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True Hallucinations

- Terence Mckenna

Autobiographical novel

About the book:

True Hallucinations is a mind-altering journey of Terence Mckenna, his brother Dennis, and a few other friends as they trek into the Amazonian jungle in search of mysterious hallucinogens. A wild, ...(more)

Excerpt 1:    (Excerpt 2)


In which our cast of characters, including a mushroom, are introduced, and their peculiar interests sketched. The Amazon jungle is invoked and the descent of one of its rivers undertaken.

For THOUSANDS OF YEARS the visions imparted by hallucinogenic mushrooms have been sought and revered as a true religious mystery. Much of my thought over the past twenty or more years has been caught up in describing and contemplating this mystery. Closely guarded by the chaotically jeweled Angels -- "Every angel is terrible," wrote Rilke, and at once sacred and profane -- the mushroom has risen in my life much as it may rise at some future point in human history.

I have chosen a literary approach to the telling of this tale. A living mystery could take any shape -- it is master of place and space, time and spirit -- yet my search for a simple form to convey this mystery brought me to follow tradition: to write a chronological narrative of a story that is both true and extraordinarily bizarre. In early February of 1971, 1 was passing through southern Colombia with my brother and some friends on our way to an expedition into the Colombian Amazonas.

Our route led us through Florencia, the provincial capital of the Departmento of Caqueta. There we paused a few days awaiting an airplane to carry us to our embarkation point on the Rio Putumayo, a river whose vast expanse is the border between Colombia and her two southern neighbors, Ecuador and Peru. The day we were to depart was especially hot, and we left the oppressive confines of our hotel near the noisy central market and bus station. We walked southwest, out of town, perhaps a mile. Here were the warm waters of the Rio Hacha, visible across rolling pastures of tall grass. After swimming in the river, exploring deep pools carved by the warm torrent in the black basaltic streambed, we returned through the same meadows.

Someone more familiar than I with the appearance of the mushroom Stropharia cubensis pointed out a single large specimen standing tall and alone in an old bit of cow manure. Impulsively and at my companions' suggestion, I ate the whole mushroom. It occupied but a moment, and then on we trudged, tired from our swim, a tropical thunderstorm moving toward us along the eastern edge of the Andean cordillera where Florencia is located.

For perhaps a quarter hour we walked on, mostly in silence. Wearily I hung my head, almost hypnotized by the sight of the regular motion of my boots cutting through the grass. To align my back, to throw off my lethargy, I paused and stretched, scanning the horizon. The feeling of the bigness of the sky, which I have come to associate with psilocybin, rushed down on me there for the first time.

I asked my friends to pause and then I sat down heavily on the ground. A silent thunder seemed to shake the air before me. Things stood out with a new presence and significance. This feeling came and passed over me like a wave just as the first fury of the tropical storm burst overhead, leaving us soaked. The eerie sense that some other dimension or scale of being had intersected with the bright tropical day lasted only a few minutes. Elusive but strong, it was unlike any feeling I could recall. In our sodden retreat, the extended, oddly shimmering moment preceding our frantic withdrawal went unmentioned by me.

I recognized that my experience had been induced by the mushroom, but I did not want to let thoughts of it distract me, for we were after bigger game. We were involved, I imagined, in a deep jungle search for hallucinogens of a different sort: plants containing the orally active drug di-methyltryptamine (or DMT) and the psychedelic brew ayahuasca. These plants were long associated with telepathic abilities and feats of the paranormal. Yet the patterns of their use, which were unique to the Amazon jungles, had not been fully studied. Once I had come down, I dismissed the mushroom experience as something to look into another time.

Longtime residents of Colombia assured me that the golden-hued Stropharia occurred exclusively on the dung of Zebu cattle, and I assumed that in the jungles of the interior -- where I was shortly to be -- I could expect no cattle or pasture. Putting the thought of mushrooms from my mind, I prepared for the rigors of our descent down the Rio Putumayo toward our target destination, a remote mission called La Chorrera.

Why had a gypsy band such as ours come to the steaming jungles of Amazonian Colombia?

We were a party of five, bound by friendship, extravagant imagination, naivet?, and a dedication to travel and exotic experience. Ev, our translator and newly my lover, was the only member of the group not a long acquaintance of the others. She was an American, like the rest of us, and she had lived several years in South America and had traveled in the East (where I had passed her once in the Kathmandu airport at a moment of great duress for us both -- another story). She was recently free of a long relationship. On her own and having nothing better to do, she had fallen in with our group. By the time we reached La Chorrera, she and I would have been together less than three weeks. The other three members of the group were my brother, Dennis, the youngest and least traveled of us, a student of botany and a colleague of long standing; Vanessa, an old school friend of mine from the experimental college in Berkeley, trained in anthropology and photography and traveling on her own; and Dave, another old friend, a gay meditator, a maker of pottery, an embroiderer of blue jeans, and like Vanessa, a New Yorker.

Four months before our descent into the watery underworld of the lower Putumayo, my brother and I had endured the grief of our mother's death. Before that I had been traveling for three years in India and Indonesia. Then I had worked as a teacher in the English mills of Tokyo and, when I couldn't put up with that any more, fled to Canada. In Vancouver our crew held a reunion and planned this Amazon expedition to investigate the depths of the psychedelic experience.

I deliberately do not say much about any of us. We were mis-educated perhaps, but well-educated certainly. None of us was yet twenty-five years old. We had been drawn together through the political turmoil that had characterized our years shared in Berkeley. We were refugees from a society that we thought was poisoned by its own self-hatred and inner contradictions. We had sorted through the ideological options, and we had decided to put all of our chips on the psychedelic experience as the shortest path to the millennium, which our politics had inflamed us to hope for. We had no idea what to expect from the Amazon, but we had collected as much ethno-botanical information as was available. This data told us where the various hallucinogens were to be sought, but not what to expect when we found them.

I have given some thought to how predisposed we might have been to the experiences that would eventually befall us. Often our interpretations of events did not agree, as is common among strong personalities or witnesses to an unusual event. We were complex people or we would not have been doing what we were doing. Even at age twenty-four, I could look back on nearly ten years of involvement with matters most people might consider fringe in the extreme. My interest in drugs, magic, and the more obscure backwaters of natural history and theology gave me the interest profile of an eccentric Florentine prince rather than a kid growing up in the heartland of the United States in the late fifties. Dennis had shared all of these concerns, to the despair of our conventional and hardworking parents. For some reason we were odd from the start, chosen by fate for a destiny too strange to imagine.

In a letter written eleven months before our expedition I find that Dennis even then had the clearest conception of what might happen. He wrote to me while I was on Taiwan in 1970 to say:

As to the central shamanic quest and the idea that its resolution may entail physical death -- indeed a sobering thought -- I would be interested in hearing just how likely you consider this possibility and why. I had not thought of it in terms of death, though I have considered that it may well give us, as living men, willful access to the doorway that the dead pass daily. This I consider as a kind of hyper-spatial astral projection that allows the hyper-organ, consciousness, to instantly manifest itself at any point in the space-time matrix, or at all points simultaneously.

His letters to me made it clear that his imagination had suffered no atrophy during the years of finishing high school in our small Colorado hometown. A steady diet of science fiction had made his imagination a joy to watch at play, but I wondered, was he serious?

A UFO is essentially this hyper-spatially mobile psychic vortex, and the trip may well involve contact with some race of hyper-spatial dwellers. Probably it will be an encounter similar to a "flying lesson": instruction in the use of the trans-dimensional stone, how to navigate in hyper-space, and perhaps an introductory course in Cosmic Ecology tending.

He was struggling, as was I, to come to terms with the elf-haunted psychic landscapes revealed by di-methyltryptamine, or DMT. Once we had encountered DMT, in the heady and surreal atmosphere of Berkeley at the apex of the Summer of Love, it had become the primary mystery, and the most effective tool for the continuance of the quest.

Retention of the physical form under such circumstances would be, it seems, a matter of choice rather than necessity; though it could be a matter of indifference, since in the hyperspatial web all existing physical manifestations would be open.

More from True Hallucinations:    Excerpt 2

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