In 1993, when I was still a whippersnapper in my twenties, I managed to get myself invited to the Secret McKenna Workshop, organised by the late Fraser Clark. The title seemed to imply that Terence would be passing round the DMT or some other exotic drug (not really his style, I know), but in fact it was just a chance to hear him talk about his unorthodox ideas in intimate surroundings. I still feel privileged to have been there.
I wrote about the workshop in Shroom but what I hadn't realised until just the other day was that I'd recorded it in my diary. At the risk of exposing my inner Adrian Mole, I thought I'd share what I'd written here (OK, with the really embarrassing bits taken out). Over the intervening years I'd forgotten quite a lot of the detail. Here goes, my comments in square brackets:
"Feb 10th: On Tuesday night we got a strange phonecall from Fraser Clark of Evolution Records no less, inviting us to a McKenna workshop (by recommendation only!) Apparently he'd seen us on the video of the Shamanarchy in the UK launch party at Whirl-y-gig and that was recommendation enough. I initially said no (£30 each!) but when you get a personal invite, you have to go, don't you?
"It was held in this bizarre, acid-test-like, squatted veggie restaurant, Fungus Mungus, on London's Battersea park Road, and I met some cosmic people there [I think I probably meant this as a compliment]. One guy was the first person in the UK to be busted for hash in the 60s. He then founded International Times. Far out. There was Martyn, a healer who told me about how we make ourselves ill; the band Tribal Drift; Matthew aka Boris and his Bolshy Balalaika; and of course, Fraser - what a love [he proved slightly less amorous after reading Shroom...].
"McKenna just blew my mind. Whilst I accept but don't relish his ideas of the apocalypse, I really 'dig' the idea of reconnecting to Planetary Mind, the Goddess Earth. Perhaps the apocalypse could be when all minds are plugged in together to form the one?
"We crashed the night [not, I recall, without considerable blagging on our behalf] and met a lovely guy the next day called Cicero who made us a cup of tea. All in all a most excellent adventure."
If the self-consciously hippy language now grates, then I'm relieved to see that it was always the more earthly aspects of McKenna's ideas that resonated with me. As you can probably guess, I'm no longer a fan of the timewave and 2012, regarding them as extensions of Christian apocalyptic thinking (chapter coming out next year). But leaving aside the fact that it was an unacknowledged rehash of Mircea Eliade and therefore not unproblematic in itself, I still respond to McKenna's call for an archaic revival. Then, as now, it was the possibility of connection that excited me.
McKenna's hope was that a return to psychedelic shamanism might help redirect our attention away from ourselves (just for a moment!) and towards the other-than-human persons with whom we share our home. Almost twenty years, and a lot of head-scratching later, I'm still with him.