The following is a transcript of selected comments from Terrence McKenna discussing shamanism and mental illness.
Recording location and date unknown. See below for the full 10min recording.
00:00 Schizophrenia is just a catch-all phrase for forms of mental behavior that we don’t understand. In the 19th century there was a term, meloncholia, which we would now call bipolar, depression… and so on, but all forms of sadness, unhappiness, maladaptation… were poured into this label meloncholia. Now schizophrenia is a similar thing.”
00:37 [Tollman Psyche Library anecdote.]
01:22 We have no tradition of shamanism. We have no tradition of journeying to these mental worlds.We are terrified of madness. We fear it because the western mind is a house of cards and the people who built that house of cards know that.
02.37 There is a great phobia about the mind. The western mind is very queasy when first principles are questioned. Rarer than corpses in this society are the untreated mad because we can’t come to terms with that.
02:57 A shaman is someone who swims in the same ocean as the schizophrenic but the shaman has thousands of sanctioned technique and tradition to draw upon. In a traditional society, if you exhibit ‘schizophrenic tendencies’ you are immediately drawn out of the pack and immediately put under the care and tutelage of master shamans. You are told ‘you are special, your abilities are very central to the health of our society, you will cure, you will prophesy, you will guide our society in its most fundamental decisions’. Contrast this with what a person exhibiting schizophrenic activity in our society is told: ‘You don’t fit in. You are becoming a problem. You don’t pull your own weight. You are not of equal worth to the rest of us. You are sick. You have to go to the hospital. You are on a par with prisoners and lost dogs in our society’. That treatment of schizophrenia makes it incurable.
04:22 Imagine if you were slightly odd and the solution was to take you and lock you in a place where everyone was seriously mad. That would drive anyone mad. If you’ve ever been in a madhouse you’ll know it’s an environment calculated to make you crazy and keep you crazy. This would never happen in an aboriginal or traditional society.
05:00 We have gone sick by following a path of untrammeled rationalism, male dominance, attention to the visible surface of things, practicality, bottom-line-ism. We have gone very very sick and the body politic like any body, when it feels itself to be sick it begins to produce antibodies: strategies for overcoming the condition of dis-ease, and the 20th century is an enormous effort in self-healing. Phenomena as diverse as surrealism, body piercing, psychedelic drug use, sexual permissiveness, jazz, experimental dance, rave culture, tattooing – the list is endless – what do all of these things have in common? They represent various styles of rejection of linear values. Society is trying to cure itself of linear values. The society is trying to heal itself by an archaic revival; by a reversion to archaic values. So when I see manifesting sexual ambiguity or scarifying themselves, or showing a lot of flesh, or dancing to syncopated music, or getting loaded, or violating ordinary canons of sexual behaviour, I applaud all of this. Because it’s an impulsive return to what is felt by the body: what is authentic, what is archaic.