Food of the Gods By Terence McKenna
Published in 1993 ‘Food of the Gods’, written by psychedelic grandmaster Terence Mckenna, was part of a small host of books the author released in the early 1990s. It expands on the foundations of earlier works like ‘The Archaic Revival’, introduces a number of Terence’s theories and is, ultimately, a call for radical social change.
I haven’t felt that I’ve had to annotate a book so much for a long time, this is largely because of the massive variety of topics, which McKenna puts under the psychedelic microscope; history, evolution, botany, social theory, literature, environmentalism and the list goes on. Upon finishing it I couldn’t help but think that there lay many of the seeds from which many of today’s green shoots have risen.Generally speaking, the book follows a track from the earliest ‘Hominoids’ to the present day, during which Terence places not only psychedelics, but also drugs ranging from sugar to heroin, under the light of social analysis. The Archaic Revival is a theory that modern culture will return to what Terence describes as the ‘Partnership Society’, from our earliest conscious days.
“The next great step toward a planetary holism is the partial merging of the technologically transformed human world with the archaic matrix of vegetable intelligence that is the transcendent other.”
Before exploring the “vegetable intelligence” and the “transcendent other” it is necessary to say a few more words on the “Partnership Society” and that which superseded it, and is still with us today, the “Dominator Culture”.
McKenna’s “stoned-ape theory” says that mushrooms helped guide our evolution into self-aware conscious beings: “Once having experienced the state of consciousness induced by the mushrooms, foraging humans would return to them repeatedly, in order to re-experience their bewitching novelty. This process would create what C.H. Waddington called a “creode”, a pathway of developmental activity, which we call a habit.”
Accordingly then, early hominoids continued to explore the ‘powers’ of the mushroom religiously and habitually (in a walk-to-work, not junk sense) with the outcome of an improved body of language. (Language and its connection with ontology in McKenna’s work is an absolute key into understanding his conceptions of the psychedelic experience – something I will return to in later reviews.) These Partnership societies are described by McKenna as being a trinity of sorts: The Great Goddess Cult, the Cattle Cult and, of course, the mushroom. It is feminine, environmental and psychedelic.
Eventually, separately evolved cultures of humans, who had in some way lost, or never had, the ‘powers’ of the mushroom – the Dominator Culture – came to all but eradicate the Partnership Society. (The values of both cultures are extensively explored and speculated upon throughout the book.)
What follows is a long history of an alienation of sorts from ourselves and the planet, which Terence explores with his usual zeal: “Our estrangement from nature and the unconscious became entrenched roughly 2000 years ago, during the shift from the age of the Great God Pan to that of Pisces that occurred with the suppression of the pagan mysteries and the rise of Christianity.”
What is it that we’ve been alienated from? – The “vegetable intelligence” and the “transcendent other”. They represent an “alien” intelligence in which we had access, lost it and are arguably coming back into communication with as the 21st century roles on. This “Other” is of course the vital component in psychedelic literature, it provides the ground for epistemological and metaphysical exploration in psychedelia; something, post-McKenna, which has begun to take off more seriously in psychedelic literature – especially in light of McKenna’s understanding of the DMT experience.
This book has a more social premise however: “The chief lesson to be learned from the psychedelic experience is the degree to which unexamined cultural values and limitations of language have made us the unwitting prisoners of our own assumptions.”
In the end McKenna’s ‘Food of the Gods’ is essentially a call to social action in much the same way as Timothy Leary, from some 20 years before. The difference is in how this call has been formulated, far from the seemingly empty façade of Leary’s radicalism, McKenna is considered, focussed and all the more powerful for its broad intellectual touch.