Meet The Anti-Fascist Witches Casting Spells To Destroy Trump
Political protest and witchcraft have a long and storied history – and in the Trump era, they also share a common enemy
On Thursday night, just before midnight, around 30 witches quietly entered a dimly-lit back room at Catland, an occult bookstore and event space in Brooklyn, New York.
Dark ambient music played from a speaker on the wall as they surrounded an elaborate circular sigil that had been drawn in chalk on the creaky wooden floor, flanked by carefully-arranged tarot cards and popcorn bags filled with glow sticks. The mood was reverent, the room dead silent, as a man in tiny glasses slowly walked barefoot around the circle, swinging a thurible filled with sweet-smelling incense.
Catland hosts many occult rituals, but this one held special importance: it was a magical ceremony to “bind” the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and all who aid or enable him — essentially to enfeeble them and destroy their ability to harm others. The spell was based on instructions for an anti-Trump “mass ritual” recently posted online, meant to be performed by witches around the world simultaneously at midnight and repeated every month Trump remains in office, during the waning crescent moon. On Facebook, nearly 900 people have said they plan to perform the ritual in front of Trump Tower in New York City on Friday evening; even pop singer Lana Del Rey indicated she would participate.
Bind them that they shall not break our polity;
Shall not usurp our liberty;
Nor fill any more minds with hate, confusion, fear, or despair.
The group read the lines from sheets of paper in a call-and-response, as three participants in the center of the circle slowly wrapped a picture of Trump in red, white, and blue ribbons. Finally, the popcorn bags were knocked over – meant to symbolically destroy Trump’s celebrity-like façade of political theater – and the fully-obscured picture was smothered with a plastic crown and smashed. The group chanted, each repetition louder than the last: “SO SHALL IT BE. SO SHALL IT BE.”
If you’re the type to question whether chanting and magic spells can really affect political change, you’d probably think the scene at Catland to be pretty strange. But occult practitioners note that political protest and the magical arts share a common language and history. In difficult times in the past and now again in the Trump era, the two practices have gone hand-in-hand.
According to the Center for Tactical Magic, the use of magic as a form of political protest in the West dates back to medieval Europe, when peasants inscribed hexes as a way of discreetly dissenting against their oppressive feudal lords. The tradition continued during World War II, when a secret gathering of anti-fascist sorcerers held a booze-fueled “hex party” in Maryland that aimed to kill Adolf Hitler using voodoo magic. (The Nazis, too, were infamously obsessed with magic and the occult)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the historical roots of today’s magical protests can be found in the civil rights and counter-culture movements of the 1960s and ’70s. In 1967, beat poet Allen Ginsberg and American activist Abbie Hoffman organized an exorcism ritual during a march on the Pentagon that sought to “levitate” the building 350 feet in the air, and in doing so, end the war in Vietnam. The World Trade Organization protests in 1999 witnessed similar events: anarchists smashed corporate storefront windows, claiming that each one represented the breaking of a corporate “spell,” while a witch named Starhawk ceremonially melted an ice sculpture, symbolizing the WTO’s rapidly-dissolving power.
More recently, magical attacks against Trump and his followers have taken place in a similar vein, waging a kind of meme warfare by harnessing the viral power of social media and the internet.
On Tumblr, an anonymous coven of anti-fascist witches known as the Yerbamala Collective recently began circulating digital “spellbooks” full of magical protest poems. Each page contains a short slogan written in all-caps 60pt Arial font, and many have been seen circulating on social media, held as signs at protests, or pasted to the walls in subway stations and other locations. Depending on how you look at them, the poems could easily be interpreted as magical hexes, motivational memes, or political propaganda:
“CONFLICT IS PROGRESS; RESISTANCE IS WITCHCRAFT”
“BE THE FIST YOU WANT TO SEE IN A FASCIST’S FACE”
“WE STARE DEEP INTO THE SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS UNTIL THEY SHATTER”
Yerbamala’s goal is simple: To create and inspire viral DIY poetry with the magical power to destroy fascism in all its forms — from ex-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and the brownshirts of the white supremacist “alt right,” to Trump and his growing band of bigots and corporate lobbyists in the White House. For them, magic isn’t a performance or a metaphor, it’s an explicit attack against the wave of racist, anti-semitic, and Islamophobic hate and violence that has followed Trump’s rise to power.
“While for some this may read as a protest, for us it is a direct assault on fascism,” members of the Yerbamala Collective wrote in an email interview with Vocativ. “We are not asking a corrupt system made of corrupt actors to give us back pieces of our power. We are instead showing that system that we never lost our power to begin with, that our power was always ours, and that there is a part of us deep inside that fascism can never kill.”
Magic and street protest both rely heavily on the power of symbols, said F. Jennings, a co-owner of Catland Books, who led the anti-Trump ritual and recently taught a class on magical activism. He also notes that the decentralized, leaderless structure of modern protest movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street mirrors the practice of chaos magic, a school of contemporary Western magic that emphasizes individual autonomy and creativity rather than appealing to deities, saints, and other spiritual authorities.
“An activist does not march out of a belief that inconveniencing traffic will create policy change, but because disruptive marching will be understood by media and politics alike as a symbolic rejection of business as usual,” said Jennings. “Likewise, the chaos magician’s ritual designs itself around the question ‘what symbols are most conducive to my intent?,’ rather than a blind adherence to any sacred text’s given method. It is the symbols and their interpretations, not the specific forms, which matter foremost.”
There are procedural similarities, too. Chaos magic practitioners often create short slogans, known as sigils, that are imbued with power and channeled into what’s known as an egregore, a psychic entity that is formed entirely from a group’s collective will. In non-magical terms, a sigil is an idea condensed into a brief phrase or symbol, while an egregore is a collection of ideas and intentions that define a location, cause, or movement. In both chaos magic and street protest, the goal is to express and reinforce the will of a collective, whether that’s a group of protesters or a coven of witches (or both).
In recent years, one group to prominently claim to wield chaos magic has been the neo-fascist “alt-right,” as evidenced by the now-ubiquitous image of their meme mascot, Pepe the Frog. According to far-right occultists, the Pepe meme is both a chaos magic sigil and the digitally reincarnated form of Kek, an Egyptian god of chaos who is said to take the form of an anthropomorphic frog. As such, many fascist trolls credited Donald Trump’s surprise election win to a campaign of “meme magic” that successfully re-appropriated Pepe, turning him from an obscure webcomic character into a powerful magical symbol of racist hate.
Conversely, the Yerbamala Collective’s magical poetry seeks to empower the egregore of anti-fascist resistance, or Antifa, the newly-resurgent movement that aims to confront and shut down fascists and white supremacists by any means necessary.
The group’s name comes from a Spanish expression meaning “A Bad Weed Never Dies,” and their work strives to imbue anti-fascism with that same spirit of perseverance. True to chaos magic’s decentralized ethos, the group is formless, and the easily-replicated style of their messages makes it possible for anyone to contribute.
“Our hope is that if something should happen to us as individuals, this project will have a life of its own and people will continue creating and resisting, though we believe this is inevitable,” members of the Collective told Vocativ. “We wanted this to be something that spread so that it exists in multiple spaces and mediums. Resistance is most effective when it is coordinated and not centralized. If it is too centralized it is easy to behead. The more people are part of this rhizome the more extensive and life-sustaining the mangrove.”
The final page of the Yerbamala’s first publication, “Our Vendetta: Witches Vs. Fascists,” serves as a magical call-to-arms, invitating readers to create their own poems in the same format – and in doing so, become part of the collective.
“Forget everything you’ve learned about poetry; You’ve got reams of beautiful words in you that live to destroy your own chains,” the group writes. “Write with one goal: Destroy fascism with poetic witchcraft.”