Rope, photo by KitOn Friday, 24 February 2017, during the last phase of the waning moon, something amazing happened: witchesPagans, and occultniks from across the United States — and the world — organized a mass ritual binding or hexing of American president Donald Trump.

On the importance of protest

One can certainly understand the motivations of witches, Pagans, and others in creating and participating in this ritual.

The current political climate is a dangerous one, especially if you are a member of any kind of minority group — be it your race, your sexual orientation, or your religion.  Right now it is most dangerous to be Muslim, and perhaps a reporter — but that’s just for today.  When a regime starts labeling groups as “enemies of the people” (as Trump has done with the media) you can bet they’re going to get around to your minority group eventually.  In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, let me give you this famous and absolutely vital  quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller, a victim of the Nazi concentration camps:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.1

At this moment in history — on either side of the Atlantic — the above words could not possibly be more important. Only now it’s not the socialists, trade unions, and Jews (or, not only them).  This time it’s the immigrants, transgender and queer people, and…  who will be next?  While the current US regime is unlikely to take a stand against Judaism or Israel, we have still seen an increase in hate-crimes and vandalism against Jewish people, centres, and cemeteries.  And the occultniks know they themselves aren’t exactly beloved among the kind of people who would burn down a synagogue or kick over a Jewish tombstone.

So, they decided to stand up and speak, adding their voices to the millions of other people doing the same.  They organized a binding ritual, went out into the streets, and made it known that the witches were not happy with the state of things.  Of course, the expected backlash came from the Christian fundamentalists and far-right wackos like current Trump adviser Alex Jones. Jones predictably began to rant about the “evil Satanists” attempting to use their diabolical arts to curse the Great Beacon of Goodness Donald Trump.  (Ugh.)  And the people in the media did as it was expected: they treated the entire thing as a joke, ridiculing anyone so foolish as to identify themselves as “a witch.”  What little coverage the protest got, was always the events that were least organized and easiest to poke fun at.  Where the media is concerned, witches and Pagans are for “kook of the week” fluff pieces and nothing more.

Crowd, photo by James Cridland

On the importance of solidarity

That said, I was surprised to discover that the source of the biggest backlash against the ritual protest was the Pagans and occultists themselves!

Yep, you read that right. The primary group of people who were downright angry that a bunch of occultniks went out and tried to publicly bind Trump from doing harm is the greater Pagan and occult community.  

I’ve seen all sorts of arguments:  They weren’t real witches, but LARPers (live action role players) playing at fantasy.  They didn’t know what they were doing, and made us all look bad.  They were only there to get attention.  They’re going to hurt us all by drawing attention to us.  And, perhaps my favourite:  magick should never be done in public.  They should have stayed at home and not made any noise.

Personally, I call douchebaggery on each and every one of those arguments.  First and foremost, this is hardly the time to tell any group of people whatsoever to sit down and shut up!  We are witnessing the final collapse of the American republic, and its replacement with a fascist dictatorship.  We are witnessing, with our own eyes, the persecution of women, Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, queer and trans people, and the sitting president is promising more to come.  This is no time to be silent!  We need every single body out there in those streets, protesting, jumping up and down, screaming bloody murder, shouting down hateful speakers and politicians.

I don’t care who protests or what their personal agenda for protesting is, we need everyone out there!  It doesn’t matter if they know what they are doing.  It doesn’t matter if they look foolish.  It doesn’t matter if they are “merely” seeking attention, or if they feel they have a very real reason to be concerned for their futures.  I don’t give a damn if you believe the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories that all of the thousands of anti-Trump protesters are actually being paid to be there.  

None of that matters.  If you tell anyone, anyone at all, to go home and shut up, then you are part of the problem.

Of course, all of this should go without saying.  (Sadly, it still needs to be said even if it should be plainly obvious to a child.)  So, let me move on to address some of the other complaints I’ve been hearing from Pagans against the Trump binding.

Megaphone, photo by Eric Steuer

On the importance of speaking up and speaking out

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear from occultists is that the protesters were not really versed in the ways of magick.  The spell they used was lackluster at best, and isn’t likely to have any real effect on Trump.  They were inexperienced, unorganized, and the resulting chaos served to make all Pagans and occultists of any stripe look foolish.  And you know what?  All of that is true enough.

As a professional at what I do, I could poke many holes in the methods the protesters used, and their lack of organization and experience.  In many cases, it could be argued that little more than street theatre was taking place.  The spell that was circulated among the participants — which was revised over and over again — is not the kind of thing I would see having any real affect on Trump or his lackeys.  (Frankly, doing magick on political figures like this is akin to doing magick to win the lottery.  Sure it’s technically possible, but with all the focus and energy already being directed at it by millions of others, your added push isn’t likely to register much.)  

The fact is, most of the protesters were hardly adept in the magical arts.  Many of the Pagans I know today are far more religious than occult: they go to the sabbats and festivals, but they aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about how to properly work with the spirits. (Ed. note: And, of course, that’s perfectly ok.)

However, to all of the above, I can only muster a hearty “So what?”  Even if you think it was foolish, or unworkable, or just silly street theatre, the fact remains that they got up out of their armchairs, took to the streets, and did something!  They made their voices heard among the millions of others who oppose Trump’s hateful message. And, perhaps best of all, they actually went out and tried to cast a spell.  

Maybe some of them fumbled it, and some of them looked foolish.  My first spell would have seemed foolish to you, as well, but that didn’t make it any less important in my spiritual journey.  And I got better with time and practice. You have to give these protestors the chance to do the same.

Road dividing line, photo by Geee Kay

On the (important!) distinction between private and public ritual

“But Aaron,” I hear you say, “what about the witches’ axiom to Know, Will, Dare, and remain silent?  Magick isn’t supposed to be done in public to get attention.  It must be done in silence and secrecy, to grow in the darkness like a germinating seed.  Isn’t this simple common wisdom?”2

Actually, no, it is not.  Most often, those axioms are tossed around by people who have little idea what they mean, but who desire to come across as “deeply spiritual.”  Not only does it sound good, but it gives you the perfect retreat when someone asks you to explain something.  Hiding behind it is the same as hiding behind your magical grade or your oaths of secrecy so others don’t discover how little you actually know.  The fact is some aspects of magick are intended to be personal, while others are intended to be social.

Yes, some magick should — even must! — remain silent and hidden.  Much of your personal work will fall under that restriction.  What passes between you and your patrons and familiars, their altars, and even their names should be kept private to yourself.  What you see and experience in your initiations are also your business alone.  There are many things your spirits will teach and show you that, they will insist, you must never speak of to another person.

However, what you do in your private personal work is different from what you might do in a coven or temple.  In that case you are expected to share your experiences and knowledge with the others, who are of a like mind and on the same journey as yourself.  In that case, keeping silence changes so it applies to anyone outside the group.

Then there are public workings such as sabbats and masses.  These are open for anyone to attend or participate, but that certainly doesn’t make them “not magick.”  It is simply magick intended to work on a larger social scale. (Why do you think the Christians call theirs “masses”?)  This kind of thing goes back a very, very long time: to the old seasonal festivals where the gods were praised and fed to encourage good harvests and fruitful livestock.  These festivals served a social function, and they still do so today in their modern incarnations.

So, I have to say: no, magick is not always something you have to do in private.  It has a greater social function, too — and that is exactly what you saw the protesters doing.  It was mass social magick, and I have little doubt that it absolutely served its purpose for the thousands of people who took part in it one way or another.

In conclusion

Before you jump on any bandwagons to shame the occultniks for “looking foolish” or “just wanting attention,” consider for a moment that you likely didn’t feel that way about the Women’s March.   You probably won’t feel that way about the upcoming Scientists March on Earth Day (22 April 2017).  I’m sure you won’t feel that way about immigrant marches that are sure to come.  Do the occultniks somehow have less to concern them about the direction of our country than these other groups?  Do they somehow not deserve to be heard?  Why should we encourage every group to come out in protest, but tell the occultniks to shut up and go home?3

I can find nothing — absolutely nothing — shame-worthy in them coming out in their own way to protest the utter failure of our government, just like everyone else. They joined together in word and will. They should have our support, not our rebuke.

Image credits: KitJames Cridland, Eric Steuer, and Geee Kay

  1. For more, see “First they came…,” Wikipedia. []
  2. Ed. note: For more on the witches axiom, see Jarred Triskelion’s articles “Powers of the Sphinx, Part I: To know” and “Powers of the Sphinx, Part II: To will.” See also Anie Savino’s excellent piece, “A Witch’s Pyramid of Inclusivity.” []
  3. Ed. note: See also Psyche’s piece, “An occultnik manifesto.” []