Terence ‘Kemp’ McKenna would have celebrated his 69th birthday on Monday had he not succumbed to fatal brain cancer some 15 years ago. Terence was an American ethnobotanist, lecturer, mystic, author and the intellectual voice of rave culture. He was often called the “Timothy Leary” of the 90s and was one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism. Some of Terence’s publications included The Invisible Landscape, Mind Hallucinogens and The I -Ching, Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Growers Guide and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge.Samples of Terence’s unique orating style have been used on countless tracks spanning every genre of contemporary psychedelic music. Most notably his interview with early nineties band The Shamen is recorded in full on their track Re:Revolution. See video below.
“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”
– Terence McKenna
My journey with the great Bard started in the mid 90s.
I cast my mind back to the days when I actually went to a music shop to buy records, tapes and CD’s. I worked weekends stacking shelves for £3.42 an hour and at the end of the month a good portion of my modest pay packet was spent at the churches of Vinyl Frontier or Sam Goodies. There was a beautiful ritual about it, shamanic in its own right. The browsing, the reading of the cover, absorbing the visual images, purchasing, taking it home, unpacking it carefully, reading the commentary on the inner sleeve, cracking open and lighting up, placing in the CD draw or on the deck, hitting that button and then instantly being taken on a new journey; listening to a story you had never been told.
That day was no different. The CD was the Megatripolis 3 pack consisting of dance, ambient and shamanic compilations inspired by the UK festive club Megatripolis. The club ran from 93 -96 (before my time unfortunately) and fused New Age ideology with dance music creating a festival style club experience with a focus on spirituality, art and activism.
Young and searching, I remember the Ambient CD having a particular impact on me. I was taken on a beautiful journey carried by flowing synths, samples, lyric and percussion. The track Save the Whale by Solar Quest sampled a short passage by Terence. This was the first time I had encountered him. What struck me at first was the power of his voice. High pitched, hypnotic and almost alien sounding he had the ability to draw the listener in and flood their mind with imaginary beyond our normal waking consciousness, much like the psychedelics he promoted, I was hooked.
I have since gone on to read a lot of McKenna and listen to almost all his recorded lectures. There is too much to write a worthy synopsis of his works, ideas and beliefs but I can list a few themes that reoccur throughout his work including ecology, conservation, Gaia theory, shamanism, art, music and anti-consumerism.
(Some final thoughts from big T)
It was Terence that led me to my first experiences with therapeutic shamanism. It was Terence who calmed the fears ahead of those encounters and it is Terence who continues to help me integrate those experiences into my daily life. Terence promoted a number of shamanic techiques my own interest lying in the use of repeatative percussive sound. To coign a phrase from McKenna “shamanism is not a religon but a set of techniques”.
The more I live my life and the more I see the devastating effect our culture is having on the planet and the species the more I believe Terence had one of the most important messages for man in modern times. Reject cultural values and create your own! My more recent experiences have seen a consolidation of some of my early beliefs and models of self that Terence helped form. Now when listening back to his lectures I have come to understand them on an even deeper level.
“Culture is not your friend. Culture is for other people’s convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you. It is not your friend. It insults you. It disempowers you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are well treated by culture.”
– Terence McKenna
There is something in Terence’s message for everyone, be you psychonaut, psychologist, ecologist, seeker or if you just want an alternative model for living your life.
I humbly offer my respect to the work he and his family have done to preserve the ancient traditions of pre-literate indigenous cultures and for bringing their practices to the west.
If you have not heard of him please do take the time to find out more. The internet is full of amazing material.
RIP Terence. See you in Hyperspace!