Terence McKenna, the modern patron of psychedelics who smoked weed daily since he was a teenager, passed away nineteen years ago today at a friend’s home in San Rafael California. McKenna was 53 at the time and lived in Hawaii. The cause of death? Brain cancer.
McKenna was a folk-hero. He was also a huge DMT enthusiast, smuggler, philosopher, occultist and pro-mind-altering psychonaut most famous for his lectures, recordings, writings, books and incessant advocacy for the use of large amounts (known as heroic doses) of psychedelic drugs.
”My real function was to give people permission,” he told Wired magazine. ”Essentially, what I existed for was to say, ‘Go ahead, you’ll live through it, get loaded, you don’t have to be afraid.”
McKenna’s Stoned Ape Theory
McKenna, who the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia called ”the only person who has made a serious effort to objectify the psychedelic experience” is also famous for one of humanities grandest theories— that psychedelic mushrooms are the missing link in the story of human evolution. Not until our primate ancestors began eating hallucinatory psilocybin mushrooms, he pontificated about his stoned ape theory, did they begin to acquire human qualities.
Terence Kemp McKenna was born in Paonia Colorado on Nov. 16, 1946. ”I think my first encounter with psychedelics was looking at Colorado and trying to understand that it was once the shores of an ocean with hundred-foot-long sauropods tromping through the mangrove swamps,” he once said.
He may have been right about the beginning of human evolution but he was definitely wrong about the end of the species. McKenna professed to know exactly when the world would end—December. 22, 2012. This seemingly random date was actually based on a mathematical construct found in a well-known ancient Chinese book of divination called the I Ching.
McKenna found himself in San Francisco by 1965 and tried pot for the first time that same year—introduced to him by Country Joe & the Fish. He tried LSD that same year as well. Also that year he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley’s Tussman Experimental College.
After the two-year program McKenna began traveling in search of psychedelic plants. In 1971 his brother Dennis met him in the Amazon jungle. Soon in a tiny Colombian mission settlement they encountered shrooms for the first time. The following year he returned to Berkeley to finish college completing a self-designed degree in ecology, resource recovery and shamanism.
Soon McKenna published one of the world’s first books about growing magic mushrooms at home; Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide: A Handbook for Psilocybin Enthusiasts. This book single-handily launched the magic mushroom growing revolution. By the ‘80s he was allegedly harvesting 70 pounds of shrooms every six weeks. The operation ended when a friend was arrested.
“They fucked him so terrifyingly that I saw I couldn’t do this anymore. I had to work something else out,” McKenna said. So he began lecturing about psychedelics in a stream-of-consciousness style that approached performance art.
Raving about Psychedelics
McKenna frequently and proudly proclaimed that the psychedelic experience had “no meaning unless it is able to be carried back into the collective.” His hundreds of hours of recordings which are available online are a priceless treasure trove of wisdom, knowledge and entertainment.
In 1975, the McKenna brothers published their first book, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching.” Terrance wrote two books in the early 1990’s; True Hallucinations, and Food of the Gods. The Archaic Revival and Trialogues at the Edge of the West, written along with Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake, soon followed.
Returning home to Hawaii after a 1999 speaking tour McKenna collapsed. Freakishly Wired magazine reported, “To Terence’s amazement, his doctor described the thing as a ‘fruiting body’ that sent ‘mycelia’ throughout the surrounding tissue — mycological lingo straight out of McKenna’s Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.
“I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex,” McKenna said. “It means that you never figured out what it is all about. The mystery is in the body and the way the body works itself into nature.”
McKenna opted for the gamma knife, an allopathic treatment for his brain tumor that surprised many. It was unsuccessful. Less than a year after his initial diagnosis he passed away on April 3, 2000.
Upon his untimely and unfortunate death McKenna wondered whether a lifetime of psychedelic experiences and drug use including DMT, LSD, magic mushrooms, daily doses of marijuana and other materials may be to blame for his a rare form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforma.
”So what about it?” he asked his doctors. ”You want to hammer on me about that?” They assured him there was no causal link.
”So what about 35 years of daily dope smoking?” he asked. They pointed to studies suggesting that cannabis may shrink tumors.
”Listen,” Mr. McKenna told them, ”if cannabis shrinks tumors, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
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