Our guest on this episode on London Real is the psychedelic researcher Dennis McKenna. Dennis is brother to the late Terence McKenna who pioneered the use of plants as a way to positively alter human consciousness. Dennis and Terence blazed the trail for modern psychedelic experimentation as part of a group known as the Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.
This was a group of Berkeley students who went down to Columbia in the early seventies in search of DMT. Given the fact that you are a London Real fan I am going to assume that you already understand the importance of psychedelics in my own personal journey.
Terence McKenna is something of a patron saint for the show. His visionary lectures on consciousness, culture, the arts and natural drugs are legendary and continue to be a resource for people like myself who use such substances to explore and expand their own minds.
Both Terence and Dennis McKenna come from a different age in many respects, an age when spirituality, music, literature and drugs all went hand in hand, and when being called a rebel was still a compliment. Forming a formidable team, Terence was the learned preacher, and Dennis was the researcher.
The two would travel America and the world bringing the gospel of mind enhancement through natural plants. Both of them committed their lives to the idea that the reality we see everyday is not even a dot on the true reality beyond our senses.
If you have never tried psychedelics, then this kind of talk is going to seem downright weird. But like his late brother, Dennis McKenna is a very articulate, humorous and kind soul, who will immediately win the trust of any of you sceptics out there.
This is no ageing hippy spouting claptrap! This is a scholar of natural psychedelics, a man who is learned in science and the humanities.
Dennis has a perspective on the mind and its relationship to culture which is informative and revelatory. Something which will strike you right away about Dennis is his ability to get deeply vulnerable about his story, his relationship with his brother, and his own flaws.
Dennis McKenna pretty much bears all in regards to his relationship with Terence, the comradeship and the fallings out, and the traumatic experience of watching his brother succumb to brain cancer. For anyone watching this who is already a fan of Terence McKenna’s work, this might be a little painful too, when you hear how much suffering there was in the great man’s last decade.
Dennis tells me about the self-doubt, conflicts and personal trials Terence went through in his final years leading up to his disease, and also speaks about their own disagreements as brothers.
As two Irish-American brothers from Colorado, their relationship was intensely close, and even difficult. Dennis’s book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss”, was self-published in 2012.
He tells me the book was as much a way of healing the grief of losing Terence as it was a way of recounting the facts of his journey with his brother. A point to look out for in this absorbing discussion with Dennis McKenna is what he thinks of the influence of his brother’s message, and the work he and Terence were doing in the eighties and nineties.
It’s so difficult for us to imagine now, but back in the day plant psychedelics were extremely taboo, and people who advocated their use were thought of as quacks and frauds.
Dennis himself is surprised by the transformation in the last twenty years, and he tells me it is still hard to believe that Ayahuasca has basically become a household name, and pretty much mainstream.
Dennis McKenna is convinced that a lot of this can be attributed to his brother’s visionary stubbornness, and his willingness to just keep talking when everyone else was too scared to speak out.
Still a believer in the power of plant medicines, Dennis regards these substances the same way indigenous peoples have done for centuries. Not as drugs but as teachers.
Humankind’s relationship to nature is something that needs to be revolutionised and Dennis believes that Ayahuasca is reaching out to humanity with a message of oneness with nature. Dennis recalls that first journey he and Terence did to Columbia in search of DMT.
Frankly, it’s an outrageous, enlightening and at times unbelievable tale of insanity and spiritual awakening! These guys were really pioneers in the early seventies, and they had very little to rely on but their own scientific discipline and a passionate belief that plant substances had something to teach human kind.
If you are remotely curious about what Terence McKenna was like as a man, then you are going to love Dennis’s discussion about his brother’s ability to capture an audience. Dennis is outspoken about his frustrations with Terence over the wild and bizarre things he could get away with saying.
But Dennis McKenna also speaks with pride and affection about his brother’s poetic and shamanic gifts. Terence McKenna was revered for his articulate power as much as anything else, and Dennis and I talk about this.
Dennis tells me his brother’s saving graces were his commitment to independent thinking, and his “Irish twinkle” or sense of humour.
Though he was, and still is, a kind of counter-culture icon, Dennis McKenna insists that Terence never wanted to be a guru. He simply wanted to kickstart self-awareness and independent thinking in his audiences.
It’s fascinating to hear an intimate brother’s take on why Terence was so good at doing that, and why he continues to have an impact even to this day. As well as talking at length about his brother as a man and an icon, Dennis and I have some interesting discussions about his own views on plant medicines, dosages and his own take on the meaning of the psychedelic experience.
Dennis McKenna is a scientist and scholar in his own right, and has contributed to the present day open-mindedness about consciousness-expanding substances. Whatever your take on psychedelics is, and whatever you feel about our beloved plant allies, you’ll find this episode one of those special London Real experiences.
Dennis is a warm-hearted, gracious man, and has that same intonation and lilt of his brother, and in many ways Terence was in the room with us during the filming of this episode. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of your Sunday and join us in the Screaming Abyss. London Realer, I give you Dennis McKenna.