Hallucinogens: Before and After Psychology

(Monkeys Discover Hyperspace)

May 14, 1983

What mushrooms uncover is the slumbering Lógos, the primordial inner voice, psychedelics’ telepathic tidings heralding our exile’s end. Visionary technologies shall synergize humanity’s dreams, fusing inner and outer worlds, truth and imagination reconciled. To break ancestral chains, we must meet the paradoxical with minds ablaze, escaping platitudes’ prisons through ecstasy’s portals, whereby we’re transfigured, phoenix-like, rising renewed from the ashes of history—life’s fiery genius unbound.

Presented at the Psychedelic Conference II at the University of California.




I was originally going to call this talk Monkeys Discover Hyperspace, but I decided that that was a little outrageous, and I settled on Hallucinogens: Before and After Psychology. So before I dig into that subject I’ll say a bit about how I come to have an interest in these substances and their very peculiar effects. Years and years ago after an LSD trip I imagined that I perceived a relationship between the LSD experience and the motifs of Tibetan religious art. And accordingly, I went to Nepal and took up residence in a village of Tibetan refugees, and I quickly learned that the shamanism that I wanted to study was inaccessible for reasons of language, for reasons such as that the Buddhists who were teaching me Tibetan looked askance at the shaman that I wanted to associate with. And I realized then that the association between shamanism and hallucinogens is such that both, in a way, are taboo. And when you deal with preliterate cultures you discover that the shaman is a very peculiar figure. He is critical to the functioning of the psychological and social life of his community, but in a way he’s always peripheral to it. He lives at the edge of the village, he is only called upon in matters of great social crisis, he is feared and respected. And this might be a description of these hallucinogenic substances. They are feared and respected, they are misunderstood, they are only called upon often in moments of great crisis, and they are a persistent but always peripheral part of the community.


And I saw this in Nepal among Rinpoche Tibetan shamanism, which is a non-hallucinogen based shamanism. I saw it in Indonesia, where techniques had been developed to induce trance that were non-chemical techniques; specifically dance in the case of Bali and Lombok. And I saw it finally in the Amazon, where I think I contacted the primal shamanism. As you know, there’s a division of opinion on the matter of whether narcotic (or as I call it, hallucinogenic) shamanism is decadent or in fact primary. And Mircea Eliade took the position that hallucinogenic shamanism was decadent, and Gordon Wasson (very rightly, I believe) contravened this view and held that, actually, it was very probably the presence of the hallucinogenic drug experience in the life of early man that laid the very basis for the idea of the spirit.


Well, as I made my way through these various cultures and various hallucinogenic substances, it came to my attention that, in my opinion—and I believe in the opinion of Gordon Wasson and other scholars; Henry Munn comes to mind, he wrote a marvelous essay called The Mushrooms of Language—that in the minds of those who associated themselves with the mushroom, there were certain assumptions about psilocybin that were different from the mythos that was arising around some of the other hallucinogens. Psilocybin, I think, of the more commonly available hallucinogens, is the most visual, and it is certainly visual if it is done in the traditional manner. And I’m always amazed at how little understood or practiced the traditional manner is, so I’ll sketch it for you. The traditional manner of taking psilocybin is to take a very healthy effective dose (in the vicinity of 15 milligrams) on an empty stomach in total darkness. You’ve been there! And in that situation—which is, in a sense, a situation of sensory deprivation—the psilocybin is able to exfoliate itself to the fullest degree, and to show you what it is not against a background of the reality that ordinarily surrounds us, but against a background of darkness. So that the pure essence of the thing can be shown. And it is extraordinarily bizarre; extraordinarily difficult, I believe, to assimilate into your worldview. And this is whether you’re a Bora youth undergoing initiation or whether you’re a college student or a research chemist. These things do not lend themselves well to integration into language. If they did, they wouldn’t occupy this peripheral position after ten thousand years of human culture.


But above and beyond the visual intensity of psilocybin, the thing that sets it apart, I believe, is a phenomenon that might be described as an induction of audio hallucination. But in fact, to describe it that way is to fall back on a kind of medical jargon reductionism. Because what it really is is a voice in the head that is separate from the perceived ego function. In other words, a voice speaks, you hear it, and it seems to be operating independent of the ego. It operates in a psychopompic role, as a teacher, as the narrator of the vision which is revealed—much in the same way that Virgil and Dante through the circles of hell. And the modern intellectual equippage is not capable of assimilating this. This is the sort of thing that we associate with psychopathology. We can hardly imagine anything more alien to modern consciousness than a disembodied voice in the head.


However, if you familiarize yourself with Western thought on a scale of millennia, you discover that not only is this not an alien phenomenon, but for much of human history it has been inimical to the human experience. And it is called (relying on the Greeks) the lógos. The lógos is a voice heard in the head, and the lógos was the hand on the rudder of human civilization for centuries up until, in fact, the collapse of the ancient mystery religions and the ascendancy of Christianity to the status of a world religion. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story in Plutarch of the fisherman who heard a great noise and saw something fall into the sea, and heard a voice from the sky saying that great Pan was dead—that, in other words, the ancient gods had been eclipsed. And, in fact, in Jungian terms the ancient god, by falling into the sea, had been submerged in the phonic unconscious and disappeared from the experience of ordinary people.


From that period on it was fifteen to seventeen centuries where Christianity worked at the implications of its message while science spun away from Christianity and created its own set of modes. The new world was discovered, reason was enthroned, scientific method was enthroned, and the civilization that we know arose around it. But then, in 1953, Valentina and Gordon Wasson went to Huautla de Jiménez in the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, and they discovered this mushroom cult. And it’s my belief that, to this day, we do not know what exactly it was that they stumbled upon. Mushroom? Drug? Cult? All of these ideas about what it was rests on the assumption that we know what we’re talking about when we talk about “mind.” And, in fact, everything that has been said at this conference has rested on the assumption that we know what we’re talking about when we invoke a concept like “mind.” But the truth of the matter is, ladies and gentlemen, that after two thousand years of grappling with the problem, scientists cannot even tell you how you can form the conception that you will change your open hand into a closed fist, and it will happen. This is an intervention of mind into the world of matter that no philosopher has been able to give a satisfactory account of.


Now, with the hallucinogens, this intervention of one realm into another, of mind into matter or matter into mind, is raised to a pitch of excruciating intensity. And it’s my belief that one of the unconscious reasons which underlies the odd attitude of the establishment toward hallucinogens is the fact that they bring the mystery to the surface as an individual experience. In other words, you do not understand the psychedelic experience by getting a report from Time magazine, or even The Economist. You only understand the psychedelic experience by having it. And therefore, to understand it is to embark on a course of action of self-education outside the context of your culture, because your culture has no answers about what this thing might be.


Okay. So much for that. That psilocybin—and DMT to a lesser extent, although it is so brief and so intense that it’s sometimes hard to sort these things out—invoke the lógos, or reintroduces the phenomenon of the lógos into the experience of modern people. So what can we make of this? I think we have to take it very seriously. I think that the culture crisis that we are involved in has to do—and by that I mean the entire global cultural crisis leading possibly to the extinction of the species—has to do with the fact our models developed over the last 500–1,000 years have played us false. They aren’t working. And the cultures that we have conquered with capitalism and technology, we have repressed their connection into these intuitive realms. We have established one method for the arbitration of truth, and everything which does not pass through that narrow gate is relegated to the realm of mythology, or worse, cultural immaturity. And yet, we are the culture that is in crisis. When you go to the rainforest you don’t find cultures in crisis except to the degree that they are being impacted by us.


So I believe that it is no coincidence that in this moment of maximum cultural crisis which we call the twentieth century, the hallucinogens, the entheogens have emerged in Western culture. It is no accident that Wasson made his trip to central Mexico and contacted the mushrooms. What he discovered in the mountains of Mexico was nothing less than Eros, sleeping but alive, the body of Osiris preserved over an entire astrological age—metaphorically speaking. In other words, that to take the mushroom was to transcend the cultural momentum of the past couple of millennia and return to a world where the lógos was a realized phenomenon. And We heard from Carl Ruck last night about the Eleusinian Mysteries. This was not a minor phenomenon. Over a period of 2,000 years, everyone who was anyone made the pilgrimage to Eleusis and had the experience. And it put the stamp on Greek drama, Greek philosophy, later Roman politics—all of these things were influenced by the hallucinogenic experience. So our culture, spiritually, has played the role of the prodigal son. We—for reasons of ideology, botanical geography, other factors—have not had visionary ecstatic hallucinogens installed in our culture as we perhaps should have over the last several hundred years. Now that is changing.


And in order to understand what the change means, you have to look further back in time. In fact, past history, to prehistory—again, to the model of the shaman. Not the shaman as anthropologists describe him, but the shaman as shaman dream him. Because every shaman looks back toward an archetypal first shaman who was super-human, who did go to the stars, who could go to the bottom of the ocean, who could move through the gates of death and return with a lost soul.


Now, it seems to me—when you pull back to the perspective of several thousand years—all of history can be seen as an adumbration on this wish, expectation, hope for a superhuman condition, for a transcending of the laws of gravity, of the laws of life and death, into a superhuman condition that was solitary for mankind as a whole. In other words, the shaman as the archetypal perfected man. Now, this afternoon you heard Metzner refer to alchemy as one of the refractions of this concern with the perfection of the spirit. It is about the projecting of a perfect substance, which is the self, purified. But it also led to the rise of modern science, basically, through a misunderstanding.


Now, it seems to me what’s happening now is that what Mircea Eliade called the human desire for self-transcendence expressed through the motif of magical flight has been taken up by the technological society as the idea of spaceflight. And I’m sure if Tim Leary were here, he could speak to this more eloquently than I can. Spaceflight is nothing less than the exterior metaphor for the shamanic voyage—in other words, in our terms: for the hallucinogenic drug experience. This is the way that engineers get high: they go to the Moon!


What we need to do to transcend our cultural schizophrenia and to heal the rift between spirit and soul or world and self is to realize something which we all pay lip service to—at least I’m sure all the people in this room pay lip service to—which is the idea that the inside and the outside are really the same thing. But I don’t think the cultural implications of that have been clearly drawn. What it means, really, is that all our dreams of transformation have to be realized at the same time, and that we cannot go to space with our feet in the mud, nor can we in fact turn ourselves into an eco-sensitive hallucinogenic-based culture on Earth unless we fuse these dichotomous opposites. It is only in a coincidencia oppositorum—a union of opposites that does not strive for closure—that we are going to find cultural sanity.


And this is the thing that the entheogens, the hallucinogens, deliver with such clarity and regularity. They raise paradox to a level of intensity that no one can evade. And in doing that they set the stage for turning yourself into the kind of person who does not insist on having it either-or, black or white. And a culture composed of those kinds of people will be a culture more civilized than any that we have seen so far. If I can paraphrase Teilhard de Chardin for a moment, he said—or I will paraphrase him this way—when the human race understands the potential of the hallucinogenic drug experience, it will have discovered fire for the second time.


And this is what we’re waiting for. We are waiting for the discovery of fire so that we can transcend the monkey-business and get on with the great business of inhabiting our own imaginations. And it’s impossible to take our position without someone saying, “Manitean [?]! Dualist! Enemy of the body!” Perhaps. But since the very beginning of culture, what we seem to be are animals which take in raw material and excrete it imprinted with ideas. And we do this on a larger and larger scale. Looking toward the day when all physical constraints can be lifted off of us, as they are in our imaginations, and we can erect the kind of civilization that we want to erect. And this vision was anticipated by no less a seer than James Joyce, who said, “If you want to be phoenixed, come and be parked.” “Up n’ent prospector”—


Here in Moicane we flop on the seamy side,

[Moicane is the red light district of Dublin]

but up n’ent, prospector,

you sprout all your worth and you woof your wings.


This was part of his program—he hoped that man would become dirigible, as he put it. And he didn’t live to see the revolution of the hallucinogens. But I think had he, he would’ve felt that man was well on his way to becoming dirigible. And it seems to me that we stand at an enormous threshold. The future of the human mind must loom large in the future of the human species. If it doesn’t loom large in the future of the human species then we are in very big trouble.


Now, a term that has been applied, or was early on applied—well, I haven’t heard it used at this conference—to hallucinogens was “consciousness-expanding drug.” And this may not be onomatopoeic, but it’s certainly phenomenologically accurate and neutral. They are consciousness-expanding drugs. And the question, “What is consciousness?” cannot be divided away from the question, “Is man good?” And this is a question that we have to answer for ourselves, because I believe that we are not going to extinguish ourselves, that we are going to evade the many obstacles that are so obviously ahead of us in the next few years. We are going to reach the threshold of the galaxy—but in what form?


And in order for the form—in which we reach the edge of the galaxy and present ourselves to the hegemony of organized intelligence that must exist there—in order for that form to be worthy, we are going to have to go with our minds fully illuminated in front of us. And that means that we can have no more truck with the idea of an unconscious; of an inaccessible and dark part of the human psyche that cannot be controlled. That is obviously a description of a childhood of an intelligent species. And I believe that these hallucinogens signal the end of that childhood.


There have always been individual shaman who have made that transition. And in that sense, the taking of hallucinogens is an anhistorical phenomenon. It has always been going on. But the idea of psychedelic societies is something new. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone takes the drug. It merely means that the complexity and the mysteriousness of mind are centered in the consciousness of the civilization as the mystery which it comes from, and which it must relate to in order to be relevant.


So I’ll take a couple of questions.






You know, [???] a coincidence is what you have left over when you apply a bad theory. Any other questions?






About this idea that the mind is the central…?






Well, I guess—the question is: is there any advice vis-à-vis utilization of materials that would allow you to hang on to whatever perceptions I may have triggered in you? I wouldn’t presume to answer that question, but I’ll answer another one that might relate to it, which is: I think that when you take hallucinogens, you should take an effective dose. And I can’t stress enough the importance of lying down and being still in darkness on an empty stomach. I mean, if you want an oral empowerment, that’s it. Nothing could be simpler. And yet, you would be amazed at the number of people who, when you mention psilocybin, the first question that occurs to them is: will I be able to drive? This is…!

One more. Yeah.






With regard to what?






[???] the word empathenogen or empathogen seems to me very appropriate. It is not a powerful visual hallucinogen. I’m very interested in the visual hallucinogens because it seems to me they pose certain fundamental questions about information theory and that kind of thing. For instance, where do these hallucinations come from? These extremely intricate—far more intricate than any visual scene that your eye falls upon in ordinary reality—these intricate, ever-shifting information patterns. I don’t believe that they can be reduced to spirals, lines, and dots. What I see isn’t like that. It’s more as though you had a holographic hyperspatial radio, and you just tune down the dial, and here’s a desert world in a triple star system, and here is a city somewhere inhabited by insectile creatures with a machine symbiosis, here is something else. And it’s just flipping by. I would prefer to believe that the human imagination is the holographic organ of the human body, and that we don't imagine anything, we simply see things so far away that there is no possibility of validating or invalidating their existence.

One more.



[???] psychotherapeutic potential for dimethyltryptamine [???] is there another kind of in that peak experience to benefit from [???] or is it in your opinion too short acting [???] have any profound, lasting effect?



No, I think it certainly has a profound and lasting effect. The very brevity of it serves to convince you that it isn't a drug at all, but that it's carried you into another dimension and back again. And that alone is something to ponder.

But I thank you for your attention!

Hallucinogens: Before and After Psychology

Terence McKenna


Document Options
Find out more