know how things work. They know what life is. And when you have even a piece of that action you can get a real handle on peace of mind, on true authenticity, because it’s in the tumbling, forward-rushing chaos of the lower-dimensional slices of time that we lose it, that we become confused. Who am I? What do I want? Where am I? Who should I be with? What should I give myself to? This is a voice speaking from chaos.


I remember once, at a period of turmoil in my life, I took mushrooms to try and resolve my personal difficulties. And I said, “I’ll think of a question.” You know, they say you should think of a question? So I said, “I’ll think of a question.” The question was: am I doing the right thing? And it’s in the point in the trip I posed this question to it, and the answer was: what kind of a chickenshit question is that to ask an extraterrestrial entelechy? Well, so then I got it, you know—that that was a chickenshit question, and that I had been completely misunderstanding the nature of the relationship. This wasn’t some kind of little glass ball that gives “yes” or “no” when you turn it upside down, this is… I don’t know, words fail. But nobody to expect psychotherapy for free from, anyway.

Part 3

A Psychedelic Point of View


The problem with determinism is: it says everything can’t happen any way except the way that it’s happening. Now, the problem with that is that it makes the concept of thinking irrelevant because you’re thinking what you’re thinking because you couldn’t think anything else. Therefore, the notion of truth or judgment or all of that is completely shot down. So a totally determined universe is the most ultimately uninteresting that there can be. Nevertheless, the universe clearly is, to some degree, highly determined. I mean, we know to within nanoseconds the time of the sunrise tomorrow. Unless there’s a serious instability it will be on time. So there is a degree of predictability.


My rap is sort of divided into two parts, and I’m very shy about the second half. The first half is easy for me. It’s that psychedelics are wonderful, you should take them, this is the way to save the world, so forth and so on. The second part of the rap is: here’s what I’ve learned from psychedelics, and then not some general kind of feel-good thing, but something that requires a blackboard and tensor equations of the third degree, and so forth and so on. And I’m very shy about putting that out. My personal approach to psychedelics before I realized that you could save the world with them—when I just thought that this was some kind of thing; self-exploration—my notion was: what it’s good for is ideas. It’s for generating ideas. And I don’t really like the word “generating,” because you don’t generate them, you hunt them. You get in your little boat, and you paddle out onto the dark water, and then you put your feet up and you wait, and you set your nets, and you wait. And sometimes you pull up your nets and something the size of a freight train has gone through them, and you just row for shore shitting shite. And sometimes minnows, trivia—why does our little finger just fit our nostril. You know, the mysteries of the animal body. Or all kinds of stuff!


But occasionally—and it’s worth fishing a lifetime—occasionally something will come into the nets that is not so small as to be trivial and not so large as to be incomprehensible, and this thing can be wrestled with for hours and eventually brought home to show the startled folks back on shore. And this showing the startled folks back on shore makes history. All these ideas come out of interaction with these plants. The number of ideas which, when you pick up a straight encyclopedia, should be traced back to herders and people who kept animals. People say astrology, astronomy—it was invented by people watching their flocks. The calendar, time—was invented by people watching their flocks. All this other stuff—well, they weren’t only watching their flocks, they were also watching the cow pies of their flocks for mushrooms. And music, all of these Pythagorean insights into order, I think, come out of this herding, domesticated, animal husbandry, we call it. Husbandry—because it’s a model of caring for nature.


And these ideas are the inspiration and the purpose, to my mind—I mean, the social purpose. Because I can get rid of my stuff and feel better about how I was abused in childhood, and this and that and the other thing, with psychedelics, but that’s all personal growth stuff. But an idea can be shared. You can take it and you can lay it at somebody’s feet. And where do they come from? You know? When you ask the question, “Where do the ideas come from?” this is platonic philosophy 101, ladies and gentlemen. This is why the Greeks gave up fishing: to discuss this problem. Where do the ideas come from? And we’re no closer to understanding that. And yet, the ideas are the signposts of our destiny. They guide us forward. And yet we know not from whence nor whither.


Well, I think now—so Plato’s take on that was: he said there must be a perfect world somewhere, where all these things exist. And the numbers and everything—there’s a perfect form for everything in a higher-dimensional world called the archetypes. Well, 2,000 years of philosophical sophistication have shown certain problems with that point of view, but fewer than you might think. I mean, the mystery of form, the problem of form: what is it? Where does it come from? What sustains it? We are nothing more than form! If it weren’t for form we would be no different than the dirt under our feet. And form intrudes into matter, and then it withdraws. And when it withdraws they put you in a hole and put dirt on top of you. So it’s very important to understand: what is this coming and going of form. If we take this pillow and saw it in two, it’s a pretty undramatic event. If we take one of us and saw us in two, it’s an extremely dramatic event. What is the difference there? It’s that this object is three-dimensional and this object is four-dimensional. This object has a quality about it called “being alive.” Being alive—also technically known as metabolism—means that material is moving along temporal gradients within the confines of this organism. Material is not moving along any gradients within this thing, it’s just where it is; there it sits. But in here a form is being maintained from within. And if I were to die, the form would collapse. Here, no form is being maintained except the form imposed. This is an imposed form. It has no sense of itself and it doesn’t sustain itself from any kind of internal integrity. But higher-dimensional objects—like animals and plants and human beings—have this quality.


Well, so then what we’ve been talking about here—albeit sloppily—is the fact that we seem to occupy a higher dimension in the natural order than other things. And this higher dimension has to do with the fact that we have a little piece of mind, a little chunk of this higher-order organization. Well then, going toward that as visionaries, as users of psychedelics, society keeps adjusting its trim tabs, as it were, to mirror this transcendental goal. This is what we want to become. We want to become like the sensed object in our imagination. And shamanism is a pipeline about this. It’s almost as though the end state—well, here’s a model for it: it’s almost as though the ordinary causal flow of information from the past to the future must make a place for a 3%–5% backward flow. And this is what we call intuition. It’s that vague, unformed knowing that comes without any baggage of causal mechanism, but it’s true knowledge. You know how it’s going to be. Well, it may be that time is somehow information-permeable, that future potential states of existence are actually somehow in resonance with states of existence in the present and in the past.


Our models of how the world works are very, very simple. I mean, basically, we operate with mechanical push-pull models that are appropriate to very simple mechanical systems. And yet, we know that we are far more complex even than the most complex physical systems. This last 15,000 years has been something. And the last 500 years has really been something. It’s so close now—the transcendental object—that it informs everything. The metaphor, the model, to hold in your mind as you gaze at the Earth in its travail is the metaphor of birth, not death: that a gestation process of 20,000 years is coming to an end. Culture-using, language-using, minded creatures are coming to some kind of fermentative climax. And we cannot extrapolate the human career on this planet centuries into the future. It ain’t gonna to be like that.


It’s an absurd question to ask the question, “What will the world be like in 500 years?” What the world will be like in 500 years is unimaginable, because in the next 40 years we are going to pass through this quantized transition where we actually become insiders and players in the game. History is a state of becoming. It’s a state of moving from the inarticulate, unreflecting, animal-style of organization to the self-reflecting, minded, conscious, energy-controlling style. But to get from one to the other takes about 20,000 years—and it’s a bitch. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know up from down. You cannot tell what is happening. There’s just migrations, and warfare, and pogroms, and gene mixing, and hysteria of every sort, messiah this and religion that, and they’re slaughtering these people, and these people are doing that. It’s like a bad dream. It’s like a psychedelic trip, is what it’s like. It’s a 15,000–25,000-year dash to authentic being from the animal body.


And it would’ve been a lot easier to understand if, 10,000 years ago, we hadn’t cut the telephone wire to nature. Because from then on we haven’t been able to figure out what’s going on, and it’s been left to men with large egos to figure out what was going on. And what they figured out was going on was that there was a lot of free women, land, animals, and money that needed to be organized for their pleasure. Because they lost the connection to this planetary birth-process. And like a birth-process—I mean, the metaphor is worth pursuing, because a birth is violent, blood is shed, there’s moaning and groaning and thrashing around. And yet, this is not an automobile accident, this is not a human tragedy. This is how life works! This is centrally scripted into how human beings operate. If this didn’t happen we wouldn’t be here. And yet, you know, if you’ve ever been pregnant or been around a pregnant person, this is a wonderful state of equilibrium, of self-satisfaction, of completion. And yet, the very fact that it exists ensures that it’s going to be rend, it’s going to be torn, it’s going to end violently in separation of these two beings. But then there all kinds of births. There’s stillbirth, the most disturbing and unsettling of all. There’s breach. There’s cesarean. There’s bad presentation. There’s all—there’s easy labors, hard labors. And I think this is the choice that we aren’t—we still have some choices left. And a choice still to be made is: is it going to be a hard labor or an easy labor? It’s how fast we educate ourselves—that’s the lubrication in the birth canal of this pup: how fast we educate ourselves. Are we going to fight it, or are we going to go with it?


And it’s really frightening, because what we want is, first of all, forgiveness for what we’ve done—which ain’t likely to come. And then we want to go back and paint ourselves blue and be tribal and turn our back on all of this. But I don’t think it’s going to be like that. It’s propelling us to some kind of higher order. The faith is that history must have been for something, and that everything is to be knitted together, and everything is to be reborn anew. And I don’t think this is… this is not a religious doctrine, exactly. It’s more like the biological faith. I mean, we see it everywhere. We see it in the birth that I was just describing. We see it in the metamorphosis of insects. Heraclitus said panta rhei: “all flows.”


And I think that this is the hardest thing to learn. It certainly has been the hardest thing for me to learn in my life. And I assume, then, by extrapolation maybe this is one of the hard things to come to terms with. Everything flows, nothing lasts. I mean, not the travail, not the horror, not the women you love, not the women who drive you crazy, not the children you love, not the children that drive you crazy. Everything is in the process of changing into something else, even at the very moment that you recognize its coherence as an entity. And this is the bad news that the ego doesn’t want to hear. This is what the ego is created to deny, because the ego is the effort of flesh to make diamond. And it can’t be done. You cannot make an indestructible, adamantine, clear substance. It can’t be done. But it’s all tied up with our fear of death. We assume that if we release ourselves into this flow, we will be swept away, that our identity will cease to exist, that we will somehow not be there. This is an artifact of language. It’s a horrible misunderstanding about who we are and how the whole system is working.


Are you using “language” as a meta-word? More than just a syntactic [???]?

2:42:57 McKenna

Well, no. That’s all I mean. But I’m really aware of what a funny thing it is. You know, you talk about other dimensions—language is like an informational creature of some sort. I mean, languages live, they reproduce themselves—


A virus.

2:43:18 McKenna

Yes, it’s a kind of virus. William Burroughs said this. He said English is a virus from outer space. I’ve no quarrel with this. This seems entirely reasonable. It’s a very strange thing. Reality is made out of language. And for most of the people in this room it’s made out of English. And yet we spend a great deal of time worrying about quarks, and mu-mesons, and electromagnetic radiation. All this is entirely a fiction. None of this stuff exists. All that exists are words.


And we play a game—a really fairly insidious game—with ourselves. We all, I suppose, here, give great credence to what is called quantum physics. Is there anyone here who would care to explain to the group several of the core doctrines in quantum physics? Or any core doctrine? And by “explain” I don’t mean a verbal gloss, I mean: give us the hardcore equations. Well, no one seems to be coming forth. And yet, this is our truth. How crazy are you if your truth is something you can’t even understand? And that’s the situation that we’re in. We believe that somewhere among us somebody understands these tensor equations of the third degree, and that if it got real tight we could go to them and they would then explain what reality is.


Well, this is a headful of shit, this kind of thinking. What you are actually dealing with is what Wittgenstein called “the present at hand.” The present at hand—good phrase, because it implies that only that which can be grasped matters. And the quark cannot be grasped, the mu-meson, the electromagnetic field. None of it. These things need to be understood for what they are, which is: little shingles which we epoxy onto the face of the universal mystery. And once you have a bunch of these little shingles epoxied onto the face of the mystery, then you can’t see the mystery at all anymore, and you call that an explanation. Say, “Well, that’s taken care of. We’ve explained it.” By the time a child is eight or nine or five or six, they have covered the entirety of reality with these interlocking little linguistic tiles. And nowhere, now, is reality to be found.


Between ourselves and reality (as quickly as we possibly can) we erect a lie. We erect a false set of assumptions that are culture-bound. And this has always impressed me: the culture-bound nature of language that, in a way, you can never leave the place you’re raised in because you acquire a local language. And the local language is all you ever really have. I had an experience of this that brought it home to me very strongly, because when I went first to the tropics I was there as a professional butterfly collector, and it was pretty important to make a living. And my impression of the jungle was that it was green. That was my impression. Well, then, three years later I went back with botanists. Well, if you know anything about botany and taxonomy, what it is, is: it’s an orgy of language. I mean, you know, leaves are lenticellate, crenellate, they have bracks which are sessile, umbellate and indentified, and so forth and so on. These are specialized words to describe structure. You go with a botanist into the jungle and the jungle becomes unbelievably rich. Here are melanostomes, malfigs, varolas, all kinds of things. And as soon as you put words to it, reality emerges.


So, you see, here is language as a double-edged sword: out of the undifferentiated it creates miraculous new realities to which we immediately habituate, undervalue, and profane. In other words, familiarity breeds contempt. But somewhere between silence and the familiarity that breeds contempt is the living essence of the word and its meaning. This problem of language is central, I think, to understanding the psychedelic experience. What I see happening on these tryptamines is the project of language goes from being something which you hear to something which you see without ever crossing over a quantized moment of transition. Well, this is to my mind absolutely astonishing. And I think I’m a pretty tough nut to crack. When you see language, it’s amazing. Because it’s a paranormal thing. It’s like it cheats. It achieves paranormal intensity without violating any of the laws of physics that I’m familiar with. What I’m talking about is that in these shamanic performances in the Amazon and on psilocybin language goes from something beheld to something seen.


There’s precedent for this. In the Hellenistic world of Greco-Romanism the be-all and the end-all of spiritual accomplishment was what’s called the logos. And the logos was an informing voice, a voice in the head, that told you the right way to live. And Plato and all of these heavies cultivated and achieved connection with the logos. Well, there was an Alexandrean Jew named Philo Judaeus, who was a great commentator on the religions of his period. And he wrote about what he called the more perfect logos—the more perfect logos. And he said, “What is the more perfect logos?” And then he answered his own question: “The more perfect logos goes from being heard to being seen without ever crossing over a quantized moment of transition.”


Language is something unfinished in us. It’s something that was catalyzed out of animal organization by hallucinogenic activation of brain states, and it is something that is in the act of perfecting itself. And when it is completed my faith is that words will be seen, not heard: the whole way in which we organize our language around visual metaphors when we talk about clarity. So if someone is able to communicate, we say, “She spoke clearly.” That’s a visual metaphor. We say, “I see what you mean.” I see what you mean. That means I understand you. I see what you mean. “He painted a picture.” It means unconsciously, at the unconsous level, we connect visual metaphors and the visual sense with clarity of understanding. And what’s happening in the ayahuasca cults, in the mushroom intoxications, and so forth, is an invocation of the visible logos. It comes into being in the shared space. You control it with sound. I mean, you discover that sound is something that you can see.


And I referred to this this morning when I talked about how we may be one gene mutation away from a transformation of language. You can sit, feel perfectly normal, not feel wired or depressed, not have visual activity in the visual field, and then you generate a tone like uuuuuuuuuuuuh. And you see that it’s a certain shade of lemon-yellow with a chartreuse edge running on it. And then you nnnnnnnggggggg, and it shifts to pink-blue. Well, you begin to experiment with this and you discover very quickly that you can do more than just generate colors, you can generate modalities, you can generate shapes. As you begin to relax into an unconscious expression of syntax, form begins to behave itself in the space in front of you.


And that language may have existed a very long time before anybody got the idea that you could use a certain sound, like “glass,” to mean a certain complex object. Because on psilocybin glossolalia is frequently triggered. Glossolalia is normally presented as speaking in tongues, a religious phenomenon of fundamentalism. And the fundamentalist spin on it is that these are ancient biblical languages and that you’re being possessed by an angel or something. But in fact, at the primitive level of religion worldwide, glossolalia is frequently met with. And all of us have an ability to relax away from meaning and still retain syntax. It’s just something you would never do because we’re programmed to always mean something when we speak. But in fact babies don’t do this at all. They love to babble. And they only late in the process learn to attach meaning.


Well, so then, under language in the humble service of meaning there is language for itself; sort of the Ding an sich of language. And—well, I’ll give an example of it and then discuss what’s going on. Neede gewoond whaihaxiki witchnee mulgum voapaketem deedikinee hikiteptet. Eehtejhegeveh whaihambikikitit ephmo okhteve imdeedeek whahabegengkek khifidoot oohmiking deetao. Okay, now what’s happening here? First of all, ordinarily we associate this speed of vocal noise with words. Words are small mouth noises. That’s all they are. You see, if you’re going to have a creature which communicates among members of its species you have to have a low-energy form of communication, otherwise you’d be exhausted from the effort to communicate. Well, small mouth noises are great. A person can talk for about twelve hours without stopping fairly effortlessly. I mean, if you’ve got water and a little dope roll, it’s not a problem. Do you know how much information a person could convey in twelve hours if they were, say, reading the telephone book aloud? It’s pretty amazing.


So this thing I just did—it had syntax, but it had no meaning. In other words, if you listen to it you hear that sounds repeat, rhythms repeat, there appear to be prefixes, suffixes, certain kinds of declensions. It’s all there, folks. It just doesn’t mean anything. But it turns out that the activity of language feels like language whether it means anything or not. Well, in the psychedelic state you discover this same set of tinkertoys (that was used to create the little speech I just did) can be used to create sculptures that are freeform; that this hee hwai whaxiku vinimao haktibipeet looks a certain way. What’s important is not how it sounds, what’s important is how it looks. In the Amazon, in these ayahuasca cults, they have what are called icaros, “magical songs.” Icaros are visual art. They are intended that way, and they’re criticized that way, and their success or failure is judged entirely in the visual domain, and yet they are made out of sound. And what they convey are very complex feelings. You could almost say three-dimensional feelings. Feelings so complex that they won’t lay down and be a sound, like “hate,” “fear,” “revulsion.” They won’t do that. They can only be laid out as grammatical objects of a higher order.


And I think that this process is happening in human beings: the push toward visible language. But it’s being accelerated by the psychedelics. And that we are trying to become for each other visual objects, and we’re trying to become capable of generating these things. Now, why I hold these conclusions is because in the DMT flash—which is the most quintessential distillation of this kind of stuff—you encounter the shamanic entities, the spirits, the ancestors. And this is really confounding. I mean, we can put up with shifting cobwebs of color and weird insights about our nostrils and our little fingers, but not entities. And yet, in that space these things exist. And they’re preaching this ontological transformation of language. This is how entities in hyperspace communicate. It’s as though everything has had one dimension added onto it. It’s as though we are existing in some kind of squashed version of a larger superspace that can simply be mentally unfolded through the act of encountering a psychedelic substance. I think it’s big news that these entities exist.


Now, if you were to go to a shaman in a classical culture and say, “What’s it about? What’s going on here?” they would unhesitatingly tell you that these are the ancestors. Say, “Oh yes, these are the ancestors. We cure using the ancestors.” And this is, I think, very unsettling for us as Westerners. We’d much rather accept the notion of friendly extraterrestrials communicating through the mushroom than that this is the dearly departed. I mean, that really… you can feel your boundaries beginning to quake against that possibility.


It’s very interesting. Recently there was a new edition of Evans-Wentz’s The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries—which, if you’ve never read it, it’s quite an interesting book. W. Y. Evans-Wentz was an American who became a great scholar of Mahayana Buddhism and wrote the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, and so forth. But his doctoral thesis when he was a young folklore student at Cambridge in 1911 was—he wanted to study the fairy faith. And he went to Brittany and Wales and Ireland and interviewed the oldest people in the districts. The crones and the old, old people. And it’s a wonderful book to read, because these people just tell these stories, and it’s absolutely convincing. I mean, the fairies are real, the fairy faith is real. And when Evans-Wentz asked these people, “What’s going on?” they said, “These are the dead.” When you die you stay around, but you’re in an invisible realm. And it’s an ecology of souls—my phrase, not his: an ecology of souls.


But this is what is revealed on DMT, is entities that are so strange that they could easily pass for extraterrestrials. What’s puzzling about them is their tremendous humor and affection and intense involvement in us as human beings. Why are they there? What do they want? And they’re not—if they are ancestors, they are not my ancestors. In other words, when I broke in there I didn’t find my mother and my grandparents. It wasn’t like that. There was no personal… it isn’t like that. But there is this sense of affection, interest, caring.


Well, we have the doctrine of purgatory in Western theology, in the Catholic church. I had always assumed, thinking about it, that purgatory must have been a doctrine that churchfathers Irenaeus and Eusebius and that crowd had written into the gospel-message for their own purposes. I discovered to my amazement that that isn’t what happened at all. That Saint Patrick is the person responsible for purgatory, because he wrote purgatory into Christian doctrine in order to convert the Celtic peasantry of Ireland to the idea that fairyland and the Christian afterlife were the same place. And it was thought such a good idea in Rome that the doctrine became canon law generally for the church. So purgatory is a spruced-up, cleaned-up version of Irish fairyland to make it a little more palatable.


Well, you see, we—this is where our anxieties come in and where it’s hard to push it much further than this. An extraterrestrial contact—I think we could probably ride that through and it would be amazing, but it would be tolerable. But if what’s happening is that at the end of history are waiting the dead, and that our notion of reality is so skewed that we don’t even know the most basic facts about the cycles of life and death and rebirth, then it’s going to be quite astonishing for us, I think, to come to terms with this. And yet, this is what shamans live with, this is what they tell you. They say, you know, a shaman is a person who can pass daily through the gates of death and return. We see into the realm, we see into hyperspace.


As inheritors of the rational tradition, this is pretty hard for us to swallow because I think—I mean, maybe it’s not true anymore—but in my personal process of rejecting Catholicism I did manage to convince myself that when you’re dead it’s over with. And it’s been very hard for me to fight my way back to the notion that might be just 100% malarkey and nothing more than a conservative first try. And now I think much more in terms of dimensionality, and that I don’t know what a form is. But the process of the fertilization of an egg—of any organism, it doesn’t have to be a human being—the life of that organism, and then its death and dissolution, is the process of a form descending from hyperspace, clothing itself in matter, and then withdrawing from matter, returning to hyperspace.


And this concept of hyperspace is very, very necessary to understanding this stuff, because if you look at what shamans do that is so confounding: they find lost objects, they cure disease, they rescue lost souls, they discern secret acts—infidelities, thefts, poisonings, stuff like that. All of these magical things that they do are completely non-mysterious if we grant the idea of a higher spatial dimension. I mean, if there’s a higher spatial dimension then this section is not zipped, there’s a part of it which is completely open to the world. This room is not closed, there’s one direction in which it’s absolutely open to the air. In other words, in hyperspace nothing is hidden.



Give yourself a chance to breathe for a moment. Why do you think it is? I mean, we as human beings have evolved with pretty much all the equipment we need to get along and do things. Why do you think it is that we have evolved with such a poor understanding, or no understanding, of these matters of which you speak? The afterlife, the rebirth. I mean, we, here—many people here have a curiosity [???] few people understand it.

3:07:28 McKenna

Well, I think this is a very recent phenomenon of—culture is a narrowing, obviously. I mean, if a man can have ten wives, two wives, no wives, one wife, well, then you go into a culture, you’re going to make a choice. And all cultures represent narrowing of choices. We don’t know how we could be. We don’t know what we could be if we were free to evolve ourselves. I think that’s the starting line that we’re edging up on: we’re about to have a chance to create a global culture; to decide, to essentially clean our basement and decide what we’re going to save and what we’re going to keep.


This sense of not being connected is, to my mind, entirely rooted to what I’ve said here several times: the problem of the ego. But then, to get a little more specific and maybe slightly more offensive: it’s the monotheistic religions that have to take a real knock for the present situation. Monotheism, as a philosophical reflex, is understandable but simpleminded. I mean, it’s what an 8-year-old would get to, you know? One god. Reasonable, economical, seems to fit the situation pretty well. So what’s wrong with that? Well, what’s wrong with it is: you’ve got to be a little more sensitive. Philosophy is not practiced in a void. And as Jungians know well, we mirror ourselves in our gods. Our religions are a set of permissions for how we, as individuals, can be. And monotheism presents us with a notion that god should be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and unforgiving. And male. This is nobody you would invite to a garden party. This is what we call an asshole, you know? Somebody who corners you, who’s never wrong, who’s totally full of their opinion, who just wants to tell you how the boar ate the cabbage, and never doubts themselves. A boor. So we have enshrined at the center of our cultural machinery the archetype of the unbearable boor, and then we’ve gone out to realize it.


And we try to fine-tune it. We say, “Okay, well this Old Testament religion with all this ritual and dietary… this isn’t it.” So then along comes Christ and tries to fine-tune it. But he’s working in the most women-repressing, male-dominator, hierarchical structure on the planet, and whatever good he does is quickly wiped out 150 years later by these clowns I mentioned—Eusebius, Irenaeus, and the rest of those guys. And then Islam comes along to twist the screws yet tighter on this monotheistic ideal. And it doesn’t serve. And it was put in place because people tried to figure it out on their own. Monotheism is what you come to if, full of sincerity, you try to figure it out on your own. But if you will just forget being full of sincerity and take mushrooms, you’ll never come to this monotheistic conclusion. It just appears preposterous because the multiplicity, the shifting, unpredictable, boundary-less, maternal nature of things is what forces its presence into your consciousness. We are born in the mystery. It’s all around us. Everything is provisional.


And this is something worth talking about, I suppose, because it’s a psychedelic point of view. Every society has always believed that it possessed 95% of the truth, and that the next 5% would fall into place in the next 15 years. And yet, these societies have just been all over the map, you know? And we don’t understand anything. In fact, we have taken a more perverse turn than most. We have substituted the incomprehensible. That’s why we get these quarks, and mu-mesons, and tensor equations of the third degree. We actually worship incomprehensibility as the highest form of explanation of what’s going on. Say, “Well, I don’t know what’s going on. Somebody must understand it.” Well, I’ve got news for you: if you don’t understand it, what good is it that somebody understands it somewhere. I mean, you’re responsible for yourself.


And yet I think that all this technology, 2.5 billion dollars’ worth of atom smashers, is at some level inspired by something transcendental, and it is—they’re trying to achieve love and godhead and all that stuff.

3:13:15 McKenna

We want to know. We do want to know. And to science’s credit—and this is what I love about science—is that it’s not kidding itself. I mean, the thing that I go back to over and over again, and that makes psychedelics different, and that makes what I’m doing different is: you’re not asked to believe anything. You just have to do something. In other words, you’re invited to perform an experiment, not accept a belief. And taking a psychedelic is an experiment. It’s not an act of religious devotion. I mean, you may do it in a devoted and religiously sensitized way, but it’s an experiment to see what happens. And if it works, it can be repeated. Delusion is a terrible thing, and there’s a lot of it in the world. And probably psychedelics have to take the blame for some of this. I mean, all of these rishis, roshis, geishas, and gurus that are running around with their hands out—this largely can be put at the feet of psychedelics. But—you mean why should we blame psychedelics for this? I don’t think anybody would’ve given any of this a thought if they hadn’t had psychedelic experiences to show them that the mind is not what they assume it to be. I mean, the great impetus to Eastern religion came in the sixties when all of this stuff was happening.


Someone [???] further about the animal experience of time, and that they are stuck in the point present; they don’t have a sense of future or past. In my own experience with marijuana is that I lose my short-term memory. In my foolish days, when I used to try to draw it after getting really stoned, I remember looking to the right and it’s clear, and I looked to the left and it’s clear, but I forgot what it is on the right, so I look back. The right, then, is clear, but I forgot what it was on the left. And I’m going like this, and I can’t hold anything in my mind for even that long! And it’s terrible, you know. When you’re driving it’s awful. But I don’t find it pleasant [???]. You know, when you read and you forget a paragraph, and you go on to the next paragraph. And I was wondering if that’s somewhat like the animal experience is like. And also, I wondered if that was an attribute of mushrooms and ayahuasca; that loss of short-term memory. I don’t particularly like that experience.

3:16:06 McKenna

I don’t like that either. I really don’t like it when it’s acute. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a part of it. You don’t want to try and pigeonhole the psychedelic experience, because what it is, is: it’s everything. I mean, you think you’ve got it figured out and that it’s always going to be this, and then the next time it’s completely something else. So much can be done. So much can be structured and learned. I mean, I think, basically, the kind of psychedelic experiences most of us have been having have been just reconnoitering. You know, we sail over the territory and photograph the landscape, and take it back and study it. But what you could do if you landed down there, what you could do if you actually learned the way of it is… I think it’s very inviting.


In spite of the fact that psychedelics have been around for 50,000, 100,000 years, I still can’t shake the impression that it’s going to have a historical impact. That they’re going to eventually get around to noticing how odd it is and noticing that it’s right in the center of ourselves. The real problem is getting the word out about what it is. So many people have taken a little bit of LSD or a little bit of psilocybin, or something, and then they think they know what the psychedelic experience is. But you have to spend time poking around, and you have to take chances. And eventually the ice will break underneath you. And to your absolute horror the thing you have been trying to cause to happen will then happen. But you almost always have to trick yourself, trap yourself into it. I don’t know what the limit of this stuff is. I certainly have been as stoned as I ever want to get. I mean, I said at the time, “Let it be noted: I don’t ever want to be more loaded than this!”



[???] trying to get produced, in its message-side, it deals with the issue of what do we let go of, and what do we hold on to in this shrinking world of our own ethnic heritage? And as the world shrinks, there is a move towards homogeneity. And what’s really happening right now is people are really pulling back into their in-group. I mean, the Muslims have done this most profoundly, because it’s very frightening to have to become one, and the idea of all being a consumer white bread homogeneity is a horrible image. But the thing that people are willing to share, I find, is their cuisine. Everybody is willing to eat and explore and relish in each other’s food. But the thing that nobody’s willing to give up, or few are willing to give up, are their languages. And you can them talking about Quebec seceding again from Canada. There’s something about our attachment to language that’s really potent. And you’re giving up not just—I mean, it’s a worldview.

3:19:36 McKenna

It is really ourself. I mean, we also are made out of language. I said the world was made of language. Note that you are part of that world, and are made of language. I don’t know whether the appetite for stuff will drive people to abandon their fear of merging. I think a lot is going to be lost. A lot has been lost. The extinction of the mammals that began 50,000 years ago. It was 50,000 years ago that was the greatest number of mammal species on Earth. There’s been steadily falling species since about that time, mostly due to human predation. And we’re not going to bring back the giant ground sloth and the woolly mammoth and the glyptodont. They’re gone for good.


And there’s no getting away from the poignancy of this process. The cruise is over. We’re in the lifeboats. The ship is going to sink. The question is: how does this adventure end? But there’s no question that there’s going to be a lot of loss and redefinition. I mean, usually in these weekends we get to a place where it comes down to being this thing about the space issue. Because people love it and they hate it, and it has a lot to do with how you relate to the male ego, because it’s the engineering dream come true, you know? And nature disappears. You replace it with black vacuum and you say, “Here we will erect the palaces and whorehouses of the human imagination. We can make them the size of moons. We can do this and that.”


And the beauty that is within us gives me a lot of hope for that. My god, the expression of the design process in this world is certainly awful. I mean, our world is visually hideous; the part of it touched by human beings. But that’s very puzzling to me, because when you take psychedelics you discover within the human body-mind the same kind of transcendent beauty that you see in the rainforest and the arctic tundra and all that. I mean, immense beauty. And yet we seem to have a very hard time translating it into the design process.


Art is—we haven’t really talked that much about art in relationship to all this, but the politics of the situation here in this millennial crisis—I think the reasonable response is to push the art pedal right through the floor. The way to escape the present cul-de-sac is an enormous outbreak of creativity of all sorts. We just need to overwhelm ourselves with creative expression. This could be very easily done. We’ve been in the habit of binding about 60% of our social energy into a standing crop of weapons, and whatever creativity is expressed in the production and design of these weapons, it goes on behind closed doors in the most excessively testosterone-festered environment you can possibly imagine, which is a military weapons research laboratory. But if we weren’t caught up in that, if we could really direct the resources the way we want, we have no idea how rich we are—and how perverse our distribution of resources is. I mean, a single F-16 fighter plane, standard equipage, costs 120 million dollars. One of these fighter planes! They order them in lots of 500. If somebody were to give 120 million dollars to the New Age—define that any way you like— (or to me, or to you), that’s a lot of money! But if you spend it on a fighter plane, it’s not a lot of money. You can park a fighter plane in an area twice the size of this room and there it sits—useless unless Armageddon should come along. It’s about the most useless thing you could do with 120 million dollars. And yet, if you gave that to the sincere, the insincere, the half-sincere and let them all go off and do with it what they want, society would be a much richer place and many more interesting possibilities would be developed.


So part of saving the world, I think, is to make people angry; to make people absolutely furious with the way we are being managed. The human enterprise is being managed by idiots. And I don’t say they’re vindictive idiots, but the case could certainly be made. But give or take that, they’re idiots. And we don’t have forever, you know? In fact, we have, I think, a very short amount of time to take hold and to insist that human values—which none of us have much trouble accessing; I mean, I’m not saying we’re all Albert Schweitzer, but we know what it means to be Albert Schweitzer—why are our institutions unable to project the human values that we personally are able to feel. And then why do we tolerate that? Why are boys in charge of everything? It just doesn’t make any kind of sense.


Working our way out of this is just going to require shock treatment. And that’s what this shamanic option represents. I mean, I wouldn’t preach this if I didn’t think the situation were fairly desperate. It’s a radical option. It’s not a reasonable option. It’s a quick fix, because quick is the only fix that counts now. This is not a debate in society, the crisis confronting this planet, it’s a life-or-death situation. I don’t see any other option.



Terence, is there any value in looking at the dichotomy of the self, the natural evolutionary self-destruction of a planet, the proximity of volcanic eruptions, the ice ages, the shifting of the polar axis, and plate tectonics. All that is going on and we seem to be a minor player in the rearrangement of matter on the planet compared to what it naturally does itself.


And what about that?


What about that, yeah.

3:26:59 McKenna

Well, you’re right. The Earth is now understood to be an extremely dynamic environment. Locally and globally. As a local example that some of you can relate to: in the last 100,000 years, tidal waves up to 2,000 feet high have occurred locally in the Hawaiian islands because of sloughing off the face of those islands into deep-sea trenches. The International Geophysical Congress has held meetings about this. I’ve seen the physical evidence of it myself. A 2,000-foot tidal wave—you would shit white! It’s just inconceivable, you know? A 50-foot tidal wave is appalling. On a global scale: 65 million years ago, something crashed down on this planet and nothing on this planet larger than a chicken walked away from it. You know? Dramatic? You bet! This happened between breakfast and lunch one day.


So yes, I think that the Earth is a very dynamic place. And part of this psychedelic message is: shake the mud off your shoes, monkeys! You can’t always count on it to be like it is. I mean, the mushroom has a kind of a hortatory personality. And sometimes it says things which I don’t necessarily agree with that are slightly alarming. I mean, one of its favorite themes is: if you don’t have a plan, you’re going to end up part of somebody else’s plan. And it’s speaking to me as a person, it’s speaking to human beings as a species. If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to end up being part of somebody else’s plan. The sun has a limited lifespan. There are serious problems with the sun that are not discussed at all, much—except in the scientific literature. It would take major revisions of nuclear theory, which has been in place without revision for nearly fifty years. It would take major revisions of nuclear theory to explain why there isn’t something wrong with the sun. The sun is not emitting neutrinos at nearly the rate it should be if it’s a healthy atomic furnace. Is it possible that sometime in the last 100,000 years the nuclear fires of the sun have actually slipped off the main sequence? There’s an appalling possibility. You see, if that were to happen, the neutrino flux from the nuclear furnace at the center of the sun would instantly drop. It would be measured within eight minutes on the Earth, the drop in the neutrino flux. But all physical manifestations of this process would not appear for about 70,000 years, the period of time it takes for core solar material to percolate to the surface. So the neutrino drop would be registered virtually instantly, but it would take 70,000 years for any other thing…. Well, if that’s what’s happening—if the sun is going into some state of instability—well, then we look back in the geological record, and what do you see? Nine times in the past 5 million years ice five miles deep has moved south from the poles. What the hell is that about? You go further back in the record and you don’t find this. People don’t realize this. This planet existed for close to 5 billion years before there was glaciation. Glaciation is a brand-new phenomenon on this planet. Why is it happening? Well, the obvious place to look is the energy dynamics of the home star.


Is it possible, then, that we’re riding an edge more precarious than we know? Is it possible that bios, life on this planet, actually senses limitations and constraints, and that we have been summoned? We are—I mentioned stopgap solutions—we are a stopgap solution. About 2 million years ago, the biospheric mind of the planet said, “My god, the sun has just gone off the main sequence. We have approximately a million years to organize some kind of ark out of here. A species must be deputized to release energy and to manipulate matter. This species must be brought forward and made dominant species over the Earth. And out of that technology we can perhaps fashion an escape.” In other words, we are something that has been called forth out of nature because of unusual dynamics on a very large scale. Well, this is a possibility.



[???] heard your tape about the evolution of the brain; the next evolution. I mean, it doesn’t make any rational sense, but we don’t [???]. That, what about the mushroom growing within the brain? I mean, not taking in—

3:32:52 McKenna

You mean: becoming physically symbiotic? Well, yeah. I mean, Brian Aldiss wrote a book called The Long Afternoon of Earth in which he envisioned a human-fungal symbiosis that was so close that people actually had a lump on their shoulder, and it went directly into the head. I find this kind of thing a little too creature-feature-ish, but…. I mean, I’ve had the notion—not a notion, it was more like a delusion at certain times; and I can’t explain it to you, I will just tell it to you—that the really big secret about human beings is that there are three sexes: male, female, and mushroom. And this third sex is some—I mean, I haven’t worked out the genetics of it, or how in the world we could’ve gotten so far without understanding this—but it’s that notion that it’s wedded into us at that level. And of course the mushroom—I don’t know if it’s this way for women, too. It’s subtle, it’s smart, it’s tricky. Tricky, tricky, tricky. And it uses you against yourself. Not viciously, it just very matter-of-factly knows 100 times more about you than you do yourself. And it presents itself as this 4D girlfriend, you know? It’s the soror mystica of alchemy. It’s the invisible female companion.



I had a dream a few months ago that—I don’t know if I gave birth or someone gave birth to these children who were like part mushroom. You know? And they were part fungus. And I felt very loving towards them. But they were actually like, you know, beings, you know? But they were part mushroom and part human. It was all very sweet.

3:35:08 McKenna

Well, yeah. I mean, the symbiosis is coming together. One of the funny insights that I had—that I don’t try to make sense of, that I in fact don’t believe, but I thought it and it was an emotionally opening thought, though it’s absurd on the face of it—was: when I was in the Amazon in these pastures, looking at these pastures full of these mushrooms, I kept thinking, “It’s the lost part of the human brain.” It’s that part of us is in these fields. That this mushroom… this is human flesh, this flesh. It’s a strange kind of human—but hell, we’re about to give legal rights to fetuses. We might as well extend legal rights to mushrooms and make them voting citizens. Because, you see, it’s intelligent. It’s intelligent, it loves you, it can blow your mind, it can make you laugh, it can make you cry. There’s no other way to relate to something like that except to love it in spite of yourself. I mean, this is how you seduce someone: you make them laugh, you make them cry, you move them, you get them to drop their barriers, you get them to not be afraid. This is what it does to us. It seduces us back into this relationship, and I think we return to it with an immense sense of relief. It’s just like… aaaaah! You know?


When I was in Guatemala I did not take a deep breath for three weeks because I could feel the oppression, the artificiality of it. It’s in the air, the evil. And you get used to it. But when you cross back into Mexico you just say, “My god! What was that?” And that’s what history is for us. We’re living under siege conditions here. No wonder it’s a little hard to connect up with your higher self. We’re living in a foxhole, for god’s sake! But if we could realize our situation, then there would be a possibility of change.

Part 4

Loose Ends Time


What I thought we would do this morning, because these things are so brief, is again return to the form of going around in the circle. And this time it’s your last chance to ask a question, make a statement, voice a complaint, whatever you want to do. But just to try and—in other words, it’s loose ends time. As rapidly as we can to tie up loose ends. Things people didn’t understand, things people feel they need to hear more about. That sort of thing. And why don’t we just start as we did before on this side and go around?


I’d like to hear a more satisfactory explanation of what “archaic revival” means. I haven’t got it straightened out. I suspect it means a return to a more stable state when there’s too much chaos in the present. I’m sure it’s not what you mean.

3:38:41 McKenna

Well, that’s partially what it is. It’s based on an idea that when societies get into trouble, an unconscious response seems to be: they search back through their own history to find a model that they can revivify or revitalize. The strongest example in our own history was when the Medieval world broke apart and didn’t make any sense anymore, the new middle class went back to classicism—to the Greeks and the Romans, to Roman law and Greek philosophy, and Greco-Roman architecture and mechanics, and that sort of thing—and created classicism. Classicism was invented in the 14th century.


But our problems are deeper than this. We can’t go back to ancient Rome or ancient Egypt or something like that and expect to have real answers. We have to go back further, to prehistory, to this archaic state. And there—in partnership, in genderless, self-organizing society—we begin to see the kinds of models that we have to somehow recreate in the modern world. Obviously, we can’t in the modern world become mushroom-eating, nomadic pastoralists. But we can study that approach to reality to try and learn from it how you live in equilibrium. That’s the key thing that the archaic world knew that we don’t know: how do you live in equilibrium so that your children may live in equilibrium? Because otherwise you get a cycle started that’s going to shove somebody over the cliff. And that somebody, in the present case, is either ourselves, our children, or their children. It’s no further away in time than that.


So the archaic revival is the idea that all of the… and I see the whole of the 20th century—the discovery of the unconscious by Freud and Jung, the dissolving of the naturalistic image at the hands of the cubists, the probing of the dreamstate by the surrealists, the exploration of mass ritual by the fascists. I mean, it wasn’t all good, this stuff. But what all these things had in common was: they were a return and appeal to a level of the mass psyche that had been ignored and denied for a long, long time. The LSD-taking of the sixties was the same kind of thing. And I come out very strongly for McLuhan in the idea that, as the ratios of the mix of media in a society changes, the sensory ratios and values of the society change. And we’re living in a postliterate, postlinear kind of world now, where a whole different set of assumptions make sense—and they’re archaic assumptions. You know, the archaic world was a nonlinear, preliterate, audial, all-at-once kind of world, and the fact that our sensory ratios have shifted back in that direction makes us very sympathetic, very susceptible to this re-archaicization that wants to go on.

Paul? Yeah?


I guess the ultimate psilocybin question is: can you envision, Terence, in your wildest imagination, that we as a society, individuals taking mushrooms and gaining some enlightenment, that we will ever [???] in an organized and mass way? Do you have that vision?


You mean that someday it will be legal?


Legal and encouraged. You know, the mass taking of…

3:43:28 McKenna

Well, obviously it would take a total revolution. The current thinking is that the big revolutions in the world have to do with the internal contradictions of Marxist Leninism. But it may actually be that Marxist Leninism was a kind of partner in a co-dependent relationship with consumer capitalism. And maybe revolution is just going to become something that everybody is into. God knows, we could use a perestroika. I mean, we, too, are ruled by constipated, lying bureaucrats who—what are the statistics? That 97% of all incumbents are reelected? That there is less turnover in the United States congress than there was in the higher echelons of the communist party of East Germany until the wall came down? I mean, we love to congratulate ourselves on the forward-leaning liberal society that we live in, and the truth is it’s a bunch of rattlesnake-handling fundamentalists that are much closer to Stalin than they are to FDR, or anybody else like that.


Still, I think that the culture crisis is going to become so intense and the world is going to become so weird—as we saw on the graph last night, novelty is going to intensify and intensify and intensify. And even last year, when eastern Europe was falling to pieces, very straight people were saying, “Gee, it seems as though history itself is accelerating.” Well, then there was a lull. So that talk was dropped. But I think history is accelerating. And the next time it accelerates, the talk that this is happening will come around again much louder. And pretty soon, by the turn of the century, I think it’s going to be hard to hide from anybody who’s paying attention the fact that the entire social evolution of the planet seems to be caught in some kind of evolutionary meltdown that is imminent, you know? And in that environment, psilocybin has a chance.


The whole drug thing—leave alone psychedelics—the whole drug thing is properly understood as a civil rights issue. I mean, people should be able to take whatever drugs they damn well please in the same way that they should be able to express their sexual preferences, in the same way that women should be allowed to vote, people of low incidence of light reflectivity should be treated like everybody else. All these things which are perfectly obvious. You cannot have a free society and regulate people’s drug use. Any society which sets out to call itself free and democratic with the footnote that certain states of mind are forbidden is headed down the slippery slopes of totalitarianism. There ain’t no way this can be avoided. So aside from our belief as a group in the wonderful healing and teaching potential of psychedelics, even if psychedelic drugs didn’t exist, I would favor the legalization of all drugs because I just think that you cannot treat people as though they were infantile. That’s called paternalism. That’s the old dominator game. We have to just admit that we’re all in this together and that nobody has cornered the market on the truth, for sure.



Would you talk a little bit more about seeing language?

3:47:31 McKenna

Well, this is, to my mind, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of the psychedelic experience. These experiences get stronger and stronger and stronger, and then language becomes visible. And then, if they become any stronger, you fall asleep. That seems to be about the outer limit of what the internal processors can tolerate. Seeing language—it’s a mystery, it’s a miracle. I don’t know what it is. It’s the thing which keeps me going with all of this, because it’s the idea that we’re just on the brink of some kind of transformation of how we communicate with each other that will change not only how we communicate, but who we are. Because, see, if you could see what I mean—rather than hear me, and run to your internal dictionary, and look up all my words, and then reconstruct my meaning—but if you could just see what I mean, then you and I would be very much like the same person, because we would be looking at the same thing.


So it’s a tremendous—obviously, language is what has knitted us together and made us social creatures. Creatures of our body weight and so forth have styles where the males and the females get together only for sex and once a year, like mountain lions or something like that. But obviously, the presence of language and our social history as primates set us up for living as we do. And we have managed to create, through language, a monkey troop of five billion people. You know, a monkey troop of five billion individuals united through the glue of language. So it’s an intensification. And it’s something shamans do. And I think it’s the real social magic of shamanism, at least in the Amazon, is based around these visible communications.


I wanted to make a comment about the difference between seeing and hearing. And the difference between a sculpture and music. And music and language take place in the succession of elements through time. It requires a duration to understand. But a sculpture, and seeing things—it’s all in a single moment that. The sculpture, the object is beheld in a single moment. The aesthetics of a sculptured object is the relationship of part to part and part to whole in a single moment. But music is this succession of elements in time. And somehow I think that relates to your thing. When you talk about seeing language, you’re talking about seeing the little creatures, the words being creatures. And so then you’re observing these creatures. Are they coming out like music through time, or can an idea or sentence be seen all at once?

3:51:06 McKenna

They’re coming out through time and a sentence can be seen all at once, because, in a way, your analogy is not apt because sculpture is static. But these visible statements are, like sculpture, made of some magical substance which has an internalized program of change. The analogy I always make is to the eggs of Fabergé. These things are like machines, jewels, but you can also tell while you’re looking at them that they’re statements. You know how people talk about beautifully crafted sentences? Well, these are beautifully crafted sentences, but they’re like exquisite, interlocking, mechanized things made out of ivory and glass and topaz and chrome, and just pshhhhh, you know? And they’re carrying on at a furious rate. They have a life in time.


I would like to write a computer program that would be like a full paint type program, but it would be for the purpose of generating these kinds of objects. Because I’ve seen them a fair bit and analyzed what’s going on, and here’s how it works: you have a dodecahedron, or some other complex regular polygon, so that it’s made of surfaces. And then to each surface you assign a set of color and frequency changes. And then each surface can run its program independent of all the other surfaces. So you slowly build up a program on each surface. But then you can also cut into this polygon and remove chunks of it to reveal another polygon inside it that can have different programs written for each of its surfaces. And then you set these things slowly rotating, one within another, on several levels. And you’re beginning to approach a really shoddy example of what these things are like that you see in this space.

Beats me, you know? Most of this stuff is reportage. Yeah?


I’ve heard you speak often about these incredibly complex images that you received on psilocybin and DMT. I’m just wondering if you’ve ever had an experience of total emptiness or voidness. The most profound experience I’ve ever had on psilocybin was actually being void of any content at all. But not being like blanked out or something like that, just being aware of…

3:54:02 McKenna

Well, I think this may have something to do with philosophical bent and proclivity. I never got any of these Zen-y states. The white light, the black light. And it’s probably in my personality. I really stress visual hallucinations. And people have hassled me about this and said, you know, “But psychedelics open your heart! They do this, they do that, and all you ever talk about is visions.” It’s because, to me, the vision is the proof—and I guess I’m still a skeptic after all these years—the vision is the proof that it’s not me. Because if I’ve never seen it before, hell, I’m willing to grant if it’s not me if I’ve never seen it before. How difficult a character do you have to be, you know? So when there’s these things I’ve never seen before, that are absolutely amazing, streaming past my closed eyelids, I have to grant that it isn’t coming from me. And that thin thread can be the basis of a bridge to faith. If it isn’t me, then there’s something out there. God, the devil, who knows. But at least somebody. Now we can begin to have a serious spiritual quest. There is a signal. Getting a signal from the other. And it can be pursued. But it’s the task of a lifetime.


Well, now I hear you mention faith. And it seems like yesterday morning you said something along the line of, “I’m not a believer in any sense of the word.” But what I wanted to ask you is: in the context of the chemicals in the brain and the pineal gland, and so forth, what do you think of fasting as a way of altering consciousness?

3:55:56 McKenna

Fasting, I think, is probably very effective. If you analyze this whole rap here about the early mushrooms and the primates and all that, really, what’s being said is that diet is the key. That foods are very important. And this is what they’re saying about ayahuasca in the Amazon. They say half of it is ayahuasca. But the learning of the shamanism and the becoming of this superhuman type of personality is all in the diet. And shamans in the Amazon, when they’re trying to establish their credentials with each other, do it by saying how long they kept the diet. Somebody will say, “Well, I did it for two years,” or something like that.


I saw something about the shamans in the Amazon. You know this magic phlegm that they bring up?




What do they do with it? Do they spit it out, finally? Or swallow it back down, or what?


What do they ultimately do with it? It’s hard to find out stuff like this when you’re a guest! I don’t know. I didn’t see where it went.


Did you see it?


I’ve seen it.


Because if they use this to pull a disease out of somebody—or poisoning, or some kind of illness-causing thing—if it’s a magnet that pulls this out, then if they just keep this inside of them, that wouldn’t be very safe, I would think. So I just…

3:57:21 McKenna

Well, talking about what it is and judging whether it’s safe or not—I mean, what is this phlegm, in the first place? I mean, when you’re really there, really dealing with it, you’re pushed toward ideas like that it’s a zone, it’s a zone of spacetime which repels English. What? You know? I mean, in other words, it’s a magical substance. It comes out of their body. Calling it “phlegm” is because we’re following some anthropologist in the 1920s who went back to his tent scratching his head and tried to figure out what the nearest analogy to this was. But what they do is: they also, in some of the tribes, the story goes that they can force this stuff out on the surface of their skin. And I don’t know what this is about, but I’ve had ayahuasca visions where it’s like a black field, and suddenly there’s a huge, huge black hand. And I can see in the lines of this hand jewels. And it’s just there. This black hand.


It’s not your hand?


It’s not my hand. It’s a black hand.


Where does it come from? I mean, is it all in your hand? Or, like, in the sky?

3:58:38 McKenna

No. It’s like in a vision. And then I see, in the lines, that what I thought were jewels is some kind of sweat, which is seeping out. And you look deeper into this stuff and you see, you know, that wonderful line from 2001: A Space Odyssey: my god, there’s stars in here! And it’s completely disorienting.


No, the magic is real. I have no idea how far you can go. I mean, one of the paradoxes of what we’re doing here in this room is, you know: here I sit. I have two children, a wife, a mortgage, book contracts, lawyers, all this. Here you sit with whatever you brought to this. And we’re talking about this stuff. If any one of us cared to, we could turn ourselves into something that none of the rest of us could relate to at all. We could become a sage. You could go up onto cold mountain, and those of us left down in the valley would say, “Oh yes, I saw him three years ago up in the mist. Naked as a jaybird, hauling firewood out of the woods.” These places—there’s no barrier between you and these places, except: is that what you want? Do you want to become utterly incomprehensible to the community because you are so deep into the unspeakable? Maybe. That’s what a shaman is. A shaman is somebody who’s just on the edge. They just have one finger back in the world of the rest of us. And then they’re in this stuff.


Well, seeking that used to be called the spiritual quest. But as I said to you, we found the means to do that. We found the answer. You just go and live in the wilderness and take mushrooms, and, you know, Ge Hong, move over! But what to do about that—I don’t know. I really don’t know, because I’m attracted to it. I want to go as far as I can go. But when you realize that you can go so far that nobody will even remember that you ever existed. The other can close over you so utterly.


The reason I ask is because a lot of the times they say that gurus and different people take on the karma of the people that they heal or they work with. You’ve probably heard this theory before. So I wondered when these shaman were healing, if they magnetized out some kind of illness or something, where does that go?

4:01:26 McKenna

Well, they have—yes, they’re very concerned about the power of this illness, and they have techniques. And many times after a big curing a shaman will fall sick. And if you want to understand this, read Jung’s book called On the Psychology of the Transference. It’s the same in all cultures. You must be able to turn back the transference if you’re a healer, otherwise you’ll be killed, ultimately. And all psychiatrists, psychotherapists, understand this. Or, if they don’t, they’re at great peril.


Did anyone happen to see a film called From Beyond? The premise was that there was a machine that induced visions into the spiritual realm and stimulated the pineal gland. And what happens is: a couple of people—the inventor and someone else—are hooked on the machine, and the pineal glands start growing out of their foreheads. And—


Ah, Hollywood!


It was big on special effects. And one guy, his whole body was just totally transformed. He was always on this machine and so forth. It reminded me of your electronic version of…

4:02:43 McKenna

Yeah, well, this is also coming, you know? Artificial technologies. Where are we in this process? Yeah?


I’m quite satisfied with questions with the moment. But commenting on that, with respect to the pineal gland and visions. The pineal gland feeds directly from the ocular nerve with no interceding brain tissue. It’s just a direct connection. So the colors that one takes in are directly responsible for the particular secretions of that gland, which is one of the reasons why television is described as being difficult on people and causes real hormonal problems if you watch it enough, because you’re dealing with a very restricted spectrum of colors and that sort of thing. The additional thought occurred to me that everyone who’s watching television at the same time, their nervous system is being pulsed at 30 times a second even though they’re not conscious of it. But every TV set in the whole United States is exactly in sync with each other all at 30 times a second. It’s like this sub-audible dial tone that’s going through everyone’s brains, which has kind of an ominous tone to it.

The one comment I wanted to make was: having recently read a book by Gurdjieff called Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, which is about the only book I’ve ever read that even pertains to the sort of cosmic timescale that Terence talks about enough. And one of the warnings in the beginning of the book was that, if you read this with enough attention, you’ll eventually lose the taste for your favorite dessert. And the particularly attractive person across the street that you like to watch won’t seem nearly so interesting anymore. So be forewarned: you may not want to read this stuff. And to a certain extent I feel that’s quite possible.


You think the cosmic view kills the joy of trivia?


The joy of trivia.

Aud. 2

The curse of mysticism.

4:05:10 McKenna

Well, I don’t know. Your thing about television and everybody being in sync—one of the most creative and eccentric explanations ever dreamed up for flying saucers rested on the fact that the guy said: in the United States, on an average evening, 40 million people are all in sync watching TV. And if there, then, is a storm on the sun, it acts as a kind of coherent energy beam which illuminates these millions of psyches that are all synchronized by watching television. And it causes an image of an archetype to be projected into space on the other side of the planet. Not my theory!


Well, definitely an image processing. When you want to—you know, computer image processing—when you want to draw a very fuzzy sort of pattern, quite often what you do is interfere with that another regular pattern on top of it and see how these two patterns co-mingle so that you get an accentuated thing as a result. And this 30-Hertz dial tone is definitely illuminating this other aspect of the imagination, it would seem. Maybe?

Aud. 2

You ought to read A Wrinkle In Time. Have you read that? Read A Wrinkle In Time. It’s supposed to be a children’s story. It sounds exactly what you just said. By Madeleine L’Engle.

Aud. 3

Read The Bolt Trilogy. It’s great.

Aud. 2

It sounds exactly what you just said.


Back there?


I’m interested in what you feel your relationship to this would be [???] beings that come to you. Are you or we offspring somehow, or… you know?

4:07:15 McKenna

Well, I don’t know. This has puzzled me for a long, long time. When it first happened I just thought that they were straight out extraterrestrials, and that this was some kind of weird technology where this was a contact between a species that evolved off-planet. They’re interdimensional dwellers of some sort. So then I thought maybe they’re just hyperspatial creatures of some sort in some other dimension that I can’t even imagine. And then I thought maybe they’re actually from the future. It’s like, maybe this is a future state of humanity; that we’re actually going to look like this in 10 million years and they’re doing some kind of weird experiment with time and I’m the Neanderthal that they’re checking out.


And then the other possibility which I mentioned here—which is really unsettling, but in a lot of ways fills the bill better than any of these—which is: they’re souls of some sort. They’re human beings. And when you try that on for size, it’s pretty hair-raising because it feels right, and yet your mind boggles. I mean, I am not ready to believe that you can smoke a drug and cross over the great divide and return ten minutes later. That really strains my credulity. Nevertheless, if you asked shamans, this is what they would say. After having many DMT trips I came to realize that this place that you break into where the gnomes greet you with this huge hooray and all this linguistic machinery is happening and so forth—that, alien as that place is, it’s somebody’s idea of a reassuring environment for a human being. It’s somebody’s idea of the equivalent of a playpen. And these colored machine-linguistic object things are the equivalent of colored rattles and things strung on a string. And you’re just sitting there gaping. And they’re saying, “Don’t freak out. Pay attention. Learn to do this.” I don’t know.


First of all, nothing is impossible. No possible speculation is verboten, right? So maybe it is that we’ve gone too far, and maybe it is that this planet is doomed, and maybe it is that somehow that, too, is part of the plan. Borges had this idea. He believed in what he called the soul of the species, and he said the soul of the species is not released into the higher dimensions until the last individual member of the species dies. As long as there is a single member of the species alive, the soul of the species is somehow in some kind of transient zone. But when the last member of a species died, then it goes off. Well, if you look at the fossil record, 95% of all the species that have ever lived on the Earth are extinct. From that point of view it looks as though biology is a process for producing extinction. Well then, what is it? Is it that in the world of three-dimensional space and time and matter and energy the DNA rears a form which inhabits a region of time and space called the body. And then, at a certain point, this form withdraws into… something. And the matter that it had previously organized just falls to pieces. I don’t know. But the entities in the DMT place are a real challenge. They either are the dead, extraterrestrials, or interdimensional dwellers. Any one of these is a headline in the supermarket checkout line, I assure you!



I’m not exactly sure what I want to ask you, but I did recently have a dream that we were all linked together. It seemed like you had the same experience on the mushroom; feeling that. I wanted to know if you had anything else about that, in relationship to attracting others—I mean, who are in…

4:12:36 McKenna

Well, I think that we cannot evolve, we can’t change the world any faster than we can change the language we use to talk about it. And changing language is a collective activity. You empower memes. I talked about this. I mean, you create a concept and then you empower it by spreading it and by communicating it clearly enough that, in the act of spreading it, it doesn’t get badly copied and get all mushed up—you know, so that after it’s been copied ten times you can’t recognize it? I sometimes have this experience. People quote me to myself, and I’m just amazed, you know? And sometimes it turns out it’s verbatim, and I’m still amazed. But the linking-together is through the evolution of language. And we’ve never ever attempted to engineer language. We’ve always let it just grow like topsy, not realizing that certain language habits are very toxic, certain language patterns give permission for very detrimental ways of thinking. I mean, for instance, the subject-object relationship in English, or the assignment of gender to things that goes on in a lot of languages. These are habits of language that then become tremendous social problems for their inheritors.


You said the word “it.” It’s raining. It’s sunny. What is sunny?

4:14:23 McKenna

Yes. Or the “I,” you know? I mean, there are languages where there is no first person pronoun. The only way you can refer to yourself is by the extremely clumsy form “this person.” “This person thinks,” yak yak.



I was curious: you mentioned DMT and visions of—I think you said—dodecahedrons and things like that, and then you mentioned that they’re saying to you to stay with it and hang in there. I’m kind of curious about this dialogue you’ve mentioned and the logos in psilocybin. I mean, do they sound the same? Are they… is it… you know, how do you know that it’s just not your own [???] commenting on that moment?


How do you know it isn’t your own mind?


Yeah. And is there a way to break through to the inner dialogue, or does it just start going like a tape loop?

4:15:23 McKenna

No, it doesn’t start going. You have to invoke it. This is an interesting thing if you’re practically inclined. It won’t speak to you. You have to speak to it. And you come in to a certain place on the mushroom, which I now—based on having done it a number of times—recognize the territory and say, “Aha. It’s now possible to communicate with the thing.” And then I… well, you must know the old I Love Lucy episode where they do the thing about “Come in! Little green men, come in! Little green men!” Ethel and Lucy are into this. Well, I tried that and, you know, you hear this thing which sounds like the tinkling of bells, the distant tinkling of bells. And what it is, is: it’s literally… it’s the elf troop, or the elf troop marching band and chowder society. And you can hear them getting nearer and nearer. And it’s like, hm-hmmm-hm-hmmm da-daaa-da-da da-da-DAAA-DAAA! I mean, it gets louder and louder, and at a certain point you begin not to hear it but to see it. And it gets brighter and brighter and clearer and clearer. And finally they’re all around you, and jumping up and down, and saying, “How do you like it, McKinney?” and all this other stuff that they say. And they’re gnomes. You couldn’t miss it! And I’m still me, of course. I’m still just as I would be, sitting here. And it’s so hard to assimilate. That’s why I say, you know: sitting here in a room talking about this stuff is nothing as to being out there signing treaties with the folks. It’s…


That, to me, is what may be [???] following a little bit and question it. When you say logos, is this the machine-elves; are they the logos in an experience we have?

4:17:35 McKenna

No. No, the logos is something a little subtler that is a—it’s actually stuck with me ever since La Chorrera—it’s just a quality of thinking that I recognize to be clearer and deeper than my own. And it usually takes the form of: “Why don’t you try this?” with regard to some problem. “Why don’t you try this?” And I know immediately it’ll work. It’s got the tone. That’s the real thing. I just go and do it and it always works. And it’s these evolved ideas.


Okay. So I can understand that that’s your objective experience. And some people don’t get the machine elves and things like that, that I’ve talked to. But you’ve mentioned the mark of this was terror. I can only realize that being in that domain is enough of a terror in itself, but you said the more it goes on, the proof of this was, some of these trips were terrorizing you. But I’m trying to understand. There must be something else going on that’s enabling you to feel terror, or…

4:18:42 McKenna

It’s the implications are what’s terrifying, because—you know that amazing moment in Rosemary’s Baby where she’s in the dream, and then she sits up and she says, “My god, this is really happening!” Well, that happens to you in the DMT thing: you realize at the center of it: heh, this is not a drug. That’s preposterous! A drug? Are you kidding me? Drugs make you feel good or bad or fall down or disgrace yourself. This is not a drug! It’s something masquerading as a drug. I mean, it’s as appalling as if they were about to give you the umbilical examination that Whitley Strieber specializes in. I mean, you’re inside a flying saucer. You’re with things that, a moment before, you would’ve laughed at the possibility that they even existed. And now you’re there. And you feel completely normal. You don’t feel drugged, or dulled, or distanced, or high, or low. You just feel stoned-amazed at what has happened to reality and how it’s all been replaced by this thing that, not only did you never suspect its existence, but nobody ever expected its existence. You talk about a well-kept secret that’s only two tokes away? How do they keep the lid on this? That’s the miracle to me: how do they keep the lid on this? Well, they have.


Well, I’m not sure what my question is, but in the experience last night with the computer-time program, that was real exciting to me. It kind of made me almost have the experience of traveling through time and having that awareness of history. And wondering now: now that you’ve brought that out and we have the awareness, what do we really use it for? I mean, what is your vision for how it can truly be used?

4:20:53 McKenna

If you understand history you will see it in the present. It’s an amazing tool for enriching your own experience. If you, when you go to get a hamburger at Hadrian’s hamburger joint, know that this is happening because you’re caught in a resonance related to the expeditions of the Roman emperor Hadrian to Scotland—I mean, you’re totally schizophrenic, of course, to entertain thoughts like this—but it makes life a lot more interesting. Instead of seeing a linear thing with a fading past and an unpredictable future, you live in a super-rich kind of baklava style of time, where time is folded and folded and folded, and the layers are very thin, and the stuff between is very sweet.


How have you used that personally in your life?

4:21:54 McKenna

Well, the other way you use it is, of course, it predicts the future. We saw the line going off into the future. Well, I’ve had it in my possession since 1972. So after you’ve watched it correctly predict the future for a while—months or years, however long it takes—you gain confidence in it. And as you gain confidence in it you discover that it gives you permission to let go of anxiety about the future. You’ve got a map of the future. You know that August 1991 is going to be a pain in the ass. You know that great triumph will come to you in January of 1993, so why worry about it? You know? You just then go and live your life. And as you watch the wave unfold, confidence grows and grows and grows. And what’s happening, you see, is: without any fanfare or alien symbiosis you’re becoming a hyperspatial person. You’re adding a dimension to your view of the world. The future is changing from a question mark into a map that you’re quite confident is working for you. And anxiety about the future is a major thing twisting people around. So if you could get agreement on this, it’s the Tao. Live in the perception of the Tao. It’s just people didn’t ever think that would mean you’d go and look at a printed output from a computer. But the exhortation is the same: live according to the constraints of the Tao.


I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend. This has really given me much food for thought. Eons and eons and years from now, even. And I’m very interested in what your best setup is for taking mushrooms? The amount, and time of day, condition, whatever. I think there must be—in your experience, and I’m sure you’ve tried all of them—there must be one way that perhaps lends itself better to the mushroom than others.

4:24:18 McKenna

Yes. Well, yes, I haven’t said it this weekend, but it’s practically a battle cry of mine: it’s five grams in silent darkness on an empty stomach. And I’ll explain. Five grams. You must weigh it. A lot of people take mushrooms. And when you show them what five grams is, they pale visibly. Five dried grams. And it’s several mouthfuls. And I’m speaking for 145-pound person. Obviously, if you weigh 90 pounds, you back it up a little. And if you weigh 230 you might go a little up. But five dried grams, on an empty stomach. All that means is: don’t eat for six hours. Silent darkness. Silent. And a lot of people disagree with me about this, and they want to listen to the moody blues, and they want Bach, and they want this. Forget it! Nobody’s going to listen to you if you come out of this experience saying, “Johann Sebastian Bach is god!” We know that! So, you know…. And it’s very confusing because the music becomes everything if you listen to it. I mean, you cannot separate it from the trip. And people will not believe that the trip without music will be just as rich as the trip with music because they’ve already decided they’re inadequate; that, out of their own depths, they couldn’t possibly produce a psychedelic experience, so let’s have the B Minor Mass thrown in just to help it along a little here.


So, silence: silent darkness. And then darkness. Why darkness? Because the hallucinations actually need darkness in order to form. They form behind closed eyelids. And so what I do is: I clear the decks and I try to pick a point in my life that I don’t feel too anxious and oppressed by trivia. I unplug all the phones. I get rid of every obligation. I roll up three or four bombers. And I then wait on an empty stomach. And at about nine o’clock at night I take it. And I just sit, as I’m sitting now, waiting for it to come on. Once I’ve taken it I am completely in the sacral space, even though I don’t feel anything for an hour and twenty minutes. Some people do the ironing and chop up some stock or something, but I just sit. And then it begins to come on. Some people say it comes on very quickly, and so forth and so on. For me it usually doesn’t really come on until the hour and twenty minute mark. There may be a surge of nausea at forty minutes or a need to take a leak or something like that. But then I get back and resettle.


And at an hour and twenty minutes it comes. And it comes as a wave. It’s literally—it’s almost like a very sheer silk scarf. Just drops over me. Just settles over me. And I think, “Oh my god, here it comes. Here it comes.” And then it comes, and it’s a wave of hallucination. And if I—well, I gauge it, but at that point I smoke. And something about the cannabis synergy meeting the psilocybin rush—I mean, it is spectacular. I mean, you think that everybody from Vancouver to Tijuana must’ve just thrown themselves on the ground as this thing…. I mean, it feels like the sun exploded. It feels like you’re watching through eleven feet of quartz crystal a hydrogen furnace on the other side. You cannot believe the release of energy. It’s like a siren comes on. A siren which you hear and feel. A siren which shakes your body and the building that you’re in and everything else.


And then it just pushes you out into—who knows? Long periods of time where not a word of it will ever be reported to any other human being. I mean, you see things that nobody has ever seen and will ever see again. You’re into it. And it’s an infinite matrix in all directions. And it means something. It doesn’t just look pretty, it’s playing on the harp of your soul with the emotional overtones.



Have you ever taken it and gone outside?

4:29:14 McKenna

Yes. And I don’t do that very much because I really try to control the setting, because the freakiest things happen. I mean, if you in any way lift your foot off the pedal of controlling the parameters of the setting, the damndest things will happen. I mean, grizzly bears will break into your house, motorcycle gangs will arrive, flying saucers will attack. It’s weird to go outside.


Do you eat the mushrooms or just drink the tea?

4:29:50 McKenna

No, I eat the mushroom.


Do you have eye shades on?

4:29:53 McKenna

No, I just sit in darkness. But I really pursue total darkness. I don’t….



What specific species of mushroom is the best? There’s several different species.

4:30:04 McKenna

There are many species, but the only one you’ll ever encounter unless you’re a specialist is Stropharia cubensis. That’s the one that people grow and that is an item of underground commerce. And it’s the one that grows in the dung of the white cows and is the one that I’m implicating in the evolution of human beings.

Over here?


[???] the language from some of these questions [???] yesterday. Trying to break into my own computer and stop habitual behavior [???]. Starting with language, just picking the phrases or words that you use the most when you’re lazy—it could be profanity or outrageous, amazing, very interesting, awesome. There’s a long, long list. Those are all cop-outs, I think. If you can stop yourself at that moment and say: wait a minute. That’s not really expressing an articulate thought. I think it sends a message. It does break into the computer and says: things are changing.

4:31:15 McKenna

Yeah. Paying attention—you know, I think we said in here at some point that the key to everything is paying attention. “Awareness of awareness,” the Buddhists call it. But your point is very good. If you truly have awareness of awareness, the best place to manifest that is in (I guess the Buddhists call it) right speech, yes? So that it’s always appropriate and sufficient and so forth. There’s a book that some of you may know and you might be interested if you don’t know it. It’s called Hallucinogens and Shamanism. It’s edited by Michael Harner. But it has articles by a number of people, and it has really one of the most wonderful articles written about the mushrooms, by Henry Munn, called The Mushrooms of Language. And he talks about how they are an inspiration to articulation. How, even in these Mazatecan villages when people are not taking mushrooms, the way you can tell a shaman is by a speech style. And I saw this in the Amazon with the ayahuasceros. They have a diction, a psychedelic diction, that is careful, appropriate, always sensitive to the context of the listener, and so forth and so on. In other words, they are great teachers, educators, communicators. And I think it’s the residual effect of this empowerment of speech.


What was the name of the book?


Hallucinogens and Shamanism by Michael Harner. It’s in paperback from Oxford University Press.


It’s an indepen—no, it’s not an…

4:33:05 McKenna

It’s an excellent anthology. It has articles about ayahuasca, ibogaine, San Pedro. It’s a good world survey of folk usage of hallucinogenic plants and extensive bibliographies that will lead you on if you’re interested in some particular area.


How long does your five-gram trip last now?

4:33:26 McKenna

If I take it around 8:30 at night, by midnight I’m ready to call it an evening. I always eat before I sleep, because otherwise you’ll wake up in the morning feeling really wasted and sort of hollow. But if you’ll eat something fairly substantial right before you sleep at 1 in the morning, then you wake up the next morning, you feel great.


Any difficulty getting to sleep?

4:33:53 McKenna

Oh, well, your mind is just roiling with thoughts. But on the other hand, you’ve come so far down from where you were an hour, an hour and a half before. That’s when you smoke the third bomber and that usually shoves you into unconsciousness!




4:34:14 McKenna

There have been many revolutions in geology and paleontology, such as plate tectonics and the original discovery of deep time. I mean, 150 years ago you could consider yourself an intellectual and believe that the Earth was 5,000 years old. The discovery of deep time made a real difference. Then, plate tectonics created a whole new vision. Well, now the latest wrinkle is the growing awareness that, repeatedly in the life of the Earth, objects have come down that have just raised holy hell. I mean, this thing that came down 65 million years ago—you can’t even conceive.


The 1904 Siberian…

4:35:04 McKenna

The Tunguska explosion. But that was a very small object. This thing which came down 65 million years ago, they estimate that a wall of earth three miles high moved out at three times the speed of sound from the impact. Can you imagine a mile-high wall of stone moving at twice the speed of sound? I mean, it’s the kind of thing that tears planets to pieces. And it’s happened before. It happened 220 million years ago. And then, when you get back—way back—there’s a scar on the Canadian shield that’s 750 miles across. It’s as large as Copernicus on the surface of the moon. 50,000 years ago, something fell in Arizona that created a crater half a mile wide. They estimate that everything within 800 miles of the epicenter died instantly, and that was only 50,000 years ago. So the Earth is a chaotic place. It’s all very provisional.


Where did you get that information, of what you just described?


Describing the explosion?


The explosions, 50,000 years ago.


You mean all the dates and all that?


Yeah. Do you subscribe to some…?


My secret sources?


It’s like [???]. You’re talking about times that I never read any of this in any of the books anywhere that I’ve seen.

4:36:38 McKenna

Well, I’ve discovered that there’s a hierarchy of information in the United States, and that you get it from journals. It’s all in journals. I subscribe to Science News, to Astronomy, to Archeology, to Scientific American. And those are just the science—and then I get all the other stuff too, as well. No, science is in total crisis. Cosmology. I mean, did you know that they are seeing structure in the universe on scales so large that no laws of physics can account for it. I mean, the galaxies are arranged like trees in an apple orchard out to recessional distances three quarters the life of the universe. There’s obviously a great deal that we don’t know.


Did you know that Alpha Centauri, which is 4.5 light years away, is the most sun-like star in 50 light years? Nice coincidence, isn’t it? That the nearest star to the Earth is the most Earth-like star for quite, quite a distance. It is a binary, but it’s loosely bound. There could be a stable planetary system there.



I have been coming here since 1974, and this is the first one that is about the meaning of life. And also, in all my workshops I’ve been concerned with my own growth, going about my life, expressing my feelings. In this workshop I really have not got into my [???], but it’s really interesting where I’ve kind of been lopsided in the other direction. So this has kind of been a big influence on me. It’s really got my curiosity going. And then, also, I’m aware that—I went to Harvard. I want to go to the University of Ayahuasca. I have two questions. One: how do you apply? And better yet: how do I get some ayahuasca to partake of? And then the second question is: I’ve taken ecstasy a number of times and it’s been wonderful. What’s bad about ecstasy for the body as a whole and so forth? I don’t know much about it, and I would like to know—

4:39:02 McKenna

Well, there’s a lot of—ecstasy, you all know, is MDMA. There’s a lot of—


Is that speed? Is it kind of like speed, or…?

4:39:11 McKenna

Well, it was made out—it’s in the same family as MDA. So it’s a kind of psychlosized amphetamine. But it was used very successfully in directed psychotherapy to get people to talk about their feelings and that sort of thing. And then there was sort of a scare about it because it became known that you could physically see neural damage in the brains of rats that had taken it. But then it was discovered that a drug called fenfluramine—which is a diet drug that has existed for 25 years and is freely prescribed by physicians—causes exactly the same kind of signature of neurodamage as the MDMA. Well, fenfluramine—nobody’s ever suggested it should be banned, so the decision has been made to just keep looking at this. There’s no doubt that it shows gross structural deformation of synaptic tissue. But on the other hand, no behavioral sequelae have been demonstrated for this. In other words, the rat doesn’t stagger or isn’t aggressive or anything. But it has this. So my advice on MDMA would be basically to go slow and wait. They are working on it. This is my brother’s—well, he’s left Stanford now, but this is what he was doing on Steve Peroutka’s lab. And…


Last fall, when I was here, I had the opportunity to watch some of the video tapes of your residence last year. And that excited me a lot, so I did some inquiring and found a person who would guide me through a McKenna-style mushroom experience. And I did that once. It was the first time in my life I’d ever done anything like that. And it was a major experience for me. And I’m curious now and frightened by that experience, and my recollection of that experience. I suspect that’s part of the reason why I’m back this weekend. It’s because it’s coming up for me again. And I guess I have a question. It’s sort of along the lines of: do you suspect that, because of whatever the control issues of my anxiety going into it, that that gave that particular experience the specific flavor, which is not likely to be duplicated again, or…?

4:41:52 McKenna

Well, not exactly. But it is true—and it’s reassuring, I hope, to know this—that the first… it’s like sex. The first time can be anything. And no judgments can be made based on the first time, because you’re just figuring it out. Also, repeated studies have shown that the first time there is personal material, usually, that has to be released. That we do carry traumatic and repressed material. And the first trip, and the second trip, sometimes, is about working through this. But eventually you get to this part of the trip which isn’t about you. And most of us are not very screwed up. I mean, you just blow your tubes out and then you’re alright, and it’s okay from then on.


There’s no way of getting around it that the first-timer has an advantage on everybody else because they don’t know what they’re getting into. It makes me very anxious to do it. And I say in my talks: if it doesn’t make you anxious to do it, increase the dose until it does. Because it’s the ego that needs to be dissolved. And it’s no good to go through an ambiguous trip. You really want to get it to happen. But for men, especially—and certainly for me—it’s a surrender issue. You know? You just think, “Oh god! To submit to it again! To have it totally take me out of control! To have it totally be in charge!” And then you just have to take the plunge. And I always—Leo used to have a prayer. I can’t can’t do the prayer. But I’ve got the idea. And the basic idea is: here I am, I trusted you enough to do this, please don’t hurt me. You know? You have to humble yourself. I know people who are very—well, I’m thinking of a certain person who’s very strong, masculine, ego-type, pushy, talks too loud, has made a lot of money, is used to being taken seriously. And god, when this guy took mushrooms, he absolutely hated it, because it told him. It said: “You’re a jerk, and I’m going to make you feel it!” And he hated it. And he was telling me this story as though I should say to him, “Lucky for you, you escaped from the claws of this vicious mushroom.” And I was of course thinking to myself, “My god, it’s exactly what this guy needed to hear, really! It’s amazing!” But the surrender thing is an issue. And it doesn’t get easier, I think. And I’ve talked to shamans in the Amazon about this, and they say, “You think this stuff is easy for us to do? You think just because I run around with a penis sheath on my ding-dong that this is any less weird than it is for you? It isn’t! It isn’t! You’re a human being. This is a tough swallow.” And yet, we do it because we need to cure and we need to understand. But you must be strong. You must have your weapons—whatever your weapons are. You know, your inner fortitude, your chi, your sensak, all of this.


So it’s a call to courage. This is why I think that gurus do such a brisk business even among people who know about psychedelics. Because this takes courage. How many people ever walked to the meditation hall with their knees knocking in fear over what was going to happen in their meditations? But, you know? This is the thing.


[???] with my mind [???] but that was after psychedelics.

Aud. 2

The stakes are the same.

Aud. 3

This is very useful.


Yeah, this is good stuff.


Well, yeah. I came to this workshop on Friday, and I said that the old vision worlds were completely dry, and I feel like I’ve come to the well really refreshed. [???] psychedelic guru. And yet, I realize… I’ve grown up in [???] and I realized—and [???] hash and opium and [???] experimentation with that stuff. And I realized this weekend I came to the West because I’m willing to partake of the psychoactive juices, you know? It’s been nine years, and I’ve sort of scurried around it. It’s like, I’ll drop some acid, you’ve got some mescaline, peyote button here or there, but it’s never been the way you’ve described it. And the conflict I have is along the realms of psychedelic experiences leading to a fully cerebral virtual reality kind of situation that makes the body obsolete. And the fact that more recently I’ve been focusing on, in my meditations and yogas and stuff, on the brain studying the brain, how do I get there. And I have this intuition that I need to be put into a situation of danger. Just like we were talking a couple of minutes ago. Of being faced with the stark whatever it is. And so this [???] is not the [???]. So it’s the conflict of: where does the body come into this?

4:48:38 McKenna

This is this choice that I talked about. We can’t be both high-tech and nature children. Are we going to download half of us into a black box that will be kept on the moon? This kind of thing. Is the body becoming obsolete? Does living in the imagination mean the obsolescence of the body? And how much of what we are is in the body? I mean, we know the theories have ranged from all to none. But it would be a good idea to get this a little nailed down before we go much further with this.


You know that mushrooms are forbidden to brahmins by the Mahābhārata. But the Santali people have hundreds of words for mushrooms in their language. And there’s some suggestion that they may have connections back to rituals and traditions that are pretty much unchanged from Vedic times. And they have a mushroom that they’re very big on. It isn’t a psychoactive mushroom, but they venerate it and they hold a festival for it. And nobody knows quite why. And I’ve always been interested in going to India and looking into this. Because the question of soma, in India, relates very much to the presence or absence of Stropharia cubensis.


Can you describe with all your own [???] how is this progressing? What’s the [???] or seeing, or however you want to put this into words, with the continuation of this study?


Well, it’s interesting to me that the ayahuasca has begun to appear from many sources. It’s not just one group. There’s several groups who are bringing ayahuasca to this country and holding sessions with it. Now, for some reason the Amazon is becoming the focus of both our problems and our potential solutions to our problems. The Amazon is where all the cocaine is coming from. The Amazon is where the ayahuasca is coming from. And the Amazon is the place where the issue of the clearing of the rainforest and the destruction of the vegetation cover is most intense. So it’s almost as though the rainforest itself is sending the ayahuasca. And the message of the ayahuasca is different from the mushrooms. The mushrooms have this science-fiction, let’s-depart-for-the-stars kind of thing. And the ayahuasca has its feet in the mud and says: life, children, balance, affirmation. So… I don’t know if this addresses your question.


I’m amazed at what’s happening—to me and to this issue. The mushroom said many years ago, “Just keep saying what you’re saying and I will clear the way.” And it seems to be clearing the way, and I just keep saying what I’m saying. But what this is all for, you know, I haven’t gotten any new orders for a while. I assume that it’s a struggle for the soul of this species, and then maybe everything is tied up in that. But these chemicals, these plant hallucinogens, are pheromones laden with messages for humanity, but you have to pick up the telephone, you know? It’s telling us how to do it. And I don’t mean some airy-fairy trip like love one another, I mean it’s supplying technical data on how to manage ourselves out of this mess with things like the time wave. And I don’t want to name names because they prefer their privacy, but I know of a number of major ideas moving around on the intellectual landscape whose inventors entirely credit them to psychedelics. These ideas are there because the planetary soul is seeding them. And it’s up to us to cultivate—cultivate our intuition, our social relationships, our sensitivity, and our sense of decency, you know? So that nobody puts anything over on us. And I think the world is growing more psychedelic every day. I’m completely hopeful. The trends I look for, the indicators I watch, are all moving in the right direction. This is how it should be. This is what it’s like when a species prepares to depart for hyperspace. Nothing’s wrong.

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