Ariel Pederson was a burlesque dancer in Vegas, wearing feathered headdresses that scraped the ceiling, when she heard “the call of the Lord.”
The Lord whose call she claims to have heard was the monotheistic Father God described in the Bible’s Old Testament. She also heard the call of that God’s son, who is usually referred to as Jesus.
Pederson, now 42 years old, answered the divine call by giving up a life of lasciviousness, heroin and cocaine. She says she later attended theology school and became a rabbi.
Pederson’s religious creed is an unorthodox mixture of Christianity and Judaism. She claims to be a “Messianic Jew” who believes that Jesus’s real name is “Yahshua.”
Of course, regular Jews don’t believe that Yahshua-Jesus is God’s son, Pederson explains. But Messianic Jews agree with the Christian belief that Jesus is God’s son.
Pederson’s belief system is in many ways identical to that of conservative Christian fundamentalists such as the new US Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is a major proponent of the drug war.
Like Ashcroft, Pederson believes there is only one God, the God of the Bible. She thinks the Bible is the only authorized book of God. She believes Jesus’ mom was a virgin, that his death was a blood sacrifice, that he performed miracles, and that he was resurrected after death.
She also believes that Jesus will someday return to earth, looking to find the few good people who served Him. Everyone else will be cast into a lake of fire, she says.
While waiting for Jesus to come back, Pederson believes, Americans have a sacred right “to own and bear firearms to protect our sovereign nation from foreign invaders as well as treachery from within, to protect our families, our land, and homes as well as our Christian brothers and sisters world wide, and when the New World Order starts its takeover, it is our duty to rise up and fight to keep America free and continue to be the great Christian nation our forefathers fought to make it.”
Her ultraconservative credentials are similary revealed by her belief in “the radical protection of the unborn,” and by her assertion that public school students should be forced to pray and to view the Bible’s “Ten Commandments.”
I disagree with Pederson’s views on abortion, school prayer and virgins having babies. I subscribe to Carl Sagan’s skepticism about monotheistic religions. And most people who believe what Pederson believes also believe that marijuana, dancing, sex, and nature are sinful, pagan, and Satanic.
But Pederson says God “gave us the right to partake of all His plants for medicinal and sacramental purposes.”
She’s the world’s first anti-abortion, fundamentalist Christian, female Jewish rabbi who believes that marijuana, coca, poppies, peyote, mushrooms and other entheogenic plants are just as righteous as prayer and Bible reading.
Here is part of Rabbi Pederson’s list of plants mentioned in the Bible: “Aloe, Anise, Barley, Beans, Bulrushes, Cannabis, Cumin, Cucumber, Fitches, Flag, Flax, Garlic, Gourd, Heath, Hyssop, Leeks, Lentils, Mandrakes, Mallows, Millet, Melon, Mint, Onions, Reeds, Rushes, Rye, Saffron?”
Her fascinating and entertaining website gives instructions on using or growing coca, marijuana, peyote, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
God communicates to us via plants, Pederson believes. When she moved to rural Minnesota several years ago, she got some wonderful communication via feral cannabis growing outdoors everywhere.
At her rustic homestead near Minneapolis where she and her family ended up, cannabis plants sprang forth wild and free.
“It was trippy. In the winter the plants would die back and the seed would hit the ground. In the spring, they’d come back strong. God does miracles for us,” she said. “The first year I moved here, I thought it was just hemp, with no THC. The next year I tried some, and let me tell you ? it was not hemp. It was God’s medicine.”
Tests and trials
Pederson says she has a rare musculoskeletal disease, for which she uses medicinal cannabis.
In October, 2000, she says, she went to a rural location to feed a pet turkey, and found four Afghani cannabis plants ready to harvest. She cut them down, stuffed them in plastic bags, and began to drive home.
On a country road, she went too fast past a cop, who pulled her over.
“When I saw the cop I got scared and hit the accelerator instead of the brake,” she says with chagrin. “The cop said, ‘Ma’am, this vehicle has the odor of marijuana.’ It smelled like I had hit 10,000 skunks. The Lord’s spirit came over me. I said, ‘That’s because I have two big bags of plants in the back seat.’ I heard the voice of the Lord say, ‘Fear not, for I am with you.’ I said to the Lord, ‘Oh really? Well you and I, Lord, we can sit in jail together.’ The cop looked like the one in that movie, Smokey and the Bandit. He was fat and smelly. He said, ‘Where is the marijuana?’ I said, ‘Do you have eyes? It’s right there in the bags in front of you.'”
Several more police officers arrived. They took pictures of each other with the plants and Pederson, who told them her nickname was “The Radical Rabbi.”
Then they took her to a police station, where a female officer searched her in an unusual way.
“I was handcuffed and up against a wall,” the rabbi says. “The male cops were watching. A female cop put her hand under my shirt and pinched my nipples while saying weird things in my ear. Then they put me in a cell. I prayed and wailed to the Lord for so long. They let me out without charging me or making me post bail. They said they would test my plants and see if they had THC in them, and then would probably charge me for a felony of having marijuana. I haven’t been charged yet. I guess I could flee somewhere to avoid being charged, but I want to go to trial. I want to tell the world that the Lord made this plant for all of us.”
Before Pederson became a full-time caretaker to her two disabled children, she was a street minister.
“I used God’s natural plants as a medicine to detox crackheads,” she reported. “I used to duct tape them and handcuff them, and then tell them that they had to repent. I used pot to detox them. The police told me I had to stop putting duct tape over their mouths.”
After the duct tape ban, Pederson claims to have become a “spiritual advisor” for the University of Minnesota’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“I told them that the reason alcohol prohibition passed is because the churches got involved, and that’s why it was repealed too,” she says. “I told them you have been beating your head against prohibition all these years but you haven’t invited the Lord in to advocate for His plants. You need a rabbi to get arrested in the state capital with a couple of plants and take it all the way to the Supreme Court. I told them I would get churches involved. Now there are a lot of pastors and rabbis contacting me to support God’s plants. The Bible’s book of Genesis says God made all plants for us. I am building a coalition of religious people who believe in the Bible more than the drug war.”
A representative of the Minnesota NORML chapter told me that Pederson’s involvement in his group was problematic.
“She is on a religous mission. We’re not,” he said. “We didn’t know how to deal with her zealousness, her personality or her ideas. It seemed to us that she wanted to get arrested, and we didn’t want that to happen. I know she is dedicated to the cause, but her rigid beliefs make her very hard to work with.”
Pederson doesn’t care what people say about her. She says she’s on a “date with destiny.”
For several months after police found her with plants in her car, Pederson prayed to be arrested and charged. She told me she fervently wanted to go into court and use the Bible as her only defense.
In March 2001, she was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Unless the prosecutor drops charges, Pederson will get a chance to see if her God’s power means victory in a Minnesota criminal court.
“This is what the Lord called me to do,” she insists. “God made the herbs for our enlightenment. I am the vessel through which his message passes. His will shall be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. And He shall overcome.”