March 11, 2022

Ecstatic Excavations: A Conversation on Jewish Psychedelia with Natalie Lyla Ginsberg

By Madison Margolin

Welcome to Speaking from Experience, an interview series that explores the edges of Jewish life and culture—from psychedelics to somatics, hyphenated Judaisms to subterranean spiritualities. In our inaugural conversation, we hear from Natalie Lyla Ginsberg, my fellow cofounder of the Jewish Psychedelic Summit and global impact officer at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). I first met Natalie on my twenty-fifth birthday, when she took me on a tour of a cannabis farm in Israel|Palestine. A dear colleague and friend, Natalie is unabashed in her Jewish identity and her commitment to social justice. In particular, she’s inspired by the potential of psychedelics to help reveal and heal intergenerational trauma, and to build empathy and community—so much so, that she codeveloped a study interviewing Palestinians and Israelis who’ve sat in ayahuasca circles together. Her work with MAPS has propelled today’s “psychedelic renaissance” in science and mainstream cultural acceptance, proposing psychedelics as a method of healing, consciousness shifting, and radical systemic change on a global scale.

Such conversations require us to do more than simply express awe at how far psychedelics have come in contemporary society since Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971. Indeed, when we talk about psychedelics, we must delineate whether we’re referring to synthetic or plant-derived compounds, hold questions of cultural sensitivity, ritual, and appropriation—and in the case of psychedelic Judaism—investigate where Jewishness and Jewish practice fit into this ancient, emergent, and complex set of experiences.


Madison Margolin

You’ve been in the psychedelic world for so long. And also very Jewishly identified. How would you describe the moment happening now in Jewish psychedelia or psychedelic Judaism or the Jewish psychedelic movement—however you want to phrase it? How do you see what’s going on?

Natalie Lyla Ginsberg

On the one hand, we’re seeing many people who maybe don’t feel so connected to their Jewish heritage, but who are finding spirituality in the path of psychedelics.1 Sometimes that path ends up awakening their interest in Judaism or their own heritage. We hear many anecdotes of people’s psychedelic trips taking unexpected “Jewish” turns—whether people recount seeing scenes from the Torah, or from the Holocaust, or of their ancestors. 

And on the other hand, we’re seeing a lot of religious Jewish folks who are using plant medicines and diving deeply into Jewish mysticism and observance, or still others who are departing from a strict religious life and seeking a Judaism that feels less rigid and dogmatic, and more personal and spiritual.

Among all of those groups, people are growing more open to the idea that their Jewish practice doesn’t have to be totally separate from their spiritual psychedelic practice. So that’s really exciting.

We also recently discovered cannabis at Tel Arad, which was such exciting evidence that our ancestors used cannabis ritualistically as far back as the eighth century BC—currently the oldest discovery of ritual cannabis use in the world! Though some people may still debate whether the kaneh-bosm described in the Torah is actually cannabis—with detractors saying it refers to a different “fragrant cane”—I think it’s pretty clear that kaneh-bosm means cannabis. (This thesis was first presented in modern times by Polish-American anthropologist Dr. Sula Benet in 1936.) And thanks to the Tel Arad discovery, there’s no debating that there was an ancient Jewish altar, in a shrine inscribed with the word YHVH,2 containing cannabis. 

On a larger scale, I think we’re seeing a conversation emerge, and a willingness to excavate our ancestral practices. It’s no coincidence that people are reaching for ancestral rituals at a time when so many of us are searching for a greater sense of spirituality. But traditional religion hasn’t always served that purpose for people in modern times. I think this concept of Jewish psychedelic spirituality is allowing people to forge bridges, and inspiring people to reexamine elements of Judaism they might not have noticed before.

MM

And that’s the conversation that laid the foundation for the Jewish Psychedelic Summit (JPS). 

NG

Exactly. And there were so many great conversations that came out of that gathering. For instance, after the first Jewish Psychedelic Summit, an attendee shared that until learning about niggunim at the Summit, she’d had no idea that Jews had our own icaros. A niggun is an Ashkenazi tradition of wordless melody that is sung in repetitive cycles in spiritual settings, and icaros are medicine songs sung in traditional ayahuasca ceremonies. Both types of songs are intended to be emotive, and make it easy to join in and hum along. Icaros play an absolutely essential role in ayahuasca ceremonies, as music often does in general for the psychedelic experience. This attendee was shocked that her own tradition had practices she’d thought she could only find within other traditions. That’s just one example of the type of discovery that is possible for people who are open to psychedelics through a Jewish lens.

MM 

So I know you’ve had this dream of congregating all the “psychedelic rabbis.” What actually constitutes a “psychedelic rabbi”? What does that even mean?

NG

As you know, I’ve had this list of so-called “psychedelic rabbis” for years. What does it mean to be a psychedelic rabbi? Just a rabbi who’s interested in exploring the connections between psychedelic spirituality and Judaism. That interest could express itself in a number of ways: a rabbi with significant firsthand psychedelic experience, a rabbi just beginning to experiment with psychedelics, a rabbi who might not want to do psychedelics but wants to learn about them for any number of therapeutic purposes, a rabbi who wants to incorporate psychedelic practice into their community’s Jewish ritual life, etc. If a rabbi identifies in any way as a “psychedelic rabbi,” if the label feels like it fits, then it fits. It’s not that strict—cannabis is also included in psychedelics.

MM

And it’s because of you that we pulled together a panel of “psychedelic rabbis” for JPS. 

NG

Yes, and I’m excited to convene an even bigger group with a few dozen rabbis or so, including a number of congregational leaders. I want to create a space for rabbis to talk out the issues arising as more congregants experiment with and ask about psychedelics—as well as other new spiritual and mystical experiences. As psychedelics enter more and more into medical, therapeutic, cultural, and spiritual spheres of our society, it’s really important for leaders of our religious institutions to engage in this conversation. Because whether or not a rabbi engages, young Jewish people—and older Jewish people as well—are using psychedelics for any number of different purposes, spirituality included. So, at the very least, it’s a realm of human experience that a rabbi should be somewhat familiar with, in order to relate to members of their community who are looking into this rapidly expanding field and conversation.

Ultimately, more psychedelic rabbis could also expand the frameworks available for folks looking for Jewish mystical containers to support their psychedelic experiences, and also just serve to affirm Jews exploring this path. The other cool thing is that we’ve actually heard specifically from Christian faith leaders that having rabbis speak openly about psychedelics has made it much easier to start these conversations in their own communities. So there is a bit of an interfaith impact psychedelic rabbis can have as well, by engaging and introducing these discussions in religious contexts where they’ve often been absent. And we’re lucky Judaism affords us so much space to explore.  

MM

You and I have spoken numerous times about the number of Jews involved in the psychedelic and drug reform movements in the US, both currently and over the last sixty years. And Israeli researchers have also been on the forefront of so much recent cannabis research, etc. Why do you think that is? Why do we see so many Jews in these fields and spaces?

NG

I have lots of theories about why so many Jews are professionally engaged in psychedelics, cannabis, or the drug policy movement as a whole. One is that we, as a people, have experienced intergenerational trauma for thousands of years. So to me, it makes sense that we’re seeking all these different ways of handling that trauma, which might manifest as stored energy in our bodies, or as anxiety—all these things that psychedelics and cannabis can really support us in addressing. And we know there’s this great quote—and I say “great” sarcastically—by Nixon and his advisor basically saying, “What’s with all the Jews trying to legalize marijuana? It’s because they’re all psychiatrists.” Despite Nixon’s antisemitism, I do see anecdotally that there’s been a large representation of Jewish folks in the psychotherapy and drug reform movement from the beginning (from Claudio Benjamín Naranjo Cohen to Ram Dass [née Richard Alpert], Leo Zeff to Ethan Nadelmann, Julie Holland to Rick Doblin, and so many more). And I suspect that both our Jewish tradition of questioning and our trauma could be behind this, if only subconsciously. Not only the experience of trauma, but the desire to heal, integrate, and even elevate our people’s experience of trauma. This desire is connected in many ways to certain core elements and paradigms of Jewish spirituality: slavery to liberation, gathering the scattered sparks, descent for the sake of ascent—just to name a few. So, drug policy reform is a way to tend to that trauma by creating access to healing, as well as a way to work for tikkun olam by eliminating racist laws and systems that have devastated Indigenous communities and disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, and marginalized communities around the world.

MM

Yes, and maybe that work for justice is related to our intergenerational healing, too. Can you say more about the role spirituality might play in the treatment of intergenerational trauma, and maybe the identification of that trauma?

NG

I think even the concept of intergenerational trauma almost requires a little bit of spirituality, like this understanding that generations before you have had such a profound impact on your current life. I mean, there are also “rational” explanations about epigenetics and behaviors that are passed down. But there’s a big spiritual piece to that, and having the support of a spiritual framework—and for me as a Jew, a Jewish framework—can be really helpful for rooting and allowing the gradual process of trauma healing to unfold. I’m personally so grateful to have an ancestral container of rituals, language, history, and community to support my lifelong process of understanding my experience of intergenerational Jewish trauma and wisdom.

I also think another piece of that healing comes from recognizing the power we hold within us. At MAPS, for instance, we have developed MDMA-assisted therapy to treat PTSD, and we really encourage our study participants to listen to their “inner-healing intelligence.” That concept, to me, is very spiritual, and psychedelics are a great ally in tapping into those deep wellsprings of inner wisdom. So we’re saying to people while they’re on their journey, “Just listen to whatever comes up in your body.” We really trust and honor that whatever is moving through us is meant to emerge.

Psychedelic healing also allows us to engage with intergenerational trauma in such fascinating ways—allowing people to see visions of their ancestors, or different places in the world, or just their own family patterns more clearly—which is often part of the healing. These types of experiences can help people uncover or release trauma they are carrying around with them, trauma that’s impacting their lives, even unconsciously. I hear Jews say all the time that they’ve experienced Holocaust imagery in psychedelic experiences, including people who didn’t even have ancestors in the Holocaust. There’s clearly this shared Jewish historical trauma, and psychedelics have proven exceptionally effective in initiating and aiding people’s journeys toward healing and wholeness. So I really believe there is a role for psychedelic spirituality to play in this whole process of healing and integration, whether that’s with MDMA in a therapeutic setting, with ayahuasca in a ritual setting, or in any number of other psychedelic contexts.

MM

I just want to further differentiate between the different “categories,” if you will, of psychedelics. When people talk about healing trauma, I feel like MDMA is the obvious choice because of MAPS’ research. But there’s also ayahuasca, which is said (and felt) to be such deep ancestral medicine, and which many people use to address ancestral trauma. But in terms of the spiritual aspect of healing, not to mention the social, ethical, and relational aspects, I struggle a bit with issues of appropriation. For instance, most of the times I’ve done ayahuasca were in Jewish ceremonies with niggunim, and some people would argue that it’s culturally appropriative—taking this Indigenous South American medicine, and not doing it the traditional way with icaros. But the thing is, so many people I know, especially from certain Jewish backgrounds, wouldn’t come to ayahuasca at all if it weren’t grounded in a Jewish context. Because they would feel uncomfortable with something that felt like avodah zarah (an unfamiliar spiritual practice), even if they could benefit from the healing that ayahuasca could offer. But one thing I’ve noticed while in ceremony is that, because this is ancestral medicine, it’s been more resonant for me to connect with the music of my spiritual ancestry than with the icaros, as beautiful as they are. 

So how can someone reconcile this kind of soul-comfort vis-à-vis cultural appropriation, and what is acceptable amidst all these sensitivities?

NG

I’ll start with a personal anecdote. Most times I’ve sat with ayahuasca have not been in Jewish contexts. For those who don’t know, it’s common to purge (vomit) during ceremony—you drink, you feel nauseated, you purge—and I usually feel better right after. My first ceremony with a Jewish facilitator was special, as it was not only Jews, but also Muslim and Christian Palestinians who joined. At first, the facilitator was singing icaros, and I wasn’t purging at all—though ordinarily I would purge not long after drinking. And then with the first Hebrew song they sang, I immediately purged. It was crazy to see that power. I felt an instant surge of connection with these prayers linked to my ancestral lineage and tradition.

But what you’re describing in terms of appropriation is a really important question, and my first answer is that there are plants from SWANA3 (Southwest Asia and North Africa) that you can use to make something very similar to ayahuasca. Frankly, I do think it’s worth exploring other plants and traditions that are local either to where people live, or to where their ancestors lived, and creating contact that way. I suspect this might feel more holistically healing or connected. And I know some folks are starting to develop different brews around the world, with acacia (also known as shita in the Torah), which can contain DMT, and Syrian rue (also known as harmala), which contains MAOIs. 

But on the flip side, most traditional psychedelic practices with harmala or acacia have been lost or kept hidden, and the facilitators who’ve been inspired by ayahuasca to resuscitate these plants are not easy to find. Conversely, ayahuasca itself has really snaked around the globe. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the ayahuasca community about this. One thing I’ve heard people say is that, as a vine, ayahuasca clearly has its own agenda and desire to spread around the world—especially compared to the majority of other plant medicines, which have been protected and kept secret by their Indigenous community stewards. I hold that knowledge on the one hand, and on the other, I also hold that there is real devastation occurring from ayahuasca tourism—the plants are getting closer to becoming endangered, and communities stewarding these traditions are being ravaged by an influx of western tourism. I am also hearing of people doing ayahuasca, putting on a playlist, and having no connection to any ancestral practices, and that does feel problematic to me. 

To be honest, I would say that if people are concerned about how to be most respectful, it’s really essential that you work with people who have at least studied from a lineage, and have an ongoing relationship with its community and teachers. Especially if facilitators are non-Indigenous, don’t be too shy to ask about their lineage and learning—did they spend years studying with a community and teacher? 

Even with Jewish-led ayahuasca ceremonies, I would hope that facilitators took significant time to learn from people practicing the traditions that ayahuasca has grown with—so their practices are rooted in that, not just plucked from thin air and then plopped onto some other tradition.

MM 

I feel like part of this conversation connects back to a lot of what I’ve seen in the “Hin-Jew” movement with folks like Ram Dass or Krishna Das, who were very much a part of my childhood—Jews taking on Hindu names and customs, to the exclusion of the religious traditions of their own lineage. One could critique this as appropriative, just as one could critique a Jewish musician for using niggunim or another type of Jewish music in the context of ayahuasca, instead of traditional icaros. The complexity of this conversation seems to go in various directions. 

NG

I think it requires a lot of intentionality. There are many Jews, especially in the psychedelic community, who went elsewhere for spirituality—instead of connecting with Judaism and trying to integrate it into their other spiritual practices. And I understand a lot of Jews were and continue to be traumatized by aspects of Judaism or the Jewish experience. I think the balance is a tricky one. And what really excites me is continuing to dig into what our ancestral traditions really were, and creating space that way. Part of being Jewish, for better and for worse, is that since we have been and are in diaspora in all these countries around the world, it’s natural for us to learn from our neighbors and surrounding communities. But I do feel really lucky that we have so much of our own ritual and plant medicine tradition to explore as Jews. 

MM 

I feel like Jewish thought, and Jewish mysticism in particular, is already psychedelic in nature. The religion itself offers a set and setting through which we can have an experience of altered consciousness (with or without substances)—and yet there are also precedents for the use of psychoactive plants in Jewish tradition. Can you go into a little bit about what our own psychedelic plant traditions were or are?

NG

I mentioned our cannabis tradition, which to many is still up for debate, though the Tanakh refers to kaneh-bosm as an ingredient in the priestly anointing oil used in the Tabernacle, and to kaneh (likely a shorthand for kaneh-bosm) in an aromatic context multiple times. Also, some of the ingredients of ketoret, the incense that was burned within the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle,5 and later regularly in the Temple, contain psychoactive components.6

On Yom Kippur, it seems like the Holy of Holies would actually become a holy hotbox! The priest would go into that very small, enclosed space, and burn thick clouds of the ketoret incense to connect with Hashem—and, according to the Zohar, they’d tie a rope to his leg in case he needed to be pulled out!7

There has also been speculation about the presence of different psychoactive substances during the rise of various mystical movements, like Hasidism, for example. For instance, recently in the Jewish Entheogenic Society Facebook group, we were getting into what was in the Baal Shem Tov’s pipe. Throughout oral and folkloric tradition, there are many stories of this magical, mystical pipe, and while no one knows the exact answer, we do know there were hemp fields all around the region where the Baal Shem Tov lived, in what is now western Ukraine—and people spoke about the Besht’s pipe in a really special way. And of course, the title of “baal shem” in those days essentially referred to someone who was a “spiritual healer” or “shaman” who would use a blend of advice, plant-based concoctions, and rituals to help people address their problems. We also know from the wealth of hagiographic stories that the Besht spent a lot of time meditating in nature, journeying into and out of altered states of consciousness, and taking people on miraculous trips through various dimensions of space, time, and soul.

Another tradition that people might not recognize as psychedelic, but is a reflection of ancient Israelite plant reverence, is Sukkot. The holiday feels kind of aligned with a psychedelic ceremony; it’s all about creating a sacred space and sitting outside under the stars with family and guests, inviting in the ancestors, singing songs, and connecting to the natural elements. The holiday involves four very specific, unique kinds of plants, which we were commanded to take with us to “rejoice before G-d for the week.”8 I think this could be interpreted in a psychedelic way. Especially if you consider that one of those four plants, the etrog, actually has small amounts of DMT in it. 

It’s also worth acknowledging that wine clearly plays a strong role in our tradition. Judaism values the psychospiritual potentials of alcohol, especially when used in a ritual context. Keep in mind that Jews have had different relationships with various substances throughout time and across geographies, and it makes sense that the customs of the lands where we’ve lived have impacted our relationships to different substances and sacraments. It also makes sense that we’ve lost certain plant traditions, or found it hard to continue them in exile, while not living on the land with the plants those traditions grew from. But I really invite people to research and reengage with these practices. 

I truly believe that connecting to our own heritage is an important way of reclaiming and decolonizing our identities. And doing so can also help us be more aware of how we interact with other colonized peoples’ plant traditions, such as ayahuasca. 

MM

So in regard to decolonizing our Jewish identities, so much of the reason Judaism looks the way it does today—especially Ashkenazi Judaism, which evolved in Europe—is due to forced assimilation into mainstream Christian culture. Many of our own traditions were forced underground, contained within books that were burned, or forgotten. Gershon Winkler talks about this in Magic of the Ordinary, particularly what happened with the European Jew hunts and witch hunts, which were tied to women’s relationship with plant medicine specifically. Many of these “witches” might have been Jewish women well versed in healing and plant medicine—and the apparent connetion between Judaism and witchcraft bred various strains of antisemitism.

NG

I was really interested to discover in the last few years that a lot of the early witch hunts in Europe were deeply grounded in antisemitism, and targeted many Jewish women. And so who were witches? Women with plant medicine practices who were considered mystical healers, often women who lived alone. As an Ashkenazi Jewish woman, it’s been revelatory for me to understand that the caricature of a witch—big nose with a bump, darker features, prominent chin—was based on stereotypes of Ashkenazi Jewish women. And these images have become a symbol of ugliness and evil in Western culture for the last six-hundred-plus years. It’s also worth noting that Dracula and other vampires were portrayed using Ashkenazi Jewish caricatures, as well: hooknoses, rich, all this money hoarded in a castle, sucking the blood of young children. 

This is the context for those witch hunts that made vast segments of the Jewish community reject a lot of the plant medicine practices linked to witchcraft, or at least hide them. Those witch hunts also caused us to lose or hide many women-led Jewish mystical traditions, especially since they were mostly passed on orally. 

So I do want to take the opportunity to plug an Instagram account called Jewitches—they do a lot of really great education around Jewish witch history and practices. 

MM 

In light of all this witch stuff, I feel like antisemitism has de-psychedelicized Judaism.

NG

I love what you just said. 

MM

I know you like to talk about antisemitism, so we can go deeper there, too. 

NG

I absolutely think that antisemitism and the need for Jewish survival—particularly in Christian cultures, where a personal connection with spirit outside the Church was vilified—drove many of our psychedelic plant and mystical traditions further underground. This was such a huge loss. 

Now, I often think of antisemitism in relation to the very controversial concept that Jews are this chosen people. If we look at the broad arc of our history, if anything, for the majority of the time, we were mostly chosen to experience persecution, genocide, and/or oppression everywhere we lived. At the same time, especially in modern history, we’ve been implicated in more complicated histories of trauma and oppression, especially as it relates to dynamics in Palestine and Israel, and the white Jewish experience in the US. There are so many questions about how we engage with power—psychologically, spiritually, culturally, and politically—after generations of our own persecution.

What do we learn, from having experienced so much trauma in these various contexts, about how to heal from and prevent further violence in the world? How do we relate to our history of oppression in the context of our current relationships to power? The answers to these questions help me understand this idea of “chosenness” as a responsibility to learn from our experiences of slavery, exile, and oppression, and model for others—acting as “a light unto the nations”—how to prevent more of these atrocities.

This understanding makes Israel’s politics particularly devastating for me. And it’s one of the many reasons I feel a responsibility to do work in Israel|Palestine, where the politics are so driven by intergenerational trauma and Jewish fear of the “other.” Yes, Israel emerged out of the Holocaust in many ways, but was also, in part, a response to thousands of years of Jewish persecution—among other things. But even Holocaust survivors in Israel weren’t allowed to talk about it. It was like, “No, forget those pathetic times, we’re moving on and we’re super strong now.” So Israel really created no space for healing thousands of years of Jewish pain; if anything, Israel uses Jewish trauma history as an excuse for ongoing oppression. And it’s devastating to see that because we haven’t healed that trauma, we’re just perpetuating it, and taking it out on Palestinians who are not responsible for the long histories of antisemitism and oppression we’ve experienced. I see our hypervigilance, and thousands of years of unhealed trauma, blocking Israelis from understanding the atrocities they are committing, and it is absolutely gut-wrenching. 

That’s one of the reasons MAPS does work in Israel to treat PTSD with MDMA therapy. We work with some Palestinian citizens of Israel. But truthfully, so far, we’ve worked with more Jewish Israelis, and we get criticism about it sometimes—but I’m proud we’re continuing to train more and more Palestinian therapists. And I do believe that, in order to change the horrific system that’s in place, we really need to allow all people to heal from their trauma, including those in power or perpetrating violence. I really think that’s one of the key ways forward.

MM

There’s something else I want to touch on, which is that if Judaism—either the religion itself, or being Jewish—is the source of our trauma, it can also be the source of our healing. There’s this Talmudic quote, “From the forest itself comes the handle of the ax that fells it.”9 So much of our resilience and ability to move through trauma is found by reintegrating that work with Judaism. 

With this in mind, I want to ask: In doing psychedelic work, whether we’re trying to address intergenerational trauma or anxiety or something else, how can we understand the experience Jewishly in a way that helps us? What processes can we apply to that integration of identity, to help us work past internalized antisemitism and the urge to run away from Judaism in some ways? 

And if trauma is fragmentation of self and the opposite is therefore integration, how can psychedelics support that coalescence?

NG

So there’s no one right answer here, but I’ll share some of my journey during the beginning of the pandemic. I started doing some deep dives on my family tree, and I took a great course with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone about Jewish intergenerational resilience and trauma. We went through different processes to trace our family trees and understand how trauma trickles down. If people are interested in learning about what might have been passed down from their ancestors, putting together a family tree, and starting to ask questions of your family members, is more profound than one might expect. 

I think a combination of approaches here is helpful: working on your own ancestry, but also studying the history, understanding what was actually happening in the region where your ancestors came from. If you do that before a psychedelic experience, the medicine can often help put together pieces and fill stuff in. However, there are also people who go into an ayahuasca ceremony without doing that work and still have powerful ancestry visions, or have different things emerge. So there’s definitely not one right way.

And while I do believe that family work is really powerful, of course many people might not have access to the details of their family history, so it’s not always that simple. But I would also highly recommend a process called Family Constellations. It’s a beautiful spiritual therapeutic practice that powerfully illuminates generations of family dynamics. GOOP actually did a great episode on it. 

MM

So I want to end with this question: What does it look like to integrate psychedelics into Jewish practice, or to see Judaism itself as psychedelic? What are we talking about exactly? What does it look like in action? 

NG

I’ll answer with an example. On Shabbat, I put old and new traditions together. I light candles every Friday, but also bring in other elements—like when I smoke my joint—that aren’t written into the tradition, but really help me welcome in the Shekhinah, that beautiful divine feminine Shabbat energy. And I know you and I often talk about how, in general, Shabbat feels like such a beautiful framework or “set and setting” for spiritual experience, whether that’s psychedelic or not. 

It’s similar to what we seek out in other psychedelic experiences: a container where you can just kind of let go into sacred time and space. This is the essence of “set and setting.” But then again, even without the psychedelics, I just really view Shabbat as a portal and framework to relax into, one that invites you to be instead of do.  

Zooming out, psychedelic Jewish practices are going to look really different for everyone, and that’s what I’m so excited about. As all of us are reconnecting and rebuilding different practices that work for us, we can share with each other and cocreate a modern Jewish psychedelia, inspired by and grounded in ancient Jewish practice. My hope is that this will help us reengage with Judaism, and help people realize that this beautiful tradition of ours is both ancient and ever-evolving. 

I also hope that the growing popularity of psychedelic Judaism will inspire an expansion of Jewish trauma healing. Because the other side of trauma is resilience. We can dig into all our rituals and processes that have allowed us to fucking survive this whole time and thrive in so many ways. I really believe that understanding our history of trauma, and working to heal it, can profoundly impact Jewish community, and the communities we live in relationship with, for the better.

You mentioned integration before, and Judaism has so many different practices that serve this kind of coalescence or gathering. And if integration is like bringing the pieces back together, the sparks—

MM

The nitzotzot . . .

NG

Yes, then all of this reminds me of the Kabbalistic concept of the divine sparks scattered throughout creation, and how it’s  our job to bring them back together. Even as individuals, we’re just a representation of the whole. And one of the superpowers of psychedelics is just that—getting a glimpse of the wholeness and divinity that is always there, waiting for us to acknowledge and align with it, even in the brokenness.

Footnotes

  1. There is an interesting study reporting that a majority of people who identified as atheists before their first DMT experiences no longer identified with that label afterwards.  
  2. The letters of God’s name.
  3. A decolonial term used as an alternative to “Middle East,” a phrase that centers Europe.
  4. MAOIs, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors, can help treat depression. Ayahuasca is brewed from an Amazonian vine, caapi, which contains MAOIs, and an Amazonian shrub called chacruna that contains DMT.
  5. “He shall take a panful of burning coals from the altar, and the fill of his hands of finely ground ketoret; and he shall bring them inside the curtain. He shall place the ketoret upon the fire before God; and the cloud of the incense shall envelop the covering of the Ark of Testimony . . .” (Leviticus 16:12–13.)
  6. The Talmud lists various ingredients for the ketoret incense, including saffron, spikenard, and other plants that affect opioid receptors or boost dopamine and serotonin. 
  7. Zohar, Parshat Acharei Mot, 67a, and Parshat Emor, 102a.
  8. Leviticus 23:40.
  9. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 39b.

Natalie Lyla Ginsberg (MSW) is the global impact officer at MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), where she’s worked since 2014. Natalie founded MAPS’ Policy & Advocacy Department, and served as the policy director for five years. She also initiated and helped develop MAPS’ Health Equity Program. She is a cofounder of the Jewish Psychedelic Summit, and has co-authored a study interviewing Palestinians and Israelis drinking ayahuasca together. Currently, she’s focused on responsibly integrating psychedelics into mainstream culture. She is particularly inspired by psychedelics’ potential role in healing intergenerational trauma and conflict, and for inspiring holistic community-driven solutions. She received her BA in history from Yale College, and her master’s of social work (MSW) from Columbia University. Natalie was born and raised in New York City, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Madison Margolin is a journalist covering psychedelics, cannabis, spirituality, and Jewish life. She is the cofounder of DoubleBlind Magazine and has written for publications like Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Vice, among others. Also a cofounder of the Jewish Psychedelic Summit and host of the Set & Setting podcast on the Be Here Now Network, Madison has traveled from cannabis farms in Northern California to underground ceremonies in Brooklyn to the shores of the Ganges River and all over  Israel|Palestine, reporting on the role of entheogens in religion, culture, and healing. Find out more about her work here, or follow her on social media.