The Archaic Revival By Terence McKenna
‘The Archaic Revival’ was originally published in 1991. The book is a collection of articles, essays and interviews with psychonaut Terence McKenna, which he describes as “my explorer’s notepad, my journey of travel through time and ideological space. It stretches from the prehistoric veldt of Africa to the unimaginable world beyond the transcendental object at the end of history.”
The full title of this book is ‘The Archaic Revival – Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess, and the End of History.’ The breadth of interests that McKenna speaks and writes on is truly remarkable, however, what makes it so credible, as a collection, is the inter-connectedness of all these various topics.
The topics aren’t simply straws being grasped at random from the underground; McKenna has created a web of understanding that he has gleaned from both his psychedelic experiences and research. Although, of course, much of it is highly questionable (Shroom by Andy Letcher contains a very good exposition of McKenna’s work) it remains an important axiom for the psychedelic movement and a beautifully crafted field of ideas.
The Archaic Revival is McKenna’s preferred term for the New Age. He skilfully argues that what is necessary is a return of the psychedelic experience into human society via shamanism; as opposed to what he deems as a misleading term ‘new’, which, far from novelty, in fact postulates an environmental return for the species in its recognition of place within it.
A return to shamanism is a contentious academic debate that McKenna frankly discusses in the book. Using Amazonian tribes as the near last active model of shamanism, of whom some tribes use the psychedelic yage and others don’t, presents a historical problem. Mainstream academia believes the ceremonies using the drug to be a perversion of those that don’t and McKenna believes the opposite.
“The tragedy of our cultural situation is that we have no shamanic tradition. Shamanism is primarily techniques, not ritual. It is a set of techniques that have been worked out over millennia that make it possible, though perhaps not for everyone, to explore these areas.”[P.45]
To transform society there is a constant realization that this evolution must begin with the individual. Unlike Timothy Leary, McKenna does not believe this process is for everyone but similarly to the early Leary he does believe that the psychedelic experience can be incorporated into the scientific/academic corpus:
“A new science that places the psychedelic experience at the centre of its program of investigation should move toward a practical realization of this goal – the goal of eliminating the barrier between the ego and the Overself so that the ego can perceive itself as an expression of the Overself.”[p.87]
Beyond the self, society indeed the universe, is heading toward what McKenna called “the transcendental object at the end of time.” The ideas surrounding this breakdown in duality awareness stems from his experiment at La Chorrera that he chronicled in ‘True Hallucinations’ and ‘The Invisible Landscape’.
A great deal of the book’s speculations have been gleaned from this experience with magic mushrooms; including his mathematical framework of time as ‘novelty’ that led him to believe that.. “sometime around the end of 2012 all of this will be boiled down into a kind of alchemical distillation of the historical experience that will be a doorway into the life of the imagination.”[P.215]
Although the formula for his ‘novelty theory’ has since been proven to be wrong and his application of history arbitrary, there remains several elements of mystery unearthed in his research that helped fuel a section of the psychedelic movement in the years following – notably Daniel Pinchbeck – to debate and investigate the 21st December 2012 further. The date we await.
As an introduction into the numerous areas of research that the psychedelic movement began to delve into, post the counterculture mess, ‘The Archaic Revival’ is invaluable. As an insight into one of the most original and articulate thinkers of the 20th century it’s also fascinating. Though many would argue that psychedelics were this great intellect’s downfall, those in support of psychedelia would categorically disagree and, creatively speaking, I tend to agree with them. Good book.