Unfolding the Stone

Making and Unmaking History and Language

June 1, 1991

Also published under the title Empowering Hope in Dark Times, McKenna explores the philosophical underpinnings of alchemy and Hermeticism. He argues that these esoteric traditions promote the inherent divinity of humankind and the overcoming of fate through magic. Psychedelic plants and mystical experiences are positioned as means of glimpsing liberatory truths. McKenna ultimately seeks to empower his audience with a hopeful worldview and a sense of human potential, even in difficult times.

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Introductions

00:00

Host

Just a couple of announcements. Lux Natura is being phased out slowly. So if there’s anything that you people want that they have, tonight’s the night to get it. It’s all here in one place at one time. It will still be available through your normal channels, but this is the time to get it. Also, conference recorders are here, and they’re doing duplications of the talk on site.

00:28

He’s an old friend of all of ours, so I’d like you all to welcome Timothy Leary.

00:53

Leary

I, for one, am overjoyed to be here. This is one of those special, special evenings that we will all treasure. You know, as soon as I drove in that parking lot, and I saw people getting out of the ca—many of whom were still carrying uniforms and dazed expressions of Grateful Dead heads. How many people were at the Dead concert? Yeah! And they’re coming over later. They’re just ending now. So believe me, we’ll have an infusion of a wildness there.

01:40

Terence McKenna means a great deal to me. I would say he’s one of the five or six most important people on the planet. I can’t even think of any others. Short-term memory loss. I was talking—oh, by the way, I should tell you: Terence and I keep meeting in the most wonderful, mythic, adventurous places. I was doing a wild tour to Germany about, oh, a year ago, and we came to Heidelberg and we were being jested by some people that came right out of Hermann Hesse. I mean, wizards and gnomes and that sort of thing, in Heidelberg. And there, in a restaurant, I was having a sandwich before performing with some cybernetic people, there was Terence McKenna. And it was just so perfectly Hesse. A journey to the East. And so we meet again here tonight.

02:51

You know, I was talking to Terence backstage before we began, and we both agree that what he will be saying tonight has been said over and over again at all those high moments in human history when those who have gone within, and understood about the brain and the inner treasures—we all come back and pretty much say the same thing. The problem is, though, that once you say it, you can’t go on saying it and saying it and saying it. And when Terence came along a few years ago and was saying what I’d been trying to say—but naturally better, upgraded, up to date—I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. And I publicly thank you for that, Terence.

03:44

By the way, the role that Terence is playing right now is one that takes not only vision, but it also takes fucking courage. We were saying backstage that Terence and I are a small group of philosophers who make our living, not in the ivory tower (if you call it living), but just speaking it, chatting it, raving it, ranting it. And no one has ever done it with more poetry and elegance than the figure tonight.

04:27

I’m going to say one more thing, and then we will have what we’ve all been waiting for. Terence reminds us that all human wisdom, all energy, comes from our beloved synergetic partners: the vegetable queen. It all comes from the plant. A round of applause to the vegetables. Now we all know that the human body—we have to have food. It comes from vegetables. We have used vegetables over the years—the essence of vegetables in the form of wood—to develop fire, gas, oil, and so forth. Oil, by the way, is the number one crack addiction of the modern industrial society. But what we forget and what we look to Terence for tonight is to be reminded that plants have given us an even more important gift: they give us the gift of vision, they give us illumination. And throughout human history there are the Eves and the Pandoras. Usually it’s a woman who takes this wonderful vegetable and gives it to humanity and says: be illuminated.

05:42

And now, for our illumination and our pleasure, please join me in welcoming Terence McKenna!

06:03

McKenna

Well, I want to thank Tim. That was a wonderful introduction. I’m sure I wouldn’t—I know I wouldn’t be here tonight if it weren’t for Tim Leary. He was the pathfinder. He cut the way through the woods. He gave us all permission to be very much the people that we are tonight. And it’s wonderful that one Irishman can hand it on to another, and that we can keep it in the bardic tradition.

06:34

Before I get started, I want to thank a number of people who’ve put a lot of energy into this event to make it go. Steve Marshank promoted and organized this. He’s been at it for months and months. Roy, Roy Tuckman, Roy of Hollywood, and Diane: they have supported me and given generously of hundreds and hundreds of hours of their time to put these psychedelic ideas across. And believe me, you hang your ass out to dry when you take this position. Tim mentioned courage—nobody has had the kind of courage that Roy and Diane have had to push that message into this town. So we salute them. And Eric Alley did the wonderful poster. He’s done them for these events for years. He’s a beautiful artist. Christian Dusty and Jim Messick are here to see that you find your seat and stay in it, and we thank them for that.

07:49

And last and certainly most importantly, Kat Harrison McKenna, my partner in building the dream of the Botanical Dimensions. I sit up here and take the limelight and the glory. It’s Kat who fashioned Botanical Dimensions into the functioning entity that it is. She manages it from day to day. We had a $51,000 balloon payment that I talked to you about in Port Hueneme. It’s paid off. And the land in Hawai’i will forever be dedicated to the preservation of plants with medical significance and significance to the human family. And that credit all goes to Kat. So let’s hear it for her.

08:50

And that brings me to—for those of you who haven’t followed this so closely—to pointing out that this is a benefit for Botanical Dimensions. That’s why it was seventeen-plus bucks a pop. And what is Botanical Dimensions? It’s a small response on our part to a major problem. You all know that the rainforests of the world are disappearing at a tragic rate. And maybe that process can be halted through pressure on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and these enormous international agencies. But whether or not the clearing of the rainforest is halted, the loss of folk medicinal knowledge on the part of these tribal societies that have lived in balance and equilibrium and respect with nature for millennia—that is tragically going. There’s no question about it. Because you can’t put people into a museum diorama and ask them to parade around in jockstraps while the rest of us drive BMWs. They move into the cities. These people work in the saw mills. They take jobs in the tourist industry. And 25,000–50,000 years of medical knowledge is lost.

10:21

And Tim did homage to the vegetables. Even in today’s high-tech world, fully 75% of all the drugs—prescription drugs, other kinds of drugs on the market, above ground, underground—come from plants. This is a priceless reservoir of complex chemistry, but it’s meaningless unless the human experiences, the human lore, is preserved. And this is what Botanical Dimensions is about. We have collectors in Peru, in other parts of the world, and we bring seeds, [???], living plants, to Hawai’i, and there these things are grown as in a living library, toward the day when a more enlightened society will have the wisdom and the good sense to team up with the vegetable world and create a more humane medicine, a more humane religion, that has some real life and light in it. So that’s what we’re doing out there. Any help any of you can give us, we’re deeply appreciative. Spread the word. Since we began this project many imitators have sprung up, and this was our intent and our hope. And great good work is being done. So please support the conservation of folk botanical and medical knowledge.

12:06

So then, before I dig into this, let me just explain how it’ll work. I’ll talk for a while, then there’ll be an intermission, and then we’ll come back and—given however much time is left over—there’ll be a Q & A, and we’ll have a mic for you to line up behind. Okay. Alright.

Empowering Hope in Dark Times

12:31

First of all, thank you all for being here. I know we’re up against the Grateful Dead, my favorite band. I’m going to quote them repeatedly. It’s a thousand to one chance that this would happen, and it just shows the world is stranger than you can suppose.

12:51

The name of this talk is Unfolding the Stone, and I wanted to talk about this. It’s a departure for me because I think we’ve just been through a real hammering over the past ten months. I mean, if you’ve still got your optimism intact—and believe me, I do—you’ve been through the fire. This has not been an easy ten months for the people of this planet or the planet itself. And so I want to sort of reach back tonight and invoke a banished tradition, get to the heart of it, and try to show how we can bring this forward in our lives to empower hope in the most dark of situations—and, in fact, even make these dark situations the raw material of a clear, stronger hope than might ordinarily be the case.

13:57

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine, and he wanted to tell me the story of sitting in the presence of a 104-year-old Vietnamese monk. And the guy had basically kept his mouth shut—the monk—hadn’t said much around the monastery where he just sort of cleans up. But then he announced he wanted to talk about meditation. And he opened his remark by saying: “We are all luminous beings. Why, then, do we not appear before each other radiant in our illumination?” And this is the conundrum of life. This is the problem. It was T. S. Eliot who said: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” And why is that?

15:04

As psychedelic people, this is the problem that we grapple with in our own lives and when we look out at the world. You’ve heard me say many times: we have the vision, we have the money, we have the technology. But why can we not, then, appear before each other as radiantly luminous beings? And why cannot we reclaim our planet from toxification, disease, overpopulation, bonehead politics, you know the list? What’s the hang-up here? What is the problem? Why is perfection so distant?

15:49

Well, what I’ve learned from [???] and vegetables and travel and books can be summed up in two Greek words. It’s the central message of the philosopher Heraclitus—and he was always my favorite philosopher—but whenever I would read about him, he was called the crying philosopher. And I had to live to be 44 years old to understand the poignancy of Heraclitus’ message. He said, in a nutshell, panta rhei: “all flows.” All flows. Nothing lasts. Nothing is permanent. And this is the hardest message life has to teach. Because what it says is: your joy is transient, your anguish is transient, your fortune, your home, your dream, your moments of great ecstasy, your moments of great insight, your moments of great empowerment. Everything is flowing through your hands at the moment that you are aware of it.

17:13

William Blake—who, in a way, set this engine going a couple of centuries ago—said: “What is the price of experience? Is it bought for a song, or wisdom for a dance in the street? No. It is bought with all that a man hath. His wife, his home, his children.” Now, this is not a pessimistic message, and William Blake was not a pessimistic guy. He was the same guy who told us that if we could but cleanse the doors of perception, we would perceive the world as it is: infinite in a grain of sand. How can we take this poignancy, this sense of impermanence, and weld it into something which is paradoxically indestructible, and has meaning in our lives, and gives us not only the strength to carry on, but the power to be exemplar, the power to stand up before other people and let them, then, feel the power of vision in the paradox of permanence in the face of the need for indestructibility.

18:40

Well, to answer that question I felt that we had to leave the narrow confines of twentieth-century thinking, and we had to reach back into the byways of human thought that have been by most of us somewhat passed over and forgotten—because, after all, modern life makes great demands on us. It’s enough to just keep your checkbook balanced and your insurance paid. We can’t all spend our time delving in the libraries of the noetic and gnostic and hermetic and magical tradition. But I thought it was worthwhile to talk to you about this tonight, because we have been through such a difficult ten months. And it was also Heraclitus—the “all flows” guy—who said: “all is war.” All is war. And what he meant was: everything occurs in the presence of its opposite, and out of that there is generated the friction, the heat, and the light that all comes together in an indissoluble package as part of life.

19:57

So what I want to talk to you about tonight, and how it relates to unfolding the stone, is the notion of alchemy of all things. Alchemy—as I’m sure many of you know—is really the secret tradition of the redemption of spirit from matter. But many of you may imagine that alchemy is simply a discredited pre-scientific exception of unbalanced minds interested in changing base metals into gold, lead into the stuff of commerce. This is the benighted reputation that alchemy has acquired in a century so given over to the literal and the material and the non-spiritual that it’s lost all touch with the adumbrations of meaning that vibrate behind the perceptions of the alchemists.

21:03

The central conception of alchemy is the conception of the philosopher’s stone. What is it? It’s the universal panacea at the end of time. It’s the chocolate cake that your mother made once a week when you were a child; the pana supersubstantialis. It’s all things to all men and all women. If you are hungry, you eat it. If you’re dirty, you shower under it. If you need to go somewhere, you sit on it and you fly there. If you have a question, it answers it. It’s something that the human mind senses in itself and related to, invoked, worshiped over centuries before the slow rise of the patriarchy and rationalism and materialism turned it into a myth, a fairy tale. It is not a myth or a fairy tale. It is the burning primary reality that lies behind the dross of appearances.

22:19

Alchemy is based on a philosophy called Hermeticism that was developed in the first and second centuries by Gnostic thinkers—Greeks, Jews, people inside the Roman empire as it was beginning to show the first signs of degradation and decay—who felt a profound disaffection with their world; a disaffection that, on the scale of those times, was as profound as our own existential disaffection. And the hermetic philosophers drew back from the rise of Christianity—with its doctrine of the fall of man, and original sin, and the staining of Adam and Eve, and that whole thing—and took a different path, and made two points which I think we need to recover and live out for ourselves.

23:18

And the first point was that man—which means men and women, human beings—are divine beings. Not lower than the angels, higher than the angels. The message of the alchemical and hermetic thinkers and the Corpus Hermeticum actually uses the phrase “man is God’s brother.” We have no idea what it would mean in our own lives if we could throw off the notion of ourselves as fallen beings. We are not fallen beings. When you take into your life the gnosis of the light-filled vegetables, the psychedelic plants that have stabilized the sane societies of this world for millennia, the first message that comes to you is: you are a divine being. You matter. You count. You come from realms of unimaginable power and light, and you will return to those realms.

24:32

The second point that these philosophers wanted to make was that fate can be overcome. Fate can be overcome. Now, for the Grecto-Hellenic world what that meant was the starry engines of the machinery of fate that they saw strewn across the night sky. Because they were intensely aware of the power of the zodiac, the stellar shells inhabited by demons that extended out to the unimaginable imperium of the all-father that was beyond fate. And into that world of astrological fatedness—which is such a strong idea of the Greek mind—the Hermeticists announced fate can be overcome. And they had a novel answer for how this could be done. It can be done through magic—a word not often enough heard in the present world. The overcoming of fate is achieved through magic. And then the stellar machinery becomes not an invasive force into one’s life, but an empowering force.

25:53

Now, some of us may believe in astrology, and some of us may not. We are all strongly influenced by the notion of fate, of our powerlessness in an existential world. Jean-Paul Sartre said nature is mute. And we—embedded in the media-dense, message-dense, programming-dense matrix of these hyper-societies that we have created—often feel, I think, like hapless atoms running endlessly according to the blueprints and programs of unseen masters, whether it’s the banking industry, Madison Avenue, whoever. We tend to disempower ourselves, we tend to believe that we don’t matter. And in the act of taking that idea to ourselves we give everything away to somebody else, to something else. So the rebirth of a sense of the stone and its possibility within each of us entails these two ideas: our divinity and our power to overcome fate. There is no inevitability in our lives unless we submit to the idea of inevitability and then give ourselves over to it.

27:21

Okay. I wish there were more jokes, but it’s just been such a tough go! Been a tough go, I have to tell you.

27:37

Where can we look in the world to see some confirmation of what I’m saying? How can we draw it down from being an airy fairy wrath of a bardic Irishman? Well, I think that the place to look is history. Now, if you go to the academy—to those ivory towers that Tim was talking about—and ask, “What is history?” they will tell you that it’s a random walk, an endlessly pointless fluctuation. Empires rise and fall, migrations of people come and go. That it is essentially meaningless. I don’t believe this. I don’t even think there’s strong evidence for it. Because what I perceive when I look at the world—not only the world of history, but the world of nature which out of which history has emerged—I see novelty: something wonderful, maddening, paradoxical, and ever increasing, ever more conserved. Every iota of novelty that comes into existence is somehow saved and passed on. That’s why, when we walk or drive down Melrose, we see Egyptian fashion motifs, we see fashion statements drawn from the fourteenth century, the second century, Assyria, Egypt, Angkor Wat. All of the novelty of history coalesces in the living moment. It’s always been that way. Every society (in the moment of its existence) has lived as a resonance, a completion, and a distillation—good alchemical word—a distillation of what has preceded before.

29:40

And so the alchemical idea that spirit can be redeemed from matter begins to get teeth when you connect the idea of spirit up to the idea of novelty, which has not ordinarily been done. But, you know, novelty is the life of the party, and the life of the party is to be high-spirited. And this is what we need to focus on as the thread in the dark labyrinth of the prison of the material world that can lead us back to the light. The universe is an engine for the production of novelty. It always has been since the first moment of the big bang 20, 25 billion years ago. Simpler states have been replaced by more complex states, which have then set the stage for yet greater complexity.

30:39

Well, the drift of this, then, is that the emergence of language and tools and culture and higher ideals like courage and love and self-sacrifice—these are not flukes, sports, mistakes. These are further steps along the way in the process of the great alchemical furnace of being, heating and casting and dissolving and recasting and purifying and recasting alchemical gold. And so, hard as the world may appear, dark as the hour may appear, in reality we exist in a dimension of greater opportunity, greater freedom, greater possibility than has ever been. The challenge, then, is to not drop the ball, is to know this and to act on it and to slough off all the leeches and backhandlers and weasels and cryptofascists who want to deny that and turn man into a machine for their own purposes.

32:03

Alchemy has always perceived this and has delineated stages in the transformational process. And these stages are worth talking about—not in the details, but in the two bipolar states which define this. They used the bastard Latin and they called them the nigredo and the albedo. The nigredo is the precondition for transformation. And what is it? It’s shit, it’s detritus, it’s flotsam, it’s debris, it’s being HIV positive, it’s being deep into your fourth marriage and sinking fast, it’s bankruptcy. It’s, you know, serum hepatitis. It’s the inevitable dark night of the soul that comes upon us. And these dark nights of the soul come upon all of us. Nobody gets through this world without a little dung raining down on them, believe me! I mean, you may have made it for decades, but then there’ll be a knock on the door. You know, it’s said that the millstones of fate grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

33:38

So what do we do with that? Well, the answer is: we welcome it. This is what the alchemists awaited. The nigredo, the prima materia, the dark matter, the chaos. The chaos that is the precondition, then, for redemption. And God knows, we’ve got lots of chaos right now. I mean, we have war, famine, revolution, millions of homeless people on the move, the nation-state is dissolving, the relief agencies of the world can’t keep up, the various secret societies, mafias and cabals that have always tried to tie us into chains. They’re all working overtime. We are in the nigredo condition. Hallelujah! This means that the kissing has to stop, but the fun can begin—the real fun.

34:44

The other end of this bipolar condition in alchemy was called the albedo—or “albedo,” depending on whether or not you came from a coal mining town in Colorado, like I did. The albedo, the whitening. And that means that out of the chaos can come a new beginning, a new reality, a new hope. And then the process is one of—and, you see, these alchemists existed in a philosophically more naïve (we quote) world than we do, so they actually projected on to the processes of matter their own interior psychic condition. So they did work with matter and fire and furnaces and retorts. And what they would do is: they would take the prima materia (lead or excrement or something else), and then they would heat it and turn it to ash, and then calcinate the ash, or pours salt into the ash and get an extract, and then heat that and sublimate it. And out of this, almost as a footnote, came modern chemistry. But that was not the important side of it. The important side of it was that they were projecting mental states onto the swirling retorts of their laboratory. It was like a magical mirror for them. It was, in fact (dare we say the P-word?) psychedelic. What “psychedelic” means is: getting your mind out in front of you (by whatever means necessary) so that you can relate to it as a thing in the world, and then work upon it. So, from the nigredo to the albedo, there were a series of these stages.

36:50

Now, I said a few minutes ago that magic was the key. And by magic I mean the reclaiming and the reconstruction of language to a sufficient degree that it becomes at first possible, then probable, then inevitable to each one of us that miracles can happen. Miracles can happen. The Grateful Dead have a song: we need a miracle every day. We do need a miracle every day. Well, is that too tall an order? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Years ago, one of these talking vegetables said to me: “Mind conjures miracles out of time.” Out of time. Time is the prima materia on which the alchemical process works. The alchemists—again in their naïve way—believed that precious metals, diamonds, gold, sapphires actually grew in the Earth. Because for this alchemical point of view everything was alive. And my friend Rupert Sheldrake is leading the charge to create a new birth of that perception inside science: the idea that nature—all of nature—is alive. Not simply organic cellular nature, but that the Earth itself is a living being. So mind conjures miracles out of time.

38:44

And the proof that this can be done—and it’s an incontrovertible proof, and I defy any naysayer or bring-down to overcome it—is ourselves. We are the proof that mind can conjure miracles out of time. If it weren’t for us, there would just be birds and foxes and coral reefs and glaciers. But nature was not content with that level of novelty. A million years ago, a hundred thousand years ago, nature grew discontented and said, you know: let’s raise the ante. Let’s go to higher stakes poker in this planetary game. Let the monkeys speak! Let them build fires! Let them elaborate tools! Let them march forward onto the stage of creation! And remember, I said the hermetic faith was that humankind was the brother, could act as the brothers and sisters of God—not motes in God’s creation, but co-partners in the invocation out of being of yet greater novelty. Why? For play. For fun. Just the cosmic madness of it all, the pure cussedness of it all, to raise the stakes higher and higher and higher.

40:21

Now, I keep going back to this thing of “can it be done” because I want to convince you, because I’m so certain. I love Herman Melville and his rhetoric. And friends of the whale, bear with me. For Herman Melville, the whale was not the endangered creature it is today. It was the dark cosmic God of Christianity that haunts us and tries to pull us down. And there’s a wonderful speech in Moby Dick where Starbuck—the first mate, you remember; wimpy little Starbuck—he stood for Christian right reason. And he says to Captain Ahab: “To seek revenge on a dumb brute seems blasphemy.” And Ahab says: “Blasphemy, Starbuck? Speak not to me of blasphemy. I would strike out the sun if it insulted me. For could it do that, then could I do the other? For there is ever a sort of fair play.” And that’s the point of that rap: there is a sort of fair play. You’ve been told from the cradle that the deck was stacked against you: fall of man, original sin, so forth and so on. It’s bullshit. It’s absolute bullshit! There is a sort of fair play.

42:01

And if you can get in touch with that in your life—you know, when Muhammad wouldn’t come to the mountain, the mountain came to Muhammad. That’s fair play. And if you can have that perception, the world will begin to work for you. It will begin to move toward you as the mountain moves toward Muhammad. The mushroom said to me once: nature loves courage. Nature loves courage. And I said: what’s the payoff on that? And it said: it shows you that it loves courage because it will remove obstacles. You make the commitment, and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold—this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. It’s done by hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering that it’s a feather bed. And there’s no other way to do it.

43:29

This is why I have always taken the position that, as modern people, you know, we can’t go out and set armies marching or launch religions—and who would want to anyhow? But to the people who say adventure has fled, it’s all humdrum. I just know, you know, that they have forgotten the five grams of psilocybin sitting in their refrigerators. I mean, Magellan may have had excitement rounding the Horn, but you, in your living room later tonight, can put him in the shade if you have the courage to do the things that are necessary to do. And we know what they are. And, of course, the first thing to do is to tell society to fuck off, because they don’t know what’s going on. This is a matter between the person and the plant, the person and the planet. And all the detritus of history, all the games that people have tried to lay on you, you know, they just want to get you down in the ditch that they’re in. We know this because aboriginal societies have never broken the faith. The living gnosis is still there—not for people who paint themselves blue and dance around buck naked, but for us as well. But it takes an act of courage. Not a weekend at Esalen, not a trip to the ashram where they tell you that if you’ll sweep up for a dozen years, then they’ll hand on a whammy. No. The speed with which you can reach depth is under 45 seconds if you know where the elevator shaft is. And you do. You do. I don’t have to tell you. I’ve been telling you.

45:44

Well, so there’s one more alchemical metaphor or stage that I want to mention here, because I think it refers to this psychedelic possibility. Not all the alchemists included this stage in their, in their rescinsions of the work. But for me I think it’s central. Again, in their bastardized church Latin they called it the coda di pavone, the “peacock’s tail.” Now, the physical basis of this is (if you’ve ever played around with the metal and fire), you know that there are certain metals that, when they pass through a certain temperature range, iridescent colors play across the surface, and sometimes even freeze. And in the glazing of pottery at low temperatures in raku, what these pottery masters are aiming for are these wonderful iridescent surfaces that play across the glaze and then can be frozen into it. Well, this is the peacock’s tail. And in alchemy this was thought to precede the final whitening, the passage into the pure, the gold, really. And rather than see the present world as exclusively a veil of tears and a black prison—and none of these metaphors are mutually exclusive.

47:33

You see, the alchemists are the great strength of alchemical thinking. And the way in which it is completely antithetical to science—and, in fact, why science has so much contempt for it—is because the alchemists have the wisdom to see that everything occurs in the presence of its opposite. That it’s not “either or,” it’s “both and.” They call this the coincidencia oppositorum: the coincidence of opposites, the union of opposites. This is a great truth. Because I think all of us live under the rubrics of: am I good? Am I bad? Am I lazy? Am I obsessed? And the answer is that it is never one or the other. It does a tremendous injustice to being to ignore the union of opposites.

48:36

Now, science, in order to do its work—which is essentially a technological work, not a deep philosophical work. It’s a minor art, science. That’s all it is. It’s a minor art. It’s the art of the physically possible. But it has presumed to be the arbiter of all thought, all feeling, all worth. My God, the hubris of René Descartes to divide the world into the primary and secondary qualities! Now, what are the primary qualities? Motion, math, spin, momentum. And what are the secondary qualities? Color, feeling, taste, tactility. It tells you that you’re nothin’. You never touch reality. You live in that world of sin, and therefore can only aspire to the real world through some kind of mathematical disembowelment of what your own body, what your own feelings, are telling you. So in the coda di pavone, the peacock’s tail, this is where the contradictions meet and generate heat, and light, and an excruciating sense of poignancy and meaning and identity. And our world, as we experience it tonight, is quintessentially—another good alchemical word—is quintessentially that coincidencia oppositorum.

50:23

Now, where do we meet this most dramatically in our own lives? I think we meet it in the phenomenon of birth. Of birth. If you had just parked your flying saucer in the bushes and came from a world where sexuality was unknown and people were grown in vats or something, and you came upon a woman in the act of giving birth, it would appear to be a catastrophe in progress, a tragedy at the limit of tragedy. Blood is being shed, anguish is on the surface, real agony pervades the situation. And yet, and yet, nature—in her wisdom—has bound pain and ecstasy, death and completion, regeneration and dissolution into that experience in such an indissoluble fashion that no woman can miss the point. No woman can miss the point. Unfortunately, men have traditionally averted their eyes. This has gone on in a hut at the edge of the village. Nobody wanted to be there. Maybe the shaman would be there, but he was loaded in order to be there. And the mystery of mystery goes on outside the sight of men.

51:56

Now, in our world, we are caught in this kind of metaphor of cosmic birth. A birth of planetary scale is underway. There is agony. There is no doubt about it. I remember an embryologist who once taught me pointed out that the fetus in the womb is literally sculpted by the hand of death; that the immature hand of the fetal organism is a webbed claw, and that it isn’t that the flesh retracts to form the human hand, it’s that the cells in between die and slough off into the amniotic fluid and are carried away. The fetal child is literally sculpted into life by the hand of death. And our world is in this kind of a circumstance. There are no rational solutions at this point. We are now in the hands of the miracle [???], the shamans, the mind of the planet, the life of the ocean and the atmosphere. And it’s going to get tougher.

53:20

And so we have to forge the indestructible adamantine stone of alchemical hope, because heavier challenges lie ahead. A hundred years from now, two hundred years from now, I cannot but imagine that this planet will be empty of human beings—not because we have become extinct, but because we have gone to our fate. And it’s unimaginable at this moment, because we are in the planetary birth canal. We are at the peak of transition right now, and the walls are literally closing in. We are being suffocated. We are fighting like a strangled man to try and save ourselves. And yet, we have to believe. And I invite you to educate yourself about the history of the planet. There is no reason not to believe that we will come through. We will come through. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a meaning to history—but it’s an alchemical meaning. History is a vast alchemical engine for the forging of an alchemical humanity.

54:47

And I don’t have the answers. Believe me, I don’t know whether we go to another star, whether we become eight angstroms high and all live in a block of metal underneath Mount Everest, whether we march off to the heart of the sun. The scenarios are endless, because the human imagination has such a power to bootstrap itself to higher and higher levels. What would Paleolithic man have made of the religion of pharaonic Egypt? What would the pharaohs have made of the engines of war and hydraulic machinery created by the Romans? What would the Gothic scholastic enlightenment have made of the age of cybernetics, psychedelics, and virtual reality? The imagination is the alchemical deus ex machina that can lift us out of time, out of the nigrado of history, and into higher and higher and higher states of being.

55:58

Now, there is no reason to simply, then, ride along in this process. Because another perception of the alchemist that is central to getting this all lined up so that it works is the idea of the macrocosm and the microcosm. What does that mean? It means that the world truly is fractal in the most profound sense—meaning that what is going on on some very large scale is condensed, intensified, and recapitulated on smaller scales. So that the dynamics of a love affair are the dynamics of an empire. Both are the dynamics of the evolution, expansion, and extinction of a species. There is only one way that things can happen. And whether we’re talking about micro-physical events or the life of an entire solar system, the curve of binding energy is going to be the same.

57:06

So that means that this redemption of spirit from matter that is the historical process that we are embedded in—we can do our part by working on our small section of this, which is ourselves. This is why alchemy was so fascinating to the Jungian psychologists. Because they saw that this work of redeeming spirit from matter is nothing more than the work of redeeming the self from the contaminated dross of the traumatized and damaged psyche that we each inherit from our passage through the parental shit pile. We each have that gift to deal with. That nigrado is within ourselves. And this is why we’re in therapy, and this is why we take psychedelics and meditate or do whatever we do: because we all have this dross within us, and this is a great gift. It means that we can begin consciously the process of distillation and sublimation and casting of ourselves into that golden being, that luminous creature that this 104-year-old Vietnamese monk sensed and evoked to my friend.

58:41

But it’s more than that. We do that alchemical work to perfect our own sense of the union of opposites, our own sense of the presence of the living alchemical stone within, in order that we may then participate, act in, and be part of the transformation of the planet. And it is an immense transformation. And there is no reason to doubt it, because the emergence of organic life from what preceded it is as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine. The emergence of language from mute bestiality—which is only 100,000 years in the past—is as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine. The emergence of a planet instantaneously unified by electricity and media is—and this is only fifty, sixty years in our past; it’s still going on—is as dramatic a miracle as anyone could imagine. It’s absolutely irrational to not be filled with the fire of consuming hope. You just have to overcome the leveling that we inherit from these empty existential scientific ideas.

1:00:09

And when we do that, and lift our eyes to the real, living, spiritually empowered realities that exist in nature, in society, in our lover, in ourselves, then you see the peacock’s tail, the coda di pavone, is a transcendental object at the end of time. An enormous, unspeakable something that beckons across the historical landscape, that casts an enormous shadow that reaches clear back to the earliest moments of the universe. That we have always been in the grip of that iridescent, strange attractor. It has propelled our poetry, our art. Our best moments have always been when a tiny scintilla—another good alchemical word—a tiny spark of that alchemical completion burned for a moment in our mind, in our life, in our perception.

1:01:25

And we occupy a special position in regard to this. Millions, thousands of generations of human beings have come and gone and could only glimpse this in the ecstasy of eroticism and psychedelic empowerment and ritual magic. But we are the last people. Beyond us lies the mystery. If we have but the courage to move forward into that abyss, to believe that nature will reward the dreamer, then we can complete that wonderful Irish toast which says: “May ye be alive at the end of the world.” Because it’s that close. It cannot wander much longer. All of the preconditions have been met, and the peacock’s tail grows daily whiter and more radiant and more brilliant as we sense now, breaking into our dreams, breaking into our waking lives, the presence of this attractor. It has always given people meaning that we are the privileged inheritors of that meaning, and we have, then, the privilege of putting it all together in one piece and standing ready at the end of history to go into the mystery and be completed.

1:03:06

So that’s the end of my song. Take a break and we’ll be back in fifteen minutes, and if you’ve got questions—and God, I hope you do—we’ll deal with them. Thank you very, very much.

Q & A Session

1:03:37

McKenna

Do you know what insomniac dyslexic philosophers do? They sit up all night wondering if dog really exists. It’s also an intelligence test.

Also, I’d like to point out to you, just to keep you current, that Nina Graboi (who is an old friend of mine and of Tim’s) has a new book out called One Foot in the Future. And this is a lady who lived a life that went from the center of Nazi Europe to Millbrook and beyond, and it’s a wonderful book. It’s out in the bookstores, and I just call your attention to it.

Okay, let’s have some questions here.

1:04:28

Audience

Okay, can you hear me?

1:04:30

McKenna

I can hear you.

1:04:32

Audience

This is not the [???] more serious again. I believe that, among the fundamental rights that people have to fight for for self-empowerment, one of them is the right to commit suicide, just like the right to take psychedelics and all that. And I’m wondering if, in your world travels, you might have come across some wisdom about plants that people have taken for, say, relatively easy suicides, like hemlock, and what you know about them?

1:05:17

McKenna

Well, I agree with your point. I mean, I think people should be free to do whatever they want to do with themselves. The classic answer is obviously the poppy. Opium and its products, even—I mean, this is the modern instrument of dying, is morphine injection unto death. In the Minoan civilization, the fascination with poppies reached such a proportion that, when they translated the Linear B text, at first they took the symbol for poppies as the symbol for wheat, because the tonnage that was being recorded as being produced and used was so huge. So yes, the waters of Lethe, the waters of forgetfulness. The poppy will carry you to the gates of death and beyond if that’s your intent.

1:06:19

Audience

Now, just back to [???] empowerment. Usually any drips of poppy you have to go through doctors or authorities. In fact, just decide if there are people who are dying in the hospitals. I understand they don’t even give morphine anymore.

1:06:39

McKenna

Well, why bother with the derivatives? The poppy grows. It’s still a relic ornamental in many suburban gardens. I noticed in someone’s garden recently poppies that had been as expertly etched as if we were on the highlands of Laos. So the [???] of it hasn’t died. You’re right that heroin and morphine are extremely controlled drugs. But again, the poppy is there. If I were making drug policy, I would promulgate what I think of as the Vegetable Drug Act and simply say: plants are legal. All plants should be legal. You know, people hold up opium as the scourge of mankind, and yet it was used medically for 3,000 years. And it was only in, I think, in 1603 that the British physician John Playfair was the first person to notice that it was addictive. So it took 3,000 years of using it before anyone actually came to grips with the fact that it was addictive.

1:08:08

Audience

Can I ask you quickly about hemlock? What do you know about that? Hemlock.

1:08:13

McKenna

I know about it. I think it’s a rather painful way to go, actually. [???] to the opiate.

1:08:20

Audience

Some herbalist told me it wasn’t.

1:08:23

McKenna

Well, it will deliver you into Charon’s boat for sure.

1:08:28

Audience

But your impression is that it’s painful?

1:08:31

McKenna

My impression is that the poppy would be the way to go.

1:08:34

Audience

Okay, thank you.

1:08:42

McKenna

Thanks for keeping it light! Yes?

1:08:49

Audience

Hi, Terence. My name is Joel and I was born in South America in the Amazon. And after that I went to Germany to study chemistry thanks to [???]. And in Germany, I think people think that in a way that you want to educate the society; this is an alchemy society. And in a way, I guess we learned, for example, Jesus Christ was one of the first alchemists. And the Romans tried to make a mockery of him because he was—they put a sign on the cross saying INRI, and people say, oh, this is Jesus Nazareth. And it was not. It was the Latin word that we learned in chemistry. It was IGNE, learning chemistry. It was IGNE natura renovato integra. That means that natura is renovated by fire. So what Jesus Christ was telling to everybody was that we have an aura, like gold, and gold in Latin is aureus. And what we have to do is do alchemy with our fire, with our core, to trust in the very elements we have in our body, and trust in our soul and become something more fluid. I was really interested in that.

1:10:16

McKenna

Well, yeah, you make an interesting point. Christ can be seen in this alchemical context, because what he was saying was what I claimed here tonight is the alchemical faith. He was saying that man is divine. This doctrine got raked over the coals by the patristic fathers. But the career of Christ is very interesting, because there does seem to be this confluence of elements that hint at a transformation that was not simply spiritual, but that was spiritual and physical at the same time.

1:11:02

You know, one of the most puzzling incidents in the gospel—I can’t remember which one it is—but after the resurrection, when the Mary’s go to the tomb, there’s this amazing encounter between the risen Christ and the Mary’s, and he actually says: touch me not, woman, for I am not yet completely of the nature of the Father. But yet, he is resurrected. He is speaking. He stands before them alive. But he says: touch me not. I am not yet completely of the nature of the Father. So you’re right. There is this alchemical suggestion in the life of Christ.

1:11:51

The story about Christ that I always like to tell, because it seems to indicate some of what we’ve indicated here tonight, is—it’s a wonderful story. You know, Christ is said to have appeared to be apostles in the upper room forty days after the crucifixion, I believe. But the apostle Thomas was not present. And so then, Thomas comes after this incident, and the apostles gather around him, and they say: the master was with us. He came in the flesh. And Thomas says the equivalent of: you guys have been smoking too much of this red Lebanese that you’ve been getting. And then Christ comes again. Oh, and he says in that incident, Thomas says: unless I put my hand into the wound, I will not believe it. And so then Christ comes again to the upper room, and he looks over the assembly, and he gestures Thomas forward. And he says: Thomas, put your hand into the wound. And so he does. Now different people have different interpretations of what’s going on here. And Thomas has always called, in Christian exegesis, Thomas the Doubter. My interpretation of what’s going on here is that, because Thomas doubted, he alone of all the apostles touched the resurrection body. He alone was vouchsafed this immense privilege. And it was because he doubted. So it’s a tremendous inspiration to doubt—which is what I urge you all to do about this kind of thing.

1:13:49

Audience

On the other hand, I went back to the Amazon to meet my roots there with Yanomamos and [???] Indians for two years. I was speaking Portuguese and Spanish. And what I learned from there is that, when they take drugs, when they take the herbs, they take it to be good warriors. And that’s one of my concerns in society right now: that in here we take any kind of like, you know, psych substances to the nervous system. We don’t understand why we’re trying to become a warrior in that way.

1:14:30

McKenna

Well, no, you’re right. That this Yanomami folk way is definitely about male aggression and this sort of thing. But I also wonder if, in that situation, they actually encounter the reality-obliterating psychedelic ecstasy that comes with those substances, which on DMT specifically are purified out. No, I’m not—my method is skeptical. It goes back to Thomas the Doubter story. It’s not a cult of the primitives. It’s not a cult of the that ancient is best. It’s a cult of experience. Direct experience is what needs to be empowered. And you have to trust your own intuition. There are horrifying experiences that can come as a result of plant use. In Madagascar, the modern Malagasi Republic, there’s not a highly developed psychedelic usage, but they have concentrated on and developed what are called ordeal poisons. And they have about a dozen of these things. And what these are, are plants that you take the preparation, you believe that you’re going to die, you want to die, you beg to die, and you don’t die. Instead, you come through it. And then you’re so damn glad that you came through it, that it’s an ecstasy. Just the mere fact of having lived through it, you see? So—

1:16:15

Audience

[???] we have right now with the other ventilator systems? That’s the same idea?

1:16:18

McKenna

That’s right. Sure. Thank you. Hi.

1:16:24

Audience

Hi. Once one has acquired the bundleweed, how does he consume it?

1:16:31

McKenna

Technical questions here. Detail freaks, cooks, and recipe mongers! For the benefit of those not initiated into this, it’s interesting. You know, aboriginal human beings have searched the world for psychedelic sources, and have been (such as in the Amazon) very successful, but not exhaustively successful. So that it’s recently become known in the phytochemical literature that a plant—desmanthus illinoensis, which this gentleman is referring to; the Illinois bundleweed—appears to have the one of the highest concentrations of dimethyltryptamine of any plant that’s been looked at. And it has no history of aboriginal usage. And the question is how to activate this into a usable psychedelic. Probably, the way to do it would be to attempt to create an analog to these South American plant drug ayahuasca by combining the bundleweed with a North American source of a beta-carboline such as harmine, which is what’s in ayahuasca. And that would activate it. And the obvious candidate for that would be a succulent plant that grows in the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada: pergamon harmala. And pergamon harmala, combined with desmanthus illinoensis in the correct proportions, would probably deliver a stunning psychedelic experience.

1:18:25

Audience

Do you eat or smoke it?

1:18:28

McKenna

Oh, drink it. You would boil them together. No, smoking, you can’t. It’s too diffuse in these things. No, you would perform an alchemy. You would boil the two for many hours in a large volume of water, pour off the wash, add new water, boil more hours, pour off the wash, combine the two fractions, get rid of the physical material, and drive it down until it looks like thick coffee. But, you know, don’t be consumed by your alchemical investigations. I mean, proceed carefully with this stuff, because it’s going to work if you get it right.

1:19:10

Audience

In the absence of a scale, how might one measure five grams of psilocybin; dry psilocybin?

1:19:19

McKenna

Spring for the scale!

1:19:29

Audience

Terence, I was here the last time you were in LA. I think it was about a year and a half, two years ago. And I mentioned at that time, I felt there was a need for something set up where the in-between times that you aren’t here, there could be some interaction between we who are here. And I don’t know what the reaction was, but it finally ended up with you telling me: somebody please take this lonely guy out for dinner. But it may [???] But the truth is, you know, when you live out in [???], California—which is really like, you know, the boondocks—you’re not in the midst of daily interacting with people, you know, of your nature or like in mind. Now, I know Roy Tuckman did have a meeting of listeners for KPFK, I think about two weeks ago, which is great. This is the first time I think he’s done that. And I didn’t make it, but I really—and what I did last time was simply volunteer myself as anybody wanting to further get together or explore something, some type of organization, or some type of group. Are you familiar with the Whitney Reader? Now, it’s either the March or April issue where they were championing salons.

1:20:44

McKenna

They got a lot of heat for that too, because people said: what are you talking about salons when the world is aflame? But I thought it was a good point to push it.

1:20:54

Audience

Well, my understanding, I resubscribe to them that they’re going to mask up their readers in areas in the country to see if they can ferment some of these salons. I think it’s a great idea for empowering the individuals for that message of hope. It’s hard to hang on to hope out in the boondocks. And it’s like we need something besides every two years; a shot in the arm type of thing, or just listening through Roy, which was great. I mean, I thank God for it. But some interaction, I think with the people.

1:21:24

McKenna

Well, yeah. No, you make a very good point. I mean, what I often say at these kinds of events is: it’s a unique moment when you all self-select to be here. I mean, this is a city of, what? 14 million people? Something like that. And you have self-selected—even over being at the Grateful Dead concert—to be here. And so this is some kind of a core community. And it is true that we look like everybody else. There’s no real way to tell. So whatever you need, somebody in this room has it. And we’ve reduced the problem from finding them in a city of 12 million to finding them in a crowd of 800. That’s about the best I can do for you. But I urge you to look around you and see who’s here. And remember: it’s tricky, of course, because motivations are complex and loyalties are complex, and not everybody knows who they work for. But nevertheless, we have considerably simplified the problem of community by gathering ourselves into this room this evening.

1:22:51

And I don’t like these big events, because I don’t like sitting up here in the light and looking out over the sea of faces. I’m against guruism, leader, trips. And anyway, the whole point of this message has to be that it’s for everybody. Nobody is special. If it can only happen to some kind of elect, then it’s got no impact, no ability to save the planet. It’s a human mystery. It doesn’t belong to the intelligentsia. It doesn’t belong to the wealthy. It doesn’t belong to the Irish—regardless of how we kid around about that. It’s got to be for everybody. So take this man seriously. Here he is, second year in a row, pleading for community.

1:23:40

Audience

Somebody take me to dinner!

1:23:42

McKenna

And community is the backbone of the thing. When I first started doing this, one of the most empowering experiences that I could have after talking to a crowd like this is: someone would come up afterwards and say to me, I thought I was crazy till I talked to you, till I heard you talk. And what they meant was that they had done psychedelics in the sixties, and they had seen the elves and the machinery of joy. But then other people had turned to market analysis and international banking and what have you, and it all seemed to flow away. And so people need to find like-minded people. And, as I say, this is about as far as I can go for you, and then you have to do the rest. But this is your affinity group. This is your family.

1:24:35

Audience

You have narrowed it down. It still seems to be a little hit and miss. What I did last time, when I sat down, I said, anybody who was interested, I was going to be somewhere, stand here. And about 14 people, to my surprise, came up. We switched names and addresses. I mailed out just the names and addresses. I really didn’t follow up. And I [???] people tonight. You need someone better to do a newsletter than me. But I’m willing to support the people getting together and just be a focus point of them getting together. So I’ll stand.

1:25:07

McKenna

Yes, [???] this man. He’ll be outside.

1:25:12

Audience

And just explore how we can get together as more often than once every year and a half or two years, and whatever that may take.

1:25:20

McKenna

Sounds good.

1:25:26

Audience

Terence, I was interested in your concept of fate. It reminded me of a quote by Hume, where he says that fate is doing willingly that which I must do. And I was wondering about this concept of fate. You were talking about the Greek thought of fate as the one thing that you couldn’t go beyond. Even Zeus himself was terrified of the fate, with the Moira. And the idea of not being able to pass beyond the physical body, not being able to pass beyond boundaries, that we are bounded by fate, even the gods themselves. And yet you were talking about the concept of the alchemist believing about going beyond one’s fate. I find this idea very delicious. You know, I thought maybe you could elaborate on the idea of going beyond one’s fate, or this kind of freedom in the—

1:26:11

McKenna

Yes. The way they did it—as I briefly indicated, but didn’t get into—was through magic. And the kind of magic was the following. It was the styles of renaissance magic that developed in the wake of the translation of this Hermetic Corpus. Previously, magic had been sort of as the cartoon image we have of it: the lonely wizard off in the woods grinding up his potions and toads, or that sort of thing. But in the Renaissance, in the Medici court, people like Marcello Ficino and Campanello and these people took the idea of astrological associations—in other words, that plants and minerals and odors and this sort of thing—could all be associated to given zodiacal signs. And they created a theatrical style of magic, a ceremonial magic, whereby, say, you wanted to counteract a Saturn aspect of some sort. Well then, by choosing the opposite, the herbs and gems and perfumes associated with the opposite sort of situation, and gathering them to you, you could make a model of the universe; a new model of the universe. And they did this in round rooms, and built orreries, and practiced a kind of ceremonial magic that made them, then, the companions of princes. And the dark figure of the lonely magician in the woods was replaced by the renaissance magus who was manipulating political realities, counseling popes, and taking magical power into his hands specifically for the purpose of counteracting the machinery of fate. It had to do with this idea of: if fate is decreed by God’s cosmos, but man is the co-creator with God, then by setting up a magical microcosm, the ordinary asterisms, the ordinary influences of astrology can be deflected. And if you’re interested in this sort of thing, Dame Frances Yeats wrote a wonderful book called Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. And there’s another book by D. P. Walker called Demonic and Spiritual Magic from Ficino to Campanella. These are not easy books to find. Try the Bodhi Tree and William and Victoria Daily down on Melrose can help you out. If they were easy to find, what fun would it be? And part of the quest is getting this stuff together. But that’s the basic theory of renaissance magic: is to create a microcosm to counter the fatalistic machinery of the macrocosm.


Yeah?

1:29:36

Audience

Hi. I’ve heard you talk a lot about themes repeating themselves a lot. And one of the things I’ve thought about is popular western music, how it changes and recreates itself. And I’m just curious about your insight on that and its role in using music as a language to communicate things in the future and so forth.

1:30:00

McKenna

Well, it seems there are a couple of questions here. I mean, there’s an impulse which comes and goes in music, which is to be evocative of the spirit. I mean, you feel it in Van Morrison, and you feel it in Locatelli, and then you flash back another 200 years and you get it in Johannes Ockeghem. These people [???] it liturgical, but it’s liturgical because there was no other space in society for that. Music—this question really reflects on a previous question—music is the divine medium of exchange between man and these higher levels. And what I’ve always felt about rock and roll, and I feel it about what I do as well, is that it’s such a pale reflection of what it wants to be and could be. I mean, at a Dead concert, you know, when they get to noodling, you actually begin to feel the dimension shift, and you actually feel the possibility of a doorway opening into another dimension.

1:31:15

This is sacral music in the highest sense of the word. It goes back to the Pythagorean theory of octaves, and the mysterious relationship of the shortening of a string to the diminution of the tone, and also resonance. Resonance is a very strange phenomenon, thinking of it in terms of: we pluck the string of a cello here, and a piano sitting across the stage emits a sound. I mean, this is action at a distance, incontrovertibly, which was always the goal of magic, and always what was denied by science as a possibility. You see, we forget that it wasn’t until the middle of the last century with Helmholtz and Faraday and those people that fields gained any kind of respectability at all. And the science of the mid-nineteenth century resisted the idea of fields very furiously, because it looked to them like magic. The Newtonian model of the cosmos is all little hard balls moving through empty space and reacting in absolutely calculable ways. We now live in a world where, you know, if I had an FM radio beside me, I could demonstrate to use it. Hundreds of messages are moving through every cubic centimeter of space and time and we think nothing of this. It seems trivial. But, in a way, it’s a realization of the magical intent.

1:33:01

One of the things I didn’t say in the main body of my talk is how, in spite of science’s resistance to magical ideas, how thoroughly it has unconsciously realized the major points on the agenda of magic. For thousands and thousands of years, electricity was something that you would see if you took an amber rod and a piece of cat fur, and locked yourself in a darkened room and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and then furiously stroked the cat fur, and then you would see a little static electrical discharge. And this was a parlor trick of magicians from the Hellenistic period on. Well, who would have imagined that you could light cities with that? That you could move pictures and sound of political activities, and theatrical performances, and propaganda from one side of the planet to the other in the wink of an eye with that? Science did that, but it has in a way created an entirely magical world which we have grown blaséed to, because along with it has come some fancy mathematics that I would wager to say there’s not a person in this room who could fully explicate. And yet, because that mathematics exists, we think that this is all very humdrum.

1:34:31

You know, it took Marshall McLuhan to say that the age of electricity was nothing less than the descent of the Holy Ghost onto this planet. I mean, that electricity is the third person of the Trinity. Nothing like dabbling in a little heresy here, but that’s the fact of the matter, folks!

1:34:52

Let’s do one more here, and then we yield to convention. How are you?

1:35:00

Audience

Fine. Once I went, on New Year’s Eve, I went to a concert. I’m sorry, to a church service [???] Tonight I went to a Grateful Dead show, now I’m here.

1:35:16

McKenna

Would you like to howl like a wolf?

1:35:20

Audience

[???] I just read some Rupert Sheldrake recently. He’s like the art I try to do. It’s resonance systems. He’s talking about all the work. A friend came to me and said, you’re going to just ask Terence if the bundleweed is really 6% DMT?

1:35:52

McKenna

No.

1:35:53

Audience

0.6?

1:35:54

McKenna

Probably. Closer. 0.8, I think. I said once it was 6%, and my mailbox filled with letters from people better informed than I. So I’ll pull back on that.

1:36:09

Audience

Any references that I can cite on that quantity?

1:36:15

McKenna

I can’t give it to you off the top of my head, but if you talk to me, it’s print, it’s known. I think it’s in the Journal of Phytochemistry. But maybe if you talk to the guy who asked the other question, he’s well informed. This obscure plant is certainly getting a high profile here this evening.

1:36:33

Audience

And since Robert brought up the notion of interacting so elegantly, I would be willing to have a salon if someone is interested. And on the internet, on Usenet, on USC, [???].

1:36:56

McKenna

Very good. So here’s another person interested in building community, and they offer the possibility of another dimension of community, which is a computer networking possibility that preserves the anonymity that is very important to this kind of work.

1:37:17

I just want to leave you with one story, because it sort of fills out the theme and shows how peculiarly the spirit moves, and how the coincidencia oppositorum is present in so many unexpected situations. I think somewhere in the body of my talk I got a dig in that Cartesian logic or Cartesian rationalism. As you know, modern scientific materialism was founded by René Descartes, a French philosopher of the seventeenth century. But what the historians of science have been at great pain to keep from view is the following story, which is attested to in Descartes’ own journal.

1:38:06

When he was a young man of about 22 years old, he decided to go soldiering and wenching around Europe, which was something young men of that era did. And he joined the Habsburg Army, which was on a mission to lay siege to the city of Prague in Bohemia to suppress what was essentially an alchemical revival. I won’t go into the details, but a young prince of the Northern Leagues—and his queen, who was the daughter of James of England, and was named Elizabeth after her grandmother—had managed to gain control of the empire; had been elected, in fact. He was called Frederick the Elector Palatine. And this Habsburg Army was sent to destroy this Protestant alchemical reformation. And it did so—laid siege to the city and killed this young man, and his queen fled to the Hague. And then they retreated across Germany. And I believe it was the 17th of August of that year, which was 1619, the beginning year of the Thirty Years’ War. They made camp at Ulm in southern Germany.

1:39:28

And, just as an aside, Ulm later was the birthplace of Albert Einstein.

1:39:33

But that night Descartes had a dream. And in the dream a radiant angel appeared to him and said: the conquest of nature is to be achieved through numbers and measure. And in that moment, René Descartes went from being a nobody to being the founder of modern science. Modern science was founded at the direction of an angel. And the angel showed how it was. And to this day, modern science has made all of its strides through the application of number, mathematical analysis, and measure. That is the secret of the scientific conquest of nature. And it’s a secret that was imparted to René Descartes by an angelic entity. So I’d like you to leave this evening wondering: who do we work for? And how does it work?


Thank you very, very much. Good night!

Unfolding the Stone

Terence McKenna

https://www.organism.earth/library/docs/terence-mckenna/headshot-square.webp

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