Binding politicians, hexing fascists, looking out for humanity and causing trouble: All in a day's work for modern, politically-organized witches.
Witches and the witch-curious caught global attention after announcing they would come together online to cast "a spell to bind U.S. President Donald Trump and all those who abet him" last month. (Though that hasn't stopped his flurry of controversial executive orders that have rocked the globe.)
Still, for these internet-savvy witches, one little spell designed to stop someone from doing harm is just the beginning of their plans for political change. Anyone who watched The Craft in the '90s will be familiar with the concept of a binding spell — You probably attempted one in high school after trying to make a friend levitate with light as a feather, stiff as a board. Ideally, the spell to bind Trump would have caused a magically-influenced change of heart and cosmic protection for the downtrodden — and the planet itself.
Farfetched? Maybe. But this is a long game. As one anonymous group of web-based witches, the Yerbamala Collective, says of their resistance, "Yerba mala nunca muere." Translation: A bad weed never dies.
English occultist Aleister Crowley, in the book Magick and Theory and Practice, defines a witch as someone who believes in and practices magic, or "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will."
If that sounds somewhat political, that's because it is: In 1941, for example, witches gathered to "hex Hitler." Later, in 1967, Beat poet Allan Ginsberg and friends "exorcised" the Pentagon.
For some who consider themselves witches, to resist is to build spiritual strength and compassion through ritual and discussion. For others, it's about spells cast in private. For still others, the revolution starts with disseminating anti-fascist poetry and casting spells en masse. Old-school methods of street-stomping protests, too, are getting re-witchified.
While the population of practicing witches may be incredibly small (the New Age movement they're part of makes up 0.4 percent of the U.S. population at last count, according to the Pew Research Center), it's hard to avoid their influence on music, film and fashion. Spend a bit of time on Tumblr or Etsy too and you'll see signs of the cultural proliferation of witchcraft everywhere. Not to mention the cultural dominance of Harry Potter.
Trend forecasters K Hole (responsible for identifying "norm core") published a "Report on Doubt" last year, which identified a general mystical trend articulating the current culture's obsession with faith, doubt and a desire to predict the future. Invisible "magic" structures of domination and control are all around us, the report posits. And people desperately want to reclaim their powers.
Lovers, fighters and resisters
Yerbamala Collective distributes accessible, radical and often funny PDFs of spells and poetry via Tumblr and Instagram. They ask members to print out and spread the documents IRL, as well as encourage individuals to create their own.
For members of this group, the personal is always political, and spiritually-tinged domestic protests are just as legitimate as more visible kinds. Magic is magic, no matter where you perform it.
"Some of our members are house-bound and dependent on welfare in order to survive. They too are part of a political resistance project, whether or not they are able to be at protests," a YMC spokesperson said on condition of anonymity, acknowledging that you don't have to be physically mobile to protest.
Plus, you don’t have to be an actual witch to get a kick out of a poem about "hexing" fascists. "I think right now there is a hunger for something, anything, that might stop Trump," the YMC member says. "Witchcraft extends and endures ... and now we have the internet," indicating the group is now able to reach more people than ever before.
SOME PPL ASK US IF WE ARE RESPONDING TO FASCISM. NAW. WE WERE HERE FOR EONS. FASCISM IS RESPONDING TO US.
— yerbamalacollective (@yerbamalaRUR) March 7, 2017
Gala Darling, an author and leader of the Radical Self Love Coven, is an entrepreneurial promoter of politically-engaged witchcraft. For her, radical self love is the starting point to social change. "Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others," she says. "The revolution always happens internally before it can spread."
Her version of organizing involves group spells cast over Facebook Live to a learning community that pays for lessons in astrology, tarot and self-care, all with a punk-inspired aesthetic.
For Darling, magic happens via intention setting and encouraging her young, mostly female followers to get in touch with their higher selves. If they can do that, personal and social change is inevitable, she believes.
Masked protest group W.I.T.C.H is the modern version of the '60s feminist activist group of the same name. (It stands for Witches' International Troublemaker Conspiracy From Hell.) They re-formed in November 2016 as a reaction to Trump's election and regularly parade on the streets of Portland, distributing information online that encourages the sprouting of worldwide W.I.T.C.H branches and describes how to communicate securely and anonymously on the internet.
"Some of us practice magic and some identify with the looser meaning [of 'witch'] as an outlier who's coming into their own power," their representative, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, says.
For members of W.I.T.C.H, anonymity is a security concern as much as a symbolic statement of subversive power. "The internet … is making it easier to reach large audiences but also potentially more dangerous for feminists who get a lot of attention online. This fact influenced our decision to be anonymous just as much as the idea that you can't pin witches down or eliminate us."
Through the crystal ball
The cultural effect of all this witchy-ness? Judging from the witch-themed placards that popped up on Instagram and Twitter during the Women's March, it's an enjoyable in-joke that celebrates female power at the very least.
At most? It's a valid way for people to gather with a likeminded sort and start a resistance. "Some people will view [witchcraft] as a curiosity but hopefully others are awakened to the idea that there are a lot of ways we can fight oppression," Darling says.
While some pagans and witches have expressed trepidation over their beliefs becoming an internet trend, for W.I.T.C.H the politically-tinged trend represents the desire for feminine power in a "hetereopatriarchal" climate. "The internet opens up entire new worlds to young women and queers and other people who feel left behind by our culture," the representative says.
"We can find our own people, join together, hone our power and use it collectively. That's magic."