On the Disillusioning Revelations about Terence Mckenna

Listen to Dr. Bruce Damer take a deep dive into the mind of Terrence McKenna and reveal sides of his character that were a profound shock to his fans: Podcast 316: A Deep Dive into the Mind of Terence McKenna http://www.matrixmasters.net/salon/?p=595

An article (and associated podcasts) published in Reality Sandwich entitled A Deep Dive into the Mind of Terence McKenna included some shocking revelations about Terence that come from his brother, Dennis. After a dark mushroom trip in the 80s Terence never took mushrooms again, and only rarely and reluctantly did any psychedelic stronger than weed. Meanwhile, in public he was encouraging others to take “the heroic dose” etc.

I  added the following comment to the article:

Mckenna’s Shadow

Submitted by Jonathan Zap on Wed, 07/11/2012 – 07:44.

I’m still processing the revelations about Terence which so far have increased my sense of the complexity of the man and increased my fascination with his enigmatic character. Jung once said, “The larger the man, the larger the shadow.” and no doubt 6’6″ Jung, who had an often brutal personality, hoped the aphoristic principle would be applied to him. I can imagine Terence, who always revered Marshall McLuhan, rationalizing that the “messenger was the message” and therefore that he was justified in making his public persona an edited performance art that combined authentic and inauthentic elements. Although my love and fascination with Terence is increased by the revelation, I don’t feel a need to gloss over it in a hagiographical blur of idealization either.

Shadow material, in my experience, is often the most revelatory. To mine the depth of meaning offered by this revelation, however, we need to step through the thousand petaled chrysanthemum, brush aside the self-transforming machine elves and their Faberge egg like creations for a moment and take an unflinching look at the shadow side.

First, it seems so appropriate that 2012, which so far has not been apocalyptic in either the conventional sense or in the revelatory sense that the etymology of the word “apocalypse” implies, would at least give us a somewhat dark revelation about the “man of 2012.” The timing is perfect and works with the sense of Terence’s life as performance art with a new act being revealed twelve years after he leaves the stage. When your life is performance art, and you really are inspired as Terence certainly was, you should expect that the performance will be beyond your control. Since Terence was such a great bard whose eloquence and story telling ability shimmered with alchemical brilliance, it is warranted to view the arc of his public life as a story structure with a key denouement delayed till 2012.

To appreciate the depth of the denouement, however, we first need to look at it in an unflattering light. Imagine this analogy—a celebrity is the official spokesperson for a neuropharmaceutical, say an antidepressant, and for years he extols its virtues and talks every chance he gets about how it changed his life. Prospective customers are urged to take it in heroic doses. Human evolution may depend on it. The endorser, however, fails to mention that a dozen years ago, the last time he took it, it sent him into a bout of suicidal despair. Since most of us don’t like big pharma and its celebrity spokespersons we wouldn’t hesitate to call such a person a liar and a hypocrite. If the spokesperson then died of a prozac-shaped brain tumor we might even call it poetic justice.  (according to the article, Terence’s fatal brain tumor was mushroom-shaped).

Although I’ve praised Terence, and continue to, as a visionary genius in a number of writings, I’ve also pointed out a flaw in his approach to esoteric research in those same writings. I pointed out some of the flaws in his reality testing to Terence’s face on a few occasions and he responded to my challenges graciously and in a way that showed his large character and capacity for self-criticism. Terence, like so many, underestimated the trickster side of the unconscious. Even though he described the trickster nature of the self-transforming machine elves, he didn’t quite realize that the voice of a mushroom goddess speaking in his head should be taken with as many grains of salt as the voice of God the Father speaking in the head of George W. Bush. This is why Timewave 2000 became his obsessive Bête noire. In the last public talk I ever saw him give, in Denver, about a year before he passed, Terrence said that if Timewave turned out to be wrong he would spend the next twenty years of his life trying to figure out why. As it turned out, he didn’t have those twenty years, but we do, and we need to integrate this other side of his character into everything he represents.

If you underestimate the trickster side of the unconscious you get tricked and especially you fall into the principle I coined years ago: “Wherever you cast your obsessive attention, there shall you find weird patterning.” Conspiracy types are especially prone to falling prey to this effect, which is rife in every area of esoteric research. Also, if you gain access to the energetic contents of the collective unconscious you are likely to have ego inflation, and will feel filled with a sense of special destiny, a sense of messianic purpose and a feverish desire to proselytize. Typically, you will find that the gods and mystical forces seem to endorse your sexual agenda. Terence’s final mushroom experience, however, was humbling and disenchanting and perhaps that helped him to avoid some of those excesses.

If you underestimate the trickster side of the unconscious, if you think every synchronicity is a divine revelation, then you become tricked and ultimately you become a trickster. The archetype you didn’t understand and integrate functions in you as an autonomous complex and you trick yourself and others.

For more on the many trickster pitfalls and blind spots of esoteric research see:  Carnival 2012—A Psychological Study of the 2012 Phenomenon and the 22 Pitfalls and Blindspots of Esoteric Research An account of a trickster laden encounter with Terence in 1996 A Mutant Convergence—How John Major Jenkins, Jonathan Zap and Terence McKenna Met During a Weekend of High Strangeness in 1996 Also everyone should read my friend George Hansen’s seminal work on the subject, The Trickster and the Paranormal

Bruce Damer, the co-author of the article responded:

re: McKenna’s Shadow

Submitted by bdamer on Tue, 07/31/2012 – 00:57.
Jonathan, thank you so much for your cogent explanation of the trickster side of the unconscious and your excellent term “weird patterning” which should be a required part of any seeker’s lexicon. I am following up on some of your resources which I am very pleased you have shared here. Lorenzo and I hoped that all of these years of research and the large effort of putting together the Esalen workshop would be rewarded by intelligent discourse and we were not disappointed!
Peter Meyer added an objection:

Claim concerning Terence is unconfirmed

Submitted by Peter Meyer on Sat, 07/21/2012 – 20:35.

Jonathan begins by saying, “I’m still processing the revelations about Terence …” I doubt that ‘revelations’ is a correct description.

It should be noted that the claim that Terence never did mushrooms after a bad trip in 1988 or 1989 is based on anunauthorized public reading by Bruce Damer of an extract from an early version of an unfinished and unpublishedbook by Dennis McKenna, and the claimant is not identified, so we cannot make an estimate of reliability.

This claim has been used by some to attempt to discredit Terence, and Jonathan does him no service by assuming that it is true without waiting for the final version in Dennis’s forthcoming book.

In any case, whether or not Terence did mushrooms much in the 1990s is irrelevant to the value of what he had to say to us. Terence is mainly regarded as a psychedelic advocate, which is why some people may be disappointed that his use of psychedelics (in the latter part of his life) was less than they had supposed, but his real value to us was as a trenchant critic of a (modern Western) civilization which has become insane and thereby diabolical (and which thus does not deserve our support) and (as I said in my earlier message) as a genuine prophet speaking to us by means of something like divine illumination, and pointing us toward a level of truth which psychedelics can enable some of us to know for ourselves by direct experience. For this he will long be remembered.

Bruce responded:

Reading authorized by Dennis McKenna

Submitted by bdamer on Tue, 07/31/2012 – 00:23.
Just to clarify on behalf of Lorenzo Hagerty and myself. The reading of excerpts from a draft of Dennis McKenna’s upcoming book “Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss” at Esalen on June 16th was authorized by Dennis. Dennis provided the excerpts from which we selected the ones that where read. At a meeting with McKenna family members approximately a week and a half after the first Esalen program was podcast (July 2nd) concerns were voiced to Dennis over the contents of the book draft. Dennis felt that all draft materials needed to be reviewed jointly by the family so it behooved us to remove the entire podcast. We are working on an edit to the podcast that will remove the draft readings and leave 80% of the podcast intact. The revised podcast will still stand on its own and provide valuable insight into the mind of Terence McKenna without compromising Dennis’ book efforts. We hope to bring that to you soon. For more background on this see the announcement and subsequent dialogue at the Psychedelic Salon podcast page:http://www.matrixmasters.net/salon/?p=595 as well as a large comment stream on the Psychedelic Salon page on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/psychedelicsalon/Thanks and we will be back in touch soon! (the end of Bruce’s comment)

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to a youtube video that seems like Terence’s response to the predicament. Here are the new comments I just added to the RS article:

Terence Responds to his Predicament Someone just sent me this youtubehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ih4Fg6P730 of Terence talking with Ram Dass in Prague. There are a few minutes at the end that are so eerie, because they are so synchronistically relevant to this exact moment of Terence’s career. It almost felt like Terence and Ram Dass (as psychologist and spirit guide) were doing a therapy session in the afterlife. During the dialogue, Terence seems a bit vulnerable. A trick of the lighting also seems to parallel their positions. Ram Dass seems adept at being in the spotlight and Terence appears to be shadowed.
At 35:55 Ram says, “My mantra is the Ghandi line: ‘My life is my message.’
At 36:10 Terence says, “I think I’m at a little lower level because I’m very aware that I have to struggle to say that my life is my message. I would almost rather say my message is my message please don’t look at my life because I’m a fallible human being and I’m constantly—-“
Ram Dass (interrupting) “But you see how that weakens you, doesn’t it? You see how that quality means that the message doesn’t come from the root, the center. There is a way in which it waffles—“
Terence: “True”
Ram Dass: “Once I saw the possibility of that I said, ‘Why waffle, what is worth holding on to that is worth waffling about?'”
Terence: “Well I once said to Leo Zeff…’Leo, you’re finished, you’re completed, you’re baked. Me, I’m half baked. And I hope the rest of my life will finish the baking.”
A few seconds later Terence raises his glass and says, “Here’s to Mercurius!”
And perhaps this is Terence assigning his own epitaph. He shall remain a mercurial figure whose life waffled in relationship to message. And perhaps he was taken from us too soon, before the baking was finished.
Terence’s prophetic statements are not over, however, at 39:28, the last half minute of the exchange he says,
“I think you are a prophet to be. I think we all are.”
Then he adds, “As Bilbo Baggins once said, ‘The greatest adventure still lies ahead.’ I believe that. I’ll believe that when they lower my box.”
There is a moment of farewell in which Ram Dass confesses, “I was afraid of you, up until now, now I’m delighted.”
Terence responds with the very last line of the exchange,
“No, no, don’t be afraid of me. The people who are afraid of me, don’t know me, or they know me better than you ever will!”
On 9/19/13 had an email exchange with Dr. Damer about Terence and I made the following comment:
Even the greatest of minds is as vulnerable to the basic addictions as Joe Sixpack and I think Terence got hooked on one of the more insidious of white powder drug analogues:
narcissism/cash for celebrity. As a narcissistic personality type myself (the personality type of the age) I can see myself reaching for any number of potent mixtures of cash and celebrity with the thoughtful reticence of a starving subway rat finding a two-day-old extra cheese pizza lying beside the third rail. 
 As I’m sure you know, there have been a whole series of scandals about autobiographical authors (A Million Little Pieces http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Million_Little_Pieces) and gonzo style journalists (see the movie, Shattered Glass) fabricating what were sold as true accounts. Terence’s dissimulations were less egregious comparatively, but still very much in need of outing. He may have felt like Ram Das who told the story in his book on aging of how, in the midst of a meditation on what profound aging would be like, had his stroke, but omitted to mention that he had also taken LSD. Ram felt that fact would only give ammo to those who demonize psychedelics, and that’s a reasonable motive, but neither he nor Terrence seemed to acknowledge sufficiently that many of these substances are capable of demonizing themselves without the help of any patriarchal threshold guardians. Terence also misled people by over generalizing based on the particularities of his own best experiences—“You will pass through a thousand leaf chrysanthemum and then see the bejeweled self-dribbling basketballs”, etc.  In one talk, however, I heard him correct for this and say, “You should listen to everything I say through the following filters…”   One of these filters was that his descriptions were merely what he experienced, etc. If only he had offered those filters with every talk. 


About Jonathan Zap

Jonathan Zap is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, and writer/explorer of themes emerging from the collective unconscious as we hurtle toward an evolutionary event horizon. He's an author, philosopher, journalist, and teacher who has written extensively on psychology and contemporary mythology. He graduated from Ursinus College with honors in Philosophy and English and received his Masters degree in English from NYU. Jonathan has worked as a staff gemologist and instructor for the Gemological Institute of America. He has taught English in high school and college and worked with troubled youth as the dean of a South Bronx High School. As a wilderness guide, Jonathan has led inner city kids and other young people on expeditions to remote desert canyons and to the summit of Mount Rainer.


  1. Hi Jon…
    From 2005 thru the first half of 2008 I ate high doses of mushrooms on a regular basis…pretty much every two weeks on the new and full moons…alone and with honest intention…
    Anyone who has exposed themselves to psilocybin in that manner can tell you without lying that it is a tough thing to do…They were the most difficult years of my life…
    In June of ’08 I had an experience in which it was made clear that there was no need for more…a simple question was “asked” of me…
    Do you really want to keep doing this?
    And my answer was “No”…
    I haven’t used psilocybin since then and although it was not a “disturbing” experience, as Terence may have had, the point was made clear…
    I still advocate their usage although I no longer participate myself…
    Perhaps Terence was in a similar situation…
    I’ve listened to a great many of his talks and I do not recall anyone ever asking (or him answering) “when was the last time you did this or that…”
    Sometimes things are just done. And there is no reason to do them anymore…
    I think it was Tim Leary who said something to the extent of, “When you’ve gotten the message, hang up the phone…”
    Terence got what he needed and shared what he knew, experienced and believed…
    We should all be so bold…
    Cheers man…



  2. just last night i happened upon a comment on an article that had amongst other things a link to this podcast with Jan Irvin talking about Gordon Wasson and the popularizing of magic mushrooms. with Wasson’s ties to the CIA, Council on Foreign Relations, and Edward Bernays (father of propaganda) as well as his day job as PR man for JP Morgan Bank, Irvin (who seemed to have researched this very much in depth) is convinced that the popularizing of magic mushrooms and the whole psychedelic movement is a psyop (ie psychological operation) of the CIA … he makes a lot of good points about this and draws connections. Jonathan I know you think that ‘conspiracy theorists’ will find whatever they are looking for, but you might want to check this out if you haven’t already. http://www.gnosticmedia.com/red-ice-radio-jan-irvin-hour-1-2-gordon-wasson-the-secret-history-of-magic-mushrooms/

    also he mentioned that phase 2 of the psychedelic psyop began when the McKenna’s published their book on how to grow magic mushrooms on your own, thus greatly expanding the reach of ‘the program’

    now he doesn’t say that psychedelics are inherently bad, just that people are generally not able to use them well and end up relying on carefully-crafted bunk in order to understand and integrate their experiences, and that is how the psyop works to neutralize all these people’s energies

    i agree with the analogy to a celebrity spokesperson for a pharmaceutical by the way, and not with Peter Meyer’s assertion that McKenna’s personal practice had no bearing on the message he was relaying

  3. Terence advocated climbing to the highest peaks of the psychedelic experience. He made it okay to go further, that it didn’t mean you were crazy, that, actually, you were getting the message. The last few times I journeyed, I always heard a voice, clear as day saying “what are you doing back here? I thought you understood?”. Every time. The work I thought I doing was no longer to be accomplished in hyperspace, the work is to be attempted in linear space. This can be quite depressing, feeling kicked out of the palm tree garden, but really, it is freedom. We live in a world saturated with headlines and sirens that announce what is True and what is False, but gnosis doesn’t work like that. It is digested, and processed. Slowly, completely. I rejoiced when I heard the reported story about his limited psychedelic use in his later years because it reinforced everything I felt he taught me. But what do I know?

    • This is interesting, because to me the true psychedelia is life essentially and at every step we have a chance to become self aware! This does really seem like The Great Work of artists way! For me the psychedelic challenge is exactly the integration/manifestation of my experiences into the material plane, even though I’d rather be in the hyperspace! Maybe the trick for me is establishing a ritual of mos efficient way of cultivating this trance state of mind! …first thing for your mind might be Meditation but I like finding much different, playful and creative ways of doing this, that maybe would encourage any person to do this. For example ambidextrous activities like symmetric drawing with both hands, creating new sounds- I really don’t like to call it beat-boxing because of the cultural stereotype but I guess that what it essentially is even though I started doing it inspired by drumming of psychedelic instrumental bands. But just 2 days ago I was looking for books on ambidexterity and found a book on drumming and a new burst of altered imagination entered my mind of how technology could be more efficient for this practice being available for everyone and it naturally leads to gaming.
      I’ve never been a massive fan of gaming, though I do have a tendency to escape reality, but the interesting western phenomena is that it could actually be a naturally unfolding step in humanities evolution – ambidextrous activity.

  4. This was very good to read.Its like hearing Terence making fun of himself from the other side.
    To me,Terence appeared to be way ahead in development of superconsciousness,& now that he`s crossed over,he reached the ultimate mind expansion.Becoming one with the All for real.
    I believe Terence crossed over on behalf of the psychedelic world,to get aquainted with the new expanded consciousness & when we cross over,Terence will be having great talks going.

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