Psychedelic Drugs: Back in Fashion for Two Young Israelis

Dafna Arad
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Dafna Arad

The magazine LaPsychonaut ("For the Psychonaut") bills itself as "the first Israeli psychedelic periodical." A brief look at its video clip which was aimed at raising the initial capital for the magazine, makes it clear that it's going to be groovy, baby, wow. Its two founding editors depict their new venture, a journal which will be coming out next month for the first time as carrying on in the footsteps of Cahiers du Cinema and Rolling Stone magazine.

The clip, which was produced during a single day, has footage of the two men in the roles of junkies hallucinating in an abandoned building as an authoritative voice-over intones: "The psychedelic community in Israel has no home. You never hear a positive story on the news about drugs. We have been squeezed into a corner. But the light at the end of the kaleidoscope is already in sight."

In the following scene, set in the decorative pool at the foot of the monument to the founders of Tel Aviv on Rothschild Boulevard, they are seen sailing in an inflatable boat, dressed as pirates and sporting eye patches. Later on, in the best tradition of psychedelic representations, the two cover themselves in acrylic paints and roll around on giant canvases, attired only in underwear, surgical masks and swimming goggles.

One of the editors, Ido Hartogsohn, 34, lives in Haifa, and is writing his doctorate at Bar-Ilan University on psychedelic research in the United States in the 1960s. His book "Technomysticism" was published in Hebrew in 2009 by Madaf Publishing, and his blog of the same name (at hartogsohn.com, with an English-language counterpart at digitalmindsblog.blogspot.co.il ). His credo: "The psychedelic experience is a return of some kind to looking at the world with wonder, to a sense of the magic there is in existence, whose loss is in my eyes the gravest crisis of modern culture. It is an invitation to deviate from the modern mindset, which is devoid of value and wonder, and return to a world in which human existence maintains an inseparable connection with the great mystery."

Hartogsohn's co-editor, Boaz Yaniv, 32, whose book "Hafarat Seder" ("Disturbing the Order") is set to appear soon from Pardes Publishing, is a social-political activist and "consciousness explorer" from Tel Aviv, who stops our interview whenever he thinks we've gone off-track. "We are not trying to turn psychedelics into something sexy and cool that can solve problems. In the '60s they tried to make it cool, colorful and full of sex and youth, and the whole Timothy Leary dream. We were in that dream. It's a nightmare. They didn't change things in Vietnam, and in the end they outlawed psychedelia and pushed the war on drugs. We want to lower the level of anxiety and talk about the experience of consciousness."

"We do not use the word 'drugs' in the magazine," Hartogsohn clarifies. And Yaniv elucidates: "Drugs are a big umbrella, we don't deal with all substances. Only with psychedelics - a very specific genre of consciousness-altering agents."

Hartogsohn: "There is a very distorted representation in the very fact that these drugs are called hallucinogens - even though you don't have hallucinations with them. A hallucination is when you see something that does not exist. And there is no such thing with psychedelics. Some people suggested they be called illusion drugs, because under their influence one can have a certain view of reality - but not a completely different reality, like what happens with deliriants such as datura, for example. In general there's been a dissemination of distortions. Of disinformation. Both through the government and popular culture."

Yaniv: "The first experiments in psychedelics, in the '60s in the West, were undertaken by educated people over 40 from many fields - politicians, artists, lawyers - who weren't afraid to try something they were told would deepen their consciousness. If you ask me what I would like, and this of course is something we won't be able to achieve after one or two issues, it is that educated women and men in the West won't be scared when they hear about something that can alter their consciousness in a positive environment. That they'll say: 'Wow, I want to explore that.'"

Hartogsohn: At the end of the '60s [in the U.S.], they suspended institutional research into psychedelic substances. We have remained fairly ignorant about everything to do with this topic, despite thousands of years of experience with certain potions and mushrooms. Now there is a return to popularity in research, among a select group of people who have an interest in a certain type of experience and of self-exploration.

"I recently attended the 'Psychedimia' conference [last September] at the University of Pennsylvania, which was the first of its kind to be held at an American university. There was an impressive presence there of a young generation of scholars and doctoral students. It is still the beginning, but there is definitely an upward trend, which is amazing."

May I ask how the evenings were, at that conference?

"Colorful," says Hartogsohn, while Yaniv responds: "Let's just say it was everything you might expect when you put several consciousness explorers in one room."

What's the situation among the public? Are Israeli kids still tripping at parties?

Says Yaniv: "I don't know. It isn't relevant to the magazine. The distribution of psychedelic drugs is high and consistent, but this magazine does not deal with that; we are trying to create a stage for a mature and intelligent discourse about consciousness-altering agents. Naturally the environment in which you do it and the consciousness with which you come to the experience will dictate the nature of the experience."

What is relevant? What kind of material does appear in the magazine?

Hartogsohn responds: "We deal with a wide spectrum of subjects. There isn't a single field of knowledge, whether in the university or outside it, for which the psychedelic experience doesn't have implications: the connection with the body and the mind, with natural surroundings and our fellow man; cultural aspects from the field of literature, music, art, architecture or poetry. Psychedelic substances have helped scientists achieve theoretical and practical breakthroughs in biology, chemistry, physics and computers. That ties in with every single aspect of our existence in the world. Truly.

"Tomer Persico [a lecturer in Jewish studies] writes for us about the ethics of consciousness-altering agents. And we are still in talks with [chef] Eyal Shani, who has agreed in principle to send us a recipe for 'the day after a psychedelic experience.'"

Adds Yaniv: "Eyal Shani is a visionary artist from our standpoint."

No-hitter on LSD

According to Ido Hartogsohn, "to this day, the main writings of the fathers of this field have not been published in Hebrew. This issue will bring a translated chapter from James Fadiman's book: 'The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide.' Barak Sarilan, a creator of electronic music, writes a column about unknown psychedelic artists. I wrote about Dock Ellis, a baseball player who threw a no-hitter, which is a pretty rare accomplishment in baseball, under the influence of LSD. I don't know enough about baseball, but basically in the course of the game [in 1970], he pitched balls in every direction and no one was able to hit them.

"It all started when he took LSD and then figured out he had to play ... He says he had moments in which the ball looked small and in another moment the ball looked huge; it seemed to him that the umpire was Richard Nixon, and in the end he achieved an accomplishment that occurs on average only once or twice in a major-league season.

"The magazine will also include a great comic strip by Michal Vexler; each strip will be about a different famous trip in the history of psychedelics. In the current issue, the strip will deal with Allen Ginsberg's first mushroom trip with Timothy Leary, in the course of which Ginsberg attempted to get President Kennedy and [Premier] Khrushchev on the line to advance world peace, while walking around Leary's house naked and yelling that he was the Messiah."

Ido, do you remember your first trip?

"After the first time in 2001, in Amsterdam, I couldn't believe that something like this existed, and that the world continued to go about its business with people not talking about this thing - because it was so above and beyond, more exciting than anything else I had encountered in my entire life. How could something like this exist and be completely ignored? In short, I ate mushrooms in Amsterdam without knowing too much about it, and within a short time I felt transported in time to 1938, where the Nazis chased after me, and a short while later I was sent back to 2001, but to an alternate universe, in which the Nazis ruled Europe and I was the last Jew. Years later I learned that my father's uncle was captured in a Nazi Aktion on those very same streets where I had had this experience."

Yaniv suggests that Hartogsohn's story is "a wonderful example of why psychedelics magazines are needed, because it wasn't a positive experience. It is bad publicity for substances."

Says Hartogsohn, however: "Actually, I remember it positively. I drew lessons from it."

How was your first time, Boaz?

"It was in 1999. The second it opened into my consciousness, one of my first thoughts was, 'Wow - I'm home.' I felt completely connected to the whole world and to nature, on an absolute level. [I had] insights into my place within the fabric of the food chain. My vegetarianism came from this, among other things. The first thing that was ignited in me was a tremendous burst of creativity. At the time, I had an artist girlfriend, and her drawings became complete and perfect worlds of animation in which stories about life played out before my eyes.

"Something that happened to me right after the first time, and the same also goes for everyone I know, is that I realized that the reality we perceive as stable is really a product of consciousness. And the moment that consciousness is altered by ingesting a substance into the body - all of reality takes a very, very different angle. Things such as sense of time and space change to the point of disappearing. It also makes you examine all of life anew - what part of reality do I accept and what do I not? For me it was a renewed encounter with myself."

You financed the project through the Israeli social funding platform HeadStart; your magazine will be coming out in February thanks to 109 funders, who together chipped in NIS 7,613. You had actually requested only NIS 5,000. Who are your supporters?

Hartogsohn: "Just as we did this gladly, in our free time without any economic objective, because it's something we believe in - so did the psychedelic community. There are a lot of people who want to give something back. These substances, they are like teachers. I have a sense of obligation to them. We tried to give our readers something, at a price that would be reasonable to pay; we let them order a copy in advance for NIS 30, to be sent to their home when the magazine comes out."

And in return for a donation of NIS 1,000, you invited one of them to become the "patron/ness of the Israeli psychedelic community," and to have his/her photograph proudly displayed, after undergoing psychedelic image-processing, on the back cover of the first issue. Did anyone take up the offer?

Yaniv: "Someone contributed. In the end he didn't want to have his picture on the back cover."

Who are the members of the Israeli psychedelic community anyway?

Hartogsohn: "The community has a lot of members, but they are unwilling to be exposed. There was an attempt once to publish a book in the U.S., in which important and famous people would testify to the way psychedelics had impacted their lives. Aside from the person who discovered the structure of DNA, and Steve Jobs, they sent invitations to nearly everyone who made music in the '60s, to Nobel laureates and so forth. But people are afraid to be exposed, because we are still in an inquisitorial regime. The magazine is intended in a certain sense to fill the gap ... The very fact that we are coming out and speaking about it openly and seriously, maybe this will help people to treat it differently."

Yaniv: "Academia treats psychedelic studies the way it does gender studies, identity studies. The very interview with us is like coming out of the closet. There are a great many people living in this closet. Just as everyone who is connected with the queer world lived in the closet before it was okay to say that those were your inclinations. But there is no justification to concealment. This is intimate activity between a person and himself that does no harm to his surroundings, and even if we don't agree that it is healthy, at least it is harmless.

"I mean, what is the reason we are publishing the magazine in a print version? More people are willing to reveal their full name in print, as opposed to the Internet, where any Google search can uncover them. Part of the idea is to create intimacy within this community, so that people can come out of the closet."

Hartogsohn: "We're a bit like modern-day conversos - living clandestinely, and being forced to pretend that we're sahim" - the Hebrew slang for people who swear off drugs, used today more broadly to mean "uncool."

Feel the words

Is psychedelic writing different?

Hartogsohn: "Under the influence of psychedelics, a completely new attitude to language comes into being. You see the words, feel them tangibly. I write a great deal after being inspired by this. And a substantial part of my work, which is what I see as the thing that defines me and my life, has been created under the influence. My book as well."

Have you no concerns about associating yourselves with psychoactive substances? Aren't you afraid it will affect your professional academic future?

Yaniv: "I can stand behind this, I am sufficiently secure about who I am and in what I bring with me. If you want to be a civil servant, it can hurt you, but I only want to work with people, so I don't think it is something that would get in the way. And in academia it gets in the way even less."

Hartogsohn: "I may be a fool, but I am not willing to take in mind such considerations. I am incapable of keeping silent about the most meaningful thing in the world in my eyes, the most important thing that I can say."

Yaniv: "It's like with marijuana - medical cannabis. Suddenly people can tell their mother who is sick with a disease, and that is an unpleasant situation, that they know of something that can help her. It's absurd that people have to reach such a situation, where those dearest to them are sick, to reveal something intimate that exists in their lives and can do a lot of good.

"I never hid this from my parents. I believe that the more you expose people to reliable information about it, the smaller their reluctances. To my parents' chagrin perhaps, I bombarded them with information, sometimes superfluous, about consciousness-altering substances. All in all, I think it is something they accept, but it's not their favorite topic. My father always tells me: Concentrate more on writing poetry."

Hartogsohn: "The first time I told my parents about my experiences in this area, they were very surprised, so I asked them: 'What, you didn't know about it? I write about it all the time, after all.' So they said: 'Yes, but we thought it was all theoretical.' Over the years my parents saw that it has only a good influence on my relationship with them and on who I am. It is very important to me to be a good son and show that this only brings me closer to them. If it has changed anything in my relations with them, it is that I never used to tell my mother so often that I love her."

Yaniv: "The substances we are talking about are not physically addictive and this has been scientifically proven. If there's the Anti-Drug Authority, then we are the anti-Anti-Drug Authority."

Hartogsohn: "The war on drugs made people scared to look at their own consciousness. People are simply fearful that if they do so, they will go mad immediately. They are afraid of this not because they had a psychotic episode in the past or something like that, but rather because they assume that if they were to just look at their consciousness they would not be able to stand it. And that is sad."

What lies concealed in my consciousness that is so worth my while exploring?

Hartogsohn: "Wow, so much. I can talk about what appears in the psychedelic experience: first of all, a connection to ourselves, to the people around us, to nature, to the cosmos ... a sense of home that we do not get in our lives. The experience can stir a revolution in people's lives."

Yaniv: "You are given the ability to undergo a transformation. The psychedelic experience touches places that are difficult for us with ourselves, both physically and mentally. It is the ability to turn our attention to our consciousness, which is the most important thing in the world. Everything you know is what you experience, grasp and feel.

"I can tell you that there is a God or that there is not a God - but that's an uninteresting question. Whether you can experience God - now, that is more interesting. Psychedelia has a very clear-cut political message of unity. The world needs people to understand how everything is connected and we all depend on each other."

Ido Hartogsohn, left, and Boaz Yaniv, who says, 'We are trying to create a state for a mature, intelligent discourse about consciousness-altering agents.'

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