A Psychedelic pastor? That’s probably not something most people expect to read. But why not? Some evidence suggests that the link between religious practices and psychedelic use is as old as organized religion, with some evidence tracing psychedelic use back at least 6,500 years. We can also trace modern psychedelic practices found in countries like Mexico, the Southwestern United States, and South America back thousands of years.

Maria Sabina

Often, these practices hold a deep spiritual significance. Individuals like the “Mother of Modern Psychedelics,” Maria Sabina, were respected spiritual leaders for their communities. When we look at Western Judeo-Christian traditions, we also find clergy, religious leaders, and spiritualist researchers interested in the link between God and psychedelics. Individuals like Walter Pahnke, a minister and psychiatrist working for Boston University in the 1950s and 60s, would conduct research, such as the Good Friday Experiment, in an attempt to ascertain the connection between psychedelics and the divine. Eventually, this led to an explosion of religious and spiritualist interest in psychedelics.(1, 2, 3)

“We’re one with God’s creation… That was a profound, life-changing experience for me that helped me through my ministry.”

A Psychedelic Pastor’s Search For God and Meaning

A Psychedelic Pastor

Fast forward to the contemporary era, where the discourse around psychedelics is slowly shifting. We find individuals like Pastor Steve Parker, a member of the Mainline Protestant clergy, advocating for a balanced understanding of psychedelics, especially within religious communities. The Mainline Protestant clergy includes religious leaders with a more forward-thinking and progressive view of religion, often serving multicultural and LGBTQ+ congregations. Parker, whose journey with psychedelics began due to his engagement with PTSD-affected children and adolescents, has found psychedelics to be a potential conduit for spiritual growth.

According to Parker, his experiences with psychedelics were not just transformational, he feels they helped him become a better pastor and leader for his Church.

“I remember having a personal experience where I was deeply connected with the idea that everything is connected,” Parker says. “We are one world. We’re one people. We’re one with the planet. We’re one with God’s creation… That was a profound, life-changing experience for me that helped me through my ministry. So you hear from people in all walks of life talking about how psychedelics have assisted with their spiritual growth, and I think that it’s something that we need to explore more fully.”

Parker believes that there is a real place for psychedelic use within the church as a tool to help people reconnect with their idea of god. He says, “When you have someone like me, a Methodist Pastor saying, ‘Psychedelics strengthened my relationship with God,’ you get a lot of weird looks from other clergy. This shouldn’t be the case if you look at the research. Powerful psychedelic experience brings people closer to God, or their idea of God.”

Roland Griffiths

Parker is referencing a 2019 study by the late Roland Griffiths published in PlosOne. The study found compelling data regarding how psychedelic-induced spiritual experiences can have a profound and lasting impact on individuals’ perceptions of the divine. About 75% of respondents rated their encounter as one of the most spiritually significant experiences of their lives, attributing to it positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. The experiences also led to a shift in religious identification among more than two-thirds of self-identified atheists, showcasing a potent transformational quality.(4)

Psychedelic-induced Spiritual Experience

The vividness of these encounters, as reported by participants, further underscores the depth and impact. Many participants recounted their journey as being characterized by a sense of consciousness, benevolence, intelligence, sacredness, and eternal existence. These attributes reflect traditional religious or spiritual descriptions of divine or higher power encounters. The shared nature of such experiences suggests a common human capacity to engage with transcendental realms, whether facilitated by psychedelics or achieved through other means.(4)

The Future of Psychedelics in Spirituality

“I am amazed by the emerging science demonstrating the benefits of supervised psychedelic use,” Parker shared at Psychedelic Science 2023, while sharing his intent to become a psychedelic therapist post-retirement. He highlighted his transformative personal experience in which he felt a deep connection to the idea of universal oneness—a sentiment that Parker feels has fueled his ministry.

The Future of Psychedelics in Spirituality

Parker’s experience mirrors many within the clergy who have found psychedelics to be more than just mind-altering substances. They see them as tools for deeper spiritual exploration and a greater understanding of the divine. The testimonials suggest a common theme—a transcendental experience that brings about a sense of interconnectedness, a realization of being one with the world, with people, with the planet, and, in religious terms, with God’s creation.

But how does Parker see this playing out in practice?

Due to the largely illegal status of psychedelics, an underground community has emerged. This clandestine nature means some psychonauts may lack the guidance and education necessary to explore these substances safely. Drawing a parallel with sex education, Parker emphasizes that better education around psychedelics can lead to safer practices and a harm reduction, saying, “Because these drugs are illegal, there’s an underground community, right? [Let’s say] a person has a family history of schizophrenia or they’re currently bipolar: in that case, there are all kinds of screening factors where it likely would not be healthy for that person to participate. But because it’s not legal, there’s very little education.”

As such, Parker believes that the key to the success of the “psychedelic renaissance” lies in education. He says, “Very few people have someone to walk with them through that experience unless they’re pursuing paths that aren’t legal. And I think overall it does a lot more harm than good. If we look at things like sex education, we see that better education drastically cuts down on unplanned pregnancy and the spread of STDs. If we educate people about the potential risks and benefits [of psychedelic use] in a healthy, communicative way, then we can probably reduce their risk of having a bad trip or developing long-term psychiatric conditions.”

Psychedelic renaissance through education

As Parker suggests, the ongoing psychedelic renaissance is not just about rediscovering the mystical, but also about fostering education and safe practices in this exploratory field. His quest, much like those of other spiritual leaders, reflects a timeless human endeavor to understand the larger forces at play, to seek meaning, and to communicate with the divine.

The investigation of psychedelics’ potential to foster spiritual growth and healing by both traditional practitioners and modern clergy presents a compelling case for their place in contemporary spirituality. It’s a narrative that transcends cultural and religious boundaries, offering us a chance at a deeper exploration into the essence of human existence and the divine. Testimony from people like Parker and the growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, shows the need for further research that could redefine how we perceive, practice, and experience spirituality.

This material is not intended as a replacement or substitute for any legal or medical advice. Always consult a medical professional about your health needs. Psychedelics are widely illegal in the United States, and readers should always be informed about local, state, and federal regulations regarding psychedelics or other drugs.

  1. George, D. R., Hanson, R., Wilkinson, D., & Garcia-Romeu, A. (2021). Ancient Roots of Today’s Emerging Renaissance in Psychedelic Medicine. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 46(4). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-021-09749-y 
  2. Krippner, S., & Winkelman, M. (1983). Maria Sabina: Wise Lady of the Mushrooms. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 15(3), 225–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.1983.10471953 
  3. Cambridge, R. (1991). PAHNKE’S “GOOD FRIDAY EXPERIMENT”: A LONG-TERM FOLLOW-UP AND METHODOLOGICAL CRITIQUE. https://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-23-91-01-001.pdf 
  4. Griffiths, R. R., Hurwitz, E. S., Davis, A. K., Johnson, M. W., & Jesse, R. (2019). Survey of subjective “God encounter experiences”: Comparisons among naturally occurring experiences and those occasioned by the classic psychedelics psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, or DMT. PLOS ONE, 14(4), e0214377. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214377