‘Magic Mushroom Rabbi’ faces jail as he fights for religious freedom

Contacts with the divine are often ineffable, but the “Magic Mushroom Rabbi” Ben Gorelick lends a magnificent language to his encounters. “It was everything I ever wanted religion to be,” Gorelick says of his second experience with psilocybin. Young Rabbi Ben had the kind of earth-shattering revelation we all crave. “Ah, he remembers,this that is what spirituality means. I feel it in my bodyI feel it in my heart.”

Gorelick is incredibly unfazed for someone facing a felony drug charge. He is the founder of sacred tribea underground psychedelic synagogue which was brought to light by a police raid in January this year. Cut to six months later and he’s still trying to get a religious exemption on charges of possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance.

Gorelick’s story has been retold and retold with exaggerations and deceptions. The story focuses on Rabbi Ben’s mohawk rather than his mysticism, or his small stake in a society promoting rave music rather than his unwavering commitment to thousands of years of tradition. Though he’s tried to paint him as a novelty, Gorelick says he’s not a Mohawk raver impersonating a rabbi to get around the laws and overthrow Denver — he’s a classically trained religious leader exercising a pillar. 2300 years of Cabal.

A brief history of entheogenic use in Judaism

Where rabbinic tradition is the heady, intellectual backbone of Judaism, Kabbalah is its tender heart. And some say that mushrooms have been used for millennia to facilitate access to Kabbalah.

But Kabbalah does not originate or own the role of psychedelics in Judaism. Like many of the oldest religions in the world, Judaism was informed by the ceremonial use of entheogens. Archaeological evidence reports cannabis residues at holy sites in the ancient city of Tel Arad in Israel. Additionally, the exchange lists acacia wood (containing DMT) and a cocktail other entheogens used in Israelite incense rituals –– not to mention the kaneh-bosm (cannabis) in the oil of the holy anointing of Christ.

Cabal translates to “that which is received”. And to receive, you have to be receptive. We need to open up to a higher reality where our perception is completely changed and where the divine in all of creation –– even the ugliness – is recognized. “The idea that we should only feel ten percent of human emotions to be our higher selves is absurd,” says Rabbi Ben. “If you’re sad, go guilt-free, shamelessly sad.”

According to some, the entire philosophy of religion is about exploring mystical and altered states in search of meaning. And that experience of deserved exploration of all emotions is exactly what Gorelick facilitates. Each month, Gorelick hosts a weekend retreat that creates space for people to explore their “relationship to self, community, and God” using psilocybin mushrooms the team grows in Denver. The organizational and spiritual weight behind the ceremonies is exceptional.

Each aspect is calculated and explored through the prism of the individual goals of each member of the congregation. Gorelick sits down one-on-one with the members to gauge their intentions for the night and comes up with strains in line with those intentions. Although this is not a guarantee, it is meant to help nudge them in the desired directions. However, regardless of the unique course they wish to chart, the core remains the same. “We’re not here to send people to the moon,” Rabbi Ben said. “We’re here to help people connect.”

Why this lawsuit is important

How much of the burden does the sacred tribe have to prove that it is a religious organization? What is the State of Denver’s responsibility to refute this? Why does this happen when the Religious Freedom Reform Act decades old?

The Next Colorado November Ballot Initiative has protections for the criminal and medical-therapeutic aspects of psilocybin use. However, Colorado still does not have a process to assess the religiosity of this lawsuit. They might be concerned about the slippery slope argument. “[They] I don’t want a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to open and allow people to use heroin,” Rabbi Ben half-jokes. “But these laws have been on the books and have not been abused. Religious organizations as a whole have their problems, but psychedelic substance abuse is not one of them.

The charges against Gorelick also threaten the public interest by pushing psychedelics underground before residents can vote for themselves on how we might regulate these substances. This is an extremely consequential conversation, and the outcome of The Sacred Tribe will have a significant impact on the state of religious practices and other communities moving through psychedelic space (microdose moms, athletes). This lawsuit could sway the storyline not just in Colorado but nationally — and the Denver District Attorney is very aware of the stakes.

If you would like to help with the Sacred Tribe’s right to religious freedom, you can find more information at Rabbi Ben’s GoFundMe Where Change.org Petition.

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