At the stroke of midnight (EST) on February 24, 2017, an untold myriad of self-described witches, magical folk, and ordinary malcontent Americans gathered for a global political protest event, which aimed to apply a tradition of ritualistic magic to “bind” the president “and all those who abet him” until Trump is removed from the Oval Office. The organizer calls for the ritual to be repeated on all successive Waning Crescent Moon nights (including March 26th, April 24th, May 23rd, June 21st, July 21st, and August 19th).
In the days and hours leading up to the Trump-binding event, the ritual gained significant media attention, celebrity endorsements, and exploded in popularity on social media websites like Twitter (with #bindtrump and #magicresistance trending) and Facebook (which has grown to 11,650 “likes” at time of writing). Participants shared their videos and anecdotes of the midnight spellbinding, which included a varied array of expressions, from brief individual recitations to gaggles of robed witches performing elaborate ceremonies.
This strategy seamed to mean something different to each participant; for some, it was simply an artistic manifestation of the anti-Trump movement, representing a creative technique for demonstrating their dissatisfaction and amassing public awareness for their cause; however for others, the ritual held actual supernatural power to affect the current political landscape. The guidelines of the ritual were first made public on February 19th by Michael Hughes, who described it as a plan that had already been brewing for some time in certain circles and which allegedly originated with a “member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous.” He also added,
“I make no claims about its efficacy, and several people have noted it can be viewed as more of a mass art/consciousness-raising project (similar to the 1967 exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon), than an actual magical working. But many are clearly taking it very seriously.”
As expected, the event sparked considerable blowback from many within the Christian right, igniting an old culture war and bringing witchcraft back into the forefront of modern American discourse. Evangelical Christian supporters of President Trump reportedly gathered to pray as a way to “counteract the spell.” Led by theo-conservative activist groups, Christian Nationalist Alliance (CNA) and Intercessors for America (IFA), the nation-wide call to prayer condemns the “magical attack on believers and servants of God” as a Satanically-inspired act of “blasphemy” against the Christian god, initiated by “those who have covenants with evil.”
These responses highlight an intensifying demonization of members of the anti-Trump movement and those who belong to culturally obscure religious/spiritual organizations. The religiously-charged condemnation of this event is born out of a long standing tradition of ignorance and intolerance toward the magical community and its pop-culture manifestations, but the association with the political left has added new fuel to the fire.
This post will analyze accusations of Satanism and immorality aimed against the organizers of the magical ritual to bind Trump and practitioners of magic/witchcraft in general. It will then briefly explore the multifaceted religious origins of this unique form of magical ritualism, which borrows most distinctively from the religious/spiritual traditions of Wicca, Neopaganism, and Occultism, as well as folk religions and shamanism. However the ritual also has roots in the mystical elements of more “established” religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, which is likely a major point of resentment for its critics within the Christian right, which overwhelmingly support Trump,, actively advocate socially conservative positions, and often follow strict Protestant fundamentalism.,
Claim: The mass ritual to bind Trump is demonic in nature and antagonistic to Christian America
Accuracy rating: The subjective intentions of the organizers are objectively interminable, but the Christian right can certainly afford to be more educated in the professed tenets of “white witchcraft” and learn a little lesson in love for thy neighbor
Analysis: The Christian-led oppression of practitioners of witchcraft (whether actual or unjustly accused) needs no introduction; such practices have been going on for millennia, with prohibitions against sorcery (see 2 Chron 33:6, Rev 18:23, and Gal 5:19-21), witchcraft (see Lev 19:26), and magic (see “magicians of Egypt” in Exod 7-9, Daniel 1-2, Acts 19:19) widespread throughout the Old and New Testaments, most notably in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 9-14, titled, “Child Sacrifice, Divination, and Magic Prohibited,”
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.”
This particular command from God, to purge the land of spell casters, was given within the context of a bloody, divinely ordained conquest of the Promised Land, from which many modern religious culture wars have found holy justifications for hatred, and even violence, against their neighbors. The mass prayer campaign organized by the CNA and IFA draws directly on this ancient obsession with a merger of political and religious domination.
The CNA counter-post, written by founder Kevin Ambrose on February 23rd, enlists the faithful to take a stand against the “same spiritual sickness” that has been demonstrated by the wave of anti-Trump protests since the election, and employs the more eschatological bits of scripture as evidence of a cosmic war for the soul of the United States. In his “warning” against this demonic force, Ambrose appeals to his fellow politically conscious Christians to take up spiritual arms, lest they surrender the Kingdom of God. He claims,
“The Devil’s power is only allowed to fester when we, the faithful, separate God from our society. The vacuum which secularism creates is dangerous and it is our duty as Christians to resist these attempts at every turn. […]
“This is a declaration of spiritual war and it requires a response. As such the Christian Nationalist Alliance is announcing a Day of Prayer on each of these days. We beseech all Christian soldiers to answer this call to action by reading from Psalm 23. We ask you to join us in praying for the strength of our nation, our elected representatives and for the souls of the lost who would take up Satanic arms against us.”
The IFA “prayer alert,” prepared by Dr. Yolanda McCure (who has a doctorate in Practical Ministry from the Wagner Leadership Institute), is somewhat tamer, appealing to the Christian god to help believers in magic, to “open their eyes” and “set them free” from the Devil’s grasp. However, whatever animosity this document lacks in surface content, it certainly makes up for in tone, heavily interweaving allusions to “warfare,” “battles,” and the “enemy,” and portraying this event in a religiously-charge us-them dichotomy, where supporters of the president are morally good and his critics are deceived agents of darkness which aim to harm the president and his associates. The document states,
“This level of warfare is what Heartland Apostolic Prayer Network (HAPN) is about. Not only do we take back from the enemy (through high level intercessions) what he has stolen, but we partner with Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ to occupy what has been gained, and in this case the protection and success of the Presidency. […]
“We rejoice to see the Hand of the Lord released through our prayers and declarations. We long to get those deceived set free but until they touch the anointing, we can only pray that their eyes be opened. However, when they touch us or OUR PRESIDENT, then they have put a demand on our anointing so we can legally release it back to them. […]
“So let’s do our assignment to take out the snipers and [ambushes] of the enemy by: […] [r]eminding the spirit realm we have the highest covenant with God, and that we have divorced Baal. Decree again the covenant of Light rules in the USA. […]
“We ask you Holy Spirit to release Your angels to minister to, through and for us, our President, Vice President, their staff, cabinet members, security and all their families. […] We ask You, Jesus, to redeem all those whose blood were planned to be used for sacrificial power.”
Unfortunately, it is not possible to effectively fact-check these accusations against the witches participating in the Trump-binding event. There is no way to tell what are their true intentions in employing magic to affect Trump’s presidency. Instead I will present the alternative view, which has been consistently asserted by the event’s organizers and the Wicca/Neopagan community in general, and claims that the spell is not designed to physically harm the president and is not inspired by a devotion to Satan.
Michael Hughes—now the public face of this movement—commented on charges of the danger of binding spells, stating,
“Binding spells, or defixiones, are some of the oldest in the historical record, and are nearly universal in the world’s magical systems. In this document, binding, which seeks to restrain someone from doing harm, is differentiated from cursing or hexing, which is meant to inflict harm on the target(s). It is understood, in this context, that binding does not generate the potential negative blowback from cursing/hexing/crossing, nor does it harm the caster’s karma.
“In other words, this is not the equivalent of magically punching a Nazi; 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’ clarification aims to refute allegations by some in the Christian right that this event is meant to do physical harm and that it has connections to “black” or “dark magic,” which, unlike “white magic,” is usually defined as a purely malicious and immoral practice against others for the selfish benefit of the practitioner. This distinction is central to the identity of Wicca, or modern Pagan Witchcraft, in which many adherents follow a simple moral code outlined in the “Wiccan Rede,” a short phrase that is often translated from Middle English as “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.” The long form of this code professes a devotion to the “light,” an allusion to white magic.
While Wicca and other magical belief systems typically reject detailed, prescriptive ethical codes (similar to those of Christianity), the Rede—as well as a general understanding within these communities of the immorality of harming others—represents the sole exception to this rule and perhaps the only philosophy connecting these varied types of believers under a single category. While some have since rejected the black/white dichotomy as a form of racism, the important moral distinction between these two forms of magic persists.
The vast and diverse incarnations of spiritual magic and Neopaganism, including but not limited to Wicca, have been associated with a bounty of other religious traditions. The document describing the February 24th event directly invokes themes, practices, and scriptures of several different religions, including Christianity. Claims made by the author, which associate the ritual’s methods with Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as the use of Psalm 23 as a “prayer for protection and […] blessing from your preferred spirit”—which Hughes’ claims, “is common in Hoodoo/Conjure/Rootwork traditions”—have been major points of contention for Christian writers condemning the event as Satanically inspired.
Catholic Online called the organizer’s assertions that “they aren’t involved in ‘Black magic’ and claim they are basing their system in Catholic and Protestant beliefs,” “a bold-faced lie,” noting that “Christian leaders are taking the threat very seriously.” The CNA post refers to the use of Psalm 23 and other Christian overtones in the ritual as, “perversions and inversions of our faith,” which are “common in the Satanic religions which seek to defile the Holy Word of God in their rituals.”
These resentments seem to be at the core of Christianity’s opposition to magic, which could be interpreted as antagonistic in its borrowing of traditionally Christian themes which are, in their view, misapplied to serve other forms of belief. This perception of the Neopagan religions, and magic in general, contributes to a dangerous level of institutionalized intolerance, born out of ignorance, or perhaps a rejection, of the actual professed tenets of the these believers. For some on the Christian right, an ancient “spiritual war” between Christians and witches has been rekindled in modern America through the latter’s opposition to Donald Trump.
For those who believe that each word of Bible is the authentic truth of God, readings of scripture insist that spell casters, magicians, and sorcerers represent enemies of the Lord’s people and nothing short of physical manifestations of the Devil on Earth. Fundamentalism dictates a literal interpretation of scripture, the surface contradictions in which often causes headaches for its adherents, but also leads to hard-lined social and political views.
Deconstructing the biblical basis of witch hatred is beyond the scope of this post, and I don’t believe it would be very fruitful. Rather, I hope that anyone reading this, who may hold negative attitudes toward the magical community, will consider reaching out to a witch or wizard and asking about their moral intentions.
I also hope that magic’s association with the anti-Trump movement will not be to its detriment. After all, Evangelical Christianity has, in my opinion, abandoned many core ethical principles in its adoption of an inflexible political perspective and its transformation into “Christian Nationalism.”