The concept of covens convening at midnight, under a waning crescent moon, to cast a spell on President Donald Trump probably sounds to many like a lot of leftist nonsense. Some real snowflake shit. Add "in Brooklyn" to that sentence and the entire thing risks becoming a caricature of itself.
Nonetheless, magical and non-magical types nationwide assembled Friday night for ritual bindings, wrapping symbolic orange totems — most often, candle stubs — in black thread and chanting a brief incantation to seal the deal. The ceremonies, participants insisted, were not intended to hurt the president, but rather to keep him from hurting others: to bind his hands and the hands of his minions before they could do anything or anyone else harm.
All of which is bound to inspire some skeptically raised brows because, yes, a bunch of witches got together to cast some spells on our nation's president, ostensibly with the expectation that those spells will do something. What that something would be differed from witch to witch.
Larissa McCoy, who led a ritual in Brooklyn on Friday night, wasn't necessarily banking on the binding having an immediate, concrete effect. Rather, she was encouraged by the prospect of so many people, across the country and possibly across the world, divining power from themselves. The point of the entire enterprise, she said, was to reinforce a sense of unity and revitalize resistance — to help people feel less like victims and reclaim a little agency and energy.
"The goal is to bring the community together, to get everyone on the same page, to remind everyone that we are fighting, and to not be complacent," McCoy said. "It's hard to just intake the bad news every day, and if you feel that fighter energy, it kind of puts a fire back under people [so] that they will protest, will march ... will support institutions that are being attacked at the moment."
"It's so many people's energy going towards one thing," she pointed out. "I think it definitely cannot have a negative effect."
McCoy chose House of Yes, a burlesque bar in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood, as the site for her ritual. It was well suited to the occasion: House of Yes is a sort of Burning Man outpost situated in the heart of gentrified Bushwick, and fully embodies the Brooklyn burner stereotype. "I basically mentioned it to the founders and they were like, 'Fuck yeah,'" McCoy said.
The club's dance floors began filling up around 10:30 p.m.. By 11:00 p.m., they were packed with gyrating, feathered throngs through which an impassive waitress waded with a plastic tub labeled "SEQUIN BRAS" hoisted over her head, presumably delivering reserves to the go-go dancers swinging from gilded cages overhead.
Most people were there for the Carnivale party, but when Mic polled a random group of women in the bathroom — which, incidentally, looks like the inside of Venus' half shell, if Venus was a Barbie with a special affection for MDMA — none of them knew about the binding ritual planned for midnight. Most of them, though, were down, even if witchcraft wasn't the reason they were there. And regardless of their level of magical experience or investment, people seemed to appreciate it for largely the same reasons: Associative rebellion and self-empowerment.
Is that surprising from a bunch of young Brooklynites assembled for a drug-fueled dance party? Absolutely not. Is there nonetheless something to it? Club consensus said yes.
Roughly half an hour before the ritual began, Celine, a 22-year-old veterinary technician, echoed McCoy's sentiments unprompted: "For me personally, it's an awesome reminder — for myself and for others — of the power that the people have."
"I feel like that's such a cliché," she added. Still, she said, gatherings like Friday night's remind people who are frustrated by the "B.S. that makes it to the news" that they aren't the only ones. The binding wasn't Celine's first spell. When asked if she'd had any success with witchy endeavors in the past, she said yes, but emphasized the importance of adjusting one's expectations.
"Part of it is you can't take it too literally," Celine said.
"A lot of people hone in too hard on their perception of the outcome of [this] spell," she added. "And I feel like, if you get too focused on that, you forget that this was a group thing, and that ... it's an overall outcome in the universe."
Celine's boyfriend Neal, a 28-year-old Marine veteran who is currently studying economics, agreed (Both Celine and Neal requested Mic use only their first names). Neal, who said he'd dabbled in witchcraft when he was younger but ultimately considered himself a spiritualist, wasn't sure if he would participate in the binding. For him, the evening — and magic in general — was about the "interconnectedness" of human beings. Neal said he'd never had any luck with spells he had cast, but attested to friends who'd "absolutely" seen their magic take effect.
"With this kind of thing," Neal explained, "it's never specific. But if you project something out, it does come back."
Friday night's ritual was not specific to one sect of the witch community; because it encompassed so many different people from so many different practices, it was a sort of pan-magical affair. But paganism or Wicca, for example, rest on the same tenets reflected in the binding ceremony: Harmony with natural rhythms, magic derived from personal intention, and the belief that what goes around — or out into the world — comes around.
In a blog post laying out the rules of the ritual, "writer/speaker/magical thinker" Michael M. Hughes wrote that he "make[s] no claims about its efficacy," noting that many people who planned to participate in the mass binding viewed it as an "art/consciousness-raising project." Still, his answers to the FAQs suggested readers should suspend their skepticism.
"This is not the equivalent of magically punching a Nazi," Hughes wrote. "Rather, it is ripping the bullhorn from his hands, smashing his phone so he can't tweet, tying him up, and throwing him in a dark basement where he can't hurt anyone."
Hughes recalled the 1967 exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon, for which a few hundred Vietnam War opponents, led by Allen Ginsburg and Abbie Hoffman, gathered to float the building three feet off the ground. In that respect, the activists did not succeed — the Pentagon remained firmly planted — but they did get the NSA's attention.
The levitation attempt occurred within the context of the larger March on the Pentagon, which started with a 100,000-person rally and ended in front of Department of Defense Headquarters, its crowd thinned out to about 30,000. Those protesters clashed with thousands of federal troops, resulting in hundreds of arrests, including that of Norman Mailer, who wrote about the fray in The Armies of Night.
According to Daniel Ellsberg, an activist and former military analyst who was working on the Pentagon Papers at the time, it struck a chord. Ellsberg told Arthur magazine that, when the exorcism was proposed, he occupied the office next to that of Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara.
"The idea of levitating the Pentagon struck me as a great idea because the idea of removing deference from any of these institutions is very, very important," Ellsberg said, adding that "the idea that you would jointly piss on the Pentagon as part of a pagan ceremony raises so many associations."
"In the Pentagon it became, 'Can he [Abbie Hoffman] really do that? And six feet!?!'" Ellsberg continued. As WagingNonViolence.org put it, the protest was notable for its "historic and seminal merging of a creative 'happening' with political intent," if not for fulfilling its levitation promise. It was more about messing with the man than it was about actually extracting demons from a government building.
The creative happening at House of Yes was not historic, but the larger phenomenon might be.
When was the last time witches used grassroots organizing to taunt a president? In the late sixties, a performative feminist collective called the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy, or WITCH, cast a mass hex on Wall Street, specifically targeting the patriarchy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. But a president whose specter catalyzes a country full of witches to action? Trump may well be the first.
It is dangerously easy to get under Trump's skin. It also seems to work, a pattern protesters of many motivations have noticed and leveraged. Now that news of the witches' mass spell has made it to Fox News, it's possible that the president has picked up on it. And whether it amuses or enrages Trump, the idea of thousands of witches raining magic down upon his golden, ducktailed hair is bound to fuck with his head at least a little bit.
The ritual itself was tongue-in-cheek. Official instructions, which Hughes said were drafted and circulated by "a member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous," indicated that groups casting binding spells would be most active in New York City, San Francisco and Portland. They called for an "unflattering photo of Trump," and the stub of an orange candle to stand in as his totem.
McCoy used baby carrots, "our little representation of that little orange man," as she put it. Just before midnight, she spread a purple cloth on a table sequestered on House of Yes' back patio, directly across from a wall against which leaned an enormous, beige baby doll with the creepily adult-looking head of an infant in a Renaissance painting.
The instructions called for the ceremonial objects to be arranged in a "pleasing circle," but McCoy laid hers out in the pleasing half-circle limited space accommodated: A bowl of baby carrots and black thread, clipped in roughly four-inch segments; the tower card from a tarot deck — which meant, McCoy said, "the fall of Trump Tower, symbolically" — a print-out of a toothy and many-chinned Trump nestled in a large, scavenged ashtray; a tall white candle; a silver tray with port glasses full of salt and sand and water; and a single feather. McCoy also integrated a mounted jackalope skull, a bottled snake, a needle-necked vase and a handful of crystals, for added witchy effect.
Having herded interested parties, experienced spell-casters and the uninitiated over to the table, McCoy began the ritual. Baby carrots, string and incantation sheets were distributed. She lit the candle and launched into the ceremony.
"Hear me, oh spirits," everyone chanted together. "Of water, earth, fire and air, heavenly hosts, demons of the infernal realms and spirits of the ancestors."
"I call upon you to bind Donald J. Trump," they continued, winding black twine around their carrots, "So that he may fail utterly, that he may do no harm to any human soul, nor any tree, animal, rock, stream or sea."
Bringing the incantation to a close with a bid to the gods to "bind their tongues, bind their works, bind their wickedness," McCoy blew out the candle. The final step, the one that sealed the spell, would be depositing the roughly 15 bound carrots at Trump Tower. Typically, she said, ending the spell would entail burying the totems or submerging them in running water, but in this case, the magic community agreed that dumping the tiny Trumps at one of his buildings would be equally effective.
Because the immediate objective is not for Trump to gather his staff for the signing of an executive order and grab for his pen, only to find his hands glued improbably together at the wrists. And with such a diffuse group of people clustered around the country — shouting roughly the same words together at roughly, but by no means exactly, the same time — there are limitations to what participants could reasonably hope to achieve.
Again, the point of the spell was more to encourage people, particularly those whose agency Trump would overtake, to channel their energy inward. Ideally, that lights the requisite fire under the participant's butt, such that the participant keeps showing up, well beyond Friday night. Is that not what you thought witchcraft was?
"You put the energy that you want, the change that you hope to see is the intent that you keep in your mind when you say something, an incantation like this," McCoy explained. "It's all about people — personal power. Personal intent, personal power and coming together as a community and raising your own voice."
The power of a protest often comes down to unity in numbers; millions of people worldwide choosing the same moment to stand up for human rights, for example. Mention of mass witch protests — which will be ongoing, planned for every waning crescent moon from now until Trump is out of office — is bound to make myriad eyeballs roll, especially after Lana Del Ray slapped her label on it. Yet the central sentiment is the same one that unites demonstrators for immigrants' rights, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and every other issue the Trump presidency threatens.
"You don't have to believe in 'magic' to believe in the power of intent and community and that's, for me, what this is," McCoy said. "Mostly."