‘Well, there’s nothing artificial about it’

The book “The Archaic Revival” (HarperCollins 1991), which is a compilation of writings by and interviews with the late entheogen pioneer Terence McKenna, concludes with an interview conducted by Nevill Drury as it appeared in the Autumn, 1990 (Vol. 11, No. 1) issue of the Australian magazine “Nature and Health.”

An excerpt of the most relevant portion (for our purposes) can be found at http://www.salvia-divinorum-scotland.co.uk/quotes/mckenna/prejudice.htm :

ND: What then is your answer to people who continue to dismiss psychedelic experience as artificial? Surely your view is the exact reverse of that?


TM: Well, there’s nothing artificial about it. These things were part of the human food chain from the very beginning. Where the misunderstanding comes is with the label — these are “drugs,” and “drug” is a red-flag word. We are hysterical over the subject of drugs. Our whole society seems to be dissolving under the onslaught of criminally syndicated drug distribution systems. What we are going to have to do if we are to come to terms with this is to become a little more sophisticated in our definitions. I believe that what we really object to about “drugs” is that we are alarmed by unexamined, obsessive, self-destructive behavior. When we see someone acting in this way we draw back. That is what addiction to a drug such as cocaine or morphine results in. However, psychedelics actually break habits and patterns of thought. They actually cause individuals to inspect the structures of their lives and make judgments about them. Now, what psychedelics share with “drugs” is that they are physical compounds, and you do put them into your body. But I believe that a reasonable definition of drugs would have us legalize psilocybin and outlaw television!

Imagine if the Japanese had won World War II and had introduced into American life a drug so insidious that thirty years later the average American was spending five hours a day “loaded” on this drug. People would just view it as an outrageous atrocity. And yet, we in America do this to ourselves. And the horrifying thing about the “trip” that television gives you is that it’s not your trip. It is a trip that comes down through the values systems of a society whose greatest god is the almighty dollar. So television is the opiate of the people. I think the tremendous governmental resistance to the psychedelic issue is not because psychedelics are multimillion-dollar criminal enterprises –- they are trivial on that level. However, they inspire examination of values, and that is the most corrosive thing that can happen. . . .

ND: So why is there such a tremendous prejudice, both in the East and West, against psychedelics?

TM: I think people are in love with the journey. People love seeking answers. But if you were to suggest to them that the time of seeking is over and that the chore is now to face the answer, now that’s more of a challenge!

Anyone can sweep up around the ashram for a dozen years while congratulating themselves that they are following a path to enlightenment. It takes courage to take psychedelics — real courage. Your stomach clenches, your palms grow damp, because you realise that this is real — this is going to work. Not in 12 years, not in 20 years, but in an hour!

What I see in the whole spiritual enterprise is a great number of people supporting themselves in one way or another on the basis of their lack of success. Were they ever to succeed these enterprises would be all but put out of business. But no one is in a hurry for that.


ND: In your scheme of things, is there any place for institutionalized religion, for orthodox religious beliefs?

TM: Yes. What I have found is that all of these systems that are offered as spiritual paths work splendidly in the presence of psychedelics. If you think mantras are effective, try a mantra on twenty milligrams of psilocybin and see what happens. All sincere religious motivation is illuminated by psychedelics. To put it perhaps in a trivial way, the religious quest is an automobile but psychedelics are the petrol that runs it. You go nowhere without the fuel no matter how finely crafted the upholstery how flawlessly machined the engine.

ND: Where do you personally think the human potential movement is heading now, and where do you position yourself in the spectrum?

TM: I believe that the best idea will win. We are all under an obligation to ourselves and to the world to do our best — to place the best ideas on the table. Then all we have to do is stand back and watch. I have this Darwinian belief that the correct idea will emerge triumphant. To my way of thinking, psychedelics provide the only category that is authentic enough to be legislated out of existence. They’re not going to make quartz crystals or wheat grass juice illegal — these things pose no problem. But I think that we are going to have to come to terms with the psychedelic possibility. We would have a long time ago in America except for the fact that, on this issue, the Government acts as the enforcing arm of Christian fundamentalism. Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are enshrined in the Constitution of the United States as inalienable rights. If the pursuit of happiness does not cover the psychedelic quest for enlightenment, then I don’t know what it can mean.

“I think we are headed for a darker period before the light, because the self-deceiving cant of the Government on this issue is going to have to be exposed for what it is. I see the whole “hard drug” phenomenon as an enormous con game. Governments have always been the major purveyor of addictive drugs — right back to the sugar trade in England, the opium wars in China, the CIA’s involvement in the heroin trade in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, and the current cocaine distribution coming out of South America. We’re going to have to abandon this Christian wish to legislate other people’s behavior “for their own good”. . . .

— ends here the extract from Neville Drury’s interview with Terence McKenna for ‘Nature and Health’ magazine (published in Australia, 1990)


One of the great benefits of our (still somewhat) capitalist economy is that, when in winter we feel a cold coming on, we are able to easily get and eat some fresh citrus fruit, even though there may be five feet of snow outside, even though we may live a thousand miles from any location where citrus trees are producing. Is this an “unnatural” way to help our bodies fight off a cold? Would it be more “natural” to try to solve the problem through magical incantations, counting prayer beads, mortification of the flesh, or last-minute emergency doses of vitamin C in the Emergency Room, after our teeth have begun falling out?

Occasionally, folks who refrain from eating red meat may feel a craving for beets. Their bodies are probably telling them they need more iron in their systems. What would be a more “natural” course of action in response to this perceived need — simply buying, cooking, and eating the beets we crave? Or, again, engaging in some parade of bizarre prescribed rituals, possibly including stigmata, hair shirts, symbolic cannibal transubstantiation, and confessing our sins to members of a supposedly celibate priesthood now infamous for jumping the choirboys?

Is it more “natural” to keep our bodies healthy through endless intravenous feedings, or simply by eating?

And what is the most “natural” way to seek a religious experience?

Mr. McKenna believed that in the ecstasy and revelation reliably found through the consumption of natural psychoactive plants (many of which also have antibiotic properties, interestingly enough) lay the birth of all human religion, that religion becomes more formalized and less effective precisely when priestly classes (among whom, nowadays, we must increasingly include “government-licensed doctors”) see the benefit to themselves of hiding away “the real thing” from their parishioners, interposing themselves and their ritualistic mumbo-jumbo by force of law as the only legally available avenue to get what all mankind once felt free to pick and eat for themselves — if they allow us to get it, at all.

In a nation where freedom of religion and the pursuit of happiness are indeed enshrined in our founding documents, by what delegated authority does the state abet the ineffective scams of these fakes and frauds by banning the possession or consumption of these plants — “the real thing” — all of which the Bible says were given to mankind by God for his use — or any molecule which may even approximate the effects of these plants?

These are the topics I seek to examine in my current series of novels, starting with “The Testament of James” and “The Miskatonic Manuscript.”

3 Comments to “‘Well, there’s nothing artificial about it’”

  1. Bear Says:

    This seems topical:

    Psychedelic drug use ‘does not increase risk for mental health problems’
    “An analysis of data provided by 135,000 randomly selected participants – including 19,000 people who had used drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms – finds that use of psychedelics does not increase risk of developing mental health problems. The results are published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.”

  2. Steve Says:

    This looks interesting. Not fully on topic but closely related.

    Mushrooms as pesticides.


    Doing a general web search on Paul Stamets reveals a lot of positive hits.

  3. Vin's Brunette Says:

    Paul Stamets is awesome. Here’s my favorite talk by him, if you’ve got 90 minutes to spare. Great stuff …


    IIRC, Terence McKenna had some fascinating things to say about mushrooms (I don’t just mean psilocybin) too. In any event, it’s hard to go wrong listening to either Paul or Terence on the subject — I’ll leave it at that. 🙂