The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss is a finely crafted autobiography which describes in great detail the life of Dennis McKenna with (and without) his brother Terence. The linear nature of the Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss – which begins with a detailed discussion of the ancestry of the brothers – may throw off readers hoping to learn of the adventures of these key figures in the Psychedelic movement. Rest assured that The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss contains as much thrilling exposition as it does intimate detail.
Those who are devoted to understanding every bit of information possible on Terence, Dennis, and their family will very much enjoy the first few chapters of the book in which this information is presented in great detail. This description of the McKenna family’s ancestry is valuable for those who are seeking to understand the circumstances that the brothers were born into. If you’re ready to jump right in, I recommend beginning with chapter 4 and returning to these initial chapters later.
In chapters 4 through 10, Dennis describes the influences and challenges that shaped the brothers growing up. Dennis vividly portrays the intensely sheltered experience of these children of the Baby Boomer generation, and the strength it took to break out of the bounds of ‘normal’ society at that time, shadowed as everything was by the cold war and the nuclear bomb.
Learning about Terence as a child – brilliant, eccentric and difficult, passionate about butterfly collecting and nature – allows the reader to more fully empathize with this enigmatic man. Descriptions of Dennis’ bold early experiences with psychoactive plants (including Datura) are equally fascinating and allow one a window into what it must have been like in the early days, when psychoactive substances were so foreign to the Western consciousness.
Part 2 of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss is the highlight of the work. Here, Dennis describes the events at La Chorrera from his perspective for the first time, providing lucid counterpoint to Terence’s descriptions in True Hallucinations. Fans of the McKenna brothers will find this section riveting, illuminating, and perhaps a little terrifying.
The Brotherhood also includes a lucid discussion of Terence’s controversial Time Wave theory, jungle adventures, and psychedelic journeys, integration and healing. Dennis concludes with a vivid description of the circumstances surrounding Terence’s sudden death sure to bring a final tear or two to those who witnessed the bard’s departure from afar.
It’s a shame that Terence did not write an autobiography, yet I cannot imagine him doing so. Storytellers are not known for telling their own life stories in accurate detail. The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss is autobiography, family history, adventure tale, and mystical discourse all in one. It is the expression of an age, a pair of brothers, and a world-changing movement from the perspective of an observant and thoughtful man. Anyone interested in the life of Dennis and Terence McKenna, and the history of the Psychedelic Movement in America, will do well to read this book.
A podcast on DMT, Ayahuasca, Plant Intelligence and Terence with Dennis McKenna and Jan Irvin: