Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Michael M. Hughes, author of the new Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change.
One of the most common criticisms of the #MagicResistance came from witches who believe politics and magic should never be mixed. “Witchcraft is about the spirit,” one wrote to me. “Politics is of the mundane world. I leave politics out of my circle.”
While understandable, I find that sort of belief troubling.
Magic and witchcraft have always mixed. The historical record is full of examples of witches using magic against the powerful. Though it’s difficult to determine the historicity of many of the more well-known examples, it is clear that magic was often the last resort of people who had nothing left to lose. In the Americas, enslaved Africans used hoodoo and conjure magic against their oppressors, and the widespread practice of Voudon was key to the uprisings that drove out European colonizers in Haiti, creating the first independent country in the Caribbean.
Perhaps the most famous modern example was chronicled by the creator of modern Wicca, Gerald Gardner. Gardner wrote, in Witchcraft Today (1954), about the working known as “Operation Cone of Power,” in which he and his New Forest coven performed a ritual to keep Hitler from invading England. According to Gardner, the rite was so powerful that many of the older and more frail witches died in the ensuing days, knowing they were sacrificing their lives to save their country. Though some historians doubt the tale’s authenticity, it has become legendary in the Pagan community, and was even duplicated in 1971 by a number of California covens opposed to the Vietnam War.
Also during WWII, Occultist Dion Fortune created a series of workings that became known as the Magical Battle of Britain. She renounced the secrecy of her organization, the Fraternity of the Inner Light, so that even the un-initiated could join in the magical defense against Hitler and the Nazis as part of a “nucleus of trained minds.” Because the war had disrupted travel for many of her students, she mailed out regular meditations and magical instructions in the 1940s version of a social network. She died a few months after Churchill declared victory.
In the 1960s and 70s magical techniques were adopted by the counterculture in reaction to the Vietnam War. The proto-Yippies, led by Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, and Jerry Rubin, gathered with several thousand participants in a magical ritual to exorcise and levitate the Pentagon. Though the building did not rise (except for perhaps those on 250 mics of LSD), the event is seen by many as a turning point in the campaign against the war. Those heady decades also gave rise to groups like W.I.T.C.H., or the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell, which adopted stereotypical Hollywood witch garb to challenge patriarchy and promote feminist values.
Magic and witchcraft have always been political, and always will be, because they are tools available to the oppressed and the marginalized who have no recourse to other options. Those who believe otherwise are ignoring their history. If you don’t mix politics with your magic, that’s fine—Paganism is a big tent. But as long as there are witches, shamans, magicians, and occultists, they will use their workings to change the social and political structures within which they live. We do magic because we see how things are, and realize they could be better. That’s just what magical people do.
Our thanks to Michael for his guest post! For more from Michael M. Hughes, read his article, “8 Self-Care Practices for Magical Activists.”