This qualitative case study (n=3) investigates the sociopharmacology of ayahuasca within the context of ritual ceremonies between Palestinians and Israelis and found that it occasioned revelatory events that confronted the participants with the oppressive nature of their surrounding political structure. These revelatory experiences led the participant to develop a universalist counterhegemonic worldview, which motivated them to restructure the ritual space of ayahuasca use to be more inclusive of Palestinians and their culture.
“The ritualistic use of ayahuasca can induce a feeling of unity and harmony among group members. However, such depoliticized feelings can come in the service of a destructive political status quo in which Palestinians are marginalized. Through 31 in-depth interviews of Israelis and Palestinians who drink ayahuasca together, and through participatory observations, such rituals were examined. In this setting marginalization was structurally rooted by the group’s inability to recognize Palestinian national identity or admit the ongoing Israeli injustice toward Palestinians. Although the groups avoided politics, they still find their way into these rituals. This happened through occasional ayahuasca-induced revelatory events, in which individuals were confronted with a pressing truth related to the oppressive relations between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Three case studies of such revelatory events are described in this paper. Affected by emotions of pain, anger, and guilt, these participants developed resistance toward the hegemonic Israeli ritual structure. This was followed by an urge to deliver an emancipatory message to the rest of the group, usually through a song. Moreover, affected subjects developed a long-lasting fidelity to the truth attained at these events. In time, this fidelity led to the expansion of ayahuasca practices to other Palestinians and the politicization of the practice. The article draws on Badiou’s theory in Being and Event (1988) to analyze the relations between the Israeli ritual structure, the Palestinian revelatory event, and the emancipatory fidelity that followed. Badiou’s theory elucidates the egalitarian revolutionary potential, which is part of the sociopsychopharmacology of psychedelics.”
Authors: Leor Roseman & Nadeem Karkabi
This study is a follow-up to Roseman and colleagues (2021).
Ruqaiya had a painful historical revelation during an ayahuasca ritual on Yom Kippur. She recognized the longstanding injustice of the Israeli occupation of her people.
Ruqaiya, a Palestinian facilitator of ayahuasca rituals, sang al-Fatiha at a ritual in Israel and attempted to deliver an emancipatory message to the Jewish Israeli participants. They rejected her message, but the political intensity of the moment was unavoidable.
Ruqaiya’s vision was unusual in the context of organized Israeli ayahuasca rituals in which Palestinians participated, because the gatherings were kept strictly “apolitical”. However, politics were unavoidable, even in such “protected” settings.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic Amazonian brew containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a classic tryptamine psychedelic, and a mix of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that prevent the breakdown of DMT when consumed orally. The experience of ayahuasca can vary depending on the context and the intentions behind the practice.
The mystical union is an experience in which one feels interconnectedness with others and the universe. It represents peace, harmony, oneness, and acceptance, but can also conceal the violence that one group inflicts on another.
Psychedelic experiences often promote unity and harmony, but they can also promote resistance to hegemony and disruption of the status quo. This is why Ruqaiya attempted to disrupt the oneness of the ritual by exposing the truth about Palestinian suffering.
In this sense, the revelatory experience and the mystical union are in tension, as they serve opposing political processes. The prophetic revelation comes with a concrete ethical-political message.
We analyze how participants act upon revelatory experiences during and after ayahuasca rituals, drawing on Alan Badiou’s theory of events. Such experiences are revolutionary, as they aim to force radical change.
The New Age emphasis on mystical union, harmony, and personal transformation in ayahuasca rituals secures Israeli hegemony over Palestinians by suppressing conflict. However, the process of fidelity can occasionally lead to changes to the status quo of the rituals.
We begin with an elaboration on Badiou’s “event”, discuss the distinction between psychedelic experiences of mystical union and revelation, and then present three cases in which participants had agonizing political visions related to the excluded Palestinian existence.
BADIOU’S EVENT: REVELATION, FIDELITY, AND UNIVERSALITY
Badiou uses set theory to describe the process of revolutionary events, which must unfold through an individual or a collective.
Badiou believes that reality is infinite, multiple, and inconsistent, and that any “situation” is made of any number of elements, but that structure is imposed on the situation.
The status quo, which consists of ideology, language, discourse, and social norms, prevents the revelation of the excluded elements, but truth from the void can occasionally break through. Such truth is inherently related to the void, and occurs at “event sites” at the edge of the structure.
In the context of psychedelics, Saldanha (2007b) argues that Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD in 1943 can be considered a Badiouan event, because it resulted in truth procedures that transformed Western society. However, we use Badiou’s theory differently, and suggest that psychedelics can increase the possibility of events occurring.
Truth procedures materialize through the subject, who attempts to change the situation and its structure. The subject is characterized by a sense of mission, confidence, and loyalty to the universal truth of the event, which leads to resistance to hegemonic structures.
Badiou argues that truth procedures reveal something universal, while postmodern and post-structuralist contemporaries emphasize plurality and multiplicity. However, Saldanha’s description of the exclusively white trance music scene in Goa, India, shows that unity is achieved by preserving racial and cultural boundaries.
To aspire to broader universalism, the unity of the structure must be challenged, and the truth procedure is either concluded, or reversed, depending on the success of the structure.
AYAHUASCA AND REVELATORY EVENTS
No one can claim with certainty when and where ayahuasca practices originated, but they spread across the Amazon Basin during the last 300 years, influenced by Christian missions, the rubber boom, shamanic tourism, and neoshamanic practices.
Ayahuasca has been used by Siona communities for ethnic revitalization and re-indigenization of mestizo people, as well as building alliances with academics, political activists, and artists. In Western countercultures, psychedelics have also been historically related to antihegemonic revolutionary tendencies.
In the context of psychedelics, two notable revelatory events had a wide impact: the ayahuasca-induced revelation of the Virgin Mary to Raimundo Irineu Serra and the messianic revelation of world peace by Alan Ginsberg, guided by Timothy Leary.
There are important ethical considerations related to psychedelic-induced revelations, as their content may be imposed on participants by facilitators. Nevertheless, not every psychedelic insight is an event in the Badiouan sense, as some revelations expose something that is ignored by the facilitators or the culture in which the experience takes place.
PALESTINIAN IDENTITY IN THE ISRAELI AYAHUASCA RITUAL STRUCTURE
Palestinians joined ayahuasca rituals in Israel 10 years ago, but were a small minority and less experienced. They had to rely on Jewish Israeli group organizers, facilitators, musicians, helpers, and participants, as well as on land confiscated from Palestinians by the Israeli state.
Palestinians were outsiders at these gatherings, as they were alienated from Jewish religious and Israeli national elements, and from songs associated with national memorial days.
The Israeli New Age culture holds an allegedly apolitical ideology, and participants in the observed rituals welcomed Palestinians, based on humanistic ideology, while downplaying sociopolitical hierarchies, inequalities, and power relations.
The Palestinian minority in Israel has been denied national identity by the majority of Jewish Israelis and racialized and fragmented into religious subminorities. Some Palestinian citizens have adopted an integrative politics of civil equality in the hope of individual acceptance into Israeli society.
Israeli ayahuasca rituals appeal to middle-class Palestinian citizens of Israel because they promise a collective experience of “oneness” and “identity dissolution”, but this experience does not guarantee equality or recognition, mainly because the looming political tension is kept strictly silent.
New Age culture in Israel includes diversity as long as it is apolitical and non-conflictual, but blindness toward ethno-national identity reinforces identification with a self-evident hegemonic perception. Palestinian-Israeli ayahuasca rituals avoided dealing with the violent atrocities that Israelis have inflicted upon Palestinians. This led to the preservation of ethnonational power relations in the observed groups, just as they are in the wider social and political structure in Palestine/Israel.
Palestinian identity is kept “on the edge of the void” to preserve harmony. Arab music and Muslim prayers can be included in the ritual structure, but Palestinian identity as the locus of the ongoing Israeli history of injustice is excluded.
Three cases are presented in which Palestinians were affected by revelatory events related to the collective trauma of the Palestinian people. These subjects attempted to intervene in the rituals’ structure by delivering an emancipatory message in the form of a song.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Three case studies are presented that examine relations between Palestinians and Israelis in the field of ayahuasca rituals. The data was gathered through 31 in-depth interviews with Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, all between 28 and 59 years old, who participated to various extents in these mixed rituals.
In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English7 with three people from different ethnic groups. The microphenomenological interview technique was used to focus on small details of the revelatory events.
The analysis was based on the grounded theory approach, and several stages were undertaken. Thematic categories were identified through a process of reading and re-reading the interviews, and they were scrutinized again for centrality, connections between categories, and relevance to the study.
In a previous paper, fifteen conflict-related revelations were identified, of which five were defined as political revelatory events based on the theoretical framework of the current paper. Three revelatory events are presented here.
REGAINING A SELF-DENIED SELF
Khalil, an “Israeli Arab” who grew up in the Galilee and went to a Jewish Israeli school, reached ayahuasca rituals when he was in his 50s to heal a personal trauma inflicted upon him by a childhood friend.
Khalil was invited to a ritual in a Jewish Israeli town, where the majority of participants were Jewish and dressed in white. This contrast intensified the distinction between the Palestinian minority and Jewish majority of participants, and summoned Khalil’s confrontation with his self-denied Arabness.
While the group was singing the traditional Shabbat song “Shalom Aleichem”, Khalil decided to go out to the porch and sat under a vine tree that reminded him of his grandfather’s house. A vision of an old Palestinian couple in traditional Arab clothing helped him overcome his fear.
Khalil deeply identified with the old couple’s pain, and felt compelled to disrupt the ritual by singing an Arabic song. The shaman invited him to sit next to him and played a song by Fayrouz, and everybody got up to dance and hug.
Khalil’s fidelity to his vision was expressed through an angry musical interruption, but the shaman successfully diverted attention from the national political grounds expressed in Khalil’s anger to culturally safe grounds. Khalil considered his bringing himself to sing in Arabic at the Israeli ritual an outstanding achievement.
Khalil remained loyal to the event after the ritual was over, organizing rituals for Palestinians only, and introducing Arab musical instruments. These rituals have become an empowering and intimate circle, in which Palestinians can reclaim the Arabic language and culture as part of their Palestinian heritage.
DIVERSIFICATION AND POLITICIZATION
Ruqaiya, a therapist, felt an outsider in her Palestinian culture, married young, fell in love outside the marriage, and experienced traumatic and violent events. Ayahuasca, her “teacher,” showed her that her trauma was “a gift” and she could adapt to any place and any situation.
Four years into her participation in Israeli ayahuasca rituals, Ruqaiya had her major life-changing revelation. She saw her elder daughter Amal with darkness closing in on her, and had to reach out and pull her out of the darkness and away from her confusion.
Ruqaiya had a vision in which she saw Palestinian and Israeli mothers sacrifice their own children to war, while Mother Earth absorbed the bloodshed.
Ruqaiya’s singing and vision were simultaneous, and she released a frequency of anger that she felt was telling the other participants to listen and awaken. She chose a universalistic interpretation of al-Fatiha, which means “not getting lost”.
Ruqaiya’s singing was a pivotal moment in the ritual for other group members, but only few understood the message. She delivered anger in her song, which we believe was related to a political truth that was concealed by the structure of the ritual.
Palestinians channel political anger during rituals, but New Age spirituality supports the Israeli structure of political denial, by suggesting that political revelations are personal and meant to reveal restrictive identities and traumas to oneself.
Ruqaiya’s revelation during the ayahuasca ritual developed into a sense of mission and meaning in her life. She encouraged other Palestinian women to join her rituals and “find their voice”, and sought to expand and diversify the ayahuasca rituals to make them more egalitarian and inclusive for Palestinians.
Ruqaiya’s politicization happened gradually, as she was divided between fidelity to the event and belonging to the structure. She met like-minded people who could understand her mission, and she formed a small group that has been seeking further connections to form a larger social movement.
Ruqaiya has attempted to deliver explicit political messages during rituals, including one in which a Jewish Israeli woman declared she would not move to Portugal. Ruqaiya spoke in archaic Hebrew, accusing the “children of Israel” of losing their way, and stated that “those who were liberated by Moses in the past, have now become Pharaoh [to the Palestinians]”. She has been replicating her event in other contexts.
Ruqaiya’s politicized prophetic deliverance in rituals suggests that she is seeking the reformation of New Age culture so as to make it more politically engaged.
THE DIVIDED SUBJECT
Amos, a middle-class Jewish Israeli, experienced revelatory events at the event site that led to his political awakening. After his army service, he went on a long journey to India and elsewhere to overcome the harsh memories of military service.
At his first encounters with Palestinians at Israeli rituals, he was judgmental toward their appearance. They were too neatly dressed and showed off their high socioeconomic status.
Ayahuasca showed me the Palestinian group as a separate unit within us, and I felt connected to their pain. I began to break, and could not stand to hear them cry.
Amos saw himself breaking into a house, interrogating a Palestinian family, and then leading a man into a military jeep. He felt their pain, panic, and heartbreak, and described himself as looking like “Robocop” or “like someone from a film about Nazis”.
After recognizing the pain that Palestinians go through, Amos became devastated during the ritual, and began singing with much confidence. He requested permission from the facilitators to sing relatively early in the ritual, and felt like a “preacher” delivering a crucial message of truth to the group.
Amos sang a song in Hebrew that expressed his relationship with Palestinians and their mutual connection to the land. Two Palestinian participants laid down next to him and this was the beginning of his journey of healing his relations with them.
Amos, who went to lie down next to Rashid while he was singing, also found the courage to sing later in the same ritual, and eventually befriended the Palestinian group. He also began to learn Arabic and developed a great interest in Palestinian culture.
The connection to the land is a theme that appears in all three events and fidelities described in this article. This connection requires resistance to the Israeli settler-colonial project.
Amos was initially in full fidelity to the event, but later became divided between his fidelity to the event and his belonging to the structure. In his second interview, he gave the lyrics another interpretation associated with self-acceptance. This new interpretation of Amos’s song is a diversion from the truth attained during the event, and accepts good and evil as “sacred”.
Amos overcame his stigmatization and fears of Palestinians, and learned from “the medicine” that friendship with Palestinians is valuable, but he did not actively take responsibility for the structure of injustice against Palestinians that he is part of.
Amos’s fidelity to his event was reversed because the Israeli structure was stronger than the event for him, and his fidelity as a Jewish Israeli was ignited by guilt.
In this article we argue that Badiou’s theory is relevant to understanding the sociopsychopharmacology of psychedelics and their political implications.
The attained truths about Palestine/Israel have a universal realization, as they aim toward inclusion and recognition of elements that fall outside the hegemonic structure. The receiving subject develops a sense of mission to oppose and possibly change the ritual’s structure and the larger sociopolitical structure.
The contrast between the harmonious unity of the Israeli structure and the injustice that Israelis have caused Palestinians amplifies the event site and makes the rupture possible. This suggests that unity and revelatory events are not necessarily independent phenomena.
The revelatory rupture with the exclusive structure leads to revolutionary motions that diversify the psychedelic practice. Leary’s charismatic fidelity was not just to the 1943 LSD-event, but also to Ginsberg’s event and intervention liberating psychedelic practices from institutional exclusivism and Huxley’s elitism.
Truth events are crucial for the emergence of counterhegemonic egalitarian sentiments in psychedelic practices, but the structure constantly tries to reverse the fidelity to the event’s truth and place it back into its original framework. The affected subject is then torn between fidelity to the event and belonging to the structure.
The dynamics between structure and event can subvert the enthusiasm of the rupture in service of the structure itself. Pseudofidelity can be easily manipulated by conspiracy theories and new age spirituality.
Though we have discussed only political events in this article, Badiou’s event also relates to love, science, and art. Attending to these other analytical possibilities may offer new insights into psychedelic experiences.
The studies involving human participants were approved by the Joint Research Compliance Office at Imperial College London and the Imperial College Research Ethics Committee.
The authors thank Antwan Saca, Natalie Ginsberg, Robin Carhart-Harris, Rick Doblin, Chris Timmermann, Deborah Schwartz, and Moshe Tov Kreps for their support.
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Authors associated with this publication with profiles on BlossomLeor Roseman
Leor Roseman is a researcher at the Centre for Psychedelic Research, Imperial College London. His work focussed on psilocybin for depression, but is now related to peace-building through psychedelics.
Institutes associated with this publicationImperial College London
The Centre for Psychedelic Research studies the action (in the brain) and clinical use of psychedelics, with a focus on depression.