Life

Terence McKenna’s Most Mind-Warping, Thought-Provoking Quotes On Psychedelics, Freedom And Spirituality


“Psychedelics dissolve into the greater feeling of connectedness that underlies our being here, and to my mind that’s the religious impulse. It’s not a laundry list of moral dos and don’ts, or a set of dietary prescriptions or practices: it’s a sense of connectedness, responsibility for our fellow human beings and for the earth you walk on, and because these psychedelics come out of that plant vegetable matrix they are the way back into it.”

The late, great Terence McKenna was a botantist, philosopher, author, speaker and self-proclaimed ‘psychonaut’ (an explorer of consciousness through mind-altering, natural plants and fungi). Here are some of his most fascinating and thought-provoking ideas on psychedelic substances, and in particular psilocybin (the key compound in magic mushrooms). The quotes are taken from various books, articles and lectures across McKenna’s large body of work. If you enjoy these insights, we recommend reading his books in full.

  • “Part of what psychedelics do is they decondition you from cultural values. This is what makes it such a political hot potato. Since all culture is a kind of con-game, the most dangerous candy you can hand out is one which causes people to start questioning the rules of the game.”
  • “If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”
  • “I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex.”
  • “You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.”
  • “Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third storey 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.”
  • “When you shed the cultural operating system, then, essentially you stand naked before the inspection of your own psyche…and it’s from that position, a position outside the cultural operating system, that we can begin to ask real questions about what does it mean to be human.”
  • “We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves.”
  • “Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego.”
  • “Our culture, self-toxified by the poisonous by-products of technology and egocentric ideology, is the unhappy inheritor of the dominator attitude that alteration of consciousness by the use of plants or substances is somehow wrong, onanistic, and perversely antisocial. I will argue that suppression of shamanic gnosis, with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego, has robbed us of life’s meaning and made us enemies of the planet, of ourselves, and our grandchildren. We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrongheaded assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style.”
  • “What the Archaic Revival means is shamanism, ecstacy, orgiastic sexuality, and the defeat of the three enemies of the people. And the three enemies of the people are hegemony, monogamy and monotony.”
  • “We can begin the restructuring of thought by declaring legitimate what we have denied for so long. Lets us declare Nature to be legitimate. The notion of illegal plants is obnoxious and ridiculous in the first place.”
  • “Reality is, you know, the tip of an iceberg of irrationality that we’ve managed to drag ourselves up onto for a few panting moments before we slip back into the sea of the unreal.”
  • “Not to know one’s true identity is to be a mad, disensouled thing. And, indeed, this image, sickeningly Orwellian, applies to the mass of human beings now living in the high-tech industrial democracies. Their authenticity lies in their ability to obey and follow mass style changes that are conveyed through the media. Immersed in junk food, trash media, and cryp-tofascist politics, they are condemned to toxic lives of low awareness. Sedated by the prescripted daily television fix, they are a living dead, lost to all but the act of consuming.”
  • “Could it not be that we are willing to pay the terrible toll that alcohol extracts because it is allowing us to continue the repressive dominator style that keeps us all infantile and irresponsible participants in a dominator world characterized by the marketing of ungratified sexual fantasy?”
  • “The way out is back and that the future is a forward escape into the past. This is what the psychedelic experience means. Its a doorway out of history and into the wiring under the board in eternity…what we need is a new myth, what we need is a new true story that tells us where we’re going in the universe and that true story is that the ego is a product of pathology, and when psilocybin is regularly part of the human experience the ego is supressed and the supression of the ego means the defeat of the dominators, the materialists, the product peddlers.”
mckenna

McKenna genuinely believed that the psychedelic experience was a vital path to find a way out of the destruction humanity has caused for itself

  • “Psychedelics return us to the inner worth of the self, to the importance of the feeling of immediate experience – and nobody can sell that to you and nobody can buy it from you, so the dominator culture is not interested in the felt presence of immediate experience, but that’s what holds the community together.”
  • “The idea that you could achieve a spiritual insight without suffering, soul-searching, flagellation, and that sort of thing, is abhorrent to people because they believe that the vision of these higher dimensions should be vouchsafed to the good, and probably to them only after death. It is alarming to people to think that they could take a substance like psilocybin or DMT and have these kinds of experiences.”
  • “What the Archaic Revival means is shamanism, ecstacy, orgiastic sexuality, and the defeat of the three enemies of the people. And the three enemies of the people are hegemony, monogamy and monotony! And if you get them on the run you have the dominators sweating folks, because that means your getting it all reconnected, and getting it all reconnected means putting aside the idea of separateness and self-definition through thing-fetish. Getting it all connected means tapping into the Gaian mind, and the Gaian mind is what we’re calling the psychedelic experience.”
  • “You don’t go on bended knee to petition the official culture for your rights. You have to take them.”
  • “We have to create culture. Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
  • “I believe that the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms on the grasslands of Africa gave us the model for all religions to follow. And when, after long centuries of slow forgetting, migration, and climatic change, the knowledge of the mystery was finally lost, we in our anguish traded partnership for dominance, traded harmony with nature for rape of nature, traded poetry for the sophistry of science. In short, we traded our birthright as partners in the drama of the living mind of the planet for the broken pot shards of history, warfare, neurosis, and-if we do not quickly awaken to our predicament-planetary catastrophe.”
  • “Shamanic ecstasy is an act of surrender that authenticates both the individual self and that which is surrendered to, the mystery of being. Because our maps of reality are determined by our present circumstances, we tend to lose awareness of the larger patterns of time and space. Only by gaining access to the Transcendent Other can those patterns of time and space and our role in them be glimpsed.”
  • “Our individuality, as people and as a species, is an illusion of bad language that the psychedelics dissolve into the greater feeling of connectedness that underlies our being here, and to my mind that’s the religious impulse. It’s not a laundry list of moral dos and don’ts, or a set of dietary prescriptions or practices: it’s a sense of connectedness, responsibility for our fellow human beings and for the earth you walking around on, and because these psychedelics come out of that plant vegetable matrix they are the way back into it.”
McKenna believed in exploring the inner, the private, the unseen. He advised people to create their own culture, their own reality, and to understand the world through direct experience. Image and quote from Flickr user djandywdotcom, used under CC license.

McKenna believed in exploring the inner, the private, the unseen. He advised people to create their own culture, their own reality, and to understand the world through direct experience. Image and quote from Flickr user djandywdotcom, used under CC license.

  • “A hallucination is to be in the presence of that which previously could not be imagined, and if it previously could not be imagined then there is no grounds for believing that you generated it out of yourself.”
  • “There is no question that a society that sets out to control its citizens’ use of drugs sets out on the slippery path to totalitarianism…The war on drugs was never meant to be won. Instead, it will be prolonged as long as possible in order to allow various intelligence operations to wring the last few hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profits from the global drug scam; then defeat will have to be declared.”
  • “When we look within ourselves with psilocybin, we discover that we do not have to look outward toward the futile promise of life that circles distant stars in order to still our cosmic loneliness. We should look within; the paths of the heart lead to nearby universes full of life and affection for humanity.”
  • “From a historical point of view, restricting the availability of addictive substances must be seen as a peculiarly perverse example of Calvinist dominator thought – a system in which the sinner is to be punished in this world by being transformed into an exploitable, of his cash, by the criminal/governmental combine that provides the addictive substances.”
  • “It’s very important that people take back their minds and that people analyse our dilemma in the context of the entire human story from the descent onto the grassland to our potential destiny as citizens of the galaxy and the universe. We are at a critical turning point…it’s up to each one of us to relate to this situation in a fashion that will allow us to answer the question that will surely be put to us at some point in the future, which is: What did you do to help save the world?”
  • “If every alcoholic were a pothead, if every crack user were a pothead, if every smoker smoked only cannabis, the social consequences of the ‘drug problem’ would be transformed. Yet, as a society we are not ready to discuss the possibility of self-managed addictions and the possibility of intelligently choosing the plants we ally ourselves to. In time, and perhaps out of desperation, this will come.”
  • “When we look within ourselves with psilocybin, we discover that we do not have to look outward toward the futile promise of life that circles distant stars in order to still our cosmic loneliness. We should look within; the paths of the heart lead to nearby universes full of life and affection for humanity.”
  • “The global triumph of Western values means we, as a species, have wandered into a state of prolonged neurosis because of the absence of a connection to the unconscious. Gaining access to the unconscious through plant hallucinogen use reaffirms our original bond to the living planet.”

The accompanying video features a monologue by McKenna on the sacred, magical nature of fungi, taken from his audio book True Hallucinations. Want more? YouTuber RevolutionLoveEvolve made another impressive video we embedded over here, combining McKenna’s powerful words on sacred fungi with some very apt footage from Alice in Wonderland.

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