On Halloween, the moon will be full, and blue. Thousands of witches and other magic practitioners will gather—on social media and in person—to cast spells under its glow. They will bring candles, the justice tarot card, a map of the United States, and paint. They will call on the spirits of the elements and their ancestors to “raise a mighty blue wave … to wash away the corruption and injustice and wickedness of Donald Trump and the Republican Party in a peaceful transition of power.” Then they’ll paint their maps entirely blue to ensure Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. To members of the Magic Resistance, this ritual, which you can find in full on Medium, is a spell to save America. So mote it be.
President Trump puts US citizens in a magical kind of mood. The semi-ironic Cult of Kek, a bunch of Pepe the Frog–obsessed edgelords native to 4chan, claims to have used “meme magic” to buoy him into office. The 2017 Women’s March shortly after his inauguration saw the return of protest witches, carrying signs with slogans like “we are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.” Since then (and for a variety of reasons) witchcraft and other forms of occultism have increased in visibility on the internet, finding online havens within mainstream social media platforms like Tumblr, Facebook, and, more recently, TikTok.
Much of the magic you’ll find on WitchTok and elsewhere has nothing to do with politics. In fact, it’s often almost indistinguishable from cottagecore, an internet aesthetic that celebrates traditional crafts and women wearing long dresses in fields, but instead of drying flowers for tea or potpourri, TikTok’s witch community is packing them into tiny jars with crystals and powders and sealing them with candle wax to cast spells. While there’s always someone concerned about Satan worship in the comments, most of the conjurations cast on TikTok are more like self-care rituals.
Over the past few months, though, spells of political defiance have been moving to the fore. “The reason magic resistance and WitchTok have become such a force is because of two intersecting trends in culture,” says Michael Hughes, a magician and author of several viral anti-Trump spells, including the blue wave incantation. “Young people are moving away from traditional religion and toward being more open and compassionate and inclusive of marginalized communities.” Meanwhile, those new conjurers are being met with pro-Trump countermagics—though usually from people far older and less pagan.
Political magic isn’t an internet age phenomenon, especially if you don’t make a meaningful distinction between magic and religion. Romans would ply gods with offerings in exchange for offing their political rivals. British occultists worked magic designed to prevent their country’s invasion during World War II. Yippies marched on Washington to levitate the Pentagon. So when Hughes and the rest of the Magic Resistance Facebook group, which is about 6,000 people, attempt to bind President Trump to prevent him from doing harm to himself or others each month, they’re really participating in a long-running tradition. And even though Trump does not appear to be bound, they feel their efforts haven’t been in vain. “We did the blue wave spell first for the midterm elections, and I consider that a rousing success,” Hughes says. “If we hadn’t taken back the House, the president wouldn’t have been impeached.”
Throughout Trump’s first term, they’ve been joined by many informal networks of magical practitioners in trying to halt the president by any magical means necessary. All summer, TikTokers cast spells of protection for Black Lives Matter protesters and hexed white supremacists. Now the 2020 election has the full attention of their magical online activism. Trump has been bound, hexed, cursed, exorcised. People have sicced Ancient Greek Gods like Apollo on him.
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As the Covid-19 pandemic has worn on, people have only gotten more comfortable participating in collective online rituals. “Magic creates communities and political coalitions in a digital age,” Sabina Magliocco, an anthropologist who studies magic, said at a University of British Columbia symposium on religion and the 2020 presidential election this week. Witches aren’t just lighting some incense and calling democracy saved, though. “Participants are also heavily engaged politically,” Magliocco added. “They’re actively involved in voter registration, postcard writing campaigns, canvassing for Democratic candidates, and donating to Democratic and anti-racist causes.” Hughes thinks of magic rituals as fueling the tanks of more conventional, earthly political resistance—a spiritual companion to calling one’s senator, not a replacement for it.
Of course, internet occultists don’t get pushback only from concerned Karens in the comments. Other groups feel Trump requires magical protection, and they’ve been spurred on by the rising online presence of anti-Trump witchery. The Cult of Kek is still around but has faded considerably as adherents move on to fresher lulz. More prominent are evangelical Christian groups praying away WitchTok’s spells. “In this worldview, the left and everything it stands for are the personification of evil, while the right, with Trump as its leader, is literally acting at the direction of God,” said Magliocco. (Some devotees of the QAnon meta-conspiracy see the world this way.) Operation POTUS Shield works online, she said. "They pray at the same time to create a shield of prayer around the president that is supposed to repel the magical onslaught of his enemies.” From a social media perspective, it’s not all that different from a coordinated hashtag campaign. They’re just trying to get their message trending in the cosmos.
To nonbelievers, this magical battle for America might seem frivolous, but the spiritualism is actually evidence of how deadly serious practitioners think this election is. According to Magliocco, magic tends to crop up most in high-stakes, high-anxiety situations. “It’s predictable that magic would emerge as a technology to address these issues,” she said. “For anyone in the United States right now, this feels like the election of their lives.” With lives so confined by social distance and tethered to the internet, America feels far, far out of any average citizen’s control. Turning to magic is a way of snatching power from the jaws of helplessness. Or, at least, it feels that way—and that’s a hard spell not to fall under.
*Correction (November 2, 2020, 1:00 PM ET): This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Sabina Maggliocco's surname.