Immanentizing the Eschaton: An Interview with Dennis McKenna
Dennis McKenna will be one of the featured speakers at the Reality Sandwich retreat, Toward 2012: Envision in the Next Age, in Bouldar, Utah May 6-10.
March 11, 2007
Dennis McKenna was undergoing a metamorphosis in the Amazon Basin, an accelerated evolution facilitated by magic mushrooms. The unusual experiment he had devised with his brother Terence aspired to nothing less than the seizing of the Keys to Galactarian Citizenship from the UFOs he felt certain were hovering just out of sight above the fields of La Chorerra. As the temporal zero-point of the experiment neared, Dennis complained out loud that the reverberating shock wave echoing backwards in time from the approaching singularity was interfering with his thoughts.
Nearby, Terence tended the psychedelic ayahuasca brew for the evening’s experiment. The idea was to fuse their neural DNA transdimensionally with a living psychedelic mushroom through the vocalization of a specific tone that is only audible (curiously) on certain hallucinogens. This psychological-alchemical process, they anticipated, would manifest the Holy Grail of the alchemists, the Philosophers Stone, giving the brothers – and, indeed, the entire Brotherhood of Man – the power to create reality by thought alone.
Already Terence had a sense of having left the world and entered paradise. He had his little brother and his fresh new squeeze with him. They had a groovy hut in the forest, courtesy of the local Capuchin mission. And wherever he turned his head, stretching out in all directions, the fields were teeming with psychedelic mushrooms.
But there was something else, something at the edge of consciousness. They all sensed it. Like the feeling you’re being stared at by someone behind you. Except this was no ordinary human presence, it was something ... something alien, something other-worldly, a spirit entity of some kind. Maybe it was just the UFO's...
Or perhaps it was the local shamans, powerful sorcerers who had remained connected to an unseen world that is magical, dangerous and viscerally alive. Maybe it was the ayahuasca vine that would follow them back like a shadow, slowly, almost imperceptibly unfurling its serpentine tendrils across the North American consciousness. Maybe it was the forest itself, quietly conscious, pulsating with sexual energy, teeming with life: animals, plants and insects, wild and unrestrained at the edge of human civilization. Whatever its source, the brothers felt guided and propelled forward by a force outside themselves, a force with a purpose.
The experiment at La Chorerra, described in Terence's book True Hallucinations, took place in 1971. It resulted in Dennis and Terence's jointly-authored book, The Invisible Landscape, which was published in 1975. The Invisible Landscape is a dense, difficult, cryptic book that ranges in subject from chemistry to quantum physics in a search for the secret to the patterns of human history in the structure of the I Ching. It's become a classic of psychedelic literature, and was instrumental in popularizing the belief that a major event looms on the horizon in the year 2012.
I met with Dennis at his home in Vancouver, Canada one rainy Sunday afternoon in March of 2007. Now an ethnopharmacologist, his resume describes a distinguished career as a senior researcher at the Aveda Corporation, and senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota. At 57, Dennis McKenna looked the part of a liberal professor, with a short grey beard and casual cotton button-up shirt. He had just relocated to Vancouver to start a new job at the British Colombia Institute of Technology, and his apartment was new-looking, minimalist. A bookcase displayed science fiction books and scientific nonfiction, and a few posters of NASA photos of outer space decorated the walls. He made me a cup of organic coffee and ushered me into his living room, where we settled in at his desk as he reflected on his now-famous trip to La Chorerra.
"This all happened a long time ago – thirty-six, thirty-seven years ago. You probably weren't even born, right?” He laughed as I shook my head. “ I can't say that I necessarily believe in all of the insights we thought we were getting, on the way the universe is structured and the way nature works, although some of them have stood the test of time in remarkable ways...”
“We sort of stumbled innocently into the whole thing,” he began. “Terence and I were children of the 60's. When I was 16, I went to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. My brother was already living in Berkeley at the time, going to school, and I had my first LSD experience that summer. There were many drugs around and a lot of experimentation but the one that emerged as significant for us was DMT. It was rare even then, but for some reason it crossed our paths and we agreed it was the quintessential psychedelic. It only lasts maybe twenty minutes but it's a full-on psychedelic experience, very intense, and really like a completely different reality. Have you taken it?”
I had not.
“Well it's a very profound experience. But one of the problems with smoking synthetic DMT is that the experience is so short and overwhelming it's hard to come back with much other than a sense of awe and the notion that something very profound, very transformative and miraculous just happened. So Terence and I started looking into various shamanic traditions, and found this paper published by the famous ethnobotanist R. E. Schultes called 'Virola as an Orally Active Hallucinogen.' We knew from other ethnobotanical reading that Virola is a genus of trees in the nutmeg family that contains DMT in high amounts.
“We were very excited, because there were a few groups -- the Witoto and the Bora primarily, in the Putumayo area of Colombia -- that use Virola as an orally active preparation. So when we found out about this we thought, 'This is it, the orally active form of DMT we theorized must exist! We ought to go down and see what's going on!' So... we went to La Chorerra.
“La Chorerra was the ancestral home of the Witoto, what was left of them. Most of them had been wiped out in the Rubber Boom periods. They were basically enslaved and slaughtered. Most of the population was forced to move from La Chorerra, which is north of the Putumayo, south into what is now Peru. So there wasn't much left of the Witoto in the ancestral area, but this is where Shultes had done his work and so this is where we went. Our idea was to find a shaman that could make the stuff and, you know, 'bolt it down' and see what happened!" He laughed. “The old 'scientific method.'”
“Was it a dangerous journey?” I inquired.
“It was somewhat dangerous, yeah. I mean, it wasn't life threatening... If you've ever read William Burroughs' The Yage Letters – talk about a pioneer! He went to the Amazon in 1952 looking for ayahuasca, and he went to the same places we did. We practically followed in his footsteps. We went to the same places and met a lot of the same people that he'd written about who were still there.
“You had to go to a little town in southern Colombia called Florencia. From there we took off on a barge that went down the Putumayo. They sold soft drinks, and had these big palates of this horrible soft drink called Inca Cola. 'For a little extra' they said, 'you can make yourselves comfortable on top of the barge and we'll take you.' But they stopped at every little podunk port along the way, so it was about a two week journey to get from Florencia to this place called El Encanto, which is Spanish for 'The Enchantment.'
It's a little village where another river, the Rio Igara Parana, flows from the north into the Putumayo. We had been told by people in Bogota that there was a trail going from El Encanto to La Chorerra that essentially crossed overland between the Igara Parana to another river, the Rio Para Parana, about a four day journey over this trocha, this trail that had been built literally on the backs of Indians during the Rubber Boom so they could move rubber in and out of there.
“Well, it ended at La Chorerra. We were told that at El Encanto there was an anthropologist who was studying the Witoto, Dr. Horatio Calle. In the book Terence changed the name to Guzman, but his actual name is Horatio Calle. He was there living in this village with this little plump English wife who was probably the only sane one there. He was this completely paranoid person who chewed cocoa constantly. He was paranoid by nature but because of the cocoa he was in a state of active paranoia all the time, so he was somewhat difficult to deal with.
“In the first place he was totally astonished that these wild looking hippies would show up out of nowhere. We were a pretty crazy looking bunch at the time. We all had big beards, long hair, and we were wearing white linen suits because this is what Terence thought was the proper way to explore the jungle from his experiences in Indonesia. So we show up and Calle is like, 'Who are these clowns?'
Then when we told him that we were there to find this drug – which the Witoto call oo-koo-he – he was like, 'No! You can't even talk about this! You must not even mention this to any of these people because it's a huge secret only the shamans know. Even the ordinary Witoto people don't know and if you come in talking about oo-koo-he they will undoubtedly kill you!' And so he wasn't going to give us any help... So we stayed there at the village, and managed to arrange for some porters to carry our stuff and take us overland to La Chorerra, which was four days away.
“So, we left there and continued on to La Chorerra. We figured, 'We'll just get there and see what happens.' La Chorerra was a Capuchin Mission at the time, and so there was a church and a Padre and all that. Now I understand it's become sort of a major processing point for refining cocaine and shipping it down the river. So we showed up at this mission and the Padre welcomed us and gave us a hut. Most of the area around the mission had been cleared of forest and was pasture. They brought in these Zebu cattle and, of course, along with the cattle had come Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms, which were everywhere. Every cow pie had a big cluster of mushrooms growing out of it. You couldn't walk through the pasture without literally kicking these things over, I mean they were everywhere.
“There's no indigenous tradition of use, but from our botanical studies we knew what they were. We had actually encountered them before embarking for La Chorerra, in Florencia. That had been our first experience. We'd eaten a little and it was, you know, quite nice but it just seemed like a pleasant and fairly low key, low level LSD trip and we really had no idea what was in store for us. So when we got to La Chorerra these things were all over the place and we thought, 'This is great! we can get loaded while we're looking for the real thing!' Well, of course they were the real mystery, as it turned out.
“We started eating these mushrooms and not really taking it seriously. In that environment you're hungry most of the time and there's not a lot to eat. Most of our food we had to bring in as canned goods or rice and this sort of thing, and the mushrooms were there and they didn't really taste that bad, and so we actually were eating far more of them than we really should have. That was great because it provoked a lot of conversation, a lot of yak back and forth and bouncing ideas around. Mushrooms have an ability to facilitate language, verbal expression, poetry and ideas. Funny ideas just flow out of you.
“At this point Virola and oo-koo-he were all but forgotten. We devised an experiment... Well, it goes back to an earlier phenomenon that we had experienced with synthetic DMT. When you take DMT in the smokable form you can hear something. It's very hard to characterize it. Some people say it's like tinkling bells, some people say it's like crumpling cellophane, some people say it's more of an electronic buzz inside your head; but you can definitely hear something. We found that if you listen, you can actually imitate the sound with your voice. At a certain stage you find you lock onto this tone and it starts pouring out of you. It's like you can't stop really, like your mouth goes wider than it should be able to and your tongue sticks out and this ululating howl comes out.
“We found that on high doses of mushrooms you could do the same thing. You could perceive this sound and imitate it. You could elicit this spontaneous vocalization which seemed to be projecting sound energy into the environment and making it visible – actually crossing the threshold to something you saw as well as heard. Terence and I were both steeped in Jungian psychology and alchemy, and we fancied ourselves biophysicists as well. A lot of metaphors about alchemy seemed to make sense.
“It also hearkened back to an article that an anthropologist named Michael Harner had written about the Jivaro a few years before our trip, I think it was in the Smithsonian Magazine. He talked about visits to the Jivaro who live in the ayahuasca reality. They take ayahuasca all the time and to them that is reality and this world is the illusion.
“The Jivaro are properly called the Shuar. They're a group in Ecuador, and ayahuasca is their thing. They don't call it ayahuasca, they call it natema. In their world the dimensions accessed through natema are the reality and this world is the illusion.
“One of the things Michael Harner discussed in his article was that they vomit up this substance that appeared to have magical properties, transdimensional properties in the sense that it was like an alchemical scrying stone. They would produce it out of their bodies and spread it out on the ground and look into it and they could see things, predict the future.
“It's similar to this previous experience that Terence had in Nepal, where he did a high dose of DMT on a rooftop in Nepal...”
In True Hallucinations Terence recounts the story of tripping on DMT with a lady friend on a Kathmandu rooftop. In the middle of a passionate lovemaking marathon, Terence perceived a sort of mystical fluid flowing out from his partner's body and pooling on the ground (gross). He interpreted it as a reflection of his own mind, and inside it he saw two Tibetan Lamas peering back at him through their divination mirror.
“So we thought, 'Well maybe there's something biophysical going on here.' There's certainly a notion that you can induce some kind of process that enables you to produce a substance that has these transdimensional properties. It comes up again and again. The Shuar do it. You also find similar ideas in yoga. You find similar ideas in alchemy. The paradigm that fit most closely and with which we were most familiar was alchemy. If you've ever read Jung's ideas about alchemy, it's not about making gold out of lead, it's about transforming yourself. What seems to be implicated there is essentially a biophysical experiment you can do to transform yourself.
“One of the stages of alchemy is to produce what they call mercury – but it's not really mercury, that's projected on the outside. It's ephemeral, it evaporates, so you have to fix this fluid into a physical matrix, and then you have the Philosopher's Stone.
“What is the Philosopher's Stone? In a sense it's just another metaphor for the 'ultimate artifact.' It's an actual physical object and yet it is connected to your mind, and you can influence it through thought. It's like super-psychotronic technology, or something like that.
“So we got this idea that by making this sound that you could make on high doses of mushrooms that we could construct the Philosopher's Stone out of the DNA in our own bodies. The notion was that certain tones would activate the tryptamines and the betacarbolines, and cause them to intercalate into our DNA and at the same time intercalate into the DNA of a mushroom which we were, you know, singing to, and that it would induce a superconducting standing waveform or hologram where the molecules would intercalate into DNA.
“The ultimate idea was that we were going to create an artifact that was a visible exteriorization of our own consciousness that we could see, that could be controlled by thought and would basically be able to do anything. This is what the Philosopher's Stone does. It's also the UFO, it's also the Black Hole, all of these things where you basically have spacetime bound into a finite boundary.
“So we came up with this experiment. We said if we do this, and make this sound, this artifact – what we had actually called the eschaton – would appear in the genetic matrix of the mushroom and the genetic matrix of us simultaneously.”
“We speculated that what this fluid, what this substance was, was a fourth-dimensional representation of the trip. This is one of the fatal flaws in our reasoning. There's a tendency for people to think that the trip is in the drug, that the drug does this thing. No, the trip is in your head, the drug is simply a trigger. It's not very interesting as long as it sits on the shelf and nothing happens to it, but when you ingest it then it starts being metabolized and going through its cycles, and the interesting things start happening.
“But we thought this fluid or what you see is actually the drug being turned through hyperspace into a fourth-dimensional matter, which we called translinguistic matter, a matter that had actual meaning and significance but that you apprehended visually, and that you could talk to and that you could control with thought and sound and all this... You know, right there any sane person would say, 'You guys need to get yourselves to the nearest psychiatric facility and calm down!' Right?” Dennis laughed.
“Or just have some lentils and sober up,” I offered.
“Right, but there was nobody there to tell us that. Our friends who were with us were as loose as we were in terms of having their cognitive boundaries in place. They were fairly appalled at what we were talking about and what we were proposing doing but Terence and I were on a roll, and we understood the rationale for this experiment, how to design it and how to carry it out. I mean, it's called 'The Experiment at La Chorerra' but it wasn't an experiment in any conventional scientific sense. It's really 'The Ritual at La Chorerra.'
“We set up a ritual situation, in which we do certain things, we take a lot of mushrooms, mix it with ayahuasca, we wait to hear the sound and then we imitate the sound and we project it at this mushroom, which we brought in from the pasture. And if our predictions are correct, the sounds will excite these different molecular circuits and this object will appear in the mushroom, and eventually will manifest and you'll be able to see it, and be it, and at that point history will end. The wave of transformation will move out across the world.”
“The mushroom did not explode in a cloud of supercooled crystals and the violet lenticular lens of the Philosopher's Stone appear in its place, but what did seem to happen is it triggered my brother and I simultaneously to cross this threshold to this metaphysical place where... things started to happen.
“What happened was that we essentially underwent a simultaneous shamanic initiation. We crossed this threshold into this place, and what we had predicted didn't happen but we had definitely crossed some kind of threshold, where I became, in my experience, spread across spacetime.”
“What was that experience like?” I asked.
“It was like having your consciousness co-contiguous with the boundaries of spacetime. Like having your consciousness smeared across the universe completely, so that you – I mean, it was like the cosmic oneness everybody talks about, like being one with the universe. I was out there cruising the cosmos – not even cruising, because that implies that there was a 'me.' There was no 'me' anymore, there was just Cosmic Mind, you know, and I was IT.
“My brother, almost in balance to this, became hyper-focused on the immediate environment and hyper-focused especially on me. Partly because I think he was beginning to wonder, 'What the hell have I done?' and 'This is my little brother!' and 'How am I going to explain all this to my dad?” Dennis laughed, “you know, 'when we bring him back from the jungle raving?' So he became very focused on me and protecting me and trying to bring me back, or if not bring me back trying to guide me and guide this alchemical process. After you react with the mercury you've got another stage in the alchemical process of forming the Stone, which is the Condensation.”
He pressed his hands together as if compacting an invisible ball. “You have to condense the stone into its physical matrix. We understood that we had created this thing and now we had to condense it down into manageable form. I mean, he understood it, I was way beyond being worried about any of that at this point.
“Over the next fourteen days I experienced a progressive process of slowly coming back together, coming back into my own body and mind, that seemed to be synced to twenty-four hour cycles. The first day I was co-contiguous with the whole universe, with the boundaries of spacetime; the next twenty-four hours I was confined to the galactic cluster. This is what I was experiencing. The next day it was down to the galaxy, and the next day it was down to the solar system, and finally down to earth and down to our geographical location.
“So there was this process of condensation and coalescence going on, on many levels, until finally, after many cycles of this thing, I was more or less back into my body and back into my head. Not normal by a long shot – there were still lots of crazy things going on, like telepathy, and I was convinced I could move things around, I could talk to my mother twenty years ago. There was an episode where we contacted my mother by telephone back in 1950 when she was watching the world series.”
“Were there other people that you called too?” I inquired.
“I don't remember. A lot of this I don't remember, a lot of this is reconstructed either from what Terence said or what I do remember. The problem for me with remembering this is that there was no chronology. It was very hard to say 'this happened, and then this happened, and then that happened.' It was all sort of mixed up. This period of condensation, fourteen days or whatever, is all bolloxed up in terms of what the sequence was. But gradually I more or less came together.
“During that time Terence underwent a period where he did not sleep at all. He would stay up all night and all day, just stay there in the hammock next to me while I'm off traveling in the cosmos, looking after me and trying to be sure that nothing happened. I had a tendency to want to get away from the camp and wander out because, you know... I had to be out there healing people, man! I had these powers!” He laughed. “In shamanism it's very common, when the shaman undergoes transformation or the shaman becomes a shaman – in many, many traditions, not just South America – what happens is you get blown apart. You literally get torn to pieces, and then you're put back together as a transformed person.”
In The Invisible Landscape Dennis and Terence quoted a description of shamanic initiation in a Siberian tribe:
“Before a man becomes a shaman he is sick for a long time... The shamanistic ancestors of his clan come, hack him to bits, tear him apart, cut his flesh in pieces, drink his blood. They cut off his head and throw it in the oven... [etc.]” I think we all know what that's like!
“You literally get torn to pieces,” Dennis said, “and then you're put back together as a transformed person. You're not human anymore, you're something more than human. And you're healed in that process. It's a process of controlled self-transformation. That was the model that fit more than anything else, was this process of being completely deconstructed and spread all over Hell's Half Acre, literally, and then slowly condensing back together into a whole person again, with most of my faculties more or less intact but still with the experience of this transformation under my belt.
“We understood this process as a process of condensation, collecting all the cosmic energy and reconcentrating it back into some form which we still conceived to be a physical object that we would be able to see and manipulate. You would both see it and be it at the same time. It would be yourself in an exteriorized form that you can see and anyone can see. In that sense it would be a psycho-technological object of some kind, made of this fourth dimensional translinguistic stuff, but in a fixed form.
“So a lot of what Terence was doing during this time was trying to figure out, 'when is the Stone going to appear? When will it actually condense into this physical form? Is it something that we have to call in? Do we have to bring it to us? When does it show up? And when does my brother stop babbling?’” Dennis laughed, “‘—and actually come up with the damn thing?' He was harassing me! He was saying, ‘produce it! I want to see it! Give it to me!’ And my response was, ‘No, it's out there someplace. You just have to be patient. It's on the way. It's coming, it's coming.’
“So what Terence found himself doing was trying to construct a predictive paradigm as to when this thing would appear. He was running numbers back from March 4th, and the I Ching became very influential in his thinking. It was some multiple of 64, I'd have to look at the original notes (which I actually have by the way) – but if you ran it back from March 4th it fell on October 25th, 1970, which was the date that our mother died. When he ran it forward in the same amount from that date, it turns out it was his birthday, November 16th, 1971. So he thought, ‘That's interesting. Here we are, and this date for this transformation is midway between the date of our mother's death and my upcoming birthday.' And so he thought, 'Well, maybe there's patterns there. Maybe there's a message coming through...’”
“There's an analogy between the way the I Ching is constructed and the way DNA is constructed. Do you know what an I Ching hexagram looks like?” Dennis asked, pulling out a pen and notebook. “In the I Ching the line is either broken or unbroken, and they come in groups of six. They actually come in groups of three. Here's a typical I Ching hexagram, it might look something like this.
So you've got a hexagram that's constructed of six lines: two tri-grams. If you put these hexagrams through all possible permutations from totally solid – in other words, totally unbroken lines – to totally broken lines, and every other possible sequence, there are sixty-four of these things. DNA is also based on sixty-four codons. It's three to the... fourth power? Anyway I forget what the exponent is, but basically by a different numerical system DNA is based on sixty-four codons. DNA codes for amino acids in groups of three. There are sixty-four possible combinations of the four base pairs.
“One of the insights was that there was a correspondence between DNA and the I Ching. The I Ching is essentially a way of describing time. The brilliant idea that my brother came up with was that you can build a mathematical construct based on the sequence of hexagrams in the I Ching. There are various sequences, various ways to establish which is number one, which is number two, and so on, in this sequence of sixty-four. The most ancient sequence is the King Wen sequence. You can plot it as a graph...
“What emerged out of this was the notion that time had a structure, that time itself was not simply a place where you put events, but time itself had its own structure, much like space has its own structure. Space isn't just an empty place where you put things, relativity and all that has shown that that's not the case, space has properties like curvature and metric. Well, what Terence was postulating was that time itself has structure, and that on every level you can define a smallest unit of time and a largest unit of time, and it's fractally structured so that at every level it reflects this sequence, and that what they [the designers of the I Ching] had actually figured out was the basic structure of time. So he got into this sort of frenetic and obsessional construction of these waves, these graphs, and trying to use them as a predictive tool to determine – in its initial application, it was, ‘When is the damn thing going to show up? When is it going to appear?’
“So the earliest prediction that came out of all this was that it was going to appear on his birthday, November 16th, because that was the other end of this wave which we were in the middle of.
“If you take the sixty-four unit fractal graph and you multiply it by six you get 384, and 384 happens to be an exact thirteen-month lunar calendar. I think this is actually where Terence really had an insight into the I Ching, in the sense that what he had succeeded in doing in all this was, I think he succeeded in rediscovering an ancient Chinese calendar based on the I Ching, that that's what the I Ching originally was.”
“A lunar calendar?”
“A lunar calendar. You could use it perfectly as a thirteen-month lunar calendar. I think he rediscovered, in a way, an ancient mathematical instrument. Where we probably overstepped the bounds is that he wasn't content to become a famous scholar of the I Ching, he postulated that what this really described was the structure of time, and that you could use it to predict. Because it was a fractal, because it was a spiral that was getting smaller and smaller as you move through history, there was an end point postulated. So the trick became, ‘What is the end-point?’ The end-point that we postulated was when this artifact appeared. That will be the end point, that will end time as we know it and we will transit beyond history, into whatever happens after history, a-historicity if you will. So the trick became, ‘Can we use this artifact to predict when the end will come?’
“In order to do that you have to know where to place the peaks and valleys. We postulated that what this thing actually measured is the ingression of novelty into the continuum, and this was based on a lot of Alfred North Whitehead's ideas...
“Long story short, over the years different end dates were postulated, and eventually after looking at the different ways to lay the wave against history he settled on 2012.” He paused, reflecting. “I'm actually the biggest skeptic on the Timewave, even though I was involved in it...”
“I found something really interesting online,” I mentioned. “Somebody has written a book about the I Ching, it's another one of these really dense technical books and it's difficult for me to tell what he had intended to use this to illustrate—” I produced a paper from my notes and passed it to Dennis.
“Oh Lord,” he laughed, leaning forward to examine the figure.
“It's an illustration of recursive dichotomization, where you divide anything in half, and in half, and in half again. He says that this describes the I Ching. The connection that I see with these waves in time, it looks more like this is about the structure of the mind, where this line in the middle is the present moment—”
I traced the line down the center of the diagram with my finger. “You project the future forward and the past back, but what you're looking at is just your own mind. These are all anticipated events, expectations,” I said, tracing the bottom line forward from center, “and these are all the memories that you've placed in a particular order, going back from center.”
“The 'past' and 'future' is you.”
“It seems like just the way the human mind works,” I continued, “this process of dichotomization could be what would produce an event on that date. There's so many people that believe in 2012 at this point, and they're not talking about the end of the world in a physical way, they're talking about a shift of consciousness. Just believing in it could be what makes it happen.”
“Right, right,” Dennis nodded. “It is interesting that between my brother's speculations and all this interest in the Mayan calendar, and now Daniel Pinchbeck's book, 2012, there certainly is a lot of cultural expectation that it's going to be a transformative year. I don't know, nobody knows I guess whether it's going to be that way. There have been other expectations too, like the Harmonic Convergence. Astrologically these things are important turning points. We know from astrology that, yes, interesting things are happening on December 21st, 2012...
“Clearly we're undergoing a collective psychic transformation, and there's all kinds of apocalyptarian mythology about, and transformation, some of it horrific and some of it quite encouraging. It seems to be a race: are we going to wake up and become enlightened post-historical beings, or are we going to destroy ourselves by any of the numerous means at our disposal? Is something else going to intervene? Do the asteroids come, do the aliens come? Or does nothing happen? Or will something happen and nobody notices?” He wondered, laughing.
“It's happened so many times through history,” I remarked. “Like after the ministry of Jesus, the community that was left was expecting the Second Coming – like, is it tomorrow? In forty days?”
“This is a very similar phenomenon,” Dennis agreed. “I remember reading this book in a Comparative Religions class as an undergraduate, called When Prophecy Fails. It talks about these various millenarian and prophetic cults. When prophecy fails, the pattern is that instead of the guru or the leader saying, 'Well... Guess I got it wrong! You can all go back to your cubicles, or whatever you were doing, I was mistaken' – that doesn't happen. The followers become even more fanatical and there's a regrouping, a reexamination of the teachings, and they come up with a new date. Then time goes on and that one comes and nothing happens, then they revise the prediction again but they don't give up the prophecy, they just keep revising the date.”
“It's like the anticipation of the event fulfills a psychological need,” I suggested, “like there's something about life right now that's unbearable, so instead of addressing that directly people project some kind of salvation forward into the future, which might be what they legitimately need to keep it together...”
Near the end of our meeting, Dennis waxed meditative:
“Terence is so persuasive and he is such a good talker and he says ... he could say complete nonsense in the most lovely way that most people never questioned it at all. He didn't actually like me to come to his seminars or his lectures because I was the only one who ever argued with him. Everyone else was sort of sitting there taking it all in – 'Oh wow man isn't this cool,' you know – and I would actually stand up and say, 'Well now wait a minute, what you said makes no sense. It's a total crock of shit and not only that but it contradicts what you said twenty minutes ago that also didn't make any sense.'
And he would of course dismiss that and say, 'Well, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds...' The guy was a fucking genius... I think that he did a service with the way he was able to get people to question their assumptions or to entertain ideas that never in a million years would they entertain. He presented them in such a way that they seemed to make sense at the time, and it's only a few days later when you think about it that it's like, 'What was this guy saying?'” Dennis laughed.
“I'm critical but I admire him. He was great. There will never be another like him.”
Kaplan, Aryeh. 1997. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. York Beach, ME: Weiser.
Narby, Jeremy. 1998. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.
Alexander Price is the founder of Mahakranti Universal Mystery School (mahakranti.org). His first book, A Hopi Guide to the End of the World: And the Beginning of the Next One, will be published in Fall 2009 from Adventures Unlimited Press -- see hopistar.org for more info.