Terence McKenna and the Logos
by Sally Speller
Now the scholar
Now the fool
Thus they appear on earth:
The free men.
— Hindu verse from Avadhoota Gita
Terence McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000), America's most beloved psychonaut, bard, ethnobotanist, folk hero, and freewheeling philosopher, rose to fame in the early 1990s with the publication of several influential books: The Archaic Revival (1992), Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge — A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (1992), Trialogues at the Edge of the West: Chaos, Creativity, and the Resacralization of the World (with Ralph H. Abraham, Rupert Sheldrake, and Jean Houston, 1992), and True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise (1993).
Of his childhood in Paonia, Colorado — a cattle and coal town — he says in a 1993 Details magazine article, "I think my first encounter with psychedelics was looking at Colorado and trying to understand that it was once the shores of an ocean with hundred-foot-long sauropods tromping through the mangrove swamps."
In 1965, while still in high school, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and then attended the University of California, Berkeley for two years. After that, he journeyed through spiritual India, collected butterflies in Indonesia, and taught English in Japan. Drawn to Nepal by his interest in Tibetan painting and Bon, pre-Buddhist Tibetan shamanism, he studied the Tibetan language and worked as a hashish smuggler until, according to legend, a Bombay-to-Aspen shipment was seized by U.S. Customs. To avoid capture by Interpol, he fled through Asia, studying ruins along the way.
Less than a year after the loss of their mother in 1970, he and his brother Dennis (who would later become a formally trained botanist) journeyed to the Amazon to hunt for oo-koo-he, a plant preparation containing DMT. When they arrived at the Colombian village of La Chorrera, they found ayahuasca — the hallucinogenic "strange brew" of the shamans — and Stropharia cubensis, or magic mushrooms. After an eventful trip, Terence returned to Berkeley to finish college. He completed a distributed major in Ecology, Resource Conservation, and Shamanism in 1975. One of the first outcomes of the brothers' Amazonian travels was The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens and the I Ching (1975). Another was Psilocybin, Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide (1976), the first technical handbook of its kind. Originally published under the pseudonyms "O. T. Oss" and "O. N. Oeric", it has since been republished with the authors' real names credited.
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