Terence McKenna

For the Canadian documentary filmmaker, see Terence McKenna (film producer).

Terence McKenna
Born (1946-11-16)November 16, 1946
Paonia, Colorado, United States
Died April 3, 2000(2000-04-03) (aged 53)
San Rafael, California, United States
Occupation Author, lecturer
Language English
Nationality American
Education BS in ecology, resource conservation, and shamanism
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Period 20th
Subject Shamanism, ethnobotany, ethnomycology, metaphysics, psychedelic drugs, alchemy
Notable works The Archaic Revival, Food of the Gods, The Invisible Landscape, Psilocybin Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, True Hallucinations.
Spouse Kathleen Harrison (1975—1992; divorced)
Children Finn McKenna & Klea McKenna
Relatives Dennis McKenna (brother)

Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer, author, and an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, environmentalism, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness. He was called the "Timothy Leary of the '90s",[1][2] "one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism",[3] and the "intellectual voice of rave culture".[4]

McKenna formulated a concept about the nature of time based on fractal patterns he claimed to have discovered in the I Ching, which he called novelty theory,[3][5] proposing this predicted the end of time in the year 2012.[5][6][7][8] His promotion of novelty theory and its connection to the Maya calendar is credited as one of the factors leading to the widespread beliefs about 2012 eschatology.[9] Novelty theory is considered pseudoscience.[10][11]


Early life

Terence McKenna was born and raised in Paonia, Colorado,[5][12][13] with Irish ancestry on his father's side of the family.[14]

McKenna developed a hobby of fossil-hunting in his youth and from this he acquired a deep scientific appreciation of nature.[15] He also became interested in psychology at a young age, reading Carl Jung's book Psychology and Alchemy at the age of 10.[6]

At age 16 McKenna moved to Los Altos, California to live with family friends for a year. He finished high school in Lancaster, California.[13] In 1963, he was introduced to the literary world of psychedelics through The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley and certain issues of The Village Voice that talked about psychedelics.[3][13]

McKenna said that one of his early psychedelic experiences with morning glory seeds showed him "that there was something there worth pursuing",[13] and in interviews he claimed to have smoked cannabis daily since his teens.[16]

Studying and traveling

In 1965, McKenna enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley and was accepted into the Tussman Experimental College.[16] In 1967, while in college, he discovered and began studying shamanism through the study of Tibetan folk religion.[3][17] That same year, which he called his "opium and kabbala phase"[18][6] he traveled to Jerusalem, where he met Kathleen Harrison, who would later become his wife.[6][16][18]

In 1969, McKenna traveled to Nepal led by his interest in Tibetan painting and hallucinogenic shamanism.[19] He sought out shaman of the Bon tradition, which predated Tibetan Buddhism, trying to learn more about the shamanic use of visionary plants.[12] During his time there, he also studied the Tibetan language[19] and worked as a hashish smuggler,[6] until "one of his Bombay-to-Aspen shipments fell into the hands of U. S. Customs."[20] He then wandered through southeast Asia viewing ruins,[20] and spent time as a professional butterfly collector in Indonesia.[6][21][22]

After the partial completion of his studies, and his mother's death[23] from cancer in 1971,[24] McKenna, his brother Dennis, and three friends traveled to the Colombian Amazon in search of oo-koo-hé, a plant preparation containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT).[5][25] [23] Instead of oo-koo-hé they found fields full of gigantic Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, which became the new focus of the expedition.[5][6][12][26][23] In La Chorrera, at the urging of his brother, McKenna was the subject of a psychedelic experiment[5] in which the brothers attempted to bond harmine (harmine is another psychedelic compound they used synergistically with the mushrooms) with their own neural DNA, through the use of a set specific vocal techniques. They hypothesised this would give them access to the collective memory of the human species, and would manifest the alchemistsPhilosopher’s Stone which they viewed as a "hyperdimensional union of spirit and matter".[27] McKenna claimed the experiment put him in contact with "Logos": an informative, divine voice he believed was universal to visionary religious experience.[28] The voice's reputed revelations and his brother's simultaneous peculiar experience prompted him to explore the structure of an early form of the I Ching, which led to his "Novelty Theory".[5][8] During their stay in the Amazon, McKenna also became romantically involved with his interpreter, Ev.[29]

In 1972, McKenna returned to U.C. Berkeley to finish his studies[16] and in 1975, he graduated with a degree in ecology, shamanism, and conservation of natural resources.[3][21][22] In the autumn of 1975, after parting with his girlfriend Ev earlier in the year,[30] McKenna began a relationship with his future wife and the mother of his two children, Kathleen Harrison.[8][16][25][18]

Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (1986 revised edition)

Soon after graduating, McKenna and Dennis published a book inspired by their Amazon experiences, The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching.[5][16][31] The brothers' experiences in the Amazon would later be the main focus of McKenna's book True Hallucinations, published in 1993.[12] McKenna also began lecturing[16] locally around Berkeley and started appearing on some underground radio stations.[6]

Psilocybin mushroom cultivation

During McKenna's studies, he developed a technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms with Dennis[30][25][26] and in 1976, the brothers published what they had learned in a book entitled Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide, under the pseudonyms "O.T. Oss" and "O.N. Oeric".[12][32] McKenna and his brother were the first to come up with a reliable method for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms at home.[12][16][25][26] As ethnobiologist Jonathan Ott explains, "[the] authors adapted San Antonio's technique (for producing edible mushrooms by casing mycelial cultures on a rye grain substrate; San Antonio 1971) to the production of Psilocybe [Stropharia] cubensis. The new technique involved the use of ordinary kitchen implements, and for the first time the layperson was able to produce a potent entheogen in his [or her] own home, without access to sophisticated technology, equipment, or chemical supplies."[33] When the 1986 revised edition was published, the Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide had sold over 100,000 copies.[34][12][32]

Mid- to later life

Public speaking

In the early 1980s, McKenna began to speak publicly on the topic of psychedelic drugs, becoming one of the pioneers of the psychedelic movement.[35] His main focus was on the plant-based psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms (which were the catalyst for his career),[12] ayahuasca, cannabis, and the plant derivative DMT.[6] He conducted lecture tours and workshops[6] promoting natural psychedelics as a way to explore universal mysteries, stimulate the imagination, and re-establish a harmonious relationship with nature.[36] Though associated with the New Age and Human Potential Movements, McKenna himself had little patience for New Age sensibilities.[3][7][8][37] He repeatedly stressed the importance and primacy of the "felt presence of direct experience", as opposed to dogma.[38]

It's clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. These are the two things that the psychedelics attack. We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it's not easy.
 Terence McKenna, "This World...and Its Double", [39]

In addition to psychedelic drugs, McKenna spoke on a wide array of subjects[25] including; shamanism; metaphysics; alchemy; language; culture; self-empowerment; environmentalism, techno-paganism; artificial intelligence; evolution; extraterrestrials; science and scientism; the web; virtual reality (which he saw as a way to artistically communicate the experience of psychedelics); and aesthetic theory, specifically about art/visual experience as information representing the significance of hallucinatory visions experienced under the influence of psychedelics.

McKenna soon became a fixture of popular counterculture[5][6][36] with Timothy Leary once introducing him as "one of the five or six most important people on the planet"[40] and with comedian Bill Hicks' referencing him in his stand-up act[41] and building an entire routine around his ideas.[25] McKenna also became a popular personality in the psychedelic rave/dance scene of the early 1990s,[21][42] with frequent spoken word performances at raves and contributions to psychedelic and goa trance albums by The Shamen,[7][25][36] Spacetime Continuum, Alien Project, Capsula, Entheogenic, Zuvuya, Shpongle, and Shakti Twins. In 1994 he appeared as a speaker at the Starwood Festival, documented in the book Tripping by Charles Hayes.[43]

McKenna published several books in the early-to-mid-1990s including: The Archaic Revival; Food of the Gods; and True Hallucinations.[6][12][21] Hundreds of hours of McKenna's public lectures were recorded either professionally or bootlegged and have been produced on cassette tape, CD and MP3.[25] Segments of his talks have gone on to be sampled by many musicians and DJ's.[4][25]

McKenna was colleagues and close friends with chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham, and author and biologist Rupert Sheldrake. He conducted several public and many private debates with them from 1982 until his death.[44][45][46] These debates were known as trialogues and some of the discussions were later published in the books: Trialogues at the Edge of the West and The Evolutionary Mind.[44][3]

Botanical Dimensions

Botanical Dimensions ethnobotanical preserve in Hawaii.

In 1985, McKenna founded Botanical Dimensions with his then-wife, Kathleen Harrison.[21][47] Botanical Dimensions is a nonprofit ethnobotanical preserve on the Big Island of Hawaii,[3] established to collect, protect, propagate, and understand plants of ethno-medical significance and their lore, and appreciate, study, and educate others about plants and mushrooms felt to be significant to cultural integrity and spiritual well-being.[48] The 19 acres (7.7 hectares) botanical garden[3] is a repository containing thousands of plants that have been used by indigenous people of the tropical regions, and includes a database of information related to their purported healing properties.[49] McKenna was involved until 1992, when he retired from the project,[47] following his and Kathleen's divorce earlier in the year.[16] Kathleen still manages Botanical Dimensions as its president and projects director.[48] After their divorce, McKenna moved to Hawaii permanently, where he built a modernist house[16] and created a gene bank of rare plants near his home.[21] Previously, he had split his time between Hawaii and Occidental, CA.


Terence McKenna during a panel discussion at the 1999 AllChemical Arts Conference, held at Kona, Hawaii.

In mid-1999, after a long lecturing tour, McKenna returned to his home on the Big Island of Hawaii. A longtime sufferer of migraines, McKenna had begun to have increasingly painful headaches. His condition culminated in three brain seizures in one night, which he claimed were the most powerful psychedelic experiences he had ever known. McKenna was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer.[7][12][26] For the next several months he underwent various treatments, including experimental gamma knife radiation treatment. According to Wired magazine, McKenna was worried that his tumor was caused by his 35 years of smoking cannabis, although his doctors assured him there was no causal relation.[26]

In late 1999, Erik Davis conducted what would be the last interview with McKenna.[26] During the interview McKenna also talked about the announcement of his death:

I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you'd have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it's a kind of blessing. It's certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you're going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. ... It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.[50]

McKenna died on April 3, 2000, at the age of 53.[7][8][16]

Library fire

On February 7, 2007, McKenna's library of rare books and personal notes was destroyed in a fire that burned offices belonging to Big Sur's Esalen Institute, which was storing the collection. An index maintained by his brother Dennis survives, though little else.[51]



Terence McKenna advocated the exploration of altered states of mind via the ingestion of naturally occurring psychedelic substances.[5][31][42] For example, and in particular, as facilitated by the ingestion of high doses of psychedelic mushrooms,[25][52] ayahuasca and DMT,[6] which he believed was the apotheosis of the psychedelic experience. However he was less enthralled with the synthetic drugs[6] stating that "I think drugs should come from the natural world and be use-tested by shamanically orientated cultures...one cannot predict the long-term effects of a drug produced in a Laboratory."[3] McKenna always stressed the responsible use of psychedelic plants saying: "Experimenters should be very careful. One must build up to the experience. These are bizarre dimensions of extraordinary power and beauty. There is no set rule to avoid being overwhelmed, but move carefully, reflect a great deal, and always try to map experiences back onto the history of the race and the philosophical and religious accomplishments of the species. All the compounds are potentially dangerous, and all compounds, at sufficient doses or repeated over time, involve risks. The library is the first place to go when looking into taking a new compound."[53] He also recommended and often spoke of taking, what he called, 'heroic doses,'[31] which he defined as five dried grams of psilocybin mushrooms,[6][54] taken alone, on an empty stomach, in silent darkness and with eyes closed.[25][26] Stating that when taken this way one could expect a profound visionary experience,[25] believing it is only when slain by the power of the mushroom that the message becomes clear.[52]

Although he avoided giving his allegiance to any one interpretation (part of his rejection of monotheism), he was open to the idea of psychedelics as being "trans-dimensional travel"; proposing that DMT sent one to a "parallel dimension"[8] and psychedelics literally, enabled an individual to encounter 'higher dimensional entities'[55] or what could be ancestors, or spirits of the Earth,[56] saying that if you can trust your own perceptions it appears that you are entering an "ecology of souls."[57] McKenna also put forward the idea that psychedelics were "doorways into the Gaian mind"[42][58] suggesting that "the planet has a kind of intelligence, it can actually open a channel of communication with an individual human being" and that the psychedelic plants were the facilitators of this communication.[59][60] In a more radical version of biophysicist Francis Crick's hypothesis of directed panspermia; another idea McKenna speculated on, was that, psilocybin mushrooms are a species of high intelligence,[3] which may have arrived on this planet as spores migrating through space[8][61] and are attempting to establish a symbiotic relationship with human beings. He postulated that "intelligence, not life, but intelligence may have come here [to Earth] in this spore-bearing life form" pointing out that "I think that theory will probably be vindicated. I think in a hundred years if people do biology they will think it quite silly that people once thought that spores could not be blown from one star system to another by cosmic radiation pressure" and believed that "Few people are in a position to judge its extraterrestrial potential, because few people in the orthodox sciences have ever experienced the full spectrum of psychedelic effects that are unleashed."[3][17][7]

McKenna was opposed to Christianity[62] and most forms of organized religion or guru-based forms of spiritual awakening, favouring shamanism, which he believed was the broadest spiritual paradigm available, stating that:

"What I think happened is that in the world of prehistory all religion was experiential, and it was based on the pursuit of ecstasy through plants. And at some time, very early, a group interposed itself between people and direct experience of the 'Other.' This created hierarchies, priesthoods, theological systems, castes, ritual, taboos. Shamanism, on the other hand, is an experiential science that deals with an area where we know nothing. It is important to remember that our epistemological tools have developed very unevenly in the West. We know a tremendous amount about what is going on in the heart of the atom, but we know absolutely nothing about the nature of the mind."[63]

Either philosophically or religiously, he expressed admiration for: Marshall McLuhan, Alfred North Whitehead, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, Plato, Gnostic Christianity and Alchemy, while regarding the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as his favorite philosopher.[64]

He also expressed admiration for the works of Aldous Huxley,[3] James Joyce; calling Finnegans Wake "the quintessential work of art, or at least work of literature of the 20th century,"[65] the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick who he described as an "incredible genius,"[66] fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, with whom McKenna shared the belief that; "scattered through the ordinary world there are books and artifacts and perhaps people who are like doorways into impossible realms, of impossible and contradictory truth"[8] and Vladimir Nabokov: McKenna once said that he would have become a Nabokov lecturer if he had never encountered psychedelics.

During the final years of his life and career, McKenna became very engaged in the theoretical realm of technology. He was an early proponent of the technological singularity[8] and in his last recorded public talk, Psychedelics in The Age of Intelligent Machines, he outlined ties between psychedelics, computation technology, and humans.[67] He also became enamored with the Internet calling it "the birth of [the] global mind",[16] believing it to be a place where psychedelic culture could flourish.[26]

Machine elves

McKenna spoke of hallucinations while on DMT in which he claims to have met intelligent entities he described as faceless, "self-transforming machine elves".[3][8][68][69]

"Stoned ape" theory of human evolution

In his book Food of the Gods, McKenna proposed that the transformation from humans' early ancestors Homo erectus to the species Homo sapiens mainly had to do with the addition of the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis in its diet,[25][70][71] an event that according to his theory took place in about 100,000 BCE (this is when he believed that the species diverged from the Homo genus).[21][72] McKenna based his theory on the main effects, or alleged effects, produced by the mushroom[3] while citing studies by Roland Fischer et al. from the late 1960s to early 1970s.[73][74]

McKenna stated that due to the desertification of the African continent at that time, human forerunners were forced from the increasingly shrinking tropical canopy in search of new food sources.[6] He believed they would have been following large herds of wild cattle whose dung harbored the insects that, he proposed, were undoubtedly part of their new diet, and would have spotted and started eating Psilocybe cubensis, a dung-loving mushroom often found growing out of cowpat.[6][7][42][75]

Psilocybe cubensis: the psilocybin-containing mushroom central to McKenna's "stoned ape" theory of human evolution.

McKenna's hypothesis was that low doses of psilocybin improve visual acuity, meaning that the presence of psilocybin in the diet of early pack hunting primates caused the individuals who were consuming psilocybin mushrooms to be better hunters than those who were not, resulting in an increased food supply and in turn a higher rate of reproductive success.[3][7][25][42] Then at slightly higher doses, he contended, the mushroom acts to sexually arouse, leading to a higher level of attention, more energy in the organism, and potential erection in the males,[3][7] rendering it even more evolutionarily beneficial, as it would result in more offspring.[25][42][71] At even higher doses, McKenna proposed that the mushroom would have acted to "dissolve boundaries," promoting community bonding and group sexual activities.[12][42] Consequently, there would be a mixing of genes, greater genetic diversity, and a communal sense of responsibility for the group offspring.[76] At these higher doses, McKenna also argued that psilocybin would be triggering activity in the "language-forming region of the brain", manifesting as music and visions[3] thus catalyzing the emergence of language in early hominids by expanding "their arboreally evolved repertoire of troop signals."[7][25] Also pointing out that it would dissolve the ego and "religious concerns would be at the forefront of the tribe's consciousness, simply because of the power and strangeness of the experience itself."[42][76]

Therefore, according to McKenna, access to and ingestion of mushrooms was an evolutionary advantage to humans' omnivorous hunter-gatherer ancestors,[25][75] also providing humanities first religious impulse.[75][77] He believed that psilocybin mushrooms were the "evolutionary catalyst"[3] from which language, projective imagination, the arts, religion, philosophy, science, and all of human culture sprang.[7][8][26][75]

Later on this idea was given the name "The 'Stoned Ape' Hypothesis."[42][70]

McKenna's "stoned ape" theory has not received attention from the scientific community and has been criticized for a relative lack of citation to any of the paleoanthropological evidence informing our understanding of human origins. His ideas regarding psilocybin and visual acuity have been criticized by suggesting he misrepresented Fischer et al., who published studies about visual perception in terms of various specific parameters, not acuity. Criticism has also been expressed due to the fact that in a separate study on psilocybin induced transformation of visual space Fischer et al. stated that psilocybin "may not be conducive to the survival of the organism". There is also a lack of scientific evidence that psilocybin increases sexual arousal, and even if it does, it does not necessarily entail an evolutionary advantage.[78] Others have pointed to civilisations such as the Aztecs, who used psychedelic mushrooms (at least among the Priestly class), that didn't reflect McKenna's model of how psychedelic-using cultures would behave, for example, by carrying out human sacrifice.[12] Although, it has been noted that psilocybin usage by the Aztec civilisation is far removed from the type of usage on which McKenna was speculating.[42] There are also examples of Amazonian tribes such as the Jivaro and the Yanomami who use ayahuasca ceremoniously and who are known to engage in violent behaviour. This, it has been argued, indicates the use of psychedelic plants does not necessarily suppress the ego and create harmonious societies.[42]

Archaic revival

One of the main themes running through McKenna's work, and the title of his second book, was the idea that Western civilization was undergoing what he called an "archaic revival".[3][25][79]

His notion was that Western society has become "sick" and is undergoing a "healing process", in the same way that the human body begins to produce antibodies when it feels itself to be sick, humanity as a collective whole (in the Jungian, sense) was creating "strategies for overcoming the condition of dis-ease" and trying to cure itself, by what he termed as "a reversion to archaic values." McKenna pointed to phenomena including surrealism, abstract expressionism, body piercing and tattooing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, jazz, experimental dance, rave culture, rock and roll and catastrophe theory, amongst others, as his evidence that this process was underway.[80][81][82] This idea is linked to McKenna's "stoned ape" theory of human evolution, with him viewing the "archaic revival" as an impulse to return to the symbiotic and blissful relationship he believed humanity once had with the psilocybin mushroom.[25]

In differentiating his idea from the "New Age", a term that he felt trivialized the significance of the next phase in human evolution, McKenna stated that: "The New Age is essentially humanistic psychology '80s-style, with the addition of neo-shamanism, channeling, crystal and herbal healing. The archaic revival is a much larger, more global phenomenon that assumes that we are recovering the social forms of the late neolithic, and reaches far back in the 20th century to Freud, to surrealism, to abstract expressionism, even to a phenomenon like National Socialism which is a negative force. But the stress on ritual, on organized activity, on race/ancestor-consciousness – these are themes that have been worked out throughout the entire 20th century, and the archaic revival is an expression of that."[3][17]

Novelty theory and Timewave Zero

"Timewave Zero" redirects here. For album by Dutch Aggrotech band, Grendel, see Timewave Zero (album).

Novelty theory is a pseudoscientific idea[10][11] that purports to predict the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe as an inherent quality of time. Proposing that time is not a constant but has various qualities tending toward either "habit" or "novelty".[5] Habit, in this context, can be thought of as entropic, repetitious, or conservative; and novelty as creative, disjunctive, or progressive phenomena.[8] McKenna's idea was that the universe is an engine designed for the production and conservation of novelty and that as novelty increases, so does complexity. With each level of complexity achieved becoming the platform for a further ascent into complexity.[8]

The 64 hexagrams from the King Wen sequence of the I Ching.

The basis of the theory was originally conceived in the mid-1970s after McKenna's experiences with psilocybin mushrooms at La Chorrera in the Amazon led him to closely study the King Wen sequence of the I Ching.[5][6][26]

In Asian Taoism philosophy the concept of opposing phenomena is represented by the Yin and Yang. Both are always present in everything, yet the amount of influence of each varies over time. The individual lines of the I Ching are made up of both Yin (broken lines) and Yang (solid lines).

When examining the King Wen sequence of the 64 hexagrams, McKenna noticed a pattern. He analysed the "degree of difference" between each successive hexagram and claims he found a statistical anomaly, which he believed suggested that the King Wen sequence was intentionally constructed,[5] with the sequence of hexagrams ordered in a highly structured and artificial way, and that this pattern codified the nature of time’s flow in the world.[27] With the degrees of difference as numerical values, McKenna worked out a mathematical wave form based on the 384 lines of change that make up the 64 hexagrams. He was able to graph the data and this became the Novelty Time Wave.[5]

A screenshot of the Timewave Zero software (written by Peter J. Meyer) showing the timewave for the 25 years preceding a zero date of December 21, 2012.

Peter J. Meyer (Peter Johann Gustav Meyer) (born 1946), in collaboration with McKenna, studied and improved the foundations of novelty theory, working out a mathematical formula and developing the Timewave Zero software (the original version of which was completed by July 1987),[83] enabling them to graph and explore its dynamics on a computer.[5][7] The graph was fractal, it exhibited a pattern in which a given small section of the wave was found to be identical in form to a larger section of the wave.[3][5] McKenna called this fractal modeling of time "temporal resonance", proposing it implied that larger intervals, occurring long ago, contained the same amount of information as shorter, more recent, intervals.[5][84] He suggested the up-and-down pattern of the wave shows an ongoing wavering between habit and novelty respectively. With each successive iteration trending, at an increasing level, towards infinite novelty. So according to novelty theory, the pattern of time itself is speeding up, with a requirement of the theory being that infinite novelty will be reached on a specific date.[3][5]

McKenna suspected that notable events in history could be identified that would help him locate the time wave's end date[5] and attempted to find the best-fit placement when matching the graph to the data field of human history.[7] The last harmonic of the wave has a duration of 67.29 years.[85] Population growth, peak oil, and pollution statistics were some of the factors that pointed him to an early twenty-first century end date and when looking for an extremely novel event in human history as a signal that the final phase had begun McKenna picked the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.[5][85] This worked out to the graph reaching zero in mid-November 2012. When he later discovered that the end of the 13th baktun in the Maya calendar had been correlated by Western Maya scholars as December 21, 2012,[Note a] he adopted their end date instead.[5][86][Note b]

McKenna saw the universe, in relation to Novelty theory, as having a teleological attractor at the end of time,[5] which increases interconnectedness and would eventually reach a singularity of infinite complexity. He also frequently referred to this as "the transcendental object at the end of time."[5][7] When describing this model of the universe he stated that: "The universe is not being pushed from behind. The universe is being pulled from the future toward a goal that is as inevitable as a marble reaching the bottom of a bowl when you release it up near the rim. If you do that, you know the marble will roll down the side of the bowl, down, down, down – until eventually it comes to rest at the lowest energy state, which is the bottom of the bowl. That's precisely my model of human history. I'm suggesting that the universe is pulled toward a complex attractor that exists ahead of us in time, and that our ever-accelerating speed through the phenomenal world of connectivity and novelty is based on the fact that we are now very, very close to the attractor."[87] Therefore, according to McKenna's final interpretation of the data and positioning of the graph, on December 21, 2012 we would have been in the unique position in time where maximum novelty would be experienced.[3][5][26] An event he described as a "concrescence",[12] a "tightening 'gyre'" with everything flowing together. Speculating that "when the laws of physics are obviated, the universe disappears, and what is left is the tightly bound plenum, the monad, able to express itself for itself, rather than only able to cast a shadow into physis as its reflection...It will be the entry of our species into 'hyperspace', but it will appear to be the end of physical laws, accompanied by the release of the mind into the imagination."[88]

Novelty theory is considered to be pseudoscience.[10][11] Among the criticisms are the use of numerology to derive dates of important events in world history,[11] the arbitrary rather than calculated end date of the time wave[25] and the apparent adjustment of the eschaton from November 2012 to December 2012 in order to coincide with the Maya calendar. Other purported dates do not fit the actual time frames: the date claimed for the emergence of Homo sapiens is inaccurate by 70,000 years, and the existence of the ancient Sumer and Egyptian civilisations contradict the date he gave for the beginning of "historical time". Some projected dates have been criticised for having seemingly arbitrary labels, such as the "height of the age of mammals"[11] and McKenna's analysis of historical events has been criticised for having a eurocentric and cultural bias.[6][25]

The Watkins Objection

In 1994, the British mathematician Matthew Watkins of Exeter University (then a Cambridge PhD student) conducted a mathematical analysis of the Time Wave. Watkins claimed there were various mathematical flaws in the construction of the wave. He stated that when the mathematics was accurately performed a more trivial and uninteresting waveform was created, which was not fractal but a complex piecewise linear progression.[25]

Critical reception

One expert on drug treatment attacked McKenna for popularizing "dangerous substances". Judy Corman, vice president of Phoenix House of New York, a drug treatment center, said in a letter to The New York Times in 1993:[16] "Surely the fact that Terence McKenna says that the psilocybin mushroom 'is the megaphone used by an alien, intergalactic Other to communicate with mankind' is enough for us to wonder if taking LSD has done something to his mental faculties."

Others had trouble with his self-consciously cosmic literary style. "I suffered hallucinatory agonies of my own while reading his shrilly ecstatic prose," Peter Conrad wrote in The New York Times in a 1993 review of Mr. McKenna's book True Hallucinations.[16]

But some praised his "scholarly" approach. Biologist Richard Evans Schultes, of Harvard University, wrote in American Scientist in a 1993 review of McKenna's book Food of the Gods, that it was; "a masterpiece of research and writing" and that it "should be read by every specialist working in the multifarious fields involved with the use of psychoactive drugs." Concluding that "It is, without question, destined to play a major role in our future considerations of the role of the ancient use of psychoactive drugs, the historical shaping of our modern concerns about drugs and perhaps about man's desire for escape from reality with drugs."[89]

John Horgan in a 2012 blog post for Scientific American also commented that, Food of the Gods was "a rigorous argument...that mind-expanding plants and fungi catalyzed the transformation of our brutish ancestors into cultured modern humans."[8]

His outpouring of unique thoughts was a marvel to many. "To write him off as a crazy hippie is a rather lazy approach to a man not only full of fascinating ideas but also blessed with a sense of humor and self-parody," Tom Hodgkinson wrote in The New Statesman and Society in 1994.[16]

Some found his writing captivating. Mark Jacobson said of True Hallucinations, in a 1992 issue of Esquire Magazine that, "it would be hard to find a drug narrative more compellingly perched on a baroquely romantic limb than this passionate Tom-and-Huck-ride-great-mother-river-saga of brotherly bonding," adding "put simply, Terence is a hoot!"[6]

Wired called him a "charismatic talking head" who was "brainy, eloquent, and hilarious"[26] and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead also said that he was "the only person who has made a serious effort to objectify the psychedelic experience."[16]


Spoken word



See also



  1. Znamenski, Andrei A. (2007). The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. Oxford University Press. p. 138. ISBN 9780198038498.
  2. Horgan, John (2004). Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 177. ISBN 9780547347806.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Brown, David Jay; Novick, Rebecca McClen, eds. (1993). "Mushrooms, Elves And Magic". Mavericks of the Mind: Conversations for the New Millennium. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press. pp. 9–24. ISBN 9780895946010.
  4. 1 2 Partridge, Christopher (2006). "Ch. 3: Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Contemporary Sacralization of Psychedelics". Reenchantment of West. Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture, and Occulture. 2. Continuum. p. 113. ISBN 9780567552716.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Jenkins, John Major (2009). "Early 2012 Books McKenna and Waters". The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History. Penguin. ISBN 9781101148822.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Jacobson, Mark (June 1992). "Terence McKenna the brave prophet of The next psychedelic revolution, or is his cosmic egg just a little bit cracked?". Esquire. pp. 107–38. ESQ199206.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Dery, Mark (2001) [1996]. "Terence McKenna: The inner elf". 21•C Magazine. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Horgan, John. "Was psychedelic guru Terence McKenna goofing about 2012 prophecy?" (blog). Scientific American. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
  9. Krupp, E.C. (November 2009). "The great 2012 scare" (PDF). Sky & Telescope. pp. 22–6 (25).
  10. 1 2 3 Bruce, Alexandra (2009). 2012: Science Or Superstition (The Definitive Guide to the Doomsday Phenomenon). Disinformation Movie & Book Guides. Red Wheel Weiser. p. 261. ISBN 9781934708514.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Normark, Johan (June 16, 2009). "2012: Prophet of nonsense #8: Terence McKenna – Novelty theory and timewave zero". Archaeological Haecceities (blog).
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Pinchbeck, Daniel (2003). Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. Broadway Books. pp. 231–8. ISBN 0767907434.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Kent, James (December 2, 2003). "Terence McKenna Interview, Part 1.". Tripzine.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
  14. Dennis McKenna (2012). The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terence McKenna (eBook) (1st ed.). Polaris Publications. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-87839-637-5.
  15. McKenna, Dennis 2012, pp. 115.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Martin, Douglas (September 10, 2013). "Terence McKenna, 53, dies; Patron of psychedelic drugs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  17. 1 2 3 McKenna 1992a, pp. 204–17.
  18. 1 2 3 McKenna 1993, p. 215.
  19. 1 2 McKenna 1993, pp. 55–58.
  20. 1 2 McKenna 1993, pp. 22–3.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Terence McKenna; Promoter of psychedelic drug use". Los Angeles Times. April 7, 2000. p. B6.
  22. 1 2 "Terence McKenna". Omni. 15 (7). 1993. pp. 69–70.
  23. 1 2 3 McKenna 1993, pp. 1–13.
  24. McKenna 1993, p. 23.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Letcher, Andy (2007). "14.The Elf-Clowns of Hyperspace". Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom. Harper Perennial. pp. 253–74. ISBN 0060828293.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Davis, Erik (May 2000). "Terence McKenna's last trip". Wired (8.05). Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  27. 1 2 Gyus. "The End of the River: A critical view of Linear Apocalyptic Thought, and how Linearity makes a sneak appearance in Timewave Theory's fractal view of Time…". dreamflesh. The Unlimited Dream Company. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  28. McKenna 1993, p. 194.
  29. McKenna 1993, p. 3.
  30. 1 2 McKenna 1993, pp. 205–7.
  31. 1 2 3 Hancock, Graham (2006) [2005]. Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. London: Arrow. pp. 556–7. ISBN 9780099474159.
  32. 1 2 Letcher 2007, p. 278.
  33. Ott J. (1993). Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, their Plant Sources and History. Kennewick, Washington: Natural Products Company. p. 290. ISBN 978-0-9614234-3-8.; see San Antonio JP. (1971). "A laboratory method to obtain fruit from cased grain spawn of the cultivated mushroom, Agaricus bisporus". Mycologia. 63 (1): 16–21. doi:10.2307/3757680. JSTOR 3757680. PMID 5102274.
  34. McKenna & McKenna 1976, Preface (revised ed.).
  35. Wojtowicz, Slawek (2008). "Ch. 6: Magic Mushrooms". In Strassman, Rick; Wojtowicz, Slawek; Luna, Luis Eduardo; et al. Inner Paths To Outer Space: Journeys to Alien Worlds Through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. p. 149. ISBN 9781594772245.
  36. 1 2 3 Toop, David (February 18, 1993). "Sounds like a radical vision; The Shamen and Terence McKenna". Rock Music. The Times.
  37. Sharkey, Alix (April 15, 2000). "Terence McKenna". The Independent (Obituary). p. 7.
  38. McKenna, Terence (1994). "181-McKennaErosEschatonQA". In Hagerty, Lorenzo. Psychedelia: Psychedelic Salon ALL Episodes (MP3) (lecture). Event occurs at 32:00. Retrieved 2014-04-11.
  39. McKenna, Terence (September 11, 1993). This World...and Its Double (DVD). Mill Valley, California: Sound Photosynthesis. Event occurs at 1:30:45.
  40. Leary, Timothy (1992). "Unfolding the Stone 1". In Damer, Bruce. Psychedelia: Raw Archives of Terence McKenna Talks (MP3) (Introduction to lecture by Terence McKenna). Event occurs at 2:08.
  41. Hicks, Bill (1997) [November 1992 – December 1993]. "Pt. 1: Ch. 2: Gifts of Forgiveness". Rant in E-Minor (CD and MP3). Rykodisc. Event occurs at 0:58. OCLC 38306915.
  42. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Gyrus (2009). "Appendix II: The Stoned Ape Hypothesis". War and the Noble Savage: A Critical Inquiry Into Recent Accounts of Violence Amongst Uncivilized Peoples. London: Dreamflesh. pp. 63–6. ISBN 0955419611.
  43. Hayes, Charles (2000). Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures. Penguin. p. 1201. ISBN 9781101157190.
  44. 1 2 Abraham, McKenna & Sheldrake 1998, Preface.
  45. Abraham, McKenna & Sheldrake 1992, p. 11.
  46. Rice, Paddy Rose (ed.). "The Sheldrake – McKenna – Abraham Trialogues". sheldrake.org.
  47. 1 2 "Botanical Dimensions People". botanicaldimensions.org.
  48. 1 2 "Botanical Dimensions Plants and People". botanicaldimensions.org.
  49. Nollman, Jim (1994). Why We Garden: Cultivating a Sense of Place. Henry Holt & Co. p. 181. ISBN 9780805027198.
  50. Davis, Erik (January 13, 2005). "Terence McKenna Vs. the Black Hole". techgnosis.com (Excerpts from the CD, Terence McKenna: The Last Interview). Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  51. Frauenfelder, Mark (February 22, 2007). "Terence McKenna's library destroyed in fire". Boing Boing (group blog). Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  52. 1 2 Stamets, Paul (1996). "5. Good Tips For Great Trips". Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World: An Identification Guide. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780898158397.
  53. McKenna 1992a, p. 43.
  54. Wadsworth, Jennifer. "Federal Approval Brings MDMA From Club to Clinic". Metro Active. Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  55. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 193.
  56. McKenna, Terence. "The Invisible Landscape". futurehi.net (lecture). Future Hi. Archived from the original on October 16, 2005.
  57. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 247.
  58. Trip, Gabriel (May 2, 1993). "Tripping, but not falling". New York Times. p. A6.
  59. Shamen (1992). "Track 10: RE: Evolution". Boss Drum (CD and MP3). Epic. Event occurs at 4:50. OCLC 27056837.
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  61. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 234.
  62. Rabey, Steve (August 13, 1994). "Instant karma: Psychedelic drug use on the rise as a quick route to spirituality". Colorado Springs Gazette – Telegraph. p. E1.
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  65. McKenna, Terence (1990–1999). "SurfingFinnegansWake". In Damer, Bruce. Psychedelia: Raw Archives of Terence McKenna Talks (MP3) (lecture). Event occurs at 0:45.
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  68. Rick Strassman, M.D. (2001). DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. Inner Traditions Bear and Company; Later Printing edition. p. 187. ISBN 0892819278.
  69. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 213.
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  74. McKenna 1992b, p. 57.
  75. 1 2 3 4 Znamenski 2007, pp. 138-9.
  76. 1 2 McKenna 1992b, p. 59.
  77. Pinchbeck 2003, p. 194.
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  86. 1 2 Defesche, Sacha (June 17, 2008) [January–August 2007]. "'The 2012 Phenomenon': A historical and typological approach to a modern apocalyptic mythology" (MA Thesis, Mysticism and Western Esotericism, University of Amsterdam). Skepsis. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
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  88. McKenna 1992a, p. 101.
  89. Schultes, Richard Evans (1993). "Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge by Terence McKenna". Life Sciences. American Scientist (Book review). 81 (5). pp. 489–90. JSTOR 29775027.
  90. Matthews, Peter (2005). "Who's Who in the Classic Maya World". Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
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  94. Morley, Sylvanus (1983). The Ancient Maya (4th ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 603, Table B2.

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