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Terence McKenna: About His Life, Impact, and Death

Terence McKenna: About His Life, Impact, and Death
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Who is Terence McKenna

Terence McKenna wore many hats but was perhaps remembered best for his work as an activist and spokesperson for the use of psychedelics as well as voice for the rave culture. Born in 1946, McKenna was a skilled author, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and a practicing shaman.

Early Life 

Travel and Study 

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Hand-sculpted tribute to Terence McKenna, crafted by Fabio Pacheco Paiva

Often referred to as the “Timothy Leary of the 1990s”, McKenna started his journey in California, where he had moved from his native state of Colorado. In 1965, he first studied in the Tussman Experimental College, which used to be an educational project at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although he had always had a hobby for fossil-hunting and a passion for nature as a child, it was really in college that McKenna found his true path. Two years into his undergrad studies, McKenna began studying shamanism after being enrolled in a Tibetan folk religion class. He then started a series of adventures from traveling and learning about new cultures.

McKenna first travelled to Jerusalem where he read about the Kabbala and dabbled with Opium. It was during this first trip, that Terence met Kathleen Harrison, an ethnobotanist who would go on to become his wife.

One thing Terence was particularly known for was his travel, especially in the 1960s. In his twenties, McKenna would go to San Francisco and experiment with acid, then smuggle hashish in India and go magic mushroom hunting in the jungles of the Amazon.

In the late 1960s, Terence decided to travel to Nepal in order to pursue his study of shamanism and the use of visionary plants. McKenna ended up studying the Tibetan language as well as spending some time as a professional butterfly collector in Indonesia.

After his travel to the Amazon with his brother Denis McKenna to hunt for ayahuasca, Terence returned to Berkeley to complete a self-tailored degree in ecology, resource recovery, and shamanism.

Mushroom Cultivation

The effects of mushrooms had been a long-time interest of McKenna’s, as he had first become interested at the age of 10 when he read an essay about magic mushrooms in Life Magazine. His fascination for mushrooms never left. He finally put his passion into practice in the mid-1970s.

With the help of his brother, Dennis McKenna, who is still working as an ethnopharmacologist, Terence developed a new technique for cultivating psilocybin mushrooms. Both brothers were the first to create a reliable method for cultivating these type of mushrooms, using spores that they had brought back from their trip to the Amazon.

This method was a groundbreaking technique, which enabled at-home cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms. Terence and Denis published their new technique’s development in a book entitled Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide. Although their work and praise on the use of magic mushrooms have often been criticized in mainstream media, Terence and Denis sold over 100,000 copies of their book.

McKenna had a theory many saw as a way to glamorize drug abuse. Terence wanted to prove psychedelic mushrooms were the missing link in the history of human evolution. The New York Times revealed and exempts of his recordings where he supported his theory: “Not until our primate ancestors began eating hallucinatory psilocybin mushrooms,” he contended, “did they begin to acquire human qualities”.


Mid and Later Life

Marriage to Kathleen Harrison 

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Hand-sculpted tribute to Terence McKenna, crafted by Fabio Pacheco Paiva

As mentioned above, Terence met Kathleen Harrison back in 1967 in Jerusalem. The two ended up getting married in 1975. Surprisingly, the pair weren’t romantically involved before the same year they go married. As a matter of fact, Terence had a girlfriend named Ev earlier in 1975.

Terence and Kathleen had two children: a daughter named Klea and a son named Finn. They enjoyed a 17-year-old marriage before divorcing in 1992.

During their marriage, Terence and Kathleen shared a great deal of interests. They even founded a nonprofit ethnobotanical preserve in Hawaii called “Botanical Dimensions”. The pair used it to not only study plants but also to educate others, especially about magic mushrooms and spiritual well-being. Kathleen still manages the preserve today.

Terence Mckenna and Psychedelics

Terence McKenna has been arguably the person to raise the most awareness about psychedelics, and more specifically, DMT. As a matter of fact, McKenna was one of the ardent supporters of introducing DMT into society.

Along with psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca, McKenna believed that DMT was the ultimate deification of existence.

During 1967 to 1994, McKenna would often smoke DMT. Throughout these years, he would acquire many revelations. One of them emerged from a hallucination in which he realized the entity many psychedelics enthusiasts would later become familiar with: “machine elves“. McKenna described these intelligent entities as being self-transforming machine elves.

The magic mushroom advocate was able to conclude through his own personal psychedelic experiences that these entities’ aim was to show people how to create using language. Machine elves are now, often reported by individuals using DMT.

Psychedelics allowed for McKenna to blend his spirituality of shamanism with his understanding of the world. McKenna used his multiple experiences with psychedelics to educate others and often recorded public talks.

His last published speech was entitled Psychedelics in The Age Of Intelligent Machines, and characterized a tie between psychedelics, technology, and humans.


Terence Mckenna’s Death

On April 3, 2000, Terence passed away from glioblastoma multiforma, a rare form of brain cancer. While he followed a medical treatment, McKenna also let his friends help with esoteric remedies.

According to an article published in The New York Times, a self-styled ”grand kahuna of Polynesia” biked up the mountain to meditate at his bedside, While a Nevada disk jockey, Art Bell, asked his 13 million listeners to send good vibrations.

After having spent six weeks on the road, spending time with boho intellectuals experimenting with the mind and mushrooms, Terence returned to his hideaway home in Hawaii, accompanied by his new girlfriend, Christy Silness.

McKenna had been suffering from migraines for many years. However, on his return to his home, he was hit with ferocious headaches that differed from what he had experienced before.

McKenna suffered a terrible episode where he vomited, hallucinated, and had a distorted sense of smell and taste. His agonizing headache was followed by a severe blood pressure drop before collapsing from a brain seizure.

As he was brought at the hospital, mistakingly suffering from a drug overdose, it was later discovered he had a walnut-sized tumour in his right frontal cortex. McKenna was given six months to live with medical treatment.

Through his studies and beliefs, McKenna coped with the idea of death the best that he could. He stated, “Taking shamanic drugs and spending your life studying esoteric philosophy is basically a meditation on death.”

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Hand-sculpted tribute to Terence McKenna, crafted by Fabio Pacheco Paiva

Top Terence Mckenna Quotes

“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.”

“Stop consuming images and start producing them.”

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles.”

“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.”

“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 behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong.”

“The cost of sanity in this society, is a certain level of alienation.”

“You are a divine being. You matter, you count. You come from realms of unimaginable power and light, and you will return to those realms.”

 “Some kind of dialogue is now going on between individual human beings and the sum total of human knowledge and nothing can stop it.”

“We need to interact with like-minded people throughout the world to establish the new intellectual order which will be the salvation of mankind.”

“If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan.”


Notable Terence Mckenna Books

Food of the Gods : The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide

True Hallucinations : Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise

The Invisible Landscape : Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching

The Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History


What is Terence McKenna known for?

McKenna was known for his groundbreaking work and studies on psychedelics.

What did Terence McKenna Believe?

In addition to practicing shamanism, McKenna believed in altered states of mind as a result of the consumptions of psychedelics. He advocated for the use of DMT, psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca.

When did Terence McKenna Die?

Terence passed away on April 3, 2000.

How did Terence McKenna Die?

He succumbed to glioblastoma multiforma, a rare form of brain cancer.

What Movie does Jim Carrey Play Terence McKenna?

True Hallucinations.

Contributing Author: Andréa Oldereide

Andréa is a London-based journalist who loves to write and cover anything out of the ordinary. You can probably find her reviewing a drag show or walking her dog if she isn’t sitting by her computer and a cup of coffee writing something. Andréa has written for an LGBTQ-based website as well as a fatherhood themed publication and more. Andréa definitely never limits her writings to one specific area. Most importantly, she has always been fascinated by the mind and how our brains function. Feel free to follow her on Insta @drewithanaccent and Twitter @Dre_Oldereide.

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