A Correspondence Between Terence McKenna & R. Gordon Wasson: The Meeting That Wasn’t

As promised, in honor of surpassing 1,000 followers on both Twitter and Facebook, with just a bit of further ado, here is the correspondence between Terence McKenna & R. Gordon Wasson. I will only give a brief prelude to set context and give what information I know…

As you’ll see, the letter (from Terence) is from May 27th, 1986, and he writes to Wasson saying that he will be in Rhinebeck, NY to teach a workshop in July (probably at the Omega Institute). It’s worth noting that this talk doesn’t appear to exist in the online corpus, so far as I can tell. It’s certainly possible that the workshop wasn’t recorded, but if anyone out there knows of a recording, please do let me know. He asks if he and Kat might visit the, then almost 88 year-old, mushroom icon at his home in Connecticut on July 21st of that year. To the best of my knowledge, through discussion with friends of Terence’s and a relative of Wasson’s, the meeting never took place. As Wasson’s response indicates, there were both health and travel plans which seemed likely to get in the way of the encounter, although Wasson was keen to indicate that if he were home and in good health, he would welcome a visit.

A couple brief notes on the contents of the correspondences (and then the ado will be over):

In Terence’s letter:

  • Terence mentions an encounter with Albert Hofmann at Esalen “two years ago” (so, roughly, 1984), which I also can’t quite place, so any help with that would be appreciated, too.
  • Terence mentions the “suggestive writings” of John Uri Lloyd and Herbert Moore Pim, which I won’t expand on now (maybe in a later post), but some time spent looking into these figures would certainly reward the inquiring mind.
  • Terence gives the wrong date for Wasson’s seminal LIFE magazine essay on the Oaxacan mushroom ceremony. It was the issue of May 13, 1957 (not May 14, as Terence writes in the letter).

In Wasson’s Letter:

  • Wasson mentions that his “final book” will be published later that year by Yale University Press. That book is Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion, along with Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck, and in it Wasson double’s down on his original soma hypothesis, which he deems now “well beyond the stage of hypotheses.” In the opening to Chapter One, the air of palpable finality in Wasson’s letter is echoed: “As I am nearing the end of my days, I will draw up an account of our mushroom quest…”

[One final note: this correspondence is not housed in the Terence McKenna Archives. It is held by Wasson’s archivist, Mark Hoffman (no relation to Albert–different spelling), who is also the former editor of Entheos: The Journal of Psychedelic Spirituality and a current research collaborator with Carl Ruck. I visited Mark in Taos last year (if you’re ever in Town, look for Mark at his Eske’s Brew Pub), and he showed me his substantial psychedelic archive, and I snapped photos of a bunch of Terence-related material….including this correspondence. Mark gave me the go ahead to share it. I have removed all addresses and phone numbers from the images for privacy.]

So, now, actually without any further ado, here’s the correspondence:

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Finally, also in honor of the milestone of 1,000 followers on both Twitter and Facebook, I am offering readers of this blog 25% on the prints that we are offering for our crowdfund effort at our Etsy store. Just use the coupon code: MCKENNA25 to receive 25% of all prints, buttons, magnets, and bookmarks through the end of July. The first 10 orders received (for shipping within the U.S.) after I post this will receive two free bookmarks (they came out very nice!). Reminder: all proceeds go to support the acquisition, preservation, storage, and sharing of the Terence McKenna Archives. We are not personally profiting financially off of these sales. It all goes back into the Archive.

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3 thoughts on “A Correspondence Between Terence McKenna & R. Gordon Wasson: The Meeting That Wasn’t

  1. Terence and Albert Hofmann were both at an Esalen for 10 days at the end of December, 1984, for a meeting about psychedelics that I organized with Stan Grof. Albert presented his Transmitter Receiver concept of reality, and Terence presented his Mushrooms and Human Evolution. Both were chapters in an early version of what became Entheogens and the Future of Religion.

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    • Hi Robert, This is great information. Thank you. I’ll add this to my general timeline so that I can reference it in the future. Do you recall if there were any recordings being taken? Also glad to know that Hofmann presented the Transmitter Receiver concept here. Any other presenters or chapters that ended up in Entheogens and the Future of Religion? Thanks lots for the comment!

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      • yes, the entire conference was recorded, and transcribed, by me and my friend. i might have the tapes in storage along with the ms… only Brother David Steindl-Rast’s extemporaneous talk on spirituality made it to the final published edition…

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