Dissident Magician: An Interview with Michael M. Hughes

In light of recent accusations of Satanism, black magic, and all kinds of evil intentions directed against those who participated in last Friday’s mass ritual to “bind” Donald Trump, I contacted Michael M. Hughes—the organizer of the February 24th event and de facto public face of magical resistance—and invited him to set the record straight. Hughes shared his thoughts on religious freedoms, future relations with the Christian right, the political power of witchcraft and art, Judeo-Christian roots of magic, and the benefits of “self-exorcism,” adding moral complexity to this heavily polarizing event.

Was the Trump-binding ritual at all Satanically inspired? Or, how does this ritual relate to the Devil, as characterized in traditional Christian dogma?

Hughes: “Gods no! Satan has nothing to do with this. None of the people involved in crafting it are Satanists or devil worshippers. Some, including myself, practice traditions of magic that are rooted in Judaeo-Christian magical texts from as early as the first century. Nearly every religion has magic in its history, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Shinto, the many African traditional religions (and the syncretic traditions that emerged from the enslaved diaspora), and of course the enormous number of indigenous/folk magic practices across the planet. Satanism is a very marginal religion, and I see it as a silly, anti-spiritual reaction to Christianity.” 

How would you respond to Christian critics of the ritual, specifically those who view it as antithetical to Christian doctrine and perceive it as an act of “spiritual warfare” against the Christian god? 

Hughes: “It may be antithetical to their particular doctrine, but magic has been part of Christianity since its earliest days. Many early Christians, particularly in Egypt, practiced magic. There is some very solid scholarship suggesting Jesus was viewed as a magician (see the provocative but well-sourced works of Morton Smith and Robert Conner). Jesus worked miracles, and told his disciples to go and do the same in his name, and many Christian magicians take his instructions literally. Catholics lighting candles and calling on the saints and angels is a very ancient form of magic that happens every day. Also, evangelical Christianity of the variant common in the U.S. today is a recent historical development. I respect Christians who want nothing to do with magic, and that is their right. I would just hope they would give us the same respect.” 

Do you believe that there is any way to bridge the gap between magical orders and the Christian right? Do you see any commonalities between witches and Christians in this county?

Hughes: “Both believe in their own form of magic (prayer being the magic of the Christian Right), but I see little hope of a reconciliation, unfortunately. To the Christian Right, only prayer in the name of Jesus is acceptable. Anything else results in eternal damnation. It’s unfortunate they leave no wiggle room for nuanced discussion, but that’s their right.”

What is your personal religious affiliation? 

Hughes: “I was raised Catholic and have spent my life studying world religions. My spiritual beliefs are aligned with the Perennial Philosophy, Neoplatonism, Buddhism, Taoism, shamanism, indigenous and folk traditions, the mystery religions of antiquity, animism, and Christianity, but I don’t cling to any label. As a magician, I draw from a large number of traditions, and honor them all.”

What is the motivation driving this movement? What do you see as its moral justification? 

Hughes: “I see this as a multifaceted movement. Its goals are to stand up for human freedom, for social justice, environmental stewardship, protection of nonhuman creatures, nonviolence, peace, and equality. What differentiates it from other movements is the embrace of magic and the realm of the spirits. It is also based in the power of art, as I see art and magic as deeply intertwined. So our rituals must be artistic statements as well as spiritual acts. Our moral justification comes from the need for self-defense—in this particular ritual, against the attacks on the Constitution, civil liberties, the environment, the marginalized, immigrants, the sick, the poor—which is why I find it rather distressing that so-called ‘Christians’ are supporting an administration that seems to be attacking all the things Jesus stood for.”

How would you respond to critics who say that witchcraft is ineffective way for fighting fascism? 

Hughes: “First, I’m not a witch, although I respect witches and Wiccans and was delighted to see so many of them join this movement. The media has turned this into a story about witchcraft, but it was created by people from a number of traditions. I believe this spell has already worked its magic. It has energized an enormous number of people to focus their consciousnesses, through ritual action, on stopping a very dangerous president and his administration. Even if it is not successful in binding his harmful actions (and that remains to be seen), it has helped thousands, if not tens of thousands, of concerned people reclaim their sense of spiritual power and agency in the face of the unrelenting, 24/7 news coverage of the assault on things we hold dear. Taking care of one’s mental health is critical in challenging times, and I see the binding ritual as a self-exorcism of sorts, purging our collective consciousness of the banal, oppressive energy. We told Trump, en masse, from all corners of the earth, that we want him to stop his assaults on our nation and our biosphere. And our message was heard, loud and clear. And it felt wonderful and cleansing. And we will keep doing it, along with our other, more concrete forms of activism, until he gets the message.”

Michael M Hughes is a Baltimore-based author, speaker, and self-described “magical thinker.” For more information, visit http://michaelmhughes.com/.


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