This is Terence McKenna: A Contemporary Shaman

The Space K Icon series delves into the minds of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, creators, and mystics. Today we discuss a man who boldly challenged the dogmatism of our material world and sought ways to tap into the ‘transcendental other’.


Terence McKenna is one of the twentieth century’s most influential and important ethnobotanists, mystics, psychonauts, philosophers, and writers. He is particularly recognised for his work on psychedelic plants, which he studied and wrote about in conjunction with the human subconscious.

Born in California, Terence developed a scientific appreciation of nature from a young age, and immersed himself in books about alchemy by the age of ten. In 1963, he discovered books on psychedelics by the likes of Aldous Huxley, which convinced him eventually try ‘morning glory seeds’. His experiences with natural psychedelics from a young age followed him throughout his entire life, saying that he had found ‘something worth pursuing’.

McKenna was a passionate traveller. During his ‘opium and kabbala’ phase in Jerusalem, he met his would-be wife Kathleen Harrison. The pair travelled together to Nepal, Indonesia, the Amazon, and other places. His experiences gave him an insight into other, more metaphysical, realms of thinking, supplemented by natural psychedelics. After returning home, McKenna set to work writing books, with one in particular, ‘the Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide’ gaining him popularity.

For the rest of his life, Terence became an advocate for these herbal remedies, speaking publicly about his experiences. Eventually he was adopted as an icon of rave culture counterculture.

Terence McKenna died in his Hawaii home in 2000 at the age of 53.

What is Terence McKenna Known For?

McKenna had a vast range of interests and published many subjects on books about spirituality and shamanic practices. However, he gained most of his popularity for his long and compelling talks, which were none-specific but centred around his beliefs that psychedelics were a force for good.

In the end, McKenna is best remembered as a true Shaman; a counterculture figure who challenged the generic and formulaic beliefs of his time – and asked others to try and see the world through the perspective of the dissolved ego.

Terence McKenna’s contributions

Some of his propositions were groundbreaking, including in his book “Food of the Gods”, where he suggested that the human race gained further consciousness from eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. This became known as ‘The Stoned Ape’ theory. ‘The Psilocybin’ is also the first popular guide to growing large cubensis magic mushrooms, influencing all those which followed after.

McKenna formulated a concept about the nature of time based on fractal patterns, which he called novelty theory and thus predicted the end of time (and transition of consciousness) in the year 2012. It was hugely popular.

Fundamentally, McKenna is responsible for helping others experience new levels of consciousness by adopting Shamanic ways of living. His articulate style of speaking added credibility to his message. As he once said, ‘You are an explorer, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea… Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness’. McKenna made it his mission to enlighten the lives of others.

Interesting facts about Terence McKenna

  • One interesting fact is that Terence McKenna’s prediction of the apocalypse matched that of the Mayan calendar in 2012. However, it is believed that his was more of the ‘end of consciousness’ than physical destruction.
  • He was incredibly attached to nature. The following is from Food of the Gods: “Nature is not our enemy, to be raped and conquered. Nature is ourselves, to be cherished and explored. Shamanism has always known this, and shamanism has always, in its most authentic expressions, taught that the path required allies. These allies are the hallucinogenic plants and the mysterious teaching entities, luminous and transcendental, that reside in that nearby dimension of ecstatic beauty and understanding that we have denied until it is now nearly too late.”
  • Many of his studies revolved about ‘shamanism’ and psychic alteration. It is suggested that these interests began when having read Carl Jung at only ten years old.
  • McKenna was very critical of the world’s consumerist culture, which he compared to a cancer. He also suggested that ‘culture’ was a distraction from higher realms of being, which we could experience by engaging in unravelled consciousness.