Earlier this weekend, witches and other magicians from around the country and around the world participated in a mass ritual to bind Donald Trump. The working caught the attention of everyone from magical folk to mainstream news organizations to those opposed to such actions… and those who decided to work against it. While I support the goals of this working, I’m not participating in it.
Under the Ancient Oaks is more of a religious blog than a magical blog, so for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with such things, a binding is a magical working to constrain the actions of another. It doesn’t attempt to harm the target of the spell (at least not from the perspective of the spell caster), just to prevent them from doing something harmful themselves. It is generally considered to be a more ethical, less coercive means of influencing the behavior of another. I think that view is naïve at best, something we’ll get into a bit later in this post.
I strongly support the use of magic for creating social, economic, and political change. Magic alone is not enough, but magic can shift the odds in our favor, and when the stakes are as high as they are around Trump and his administration, we need all the help we can get.
In his first month, Trump has attacked refugees and immigrants, tried to silence scientists, removed federal protection for transgendered students, tried to intimidate the press, and appointed a cabinet dedicated to destroying public education (DeVos), prioritizing economic exploitation over environmental protection (Pruitt), prosecuting marijuana users, ignoring voting rights violations, and supporting government seizure of the property of those accused but not convicted of crimes (Sessions). The only good thing he’s done is pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.
We know that’s just the start. When your enemy tells you what he’s going to do, best believe him. And start working against him with all the tools at our disposal, including magical tools.
The working in question can be found on the website of author and Tarot teacher Michael M. Hughes. It’s said to have been created by “a member of a private magical order who wishes to remain anonymous.” Who wrote it isn’t really important. What’s important is that it’s not likely to be effective, and therefore it is a poor use of your time and energy to perform.
The Publicity Around This Working is Harmful
The idea of circulating this far and wide and bringing in thousands of magic users is appealing. The more people you can get working toward a common goal, the more power you can raise and the greater the likelihood of its success. But there are two problems.
First, not all magic users are equal. Some are well-trained, experienced magicians. Some are beginners who are still trying to figure out what they’re doing. Some don’t have the necessary skills or the temperament to learn them. Just bringing more people into the working isn’t going to make it effective.
Learning by doing is a fine tradition that I strongly support. But if you learn something by doing it the wrong way or the ineffective way, you aren’t going to learn much.
More importantly, the public nature of this working means it has attracted attention from those who are opposed to it. A few magicians support Trump and have upped their efforts to protect him. And various fundamentalist Christians who love the idea of “spiritual warfare” are actively working against this spell. Their magical skills are mostly undeveloped (though some are quite powerful) but they outnumber us and their countermeasures will have an impact, though just how much is impossible to say.
Working magic against a figure as powerful as the President of the United States is extremely difficult. He’s supported by the attention of millions of fans and voters, and he’s as charismatic as they come. Attracting the attention of his supporters makes our work that much harder.
Remember the Witches Pyramid: to know, to will, to dare, and to keep silence.
This Spell is Poorly Constructed
Others have pointed out their own problems with this spell – these are mine.
It ignores the sovereignty of spiritual beings. This spell calls on elemental spirits, angels, demons, and ancestors to bind Trump. Why would they do that for you? I can guarantee the elemental spirits don’t give a damn one way or another. Angels and demons have their own agendas, and many of my ancestors would have voted for Trump. They aren’t going to do it because they agree with our politics.
What authority do you have to command these spirits? Experienced magicians working in some traditions may have authority over some spirits, but no one has authority over all of them – and beginners have none. These are independent beings with their own sovereignty and agency – treat them respectfully.
Do you have existing relationships with any of these spirits? If so, they may be willing to help you. If not, you’re likely to get the same response you give when someone you’ve never heard of sends you an e-mail asking for money.
Are you going to pay them for their work? If so, with what? A few ounces of wine that you weren’t going to finish anyway isn’t likely to be much incentive to take on such a big job.
It implies the spell caster will be safe. In his explanation of the working, Michael Hughes says:
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.
This is reflective of dualistic thinking: some magic is good and other magic is evil – white magic vs. black magic, if you prefer. Magic isn’t that simple. Life isn’t that simple.
In almost 25 years of magical practice, I’ve seen no evidence the Threefold Law actually works as stated by some Wiccans. I’ve seen plenty of evidence of the “Strawberry Jam Effect” – you can’t work with it without getting it all over yourself. Some of this is psychological – the more you think about aggressive magic, the more aggressive you’ll become. Some is spiritual – ask spirits for their help and they’re going to want something in return. Good intent is no protection and generic disclaimers (“for the good of all with harm to none”) serve only to weaken the spell.
This spell also has a pretty naïve and ill-informed idea about what constitutes violence:
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.
Real magic is not safe. Witchcraft is not safe. Participating in a revolution is not safe. Those who pretend it’s safe are dangerously naïve. Experienced magicians who promise beginners safety are behaving irresponsibly. Either that, or they aren’t as experienced as they think they are.
I’m not trying to scare off beginners or anyone else. This work is necessary and I want everyone who can to participate. But I want them to participate with their eyes wide open.
Do you really want your President to “fail utterly”? The President of the United States is in charge of everything in the Executive branch of the federal government. Do you want the Post Office to fail? The Centers for Disease Control? The EPA? The Social Security Administration? Part of Trump’s agenda was a much-needed increase in infrastructure spending – do you want that to fail?
I want most of Trump’s policies to fail: those that are nationalistic and xenophobic, those that prioritize greater wealth for the rich over a more equitable distribution for all, those that deny established science, and those that pander to his fundamentalist Christian supporters.
But I want my government to work, and that means I do not want Trump to fail utterly. I just want him to fail in his wrong-headed policy decisions.
Specificity in target selection is one of the primary keys to successful magic.
Trump is a Symptom of a Deeper Problem, Not Its Cause
Blow up the Death Star, stake the head vampire, kill Hitler, and everything is all good and fine. Our popular culture tells us that if you remove the head, the body will die. Reality is rarely that simple.
If you get rid of Trump then you get Pence, who looks and acts Presidential but who is a raving misogynist and homophobe. In 2020 you may get Ted Cruz, who has zero respect for individual rights and wants to create a Christian theocracy.
Trump won because millions of people felt like the game was stacked against them and Trump would do something about it. He won because it’s easier to blame jobs going overseas on voiceless immigrants than on billionaire executives… and on yourself for demanding “lowest price always.” He won because Washington has become dysfunctional and he promised to drain the swamp. Remember: Barack Obama – a black man – won twice on a platform of “hope and change.” Hillary ran on “I’m ready for this” and lost.
Trump and his policies are the immediate problem. If you get bitten by a snake, treat the wound first, then look for the nest. But unless we address the underlying issues – politically, socially, and spiritually – we will get one bad leader after another. This is complicated, it’s hard, and it will take a lot longer than getting rid of an incompetent President, even if we only get rid of him by the 22nd Amendment.
But if we don’t address these issues in an honest and straightforward manner, we’ll never fix them.
What To Do Instead
Do what you do best. Do it passionately. Do it intelligently and mindfully. Most of all, do it faithfully for as long as it takes.
I’ve done binding spells with only modest success. I’m much better with sigil magic. I’m even better with bardic magic. I’m going to work in the areas where I’ll be most effective – I suggest you do the same.
Do specific workings against specific targets. “Stopping Trump” is so vague as to be meaningless – it’s like all these nice pretty useless workings for “world peace.” It’s too big, too broad, and too vague.
But stopping an illegal executive order on immigration? That can be done. How about a truth-revealing spell on his conflicts of interest or protection spells for immigrants? How about prayers for your transgendered friends, particularly those still in school?
The more specific and the more localized you can make your workings, the better your chances of succeeding. That’s not as glamourous as “binding Trump” but it’s a lot more effective.
Attack the core problems. Patriarchy. Systemic racism. Income inequality. Xenophobia. The wrong values and a lack of virtue. All of these problems are expressed in laws, policies, and cultural norms. Laws, policies, and cultural norms can be changed.
These problems can’t be fixed right away but they can be improved. Go make them better.
Keep up the mundane action. Say this much for Trump: he’s reinvigorated citizen engagement. Keep writing and calling your elected representatives, keep marching, and keep giving to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
Our government officials are rattled by all this attention – they don’t know what to do with an angry and engaged citizenry. But they’re assuming that all they have to do is wait us out – sooner or later we’ll get bored or frustrated and we’ll quit. We have to keep it up through the 2018 mid-term elections and on through the next Presidential election in 2020. And beyond that.
Politicians will always ignore citizens unless they’re made to pay a price for ignoring us. They only understand two things: money and votes. We have to keep this up.
Build a better way where you are. Trump or no Trump, the world is becoming a less stable, more dangerous place. We will not get through this difficult time alone. We need to build strong, vibrant, caring communities. We need to build alliances with other people of good will. We need to build alliances with our Gods, ancestors, and spirits. And we need to take care of ourselves.
But Do Something
If you like this mass binding of Trump, go for it. I suggest you re-write parts of the spell to make it stronger and more specific, and I strongly suggest you do cleansing and purification work both before and after. I question its effectiveness, but it can’t hurt.
No, it’s not safe – but real magic never is.
Regardless of which activities you choose, if you have magical skills you can’t not do something. Defending your country and its citizens and residents – both human and other-than-human – is part of your civic duty.
The expansion of individual rights and liberties over the past 60 years has been a good and necessary thing. But along the way, we’ve lost our sense of obligation to the common good. That’s a bad thing. So I’ll close with this often-quoted and often-ignored quote from President John F. Kennedy:
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
For some of us, what we can do for our country is to work magic.