Michael M. Hughes describes himself as a “writer, speaker and magical thinker.” He has published novels, short stories and numerous articles on various occult and esoteric topics, including the tarot, Dungeons and Dragons, UFOs, and occult references in popular media (his work on decoding the first episode of True Detective is particularly notable). Recently, Hughes posted an article on Medium calling for a mass binding spell of President Donald Trump, and, after being first spread around among the pagan community, began to hit the mainstream and went viral, being covered by mainstream media outlets like Rolling Stone, TIME, The Boston Globe and many others (Breitbart covered it too, referring to the effort as “black magic”). I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Hughes this past weekend and learn about the planning behind the ritual and what he considers its implications. It was a very pleasant experience, as Mr. Hughes is a mercurial, funny and insightful individual. (Note: Hughes’ ritual includes use of the Tower tarot card; forgive me for including the Angel, but for some reason I was unable to upload any new images to this post. 2/28/17: I added one for you-Jason/Editor)
PA: Did you think the response to this ritual would be so great? It went viral!
MH: I felt when I posted it to Medium that there was a certain amount of “right thing, right time” behind it, and I had a feeling it would catch on, but I had no idea that it would blow up into this international thing so quickly. I’ve been non-stop fielding interviews and radio spots, and I turned down an appearance on Fox and Friend, but mainly that was because I’m trying to be selective and I didn’t want to feed into any false assumptions they might have. Also, I don’t know anyone who watches Fox. I did one shock jock radio show and the guy tried to rip me apart and I just laughed at him; he hung up on me.
PA: I’ve done the radio thing and been set up before, they act all curious and well-informed off the air but the minute the show starts, they trip you up with sensationalist nonsense. But there’s a bit of negative coverage of this; I guess you saw that Breitbart piece that referred to this whole thing as “black magic.”
MH: This thing just took on a life of its own. I know that fundamentalists and those who think magic is evil would react that way, and try to counteract it with prayer events; many of them have been working for a while doing prayer shields for Trump, so I kind of expected it
PA: A friend told me about a group of ceremonial magicians who were doing protection magic for Trump and his family during the same time frame as the binding spell. Did you hear about any other pagan groups that were opposed to the binding?
MH: It’s odd, there is this one group of witches that contacted me to say they were cursing me. There’s always been an element of the pagan community that’s kind of white supremacist and right wing, unfortunately.
PA: Yeah, it sucks.
MH: Obviously most people who identify as witches or pagans or whatever tend to be fairly liberal for the most part, but there is certainly a faction of right wingers. This one group is led by a prominent Golden Dawn magician who is a total lunatic. He got very aggressive with me, said “you’ll regret this, etc.”
PA: It’s crazy to me that those people exist in our community. But there were more liberal witches who seemed to have issues with this too. I think the backlash is kind of ridiculous. Especially the people who think it has to be done in a very particular way to be effective. Most of the people I know who decided they wanted to take part decided to do their own thing, and let the shape of their ritual arise organically from the situation an their own political proclivities. My friend Ingrid in Atlanta did something outdoors with some very creative altar decorations and buried a baby carrot to represent Trump, to turn his actions to wormfood and return his energies to the earth. Not knowing about her ritual, I myself also chose to use a carrot, and it wasn’t until afterwards I saw that your own document suggests using a baby carrot too!. Now, I did something very simple because I was very tired when midnight started to roll around; I looked in the fridge for a carrot to represent Trump, hoping to find a stubby or broken one, you know, but I found a full size double carrot, so I figured the Universe of the Carrot People was telling me to bind both Trump and Bannon! So I lit a candle, called the Watchtowers and bound that double carrot three times with twine, boom, done.
MH: (Laughter) That’s great. And I’m glad people are doing their own thing. I kind of released this whole thing into the collective, it’s its own thing now. I feel like it’s exploding everywhere now. For me the key to making it work is the simultaneity. The concentrated energy that we all put into this was so crucial. I had so many different kinds of practitioners contact me, there were Christian witches who wanted to take part, and Santeria practitioners, and root workers and conjurers, Hindus, it’s become a very ecumenical thing, really. I understand some people think including an invocation of demons gives some people the willies, and that’s fine. [note: the ritual text has an invoking of helpful forces, including calling the elements, heavenly hosts and spirits of the ancestors, and yes, demons of the infernal realms] This thing has two real purposes that I can see: one, is to bind him from doing damage. That’s the primary goal. But the other goal, equally important, is a self-exorcism. So many people that did this said they felt so much better after they did this, like they purged their consciousness of this man’s oppressive presence and influence. And those goals were part of the design of the original document, where a few of us worked together to see how best to direct energy.What fascinates me the most about he response to this, is that I expected blowback from the fundamental Christians, obviously that would happen. But I have been simply amazed by the response from a lot of self-identified witches, mostly Wiccans. I have tried to be forthright about my intentions, and I am not a Wiccan but I have studied Wicca, I have lots of Wiccan friends, I respect the community. But there has been this backlash: people saying, what about the Threefold Law, or saying “you can’t do it this way” or “this will tie you to that person’s karma” and things like that. Some of the vehement hate that I’ve gotten has been from the occult community and that was really surprising, to me, so when some of those people quoted the Wiccan Rede or Threefold Law at me I’d say I respect that is your belief, but not all people who practice magic believe in that, even if we all have some version of karma or how things come back to us. But Doreen Valiente developed that in 1954, so I think it’s weird that a lot of Wiccans have become so dogmatic, it’s almost a mirror of the way fundamentalist Christians are.
PA: I tend to agree, and I think part of that is that a lot of people who identify as witches or Wiccan these days came to it in the age of the internet, and have maybe never read an actual book on witchcraft from cover to cover, or get their information from websites or, these days, just basic memes and slogans shared on social media. That limited information and experience lends itself to being dogmatic, strangely enough. But some of the old guard Wiccans are like that too, for sure. But my own coven is Alexandrian, and has been around a long time, and they were on board with this and basically have the attitude that most experienced witches know what they’re doing and can focus attention and mitigate harm in a variety of ways.
MH: The magic that I practice is very eclectic and I work with a lot of traditions: from Greek magical papyri, Egyptian magic, folk magic, Catholic saint magic, candle working, etc. So when someone says “You can’t do it that way” or complains that it’s not the right planetary hour or whatever. From all ends of the occult spectrum I have seen this kind of thing and that really surprised me, that and the level of venom from some of these folks. I polished the original document up a little to clarify things and help address peoples’ concerns, but the people originally working on it were from a couple of different traditions and they initially made it very general so it could be accessible to everyone.
PA: Could you talk a bit more about how this whole idea came about and your involvement in it?
MH: People in various groups I correspond with about various magic topics were talking about it and it was sort of a collective decision to do some magical activism of some sort. The original ritual was a working document but as it started coming together we noticed that a consensus formed around it: that it should be a binding spell versus a curse or hex. There was lots of back and forth, but as it came together, some of the original people writing it said, look we don’t want to put this out there because we’re professionals and we stay under cover.
PA: They’re in the broom closet, in other words?
MH: Right! And so I said well, I am open about it, I write about this stuff all the time, so I’m happy to put it out there. So I became the face of this thing, but the genesis came from others, I just finessed it a little bit, tried to make the language more poetic.
PA: Can you give a snapshot of what your own working looked like?
MH: It was livestreamed on Facebook; we did a version where we said “You’re fired!” instead of “So mote it be” and we had a fire going so we all threw our pictures of Trump into the fire at the same time. Then we grounded by laughing and had music and drinks to further ground ourselves, and it turned into a celebration with really positive energy. The other thing was, and this is the simplest thing of all: taking part as a group in this ritual, we got together and talked about it, and when we did it, it was a release for a couple of hours. There was no Trump, even though he was the subject of our binding, he wasn’t there. Afterwards when we were celebrating it felt like we had expunged him from our collective consciousness. On a basic level with this type of working, when so many like-minded people come together and you just feel that connection, it’s like the feeling when you go to a mass protest. It’s invigorating and beautiful and positive, it’s a celebration.
I was really tired when I did mine so I kept it minimal, but I recall feeling immediately better afterwards. I wanted to ask, did you march anywhere the weekend of the inauguration?
No, but I marched on the day after the election in Baltimore; it was spontaneous but it drew a few thousand people. That’s the thing: whenever you do something like this, I know there is a critique of such things as “slactivism”, people ask “what are you actually doing to make a difference?” But the difference happens in ourselves; how that energy and coming together changes us. I think that spell already worked. I subscribe to the old maxim that when you start preparing for ritual, that’s when it starts to take effect, and I think, the way this spread so far and so quickly, the way people started talking about it, that means it’s already working.
PA: So what do you have to say to the people who think this was potentially damaging in some way, or dangerous for the uninitiated to dabble in?
MH: I think magic is part of who we are. We’ve been doing magic ever since we first looked up at the stars as early hominids. Every time someone walks into a Catholic church and lights a candle for someone who is sick, they’re doing magic. The idea that magic has to be limited to people who have taken vows or who have degrees from some order, to that I say, magic is of the people. It’s around us every day. What thrilled me about the response to this was that so many people said they had never done anything like this before, so who knows? Maybe they’ll get a taste for it and feel the energy and the connection and feel really good. So many people took part in this who never thought they’d take part in a ritual. I think that says something about where we’re at and where we’re going.