Seeking the Stone

November 17, 1991

What if psychedelic plants sparked humanity’s awakening? McKenna (speaking at the 1991 Whole Life Expo) contends these mind-altering substances dissolved the egos of early humans, bonded communities, and revealed cosmic consciousness, catalyzing rapid cultural progress. He asserts modern society suffers from severing this link to nature and spirit, and calls us to reclaim this “archaic revival” before consumerism leads civilization over the brink.



Wonderful. I can hardly believe I’m here. I made it past the Camaro raffle, I survived the offer for reconstructive cosmetic surgery, and I’ve had my smart drugs for this evening. So: glad to be here!


Well, until a few minutes ago I thought that this was a 45-minute gig, so you get to see grace under pressure this evening. Naturally, I’m kidding. It doesn’t matter how long it goes. We could never get to the bottom of this stuff—nor would we wish to, I think!


By coincidence, merely, I became 45 yesterday, so… sort of a good moment to do some summing up. So in thinking about this talk, and knowing as I did who would be here, I thought that I would sort of orient the theme toward distilling the psychedelic mind, which is a way of talking about the psychedelic mind, but also trying to—considering the amount of money you paid for this session—give you the entire shtick in one fell swoop so that you would never have to attend a Terence McKenna lecture or workshop again. You could just move past that, turn the page on that kind of thing in your life.


And I think it’s coming together for me. I don’t know whether it’s writing these books. There was a very nice introduction here tonight, and the whammy in it was: after 25 years of being ignored by straight publishers (or publishers of any sort, for that matter), it appears that I’m on the brink of entering the marketplace, if not the mainstream, so with your help and word of mouth advertising, maybe I can continue to meet my mortgage obligations.


Okay. Let’s cut to the chase. Enough of the obligatory clowning around. The psychedelic question in the society just seems to refuse to go away. It sort of can’t be swallowed and can’t be spat up. And so society just sort of runs around knocking into walls and kicking its feet in the air. And this has been the situation that we’ve been in for at least thirty years now. And as a person who has spent a great deal of time in the underground, I’ve observed with amazement the persistence of the countercultural agenda to alter consciousness. And like many of you, I came to it in the sixties when the basic argument in favor of altered states of consciousness were almost entirely narcissistic: deep insight into yourself, an ability to overcome childhood programming, so forth and so on. And I certainly think because of the kind of society we are, because of the kind of people society has made us, that this was a valid place to begin.


But after thirty years of having the psychedelic issue on the social agenda—at times hailed as a universal panacea, at times demonized as a scourge from hell, but never quite silenced, never moved out of the public eye—I’ve reached a number of conclusions about this, and I thought it would be interesting tonight (I guess because of my recent birthday or something) to sort of try and distill all this and sum it up and put it in front of you in terms of: what is psychedelic shamanism? Why should people like ourselves, who live in high-density electronic culture, why should we care about this? What does it say about our future? What does it say about us as a group? And what techniques are there that we each, on our own, can bring to bear on this question? So with your help—hold me to the straight and narrow—I’d like to make my way through this agenda this evening and talk about these various aspects of what, to my mind, is the most astonishing facet of reality.


I mean, maybe sex is pressing hard in the second position, but these two things run neck and neck as aspects of the mystery of what it is to be human. And, believe me, human psychedelic experiences and human sexual experiences are orders of magnitude removed from anything going on in the animal realm. These things are set apart from the rest of being. Because what we bring to them is mind. This is what we pour into the sexuality of human beings that makes it unique, this is what pour into the contemplation of our own experience. Mind is a focus that is lacking—at least its expression in the unique form that we experience it—is lacking in the rest of nature.


And I believe that the persistence of the psychedelic experience within the social agenda has to do with the fact that it actually addresses something basic in human beings. I mean, it may seem like a radical proposition to say that to a white high-tech industrial democracy audience, because we are the people who have drifted furthest from this birthright. And I would like to suggest to you this evening that much of the civilization that we have created has been achieved based on a direct denial of the psychedelic experience and all that it implies: our humaneness, our connection to the rest of nature, our connection into the feminine, our place in nature. Because for the western mind we have no fixed place in nature. Our place is ours to define. We are, from the point of view of the cultural machinery that empowers us, completely free to become, to be, whatever we want to be.


Now, the problem with that prescription is that, in western culture, what that means is: permission to express ego, permission to profligately use and destroy resources, permission to set aside the political agendas of out-classes and out-groups. And this untrammeled expression of will outside the context of nature has turned us into a kind of Frankenstein’s monster at best, a toxic force in the body of the Gaian world soul at worst. And I believe that our origin and our future culmination and our present happiness all can be secured, understood, illuminated, and expanded only if we’re willing to look at our relationship not only to altered states of consciousness, but to the mind behind nature. Because that’s really what this is all about to my mind.


What these psychedelics are empowering or conveying or revealing—depending on, you know, how you come at it—what they are showing us is that we are not alone upon this planet, we are not alone in the universe of mind. And I realize this is a soft audience to preach this in, because there are probably people within the sound of my words who sincerely believe they were once citizens of Zeta Reticuli. You know, when the jar is so leaky, it’s hard to know where to put the water!


But I come to this as a “show me” kind of guy. And so, though my conclusions may sound as flaky as anybody else’s, it was hard for me to get this flaky. I didn’t embrace it. I was forced to it. And this method works, you see. I mean, there are two ways to get flaky. You can get flaky, which takes no effort at all, you know—I mean, you just announce you’re a walk-in, start eating wheatgrass juice, and, you know, tithe to Maitreya—or you can get flaky by testing the edges, by stretching the envelope of being. And this works for the most hard-headed among us. The aerospace insurance adjuster mentality is not only who I’m speaking to, but who I feel I represent. Because—no kidding, really! At age eighteen I was a Marxist, an existentialist, I had ambitions in the field of aeronautical engineering, so forth and so on. And I discovered that you can take that kind of a mentality out into the theater of real experience and you can come back a space bunny just like everybody else. So what that means, then, is that a straight person—and I speak as someone from the sixties with apologies to all our gay friends who later appropriated that word, because when I say straight I mean “unstoned”—a straight person is not a guardian of truth or probity, a straight person is simply a frightened proto-flake, you see?


I always think—and most of you have heard me say this—but when we get off on this subject I always think about the wonderful thing Tim Leary said years ago. He said it so many years ago that when I told him how much I admired him for saying it, he didn’t remember that he’d said it. But the man once said—wait until I give the line!—“LSD is a drug which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have not taken it.” You see? And I certainly saw this. I mean, I saw my parents become violently psychotic from not taking LSD.


And so my point is—and I make it in a forum like this because here we have so much permission for belief. I mean, you want to believe in, you know, channeling from beyond the grave, fine. No problem. You want to believe in the healing power of nematodes, hematodes, hematite, you name it, we’ve got it all. Really, I think that the spirit of childlike, untrammeled curiosity is what we’re striving for. Not the anal retentive rational person, not the I’ll-go-for-anything channeling flake, but an attitude of: we don’t have to look far for miracles because they’re all around us. Everything is astonishing. The universe on its surface is alive with mystery. Well, how do we make our way toward that when we live in a culture, practice a language, embody a philosophy (scientific rationalism) which is entirely designed to suck wonder out of reality, to turn everything into shades gray, to subvert all hope that lies outside the realm of career accomplishment and material possession?


Well, the way that we can overcome this through a personal acting out of what I have been calling now for several years the archaic revival. And I want to talk about that a little bit this evening, because I think it—you know, however much we may kid around about the New Age, it is an important aspect of what is going on. Its triviality is rooted in the side of it which is ungrounded, ephemeral, and self-promoting. But it springs from a fairly profound and deep sense that things are not alright in this society. I think that I first encountered the phrase “New Age” in the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. She wrote in the twenties. I read her in the fifties. The New Age has been with us for a long time—so long that there’s nothing new about it.


And, in fact, the reason I call it the archaic revival is because I think we can understand this movement if, instead of accentuating what about it that is new, novel, and never before seen, instead we emphasize that this is a profoundly conservative impulse—a conservative impulse that would set the hair of George Bush and his skull-and-bones buddies standing on end. Because when we talk about conservative, we’re not talking about returning to the era of Eisenhower. We’re talking about returning to the era of Isis, Astártē, the great horned goddess of the high Paleolithic. In other words, this program of material civilization—exteriorization of ideas into matter through, first, alchemy and magic, and then science and industry—this process is coming to an end one way or another. We are either going to plant ourselves and most of the rest of the life on this planet by blindly pursuing this cultural model until we run it right over the edge into the apocalypse, or from the genes, from the bones, from the oceans, from the forests, from the glaciers, there is going to have to come a turning point, a change, a revulsion so profound that is allows us by the tens of millions to change how we think about reality, to change how we live.


And I have ended up an advocate for the psychedelic experience not because I think it’s easy, not because I think it’s surefire, but because I think it’s only game in town, the only chance left. If we had a thousand years, if we had five hundred years, maybe propaganda messages on boxes of cereal, photographs on cartons of milk—I don’t know, something might do it. But we don’t have five hundred years. We must come to a screeching halt now, because we are barreling toward the brink of ruin. And the only thing that I have ever seen that turned anybody around on the dime was psychedelics, you know? The talking cures invented by Freud and Jung at the beginning of this century—it takes years, sometimes it never happens. The bodywork that came along behind that with Wilhelm Reich and others—Feldenkrais and so forth, Ida Rolf—all of this brings it into the theater of the body. At least now we understand it’s a body-mind system, it’s not a disembodied voice lying on a couch, speaking, you know?


But it seems so obvious: what we’re trying to do is perturb the mind. We want to perturb the mind so that we can then see it differently, so that it may see and be seen differently. Well, the mind rests on a foundation of chemical machinery. We’re not saying the mind is chemical machinery, we’re saying the mind rests on a foundation of chemical machinery. So if you want to perturb the mind, you don’t go to the talking, you don’t go to the deep tissue. All of this has efficacy. It is necessary but not sufficient by itself. For there to be a sufficiency of method, there must be an initial perturbation of the mind. And this comes about through the use of psychedelic plants. This is not something that was discovered post-LSD in Manhattan by psychiatrists or in Prague or Berlin or at Esalen. This is a truth 25,000–50,000–100,000 years old. This is how it’s always been done. Only in the last 6,000 years on the European continent—and those civilizations that are the children of Europe—has there been any other approach to these problems.


And what the other approach—linear thought, the phonetic alphabet, science, mathematical abstraction, so forth and so on—what these other approaches have brought us is toxicity, pollution, mutation, catastrophe, revolution, death, and yes, friends, even unhappiness. It hasn’t worked. Western civilization is now crowing over the fact that the only opposition it ever had (which was Marxism; a pathetic weak sister) has now collapsed upon itself. Well, there should be no congratulation in that, because the contradictions which undid Marxism lie in wait to undo this society as well. Both societies are materialistic, both societies define human beings and treat them as things. And the fact of the matter is: Western civilization at this moment is a loaded gun pointed at the head of this planet. And we—for all our pretensions to a sensitivity to the presence of vitamin C or zinc in our diet, or all the rest of this malarkey—we are the major prevaricators of this situation. So a certain obligation rests upon us, and I think we’re meeting this obligation. I wouldn’t say we’re doing a good job, or a terrible job. I think we’re functioning at approximately a B+ level.


You see—I mean, human life is so ephemeral. A person who lives 70 or 80 years is really as ephemeral as a mayfly or something. I mean, it’s not long enough to get the full picture. For instance, many of you—by virtue of not having spent a great deal of time thinking about it—probably don’t realize that this psychedelic plant shamanism option, this is not something that Western civilization has grappled with for centuries, and come to terms with, and found the proper pigeonhole for, and put aside. Not at all, my friends! The fact of the matter is: all of this information about psychedelics has arrived in Western society in the last hundred years. And we have to say hundred years because we want to include things like mescaline: 1895–98 it began to be studied in Germany. And things like ibogaine, which was known toward the end of the last century, but which has virtually zilch impact on American psychedelic populations. So we have to say the psychedelic option has only been an object of the Western mind’s curiosity for approximately 100 years. But really, 90% of that occurred in the last 50 years.


As many of you know, I am a great fan and spokesman for psilocybin; for the mushrooms. The mushrooms that I am so stoked on were discovered in 1953 by Gordon and Valentina Wasson in Huautla. Discovered in 1953, made absolutely schedule one illegal in 1966. 13 years was the window in which Western civilization had to study this compound and figure out what it was for. And they were just beginning to focus upon it when it was made illegal. LSD—discovered in 1937, not brought into the scientific literature until 1948, not generally available even in the laboratory until 1950: made totally illegal in 1966. 16-year window. Think about the fact that when LSD was legal, psychiatrists, professional researchers, were consistently reporting cures of chronic alcoholism with one 500-gamma dose. One-dose cure—like, a 50% cure rate without recidivism for chronic alcoholism. Spectacular findings were being reported. When LSD swept through the scientific community, for pharmacologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, it had the same kind of excitement and feeling of breakthrough that the splitting of the atom had for the physics community in the late thirties.


Well, science (we are told) is this absolutely impartial God-like body of knowledge prosecuted by great men, and it will fearlessly send its questing mind into any situation or environment. This is a mental discipline so dispassionate that it sees nothing at all wrong with strapping monkeys into apparatus and hurling them into walls at 70 miles an hour to study traumatic injuries. This is a discipline so unflinching in its pursuit of truth that it will design tiny television cameras to be implanted in plastic penises so that we can see the changes in the color of the vaginal wall as it approaches orgasm. I mean, these guys are unstinting in their devotion to truth in any form! And yet—and yet!—for thirty years, science has accepted government’s refusal to allow science to look at the potential impact of psychedelic plants and compounds on human consciousness, on chronic alcoholism, on schizophrenia, on depression, on autism, on learning disorders, on dyslexias, on memory enhancement, so forth and so on. This, to me, is obscene.


The future is mental. Figure it out: if the mind does not loom large in the future history of this species, then what the hell kind of a future is it going to be? I mean, this is our crowning glory. Our aesthetic sensitivities, our ability to create values that are not simply based on the next meal, the next sexual encounter, the next empowering social move, but an ability to create social values based on creating a viable future environment for children, creating a viable present environment for the less fortunate among us, creating a social safety net so that the more maladaptive of us are not reduced to living under bridges and in abandoned automobiles. I mean, these are the things which set us above the apes. These are the things which take us out of the context of organic nature and make it seem as though, hey, there actually are some transcendental values being maximized here. There actually is something going on within the human family. But if it were to be lost, fumbled away, compromised, or destroyed, the universe would be a poorer place for it. Truly a poorer place for it.


And I think we take our humanness too much for granted. I don’t think we realize how nasty, brutish, and short most of life has been over the centuries, and how, really, only within the confines of the twentieth century has a level of comfort and food availability and shelter and basic creature needs been met, to the point where most people can begin to lead the philosophical life that previously was the privilege of emperors, kings, great courts. Now we all indulge ourselves. We all have the philosopher king’s point of view. We all have a model of history, a model of the future. And we all feel capable of stepping into the shoes of our leaders and discharging that responsibility.


Well, in order to do that, I think we need to overcome our amnesia about how we got to this place. I don’t see—you see, what science would have you believe (and explicitly implies) is that we are an aberration. Over here you have nature: the beautiful rainforests, the wonderful coral reefs, the symmetry of the hummingbird, the sea urchin, and the butterfly. And here you have us: grimy, tawdry, polluting, ugly, driven, in disequilibrium, in denial. I don’t believe that. I believe that this kind of thinking that breaks humanity away from the rest of nature is the first of the great disempowering myths by which the Western mind has enslaved itself. And we are not outside of nature. We are not a runaway toxic process. We are not a mutation. We are, in fact, that part of nature which has been deputized for a purpose. We are the energy-gathering aspect of the Gaian mind. We are the language-forming capacity of Nature herself.


You may know the concept of a catalyst in chemistry. A catalyst is something which, when you stir it into a chemical reaction, the reaction proceeds more quickly. But the catalyst itself is not destroyed. And this is what I think we are. We are a strategy on the part of the Gaian mind to produce an effect that would otherwise take much, much longer to produce. The main effect of the presence of human life on this planet has been to vastly accelerate the speed at which nature is able to creatively express herself. And I would like to believe that this fragile, fragile thing which we call humanness—which is nothing more than a set of interlocking ideas which we share: ideas about caring, and responsibility, and generations yet unborn, and obligation to the integrity of the Earth, and so forth and so on—I would like to believe that these things arose in us a very, very brief window of opportunity.


As may or may not know, there’s a lot of talk about the relationship between the masculine and the feminine in human beings, and gender issues, and so forth and so on. Well, if you go back into the primate line, what you discover is: primates always have dominance hierarchies occupied by males. This is the bad news part of the thing. You see, it isn’t that we are a perversion of the primate program. At this point, we exemplify it right down the line. But, clear back to squirrel monkeys, you get male dominance hierarchies. Why is this? And why, then, is it even an issue for us? Why don’t we just blindly accept it? I mean, there isn’t a women’s liberation movement among termite societies or, you know, among reindeer herds. So why are we so discomforted by our attitudes toward each other?


Well, I believe it’s because we actually created at a certain point in our history a kind of paradise. We actually solved all the problems which now bedevil us 20,000–15,000 years ago. And how this happened—and half of you, I hope, are amazed and the other half will groan because you’ve heard it so many times before—what happened is: an evolutionary synergy that occurred on the plains of Africa some time over the last 100,000 years. It’s that, as the African continent dried up, our remote primate ancestors were forced out of the trees and onto the African grassland, where they were in an environment completely different from the kind of environment that our ancestors had been living in for millions of years. Gone were the fruit-filled bowers of the climaxed canopy of the rainforest, and instead what there was was a grassland with very little cover, a very restricted flora and fauna. And into that grassland pour these hungry, displaced, dispossessed, formerly fruitarian primates.


When a species gets under that kind of pressure, it must make a choice between extinction or dietary expansion. Many, many species will choose extinction. This is an interesting thing about animal species. Most animal species eat one or two foods that they are very tightly focused in on. The reason for this, if you’re not an evolutionary biologist, is: it’s a strategy for avoiding mutation. You see, all plants have a tendency to protect themselves from predation by producing toxins, mutagens—poisons is what we’re talking about here. So an animal species will evolve a preference for just one or two food sources. And then it can hold its exposure to mutagenic agents to a minimum. Now, our species, when we moved into that African grassland situation, were plastic enough, malleable enough, that we decided: no, by God, we’re not going to go to extinction because of the absence of papayas in this situation, we’re going to test other foods. And we began testing other foods in that environment. And that immediately swelled the number of mutant strains in the human population.


Now, in this grassland environment, the number of new foods to be tested was somewhat limited. And the most spectacular and obvious of the unfamiliar food sources in this environment were: the psilocybin mushrooms seem to be growing in the cow pies of the many different kinds of cattle-like ungulate animals growing up in that environment. And if you’ve ever been to the tropics and seen the stropharia cubensis mushroom in its natural habitat, you can’t miss it. It’s the most spectacular thing going on. I mean, you walk out into a Colombian pasture after a few days of mist and rain, and these mushrooms the size of dinner plates will be scattered across the environment.


Now, when I was in Kenya in the late sixties, I observed baboon troops and their food gathering behavior. And what they were into was running around frantically, looking for cow flops, and then flipping them over, looking for beetle grubs or carrion beetles. You see, they understood that the cow flops—great phrase, huh?—but the fecal deposit of the ungulate animal was a vector for protein; insect protein. This was a likely place to find carrion beetles, worms, and what have you. And, of course, the mushroom. Well, when you observe how primates react when they’re testing a food, they’re very careful, and they’re very conscientious. A baboon will take a suspect potential food source, take a leaf, put it in their mouth, just hold it there. No chewing, no nothing. Put it in their mouth, wait thirty seconds, chew, wait, and then either spit it out or swallow. And if swallow, then begin to eat.


Well, I believe that this encounter with the psilocybin mushroom—and in the course of this workshop, maybe in the question and answer period we’ll get to this—but psilocybin has unique properties which set us up for a sudden enormous evolutionary kick in the pants. And we can talk among ourselves about whether this was just blind coincidence, good old chance, and aren’t we fortunate for it, or whether benign extraterrestrials operating from their base on Zeta Reticuli, where—you know, we can save that for you. We don’t have to get rid of it.


Whether it was those shifty Zeta Reticulites or blind chance, whatever the force was, the exposure to psilocybin has three reinforcing consequences that are of tremendous importance for understanding human evolution. And they are as follows: psilocybin, in very low doses—doses so low that if you had taken this amount you would not feel it or you would slightly antsy; in other words, very low doses of psilocybin—actually increase visual acuity. It means you improve your vision with this stuff. Well, again, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an evolutionary biologist to figure out that there’s a plant in the environment, and you’re a hunting animal, and this plant improves vision, you’re going to be a better hunting animal if you include this plant in your diet. And this is precisely what happened. Early human, or proto-hominid, hunters accepted psilocybin into their diet. It made them better hunters. Being a better hunter means being more successful at obtaining food. Being more successful at obtaining food means more of your children reach reproductive age themselves, and so you outbreed the non-psilocybin-using portion of the population. Simple enough, right?


On the next level—remember, I said this was a three-step process where each reinforces the other—at slightly higher doses of psilocybin, you get what’s called CNS arousal: central nervous system arousal. Well now, “arousal” is just what it sounds like. It’s not only restlessness and alertness, but it’s also a kind of horny, diffuse energy. It inclineth of one’s thoughts to the boudoir, is what I’m trying to say here. And so you get what primatologists and anthropologists charmingly describe as more frequent instances of successful copulation. What successful copulation means is, again: a factor feeding in to more children of the psilocybin-using animals reaching reproductive age themselves.


And then, finally and thirdly, beyond visual acuity, beyond sexual arousal, is the full-blown psychedelic tremendum, the full-blown religious revelation that goes with the mushroom experience. A revelation of such depth and breadth that we—20,000 years later, with all our epistemic sophistication and our parallel processing computers and all this other malarkey—are completely in awe of, completely unable to come to terms with. Well, this higher dose of psilocybin was usually experienced in the context of the middle-range dose of psilocybin. So it went on in an atmosphere of group religious ecstasy and orgy. I mean, it’s just how it happened, folks! Orgy was a part of human sexuality before the invention of agriculture. I’m absolutely convinced of it.


You see, the growth of the human intellect over evolutionary spans of time is a kind of conquest of dimensionality. And the conquest of dimensionality that gave us agriculture unfortunately gave us male dominance and patriarchy. And the reason for this is not far to seek. A new intellectual horizon of cause and effect was being explored. Women, who where the gatherers in the hunter-gatherer equation, were realizing for the first time the causal relationship that exists between burying a half-eaten meal over here, and coming back a year later on your annual nomadic peregrination, and discovering food plants growing where you buried your uneaten meal of a year ago. In other words, women came to understand the relationship between the act of planting and the appearance of usable food plants sometime later.


At the same that this was going on, men were making the connection between the fact that the sex act had something to do with the fact that nine moths later a woman would bear a child. And, in a way, this was the beginning of the straight lockstep march into hell. Because once men had this notion of male paternity, it became more important to know who your children were than it was to participate in the orgiastic group-minded bonding that had previously occurred. And once you have the notion of my child, then it moves naturally to my woman, my weapons, my food, my hunting ground, my everything. The recognition of male paternity gave permission for the growth of ego.


And ego—and this was all a continuous thought, those of you who doubted this was all a continuous thought—ego is our problem. And we always had it when we were squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, proboscis monkeys, and all that. We only lost it in that very brief window of opportunity, maybe 20,000, maybe 30,000, 40,000 years long, when, as we evolved into the grassland, we included in our diet essentially a drug which corrected our primate nature. A drug which suppressed the expression of male dominance. A drug that promoted an orgiastic sexual style that promoted group values.


Because, you see—and this is the point, to my mind, about psychedelics: what they do—not, you know, my trip or your trip, which we can spend hours trading stories about—but when you try and talk about what is the effect of the psychedelic experience (not one or two of them, but a hundred thousand of them), what generalizations can we make? The generalization that I have found most powerful is: the psychedelic experience dissolves boundaries. That’s what it does. And boundaries are what chain, diminish, define, and degrade us. And we are always creating them, and we are always struggling with dissolving them. And the ultimate boundary is this belief in the sanctity of the ego versus everything else in the cosmos. And I believe that the ego arose in a context of language, culture, religion, and so forth, simply because we evolved in the African grassland, and the climate itself underwent changes that eventually placed the mushroom out of reach.


And this is why the fall into history. This is what that Genesis story about the—that I call history’s first drug bust—this is what it’s about. I mean, isn’t it peculiar that the ur-myth of our culture opens with a drug bust? It’s the story of a woman—right? Those bad women!—a woman who corrupts her roommate, and then they both get kicked out. They break the lease, essentially. And they both get kicked out. And where they get kicked out of is into history. And I believe that the Genesis story, definitely told and created at a time when patriarchy was on a roll, is a memory of this break with this orgiastic, goddess-centered, nomadic, cattle-oriented, mushroom-using form of human pastoralism.


Now, notice in this scenario that there are no villains per se. The planet began to get dry, and that’s what broke up this arboreal, papaya-oriented paradise in the treetops, where everybody was male-dominated and mindless as a tomato, but having a good time. The drying of the African continent broke that party up, created a mixed ecology of forest and grassland, into which the primates then evolved this fascinating relationship with the cattle, you see. And much of what I say here is orthodox evolutionary theory. It’s just the part about psilocybin that nobody else will touch with a 10-foot pole. But moving out into the grassland, testing foods, accepting psilocybin into the diet, and then creating, based on the interruption of the natural—natural!—tendency toward male dominance, it was fixed 50,000 years ago.


A pharmacological intervention on the entire species created, then, a situation of partnership. The women were the gatherers, the men were the hunters. This had to with promotion of different body types that was already well established in these primates. I mean, you get this throughout the primates. The large male, barrel-chested. The more diminutive female. And the females largely more social than the male. The males hunt. And in the proto-hominid situation this was certainly true. And hunting, as you know if you’ve ever done it, places a great premium on stoic waiting. That’s the hunter’s job: is to sit down and keep your mouth shut and watch silently until it’s time to make your move, and then move ruthlessly without question, with attention.


Women had a completely different set of pressures and constraints on them. As gatherers, it was very important for women to be able to communicate extraordinarily subtle aspects of the material world to each other. So that a woman needs to be able to say, when she comes into camp with the apron full of nuts: “I got these near the waterfall, by the bush with the small yellow leaves with the waxy flowers and the red berries that has the dry grass underneath it.” In other words, for a gatherer there is tremendous premium put on being able to describe your environment. You must be able to communicate. Because a woman who makes a food find can only bring back to camp as much food as she can carry. But if she can communicate to her sisters what is going on, then no problem. So language, I believe, largely evolved as a prerogative of women. And this stoicism and ability to tolerate uncomfortable conditions was evolved by men.


All of this, I think, would’ve been fine. It could’ve gone on for millions of years in this climaxed situation. The orgies were lunar, meaning they probably occurred every two weeks, or at most every 28 days. That means: every 28 days every member of this society was completely dissolving any psychic structures that may have arisen in the previous 28 days, and then everybody was just jumping on each other’s bones in a big heap. And you can imagine the boundary-dissolving impact that something like that would have. Why, then, if it was so wonderful, didn’t we just stick with it? Why the descent into, you know, the hell of Pee-Wee Herman and Richard Nixon and all of this stuff?


Well, the same culprit that created that happy story destroyed that happy scenario. And that is the continued drying up of the planet. And that’s what we get in that Genesis story. Remember at the end of the Genesis story it says: “and God set an angel at the Eastern gate of Eden with a flaming sword, so that Adam and his children could not find their way back into Paradise.” That’s the memory of the Saharan sun scorching off the African veldt and forcing those mushroom-using pastoralists to settle in the Nile valley, and set up permanent settlements, and begin thinking about kingship, large-scale agricultural projects, and so forth and so on.


And what happened—it was not as simple as that may have made it seem, you see. This is really the theme of this book that I wrote for Bantam, is: the theme that cultures wear drugs like clothing, and they’re never aware of it. They just feel naked without their particular drug. And the clothing may differ. You know, one culture feels fully dressed in penis sheaths and warpaint. Another culture isn’t fully dressed unless the gown is by Dior. So there are different styles of clothing, and there are different styles of mental clothing in the form of drugs. And these drugs promote different kinds of cultural values. And what happened in this African situation was: a tragedy that, in a way, we have seen enacted in microcosm in our own society.


It was that, at a certain point, everything was perfect. The monthly orgies, the suppression of the ego, the group values, the recent invention of language was making food-gathering easy for women, the abundant game was making hunting easy for men, so forth and so on. But this drying of the African continent didn’t halt there. It continued. And pretty soon there were problems: less game, less to be gathered, and (most important for my theory) fewer mushrooms. And when there became fewer mushrooms, then there were two possibilities: you could have your mushroom orgies less frequently, or you could create some kind of technology for preserving the mushrooms so that, when you found a lot of them, you could save some of them for dry spells—literally for dry spells.


Now, the problem with this is strategy is that, in a world without refrigeration, the strategy which aboriginal people—in Australia, in the Amazon basin—the strategy which the Aboriginal people tend toward when they want to preserve some delicate food is: they invariably go for honey. Honey. This is why some of you may know that the Romans ate hummingbirds’ tongues pickled in honey. It isn’t because honey was the preferred medium for pickling hummingbirds’ tongues, it was because that’s a way of preserving delicate food. The problem with honey is: honey itself can ferment into a psychoactive compound. Honey changes into mead. Mead is a form of crude alcohol. The impact on a goddess-worshiping, orgiastic, non-hierarchical, non-male-dominant culture of switching over to the use of alcohol is absolutely devastating. In the same way that I told you what psilocybin did—improves visual acuity, promotes sexual activity, delivers a religious experience—we can talk about what alcohol does: it lowers sensitivity to social cueing at the same time that it gives an empowered sense of ego. In other words, it makes you into a jerk. It gives you the courage to say and do what (if you are a decent person) you would otherwise never say and never do. It turns each one of us into a Clarence Thomas. This is not what’s needed. (Boo! Yes! No! Who knows! Who is Clarence Thomas?) And time and time again in human history these kinds of synergies have been enacted.


Well, I want to say more about it. That isn’t the whole story. That could be the whole story. I mean, there’s enough in that for it to be the whole story. In other words, if it’s true that the mushroom, you know, suppresses male dominance, if it in fact promotes communal values, and so forth, then what a wonderful thing it must be. And we can leave it there. But that’s only a small part of the story. The real story is: what is so wonderful about it? Since it’s a mental experience, what is so wonderful about it that it could halt the human tendency to devolve into these counterproductive forms and lifestyles?


Well, what is so great about it is that it is nothing less than half of the intellectual universe. It is what I call the connection to the Gaian mind. In other words, to this point, what I’ve said could be imputed to be just talk about a superb psychedelic drug. And so they’re saying, “Oh, well, so this guy advocates the use of a superb psychedelic drug.” Seems reasonable or unreasonable, depending on where you went to church. But it’s not that paradigm-challenging. But what is paradigm-challenging is the content of the experience. The content of the experience is completely mind-boggling, completely befuddling. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the content of the experience. Because fully gotten out and fully discussed and fully realized, it’s not going to leave one brick upon another in the cheerfully naïve edifice that our half-backed civilization has erected as universal truth.


Science is not going to be able to survive the encounter with the psychedelic experience. Because it is not an encounter with the Freudian—you know, the repressed memories of your miserable and battered childhood, or whatever it is you went through. And it isn’t even an encounter with the miserable memories of the battered childhood of the human species that we all went through à la Carl Jung. That is all there, but that’s in the hallway where you hang your hat and the antechamber where they take your coat. The main event, folks, doesn’t even have anything to do with the psychology of human beings. The main event is another dimension. A dimension so bizarre, so titanically peculiar, so strange, so unanticipated by our language, our history, our literature, that it is literally like the discovery of another world. And there’s life in that world.


Now, a funny thing about discovering new worlds is that you usually, when you get the new world all mapped out, you usually discover that there’s somebody living there. And for them it’s not the “new world” at all, and, you know, you haven’t discovered anything. You’ve just showed in the middle of their scene with a distorted rap—sort of like Christopher Columbus. And this is what we find with the psychedelics. And this is why shamanism becomes, to my mind, the bridge to understanding what this archaic revival is all about.


The shamanic hallucinogens are the meat of the thing, the pith essence, the center of the mandala. But the bridge into that is the effects that these things have: the content, the experiences that we can language and tell each other about. And what we are discovering through shamanism, through looking at it not through the condescending eyes of the white man who is just impressed by the incredibly droll quaintness of whatever these brown-skinned people have dreamed up—not that, but through a realization that we are sick and no doctor can cure us, because we’re not that kind of sick. It’s soul sickness. I mean, it has to be soul sickness. And when you see stuff like Chernobyl, or the Kuwaiti oil fields, or the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington—when you realize what this really means, then you realize, you know, this is a mad species. This is a terminally depraved species.


And what is required is a return to a model that can heal. And this is what shamanism has always been about. And we have not recognized it, because the part of the human being which shamanism addresses—which is the soul and the spirit—we have a 500-year-old tradition that denies that there are such things. So for us it’s absurd, shamanism. It is painted rattles, guys dancing around in the middle of the night, blowing perfumed water around and smoking too much tobacco. That’s shamanism for us. Because we cannot see with the eyes that understand.


When we do, what we realize is that half of our mind has been taken away from us. That, yes, the human body protrudes into profane space as 120–350 pounds of meat somewhere in the universe. But that isn’t the domain of humaneness. The true domain of humaneness is inclusive of that, and much, much more. Because the true domain of humaneness is a domain that honors the mind as self and as landscape. I mean, you are a creature loose in a landscape of meaning. And you are that landscape of meaning. And by losing contact with this, we have become essentially pathological, very needy. This is a typical pattern in a person with an abused childhood. They become very, very needy, very thing-oriented, very security-conscious, very anxious. This is a picture of us and our psychology.


And we are so deep into the historical nightmare that we can’t ever remember any other way of doing business. We know we’re messed up. We know we’re unhappy. But what’s to be done, you know? I mean, we have a million minor fixes, and people peddling all of these things. I mean, you’ve just been through the aisles. You know what I’m talking about. But somehow salvation itself becomes an impediment to salvation. I mean, once you see 500 forms of salvation being sold at prices you can’t afford, the very notion of salvation becomes obscene, you know? It becomes one more layer in the obscene layering that takes meaning out of life, and disempowers us, and turns us into a subscription customer. That seems to be how we always are being forced to end up.


Well, the only way out of this, I think, is to… it takes courage, because you have to turn your back on your culture—in the most profound sense there is, because there are many ways to turn you back on your culture. I mean if everyone’s wearing grey, you can wear green. That’s one way to turn your back on a culture. But another way is to break its laws. Now, that’s a little more serious and, you know, brings in big philosophical issues. But, in fact, the culture is an enormous arrow pointing “go this way.” And you know what lies that way? Impoverishment, madness, degradation, and death. That’s where the culture is pointing. You can see it! You can see it! Just look where we’re headed. If everyone on Earth aspires to the kind of lifestyle that you people can enjoy by virtue of having paid the money to be at a scene like this, there isn’t enough glass, metal, and plastic in the planet to make that many Celicas and Jaguars and Bluebirds and Snowbirds, and all the rest of this crap. So what is needed is an awakening.


Now, I mentioned earlier in this talk that, in the fifties, before they interfered with LSD research, they were curing chronic alcoholism with a single 500-gamma dose of LSD. Well now, for heaven’s sake, nobody is suggesting that LSD is a cure for alcoholism. That, to me, is absurd. It’s not a cure for alcoholism, it’s a cure for stupidity! And a person (who is killing themselves by drinking themselves to death) takes 500 mics of LSD and says, “What a stupid person I am! I’m killing myself!” And so then they look at their behavior and they cease that behavior. And this is what has to be done on a societal scale. And it is not as difficult as we may wish to be assured by the establishment. The whole folderol and hoop-dee-doo about the 1960s was that the crypto-fascist bullshit agenda was damn near overthrown by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds on campuses scattered around the high-tech world. The male-dominant agenda is so fragile that any competitor is felt as a deadly foe. And the fact that these ideas will not die in spite of the fact that, you know, they’ve raised the price of an ounce of weed from $15 to $500, they’ve made the pinch for growing weed from a slap on the wrist to lose everything you every owned or dreamed of owning. And they cannot push it into extinction. It’s because it’s so much older than their con game. They’ve invented their con game post-Sphinx or something, and we’re talking about a reality that reaches back 15,000, 25,000, 30,000 years.


And it’s a reality… so far I’ve only spoken—I keep trying to get to this subject, but I won’t let myself for some reason—so far I’ve spoken of it as boundary-dissolving, promoting group sexual activity, this and that and the other thing, but those are like generalizations. What is really interesting about the psychedelic experience is: it shows you a mental universe that you not only never suspected existed, but that you could not have suspected existed. I don’t think there’s another way to it. I mean, I’m not ready to categorically say there’s no other way to it—and occasionally, especially at gatherings like this, people grab me and assure me there are other ways to it. And they say, you know, “If you just—I want you to meet Babaji, he’s as good as psilocybin.” “Oh, really? I want to meet this man!”


Because—I mean, let me say a little bit more about this. I would like to believe that, in principle, you could get to these places on the natch. Only in principle, however, because if some people say, “Well, you know, these things you describe on DMT and psilocybin, I can show you how to do that naturally.” No thank you! Are you kidding? Thank god I have the drug as a kind of marker, so that I know when I’m getting close to that stuff! If I woke up one morning in that place and I couldn’t tell myself I’d taken mushrooms, I would define myself as seriously discombobulated and wait to see what happens, you know? And people say, “Well, don’t you think you ought to be able to do it by yourself?“ And I love this question, because the answer is: you can’t do it by yourself. That’s the entire message of the last 10,000 years of human history. The self is insufficient. The ego will not suffice. The only way you’re ever going to get anywhere is: you must humble yourself to the point where you admit that you can’t do it unless you have help from someone whose idea of home is a cow flop. If you’re willing to humble yourself to that degree, then maybe we can get somewhere.


The content of the psychedelic experience is, I believe—relating to that is the sum-total of our humaneness. And I think, based on experience, that there is a certain amount of leakage from the future backward into the past, and that many of the phenomena that are being interpreted as past lives, and reincarnation, and channeling, and regression this, and clairvoyant that, all this has to do with the misunderstanding about how causality actually works. That all of the impressions upon which people are building these models—channeling, and spirit guides, and reincarnation, and so forth—the material upon which these models are being built is real. But the models that are being built are tremendous compressions of the reality of the situation. I mean, when someone tells me that experienced a past life regression and that they were a butcher in thirteenth-century Florence, I always think to myself, “But you were a butcher in thirteenth-century everywhere. And you were a butcher in fourteenth-century everywhere.” I mean, once the connection is opened, the connection is not particular. The connection is general. It is: all reality is who you are. All reality is where you are, and where you’ve been, and where you will be.


And two things are operating in the hidden dimension of the human mind. One of them is what I call the Gaian mind. And this is being imaged in this society as the rebirth of a kind of goddess. People are realizing on different levels, and at different levels of sophistication, that the energy of being can be imaged as a female entelechy: an enclosing, nurturing, caring, forgiving kind of entelechy. And this is what psychedelic shamanism has always been about. It’s about a connection to the Gaian mind. And this gives you, obviously, a tremendous sense of being embedded in a larger coherency than merely the coherency of your own small life. And that’s very empowering.


But it’s not the general sense of things that this Gaian mind imparts that is really, to me, the interesting part. It’s that the Gaian mind is a real mind. It has information. It can tell you things of the most specific and personally important sort. It tells you where the game has gone. It tells you who poisoned the well. It tells you who raped so-and-so. It tells you why person X is ill and unable to get well. In other words, the Gaian mind is the database that all shamans seek to connect to in the act of curing. In the act of functioning as doctors for their society, they get a connection for the Gaian mind.


And again, at this point I feel like I have to remind you, I come to this as a skeptic, as a sneerer. I mean, I have no time for this stuff unless it’s real. It happens to be real. You have to take psilocybin (as far as I can tell) to encounter it—at least if you have the kind of lumpen neurophysiology that I have. I mean, I’ve never been with the etheric crowd, you know? But this Gaian empowerment is what allowed these societies to live without technology, without modern medicine, without remote-sensing devices, without any of the appurtenances of technology that we take for granted. And we have lost this connection. We can’t even imagine it. If someone were to begin talking about how the Earth was speaking to them and giving them messages about how to live, you instinctively can sense this is something to be very, very careful with. You give that rap to the wrong person, and they’ll drop a net over you and you’ll find stuffing envelopes for a convalescent home or something.


Okay, so that’s part of it: the Gaian mind. And it is this feminine, nurturing, enfolding thing. It’s the mind of nature itself. It is really our own mind—but extending, then, away from this possessive notion of “our” mind back into the general concept of mind itself.


And then the other pole, or the other motif, encountered in this situation is trickier to envision. I call it the transcendental object at the end of time. This, if we were, you know, fanatically symmetrical model-makers, then we would assign a kind of masculine value to this. But I’m not particularly into that. I just see it as the transcendental object at the end of time. But what it is, is: it’s a kind of attractor. And we’re not accustomed to thinking of the historical situation as being under the influence of an attractor. We inherit our belief that history is pushed rather than pulled. We inherit this idea from the nineteenth century when the theory of evolution was elaborated. These nineteenth-century British atheists who were creating the theory of evolution were so horrified by the power of deism—meaning the belief in God per se—that they constructed a theory of evolution where everything is pushed from behind. In Darwinian evolution there is no purpose. A good Darwinist never lets the word “purpose” cross his lips. A good Darwinist knows that things just happen randomly, and then natural selection makes its selection, and then you get whatever you get. And this is understandable in the intellectual atmosphere of the nineteenth century; that they would want to get away from that.


The problem is: we have matured now beyond the simple atheism of the nineteenth century, and it is now very reasonable—sanctioned by mathematics, and dynamics, and so forth and so on—it is now very reasonable to speak of an attractor. And this is—I’m also a little nervous to talk about this, because part of what I do is: I popularize. I tell you things you should know yourself or which you could know yourself if you would but go to a decent medical library and spend the time to look up all this botanical and pharmacological data. So I’m like a clearinghouse. But then there’s another thing which I do, which I’m a little more nervous and touchy about, which is: I tell you what I think. And it’s just what I think. It has exactly that much weight behind it, which is like zip, you know? I mean, you don’t have to believe this. Why should you?


But based on 25 years of fiddling with this stuff, and then doing a lot of reading and head-scratching, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a transcendental object ahead of us in time. You can call it God, you can call it Jesus, you can call it Her, you can call it flying saucers from Zeta Reticuli or the Pleiades—I want to get all factions here— or Zubenelgenubi, my favorite stellar origin point. But whatever you call it, it’s an attractor. It lies ahead of us in the future, and all of human history is being channeled toward it, pulled toward it. And I see the entire history of the universe as the history of a journey across a landscape of energy and matter toward union with this transcendental object.


And I have a theory of history—not the mathematical one. Don’t bolt for the door. No, this’ll be a cocktail party version of the theory of history. I have a theory of history which is: the universe is a novelty-producing and -conserving engine of some sort. That’s what we’re inside, folks: a novelty-making machine. Now, what do I mean by novelty? People say, “You mean like little plastic bugs and puzzles inside plastic capsules? Is that what you mean by ‘novelty’?” No, you idiot! Of course not! By “novelty” I mean something that has never been seen before. Something unique. The new connection. I always think of the symbolist poet Lautréamont, who said: “I am fascinated by the kind of beauty that arises when a bicycle meets a sewing machine on an operating table.” Now that’s novelty, folks! Because you just don’t get that every day.


So the universe is a novelty-producing engine. It not only produces novelty, but it then preserves it and builds upon it. So if we now look at the story which science tells us—and it’s an interesting story, by the way. If you think I say things which are highly unlikely, notice that I do not ask you to believe that the universe sprang from a point of matter smaller than a proton in a single instant. This is the position of science. The is the limit case for credibility. I mean, if you can believe that, what in the world would you balk at, for cryin’ out loud! I mean, that is the limit case for credibility. So, science tells us that the universe sprang from nothing in a single instant, and that it was very hot, very hot. So there were no molecules such as you and I are made out of. There were no atoms such as lead and gold and water are made out of. There was only a pure plasma of electrons. That was all. And the physics of that universe were incredibly simple. There were the pure plasma physics unhindered by any other fields of any sort.


Well, the universe then cooled. And as it cooled, lo and behold, at a certain point, electrons were able to fall into stable orbits around atomic nuclei. And at that point atomic systems formed, and a whole kind of chemistry comes into being. Further cooling, millions of years pass. Then we get the carbon molecule cooked out of new stars. It has a six valence structure, so that we get organic molecules. Well then, quickly, we get long chain polymers. Very quickly, then, long chain polymers that can copy themselves. And that becomes primitive life. And at that point you then get complex life. And then sexuality—meaning gene mixing as opposed to the previous thing, which was vegetative, like making cuttings from plants. Well, do you see what’s happening? At each successive stage the previous level of complexity is not only retained, but used to build upon toward the next level of complexity.


Well, the wonderful thing about this cosmology is that, instead of human beings being like mute witnesses to the grandeur of Jehovah’s creation or some kind of trip like that, instead you discover: aha, human beings are important. We are more novel than anything else in nature. And we twentieth-century human beings are more novel, more interconnected, more complex, and in possession of more and different kinds of knowledge than most of the people who preceded us. So this growing toward complexity seems to be what the universe is all about.


Now, it doesn’t go on for hundreds of millions of years into the future. Because, as you can see, each successive stage has proceeded more quickly than the stage before it. So now we are in what I call the short epochs. We are in periods of time where more change goes on in a ten-year period than went on in a million-year period near the birth of the universe. We are living in the complex, novel end of things. And that complexity, and that novelty—which we experience as tremendous stress in our lives—ushers into the transcendental object at the end time not that far in the future. And we, as psychedelic people, have an obligation upon ourselves to anticipate and to help realize this future. It is upon us. Every messiah, every religious ontology, every manager of every booth at this exhibit is reflecting a distorted scintilla of the spiritual reality of the transcendental object at the end of time. Everyone of us is a particularized and distorted image of this transcendental object into which we are being dissolved, into which global culture is being dissolved.


So… well, so what? So we can cut into this cycle at any point. We can become aware of it, we can become part of it, we can deny it. There is no loss in the circuit. There is no blame. Becoming then—what psychedelic means is: it means claiming this dimension as your own. You know, Plato said time is the moving image of eternity. That moving image of eternity can be beheld in the silent darkness of the mind on five grams of psilocybin. And if you think the universe is mundane, if you think there are no more frontiers to cross, no more adventures to be had, I’m telling you: you can turn your living room into the bridge of Magellan’s ship on a long Saturday evening with five grams of psilocybin in silent darkness.


We are living in the most empowering age in human history. Because all of the energy of the ancestors—not only the human ancestors, but our animal, our primate ancestors, all of that energy—pours into, is focused into, this moment. We are the transition generation. We have one foot in matter and one foot in hyperspace. And we can redeem the trust of thousands of years. All of the horror of history can be redeemed if we don’t drop the ball. Every pogrom, every instance of racial, sexual, or minority persecution, can be redeemed if we give the human adventure meaning. And we give it meaning by discovering the totality within ourselves, and then amplifying it for each other. And this dissolves boundaries, empowers the weak, enlightens the strong, and brings hope to all. And it can only be done if we accept the gifts which nature has offered us.

Thank you very, very much!

Terence McKenna

Document Options
Find out more