True Hallucinations – Terence McKenna

If you are interested in mushrooms and micology, specially in magical mushrooms, you will quickly learn about Terence McKenna and his trippy adventures. There is a myriad of youtube videos available of his talks, and me, having sat through hours and hours of his these audio lectures, started to consider that I needed to actually read some of his written works. I decided to start with True Hallucinations, perhaps his most well-known work to this date (and possibly forever since he is already dead). This here is my short summary and accompanying thoughts.

What is True Hallucinations? Well, as it turns out, when he was a young lad Terence McKenna traveled to a location in Colombia (of all countries!) called La Chorrera. A chorro is a stream of water and in Colombia, at least until a few years ago, the gross of the laypeople would enjoy occasional Paseos de olla, a pot hike, a hikking/cooking adventure that involved carrying a big pot and lots of food to a nearby river or stream, taking a swim and then cooking chicken soup. Sancocho is the name of our most popular chicken soup. Boy I miss those hikes! This tradition I believe (or rather, I came to conclude) was inherited from similar events that the indigenous people would organize to commemorate special events or to kickstart the hunting season. One thing I remember particularly from these hikes was how well defined the gender roles were. Men would usually take their bicycles and bike to the destination (taking a longer or steeper route, because well, they were men and needed to make things more difficult) while women would take the children and the cooking supplies and just walk or drive, when there were enough cars for everybody. The two groups would eventually come to meet at the chosen destination; the men would smoke and take a swim, the children would play, and the women would prepare the food and cook. Anecdotically, in one of these trips a biker had an accident and injured his leg, which was bleeding when he arrived to the river side. He was crying when they brought him, and I remember a woman looking at us, eyes opened like saucers, surprised that this man was crying. “He’s crying!” she said. As if men were not supposed to cry. Coming to think of it, my mother always complained about these women. She said they were boring and just knew how to gossip.

Anyway, McKenna and four of his friends (including his brother Dennis) decide to visit the Colombian deep jungle to find this hallucinogen substance used by the Witoto, but when they end up finding lots of cubensis mushrooms (note that this was in the 70s, when not a lot of species were classified) they decided that the psychedelic experience brought about by this fungi was well worth exploring and dropping the Witoto quest altogether.

Out of the group of 5, two people eventually end up finding the experience not so enjoyable and they sort of split and not much is told about these two participants and their experiences (it would seem they just didn’t really take part of the mushroom consumption). The remaining 3 (Terence, his brother Dennis and Terence’s lover Ev) continue eating the cubensis mushrooms, with Dennis being the one let’s say more mentally touched by the experience. So much in fact that Terence himself seems to have been worried at the time that his brother had lost his mind during his foray into the unknown.

So, what can learn from these wild adventurers? First, according to McKenna’s report on the message transmitted by it, the mushroom is an intergalactic, or extra-terrestrial, or extra-dimensional, entity older than the planet is old itself, massive in size and in strangeness. The mushroom entity propagates its own existence disseminating spores into deep space, traveling enormous distances to find suitable host planets with animals and life. Although it is not specifically mentioned in this book, McKenna’s theory of “stoned apes” attributes the evolution of the human brain and the human mind to the consumption of psychedelic mushrooms. The mental states that the mushrooms induces on the subject, he theorizes, could account for deep-thinking and self-reflective ideas that would have helped little monkeys get an evolutionary boost in the race for survival. Does it make sense? Possibly. With the resurgence of psychedelics and specially of microdosing, we see people claiming that the constant ingestion of small amounts of mushrooms helps them achieve mental ludicity and feel more creatively inspired. MRI scans show that under the action of psylocibin, parts of the brain which are normally disconnected start to speak to each other (see link [2]). So, is it plausible to think that some wild monkeys eating mushrooms, hallucinating and learning new brain behaviour, ended up becoming the human species that we are today? It certainly is plausible. Probable? that’s a different matter.

Image source

Now, about the nature of the mushroom entity. McKenna says that the entity revealed itself as spreading through time and space using spores and communicating to creatures who eat the mushrooms and were epistemologically prepared to understand the message. This is not much different from what Carlos Castaneda already claimed in his The teachings of Don Juan. In this book, he claims that the spirit of the mescaline molecule, which is called mescalito, communicates and shows itself to a disconcerted (and quite out of his mind) Castaneda. The Datura plant is also referred to as having a spirit inside, which is of a more femenine nature and quite difficult to tame, or to work with. Datura is known as hierba del diablo, the devil’s weed, and it is famous for taking its user to a very difficult hallucinogenic mindspace. Next to these two characters, the spirit of the mushrooms seems quite noble and amiable.

Another thing that McKenna explores in this book is his theory of Timewave Zero. As far as I understand, he argues that the universe fluctuates between high novelty and low novelty periods, and the arrangement of these events he claims matches a fractal pattern that one can discover by analyzing the arrangement of the I Ching hexagrams. This is the most confusing part of the book, and I will need to read more on this timewave and actually get to use the software he designed for studying it. If the world indeed follows a pattern, it might be useful to know where in that pattern we are positioned at any given moment. It might even help you understand where you will be in the near future, even if it’s simply in terms of “there will be a great novelty wave on January the 1st”. Kinda like what you do with astrology. “Tonight you find venus in conjunction with mercury so you should buy a red dress.” Kinda.


True Hallucinations is a story of a man who went to the forest with a couple friends, took a lot of mushrooms and came up with strange ideas. The strange ideas are difficult to grasp from this book alone, and as far as trip reports go, McKenna’s stories are not particularly alluring. To me, a few ideas were novel: the idea of using sound to alter DNA, and the idea that the mushroom itself is a conduit to communicate with higher-level creatures which hide behind a veil of strangeness.


[1] Psychedelic microdosing

[2] How Magic Mushrooms Change your Brain

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