Food of the Gods was radical when it was published back in 1992, and still raises plenty of eyebrows today. Terence McKenna’s thesis is that only a global shift in consciousness can save us from destroying ourselves and our planet … and that the most effective way to bring that shift about is the widespread use of entheogens.
In the world of indigenous medicines, the word “entheogen” is increasingly used instead of “hallucinogen.” This is because they reveal subtle levels of divine reality that might otherwise remain hidden. (Entheogen means “God-revealing.”) In addition, entheogens are best used in highly intentional sacred ceremonies – a very different set and setting than recreational pleasure-tripping.
By the way, this is more than a book review. I was also inspired to include some of my own experiences and insights.
My own ongoing healing and awakening work with plant spirit teachers such as ayahuasca, San Pedro and psilocybin mushrooms has gradually opened me to these extraordinary inner worlds. I really needed their help, too: spiritually speaking, I was thick as a brick before they cracked me open!
McKenna, a world-famous psychonaut, dove far more deeply than me into the world of plant spirit medicine, and definitely speaks from experience. But Food of the Gods is no drug-addled rant. McKenna supports his argument with a wealth of evidence and thorough research. (The book’s full title gives a better sense of what McKenna is up to here: Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution.) If you’re not already familiar with McKenna, the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entry will give you a quick overview:
Terence Kemp McKenna (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000) was an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer, author, and an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, philosophy, culture, technology, environmentalism, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness. He was called the “Timothy Leary of the ’90s,” “one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism,” and the “intellectual voice of rave culture.”
Most of Food of the Gods is a sweeping historical survey of consciousness-altering substances, both helpful and harmful, throughout history. McKenna discusses ibogaine, soma, mushrooms, opium, alcohol, hashish, marijuana, tobacco and hard narcotics. Ayahuasca, LSD, and DMT come under his scrutiny. Even sugar, coffee, tea and chocolate, which function more like drugs than most people realize, come under McKenna’s analysis.
He points out that cultures and communities that routinely do altered-state ceremony together are much better stewards of the earth than those that don’t. I can certainly relate to this: feeling the jungle as myself during a month-long ayahuasca dieta showed me that I am the jungle. In fact, my inner experiences have led me to believe that I’m also everything else … as are you … since all of manifest reality is just God entertaining itself by pretending to be different things and different people!
Once you know firsthand that you are the natural world, you treat it with more respect … perhaps even with reverence. After all, why would you want to harm yourself?
Of course, many people are in this world-union state naturally, or can access it without ingesting substances. But McKenna has an excellent point. Most people are still spiritually asleep, and view the world as a de-souled resource ripe for exploitation. Psychoactive medicines can burst open the doors of reality with amazing speed, helping people realize that everyone and everything is fundamentally themselves.
So I completely understand McKenna’s thesis: that nothing short of a worldwide spiritual awakening achieved through entheogens will save us. And there’s no doubt that entheogens are the best tool I’ve ever found for my own maximum-speed healing and awakening.
But we also have legions of angels, guides, ascended masters and other divine beings working overtime to help people awaken using every imaginable modality. Not everyone needs to ingest substances to get there.
I agree with McKenna that widespread spiritual awakening is the only cure for what ails us. Enforcing conservation and respect for the natural world through laws and coercion has never had more than limited success. If you feel that you’re separate from something, you can more easily give yourself permission to exploit it and destroy the environment that nurtures it.
Food of the Gods covers much more than this – I haven’t even scratched the surface of all that McKenna gets into! But if what I’ve written so far intrigues you, I think you’ll find Food of the Gods a worthwhile, challenging and thought-provoking read.