McKenna, Terence

McKenna, Terence (1946–2000) – Psychedelic thinker, writer, and conspiracy theorist whose experiments with LSD, DMT, and especially magic mushrooms (psilocybin) led him to proselytize the perceived benefits of entheogen use in his books and on the lecture circuit. McKenna proposed that a number of separate psychedelics (psilocybin, DMT, ibogane, and LSD) are more shamanic than such drugs as ketamine and datura, because they alone occasion experiences of other beings (including the “machine elves”). He went further, to not only essentialize all psychedelic experience as essentially shamanic (involving encounters with spirits) but to also argue that magic mushrooms played a pivotal role in human evolution. In McKenna’s archaic Eden, magic mushroom ingestion triggered the religious impulse and language, as an aphrodisiac promoted reproductive success, and low doses produce visual acuity and made humans better hunters. McKenna tied all of these ideas into a cosmic theory wherein the universe is perceived to evolve with discrete moments of change toward complexity, which can be predicted using the I Ching oracle, with the next ingression of novelty due in 2012, an important date in the Mayan calendar. The ingestion of psychedelics is crucial in McKenna’s schema, enabling contact with the extraterrestrial beings who steer cosmic evolution. The teleology of this equation notwithstanding, McKenna’s assumption that “tripping” early humans were more successful than straight ones not only is difficult to take seriously but also tells us more about his own psychedelic agenda than about the past. Nonetheless, McKenna’s discourse retains persuasive power among the psychedelic community, with his pro-psychedelic message available in numerous books and audio recordings and disseminated in the sample McKenna “raps” in dance music, most famously “Re:Evolution” by the British psychedelicinfluenced electronic music group The Shamen.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007