Over the past couple of years I have found private Internet message boards to be both a place for enriching connection and toxic stupidity. Communities are always diverse by nature and that's a good thing. When the right bunch of people come together, a lot can be gained intellectually and emotionally. On the other hand, it only takes a few miscreants pushing an unhinged agenda to send the entire train off the rails.
In spite of the uptick in alt-right Pepe trolls infiltrating many magic and alternative news boards, I have managed to meet some very interesting and genuine people. People who I can reach out to privately from time to time about everything from creative writing, political catastrophes or how to develop a solitary occult practice. Michael M. Hughes has been one of those people for me. Interestingly, in the brief time I've been in contact with him he has developed into a bit of an Internet counterculture celebrity in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.
A lot of us folks who interact with him across various boards looked on in 2017 as his binding ritual against Trump (and all who albeit him) turned into an international meme. From Medium to the airwaves of Fox News nuts, the implications of a witchcraft ceremony directed at the president sent shockwaves through a year chock-full of controversy and crazy weirdness. Fierce debates have ensued not just in the fundamentalist Christian circles that pray for Trump but amongst the many disparate occult communities who have scrutinized the action from an insider's perspective.
Despite what you think of the binding rituals (which are still going strong and growing), Hughes actually has a lot more going for him besides. As we discuss in this interview, Hughes has an intense relationship with the Tarot, the history of conspiracy theories and is an accomplished horror author. For certain, Hughes is not afraid to take a stand for an unpopular position. This applies to his beliefs about the history of the Tarot, electoral politics and calling out what he considers destructive conspiratorial thinking.
I've not always agreed with Hughes about every nuance but on the whole I have benefited from his influence and contributions to ongoing dialogues within the left-field communities of thought I participate in. There's a lot to be said for experience, and Hughes has seen and done much. We rarely if ever agree with anyone on every fine point. In fact it's quite healthy to rub against people with different perspectives and backgrounds. As long as you're not espousing hateful rhetoric or baseless drivel, there's space along the spectrum for all of us to relate and exchange where we agreement and have respect where we don't.
This conversation in particular gave me a lot to think about and rabbit-holes to look into. I hope the same will prove true for you as well.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, STAY WEIRD.
|Writer & Occultist, Michael M. Hughes|
What was your first exposure to the occult?
I can’t even remember. It was the 70s, so popular culture was soaking in occultism and the supernatural when I was a kid, and my father was always reading books about ghosts, UFOs, bigfoot, and other paranormal subjects. He’d leave the books lying around and I’d scoop them up as soon as he was finished. We never missed an episode of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy and a family friend once screened a 16mm print of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods in his living room. I also read a lot of horror fiction and watched every horror movie I could find on TV, and there were lots of occult tropes in that material.
But as far as western occultism, I distinctly remember reading Hans Holzer’s The Witchcraft Report and being simultaneously frightened by accounts of a Black Mass and turned on by some of the sexual Wiccan content. There is an invocation to Satan in the book that I was always scared to read aloud, thanks to my Catholic upbringing—although I was tempted.
Did you have a personal experience that sparked your interest in all this?
Some of my earliest memories are of unusual balls of light in my room, and on several occasions I recall being struck by some sort of paralysis and losing consciousness when those lights would appear. I was very much a mystic from an early age, and could readily dissociate and lose myself in imaginary worlds. I had a number of experiences that convinced me of the reality of psi phenomena, including prophetic dreams. I even went to the state science fair in the 7th grade with a project on pyramid power. I’ll never forget the fair organizers struggling to determine which field of science my project fit into. I guess metaphysics wasn’t on the approved list.
I also got a tarot card deck as a present when I was ten or eleven. It was the James Bond 007 tarot deck, which had been created for the film Live and Let Die. I still have that deck.
In what ways does the paranormal intersect with the occult?
The occult is simply the practical set of techniques aimed at generating and interacting with so-called paranormal phenomena. Not all occultism, of course—theurgy, for instance, is largely spiritual in its goals, as are a number of traditions in which magic has been excised or psychologized.
A lot of pagans, for example, consider themselves religious but don’t practice any sort of practical magic. But any occult tradition that employs practical magic or works with spirits is operating outside of reductionist materialism.
Why do you think people are drawn to occult and magical thinking and behavior?
First, because we’re wired for magical thinking. Even the staunchest reductionist materialist woo-hater can’t escape it. And despite the insistence of Dawkins and the New Atheist/CSICOP brigade, I’m convinced magical thinking—with some exceptions—is good for you. Studies continue to show that certain magical habits and beliefs, like prayer and meditation, are associated with better mental and physical health in most people.
Thinking magically doesn’t mean you become an airheaded new ager or jettison your discernment and analytical skills. In fact, you need them more if you practice any sort of formal occultism, and you need to become quite critical of your own capacity for self-delusion if you want to avoid the many pitfalls associated with the magical arts.
And magic simply works. Not all the time, not always as we wish it to, but I’ve found—and many people smarter than me would agree—that thinking magically and using practical magic techniques makes life immensely more interesting and fun. I’ve learned to ignore the sad dullards who insist on sucking all the magic out of life.
Why engage with occult or magic practices? Understanding the intense commitment and demand it places on individuals, what sorts of tangible benefit do you point to that displays its value to you or anyone else?
Well, I think you’re either someone who is drawn to it, or you aren’t. Magic isn’t for everyone, or probably most people, In the same way entheogens are not for everyone. First, you need to be a serious reader, and readers are becoming scarcer than ever. Sorry, but you can’t become a magician by watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts, no matter how well they’re packaged or what incredible powers they promise. Most of the best resources are still books. So that weeds out a lot of wannabes right there.
But practical magic requires no more commitment than many other hobbies. Playing videogames consumes much more time than all but the most demanding occult practices. And if you watch TV for several hours each day like the average person, you could take up multiple magical practices and still have time to spare. So, I question the need for “intense commitment.”
Magic can certainly be demanding, particularly if you decide to take on the Abramelin working or a heavy ceremonial, lodge-based practice. But most people can develop a magical practice even with a full-time job and a family and still have room for other hobbies. It’s also helpful to have a sympathetic spouse for when you’re chanting voces magicae and stinking up your basement with frankincense and myrrh.
The tangible benefits are too many to count. A deeper engagement with spiritual realities, insight into your true/higher self, and exploring the inner workings of the universe are pretty decent ways to spend your time. What’s the alternative? A nine-to-five corporate job, tranquilizing yourself in front of the TV, retiring, and dying?
The Tarot represents a multitude of purposes for the people who work with it. How does it work for you and what purpose do you think it best serves?
Ah, that’s a very big question. The tarot is one of my favorite tools for interrogating myself and the universe around me. I use it for divination but also to get my head straight when I’m in a bad place. I’ve also been a professional reader for over two decades, so I’ve learned that a good reading can help people get through difficult situations and gain some clarity. As Gareth Knight says, tarot is like an old, trusted friend. That friend will help you, but will also call out your shit and smack you in the face if you need it.
It’s also a wonderful tool for magic. I use older decks (pre-Rider-Waite-Smith) because they work best for me, and I’m a certified snob and a purist. You can keep your comic book-style art and Wiccan kitty decks and all that nonsense. Give me a good Tarot de Marseille or Soprafino deck and the magic pours out of it. The one exception to my preference for historic decks is the Alchemical Tarot by Robert M. Place.
|Tarot de Marseille|
The art is gorgeous and in readings it regularly blows away me and my clients. Otherwise, go for the pure essence of tarot without the Golden Dawn esoteric cruft, and the Marseille is the crystallization of tarot iconography that all later decks grew from. I like Crowley’s Thoth deck, and it works well for me, but I’m not a Thelemite and the symbolism tends to be distracting to my clients.
What is it about a deck of mass-produced cards that causes it to “live” or to have an actual responsive interaction with the user?
It’s not the cards, it’s the consciousness of the reader. I don’t believe in smudging the cards, or purifying them, though please do it if you feel inclined. They’re just paper. The magic is in the interaction between the archetypal iconography and the minds of the reader and querent.
And as far as divination goes, it’s a way of cutting up the present (in the Burroughsian sense) so the future can leak through. Divination is, in its most basic sense, introducing randomness into a symbolic system to generate synchronicity. That’s why tarot works, why runes work, why throwing yarrow stalks works, and why reading flame-cracked bones and turtle shells works.
What is your opinion on the correspondence heavy handling of the Tarot that evolved through the French and English occultists reframing that took the deck in a different direction?
I was very into it years ago when I was practicing Golden Dawn magic. But one night, when I was trying to wrap my head around the complex associations on the Tree of Life and the astrological decans and Hebrew letters, I had a eureka moment. The tarot began as a game in 15th century Italy.
The French esoteric Masons and the Victorian occultists were basing their theories about tarot correspondences on history we now know is false. So why was I trying to force-feed my brain with their system? I decided to abandon all of that and immerse myself in the history and to study the early decks firsthand. And that’s when the tarot opened up to me as a self-contained magical system.
I also read Jodorowsky’s magnificent The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards and it was a revelation. And although I sometimes teach beginner classes with the Rider-Waite-Smith just because it’s so damn ubiquitous, I encourage my advanced students to ditch the 20th century fantasy decks and go back to the powerful historic tarots.
Who were the main parties responsible for attributing the complex and multilayered symbolism onto the Tarot?
Etteilla, Court de Gebelin, Eliphas Levi, Papus, and their merry band of esoteric Masons, then the Victorian occultists of the Golden Dawn and, of course, Uncle Al. Don’t get me wrong—they did some incredible work. And it’s useful.
I practiced Golden Dawn magic and it is a potent, workable system, although I think it is overly complex and one of its more well-known practitioners is a certifiable loon. As an esoteric Freemason, I have nothing against other esoteric Masons or their made-up systems—after all, every system is made-up. If that sort of Hermetic magic floats your boat, I won’t rock it.
What are some changes or evolutions you’ve experienced in your personal practices and why?
After years of immersion in Wicca, chaos magic, and Golden Dawn-style Hermeticism, I abandoned all formal systems and decided I was going to seek the template underlying the world’s magical traditions. I started with the Greek Magical Papyri and read my way up to the present, doing my best to study transculturally and avoid a Western bias. I tried to tease out the basic techniques girding systems as separated by time and space as Graeco-Egyptian magic, Spare-style sigils, and Ifa.
And although there is always a danger in going Unitarian Universalist in one’s approach, or making the errors of Frazer and mono-mythologists like Joseph Campbell, it’s undeniable that the way humans do practical magic transcends cultures. Ancient Egyptians were casting circles, the Greeks were honoring the four (or seven) cardinal directions, poppets and sympathetic magic related to personal effects and body parts/products are nearly universal, and so on. The commonalities jump out at you when you study the history. It’s not a huge logical leap to imagine they stayed in use because they worked.
So I took some of these core practices and began experimenting with them. And I found that the simpler my magic became, the more it increased in effectiveness. I also had some negative experiences with heavy Cabalistic magic and Enochian, so left those behind. Folk magic (especially hoodoo), so-called “low” magic, and natural magic worked much better for me than ceremonial traditions.
I also avoided the Solomonic grimoire-based magic that is currently in vogue. I’ve had enough experience with discarnate entities outside of my magical practice to realize it was not worth dealing with astral lowlifes. I’m pretty particular about the humans I invite into my world, so why would I throw caution to the wind and invite a bunch of unpredictable demons? I don’t like ordering people around anyway, and I’d much rather work in concert with time-tested beings like gods, saints, angels, nature spirits, ancestors, and elementals.
I also believe that people who practice magic for a long time tend to do less magic as they get older. Once you are plugged into the current you find less need to direct it. Most of my magic nowadays is devotional and theurgic, and not directed at results. But when I do my rare rituals for results, they are much more effective.
What is your opinion of the notion that lodge initiation and system lineage makes one a better occultist or magician? To the extent that some lodges warn against individuals taking on rituals on their own without training because of some inherent danger in doing so?
I’m a Freemason, so I have great respect for lodge-based systems. There is nothing comparable to a formal initiation like Freemasonry, and I wish there were more magical esoteric societies and orders. But any lodge is only as good as its underlying system, and, more importantly, its leaders. I’ve always been a solo practitioner, and as an eclectic magician I detest dogma, so probably would not do very well in a formal magical lodge.
As for any lodge warning neophytes against doing magic on their own, fuck that. Magic is a lot less dangerous than driving a car, especially when you’re a beginner. And you need to occasionally burn your fingers and get your ass kicked to learn your limits.
For anyone who is attempting get their magic footing, what advice could you give or pitfalls to avoid?
Don’t buy into dogma or believe that any one system is the only path to truth. It’s okay to read pop culture books about magic, but don’t omit the source materials—the PGM, grimoires, Iamblichus and the theurgists, Hermetics, faerie lore, anthropological field studies, indigenous shamanism, mythologies ancient and modern.
Read widely and look for the similarities in differing traditions. Then pick some simple rituals from one tradition and practice. Keep a notebook. Expand and work with other traditions. If one feels like home, dive deeply into it. But as you grow, understand you may need to move on.
There’s nothing wrong with being an armchair magician, but if you want to practice the art, you need to start burning incense and lighting candles and creating sigils and circumambulating and talking to gods and spirits. Meditate, practice divination, pray, cast circles (or spheres, my preference), and begin trying to shape aspects of your reality in accordance with your will. You will be shocked when it works, and you will doubt yourself when it doesn’t, but if you keep at it you’ll find it becoming easier.
And learn your history—real history, not made-up stuff. It may be less romantic, but if you know the legitimate history of magic, your practice will benefit. And you won’t be called out for spouting nonsense.
Finally, never trust a magician who is a fuckup, a misanthrope, or a dogmatist. Any magician not leading a charmed life is not to be trusted.
I’m not sure if you’ve read the Tao Te Ching, but there’s a passage that really struck me and wonder what it means to you?
"Occult abilities are just flowers of the Tao
And the beginning of foolishness.
Therefore the Master dwells in the substantial
And not the superficial.
Rests in the fruit and not in the flower.
So let go of that and grasp this."
- Tao Te Ching, Ch. 38
Wow, I thought I knew the Tao Te Ching pretty well and I don’t remember that bit at all. It’s a beautiful piece of wisdom, and echoes Patanjali’s yoga sutras in warning magical noobs not to be so focused on flashy results.
Yes, it’s mind-blowing when you do a ritual and synchronicities blow up all around you and you get that book contract you created a sigil for. But once you accept the reality of magic, and if you aim to ascend Maslow’s ladder toward greater self-actualization, the work becomes more focused on alignment with the Tao and spiritual fulfillment vs. will-driven results magic.
You very publicly came out against conspiracy theorists in the last year. What prompted you to do so and what sort of response did you get from that?
I got sick of watching smart people get sucked into bullshit conspiracies, and the idiotic “pizzagate” was the breaking point. I lost a lot of friends, unfortunately, but I came to the hard realization that some people want to live in the toxic sewers of conspiracy culture because it feeds their egos and titillates their sensibilities.
It’s pretty disheartening to realize we live in a world where evil is largely banal and where it’s not Illuminati overlords hosting Eyes Wide Shut sex rituals who are running the world, but rather dull-eyed plutocrats in fancy suits like the Koch brothers and the Mercers. It would be much more interesting if we were ruled by ritual-obsessed Satanic elites instead of legions of corporatists and bureaucrats, but I’m not interested in those sorts of fantasies, as much fun as they might be to rant about.
I am now persona non grata among a certain set of esoteric and fortean conspiracy communities, but I realized I was wasting my time pleading for more objectivity and discernment when the average conspiracists don’t want to be objective and discerning. They want to be titillated. They want horror stories and fantasies about occultism and comic book evils.
I always took Robert Anton Wilson’s advice and interrogated my own belief systems (BS), particularly where I was inclined to see conspiracies. If your conspiracy theory can’t take interrogation and logical examination then it isn’t worth shit. But people want to believe in conspiracies—for numerous reasons, some sadly because they generate eyeballs and advertising dollars—and that desire prevents them from being honest and objective.
One of my biggest gripes with some of the major names in the conspiracy-inclined fortean communities is their antipathy to political engagement. I got ridiculed in one group I bailed out of because I am an activist, and I vote and support progressive political candidates. If you believe some nebulous “they” controls both Left and Right, what reason do you have to vote in an election if you’re just a puppet of George Soros?
It’s maddening to see so many otherwise intelligent people belittling political participation. And ironic that their rejection of political engagement only abets the powerful elites they claim to oppose—because if you’re not active, and you’re not voting, you’re simply allowing the powers that be to continue to consolidate their political control, stuff their offshore accounts, crush the marginalized, and pillage and ransack our remaining natural resources.
Can you give an overview of the way in which conspiracy culture was in say the 1960’s-70’s and how the Internet has turned it into the huge phenomenon and business that it is today?
In the 60s and 70s, when I became immersed in conspiracy culture, the focus was primarily on credible, well-sourced theories about the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, alphabet agency malfeasance around the globe and domestically, and the coverup of the UFO phenomenon.
The data were drawn from mostly reputable mainstream sources and were presented logically and by competent, knowledgeable investigators like John Judge, Jack Anderson, Harrison Livingstone, Walter Bowart, Martin Lee, and Bruce Shlain, to name just a few. The politics tended to skew Left, because the Left had been extensively targeted by the FBI and CIA.
Then came the Internet. I loved the early BBS communities like alt.conspiracy, and when the web exploded I spent a lot of time at Jeff Wells’ Rigorous Intuition board, where you could find some very smart people among the usual unhinged paranoiacs.
But 9/11 changed everything. There are many problems with the official narrative, but some of the most absurd theories gained traction, and the horror and incomprehension of that tragedy, combined with the massive growth of the web, brought conspiracy theories to the masses for the first time.
Social media, and its problem with self-reinforcing reality tunnels, was the final nail in serious conspiracy research. Every lunatic now had a megaphone and a YouTube channel in which to broadcast the most nonsensical, baseless conspiracy theorizing. YouTube is particularly problematic because video is much more powerful when it comes to manipulating beliefs via emotional content, sound, and imagery.
It got to the point where I simply refused to deal with people who responded to discussions by posting YouTube videos. Text can be quickly and easily scanned, sourced, and cross-checked against other sources, whereas I’m not going to waste my time watching some basement-dwelling neckbeard take an hour to school me about his thoughts on the Illuminati Super Bowl halftime rituals and how the Jews control the Federal Reserve.
The ability to manipulate and create videos cheaply on personal computers lets anyone present insane theories in a way that looks professional. And home-brewed special effects killed Ufology. I don’t even look at alleged UFO videos anymore. They’re worthless.
Has there always left and right wing factions of conspiracy? How have you seen that dynamic play out over time?
The conspiracy world has taken a dramatic and alarming shift to the far Right. I had to leave a number of online groups when they became overrun by alt-right trolls and provocateurs. The Achilles heel of conspiracy culture has always been its reactionary element, and that often means anti-Semites.
It’s not new—one need only look at reactionary conspiracies that arose in the 1950s and 60s, and bigots like Father Coughlin. But the swing to the hard right in recent years, typified by blowhard Alex Jones and his spawn (Paul Joseph Watson et al), has been very toxic and has destroyed a number of online communities I used to frequent.
Why have conspiracies and the occult and paranormal subjects become intertwined? Is it simply the grouping of forbidden material that creates that stew?
That’s a great question, and one I’ve thought about quite a bit. I think it’s because forteans and paranormalists grew weary of being lied to by mainstream scientists, so they came to believe that all mainstream sources were suspect. If you know the government has covered up UFO activity—which is undisputed—why would you not suspect they’re lying about climate change?
A few years ago, at a fortean conference after-party, I discovered I was the only person in the room of a dozen people who accepted the scientific consensus on climate change. That was an eye-opener. The discussion grew heated, and people were yelling at me and mocking my belief in well-stablished science.
Plus you’ve had years of evangelical propaganda about satanic and occult conspiracies, and very slick websites like Vigilant Citizen selling the same garbage. That has bled into the general conspiracy community, which is how we wound up with the poisonous idiocy that became Pizzagate.
The simplest explanation is that people who are into one so-called “fringe” subject tend to be sympathetic to other fringe subjects. That can be great for interdisciplinary research, but it can also lead to real messes.
Do you see how it creates strange bedfellows of people in forums in which you have practicing occultists on the one hand and on the other had people who insist that the occult is behind every destructive event ever because it’s satanic and a method of mind control, yada, yada, yada?
Yeah, the cognitive dissonance creates some very weird dynamics. I’ve seen some real train wrecks, particularly in the so-called synchromystic community.
There is a particular brand of conspiracy culture that stems from an apocalyptic Christianity worldview. Who were some of the key figures who have really shaped the scene and introduced this satanic, NWO explanation that is supposedly inching us every closer to the End Times?
I gave up paying attention to that brand of garbage. I have no room in my head for that nonsense anymore. Life is too short.
In what ways do the belief or practices of mainstream religions carry in them the seeds of paganism and magical technology?
All religions have magical practices as part of their history, including the Abrahamic faiths. Religions tend to consolidate power, however, which is why only priests can perform Masses in Roman Catholicism.
But magic has always been a practice of the people. Spiritual technology is our birthright, and I’ve always chafed at being told I can’t try things myself to determine their truth or validity.
In a world where conspiracies have and do take place what is a way to strike a balance between a shrewd paranoia and outright batshit gullibility?
It’s simple. Again, interrogate your theories, with rigor and logic. Whenever a conspiracist says something like “they control the mainstream media,” I ask, “Who is ‘they’?” Who is the “they” that creates hoaxed mass shootings? How do “they” orchestrate such elaborate hoaxes involving the cooperation of hundreds of people? Where do “they” get their funding, how do “they” pay off those in on the hoax, and why are “they” never exposed by whisteblowers or rogue operatives?
I’ve come to call the gullible conspiracy promoters “theysayers.” But when pushed to name “they” or explain the nuts-and-bolts of how “they” operate, the theysayers clam up, try to avoid the question, or go ad hominem.
If you think a conspiracy is possible or likely, try to tear it to pieces. If it’s legitimate, it can handle the scrutiny. If it falls apart when subjected to logic and parsimony, it’s probably bullshit. Most of all, when you hear or say “they,” stop and ask explicitly who “they” are. You’ll find that instantly short-circuits a lot of shit-slingers.
Also, and I know this is anathema and will send derisive chuckles among conspiracists, don’t discount mainstream media sources. Sure, the Washington Post and New York Times engage in propagandizing (I’m looking at you, Judith Miller). But large news organizations also have ethical guidelines and fact-checking resources, and they do great investigative work that is impossible for bloggers or independent journalists.
So while you should always be critical and use discernment with the mainstream media, dismissing anything in the Post because “It’s a CIA paper” is silly. Check sources, verify, and look for bias, but if you confine yourself to alternative blogs and YouTube videos you’re going to be sadly uninformed.
As an example, I can’t count the number of people who dismiss the Trump/Russia narrative because it’s being exposed by mainstream journalists. This is a blatant conspiracy and cover-up, extensively documented and sourced, that is unraveling in real-time—but it’s cavalierly dismissed as a hoax orchestrated by the nebulous “they” known as the “Deep State.” You can’t argue with that sort of abject ignorance. So I stopped trying.
You have also made big waves in relation to your very public binding rituals against Trump. It really took off from the onset and has been written about worldwide. How did it start and how’s it been going?
I am still shocked and humbled by the ongoing growth of what I call the “magic resistance” that has coalesced around this binding spell. For something I thought might amuse a few dozen people, it really hit a cultural nerve. I’m not a Wiccan or a witch, but I’m delighted that so many witches have embraced it, and continue perform it every month.
I see Donald Trump as the epitome of a sickness that has infected our culture, a toxic stew of hypermasculinity, white supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, incivility, and, to be frank, base stupidity. His authoritarian tendencies should frighten anyone with a knowledge of modern history.
The origin is a funny story. I was wracking my brain one night a few weeks after the election, talking with a friend about my desire to do something as a reaction to what I saw as the breakdown of reality in the new Trump era. I felt any activist response had to be equally off-the-wall to be successful, as marches and rallies and phone calls were unlikely to make a dent in the new kakistocracy’s armor.
I recalled the Yippies and their exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon, and how it was a perfect reaction to the absurdity and horror of the Vietnam war. I felt like we needed something similar—a mass ritual of resistance, part spectacle, an artistic statement but also a serious magical working. I was also familiar with the activism by witches and occultists against Hitler and the Nazis during WWII, and I felt we were facing a similar malignant rise of authoritarianism. As a magician, I felt like I needed to merge my magic with my activism.
“I think we need a spell against Donald Trump,” I told my friend.
“That’s the dumbest idea you’ve ever had,” he replied. I thought he might be right. But I couldn’t shake the idea. I crafted a binding spell and tried to make it traditional and practical, but also generic enough that it could be employed by people of any tradition (or none). I passed it around to some of my occultist friends, and they weighed in with their thoughts.
I published it on Medium and it immediately went viral. I spent weeks doing interviews with journalists from around the world. And it hasn’t slowed down, and in fact, the community grows every month when we do the ritual.
I think it really hit an important, and largely unrecognized, need for people despondent about Trump’s ongoing reign of chaos and horror. It also helped organize and motivate the community of people who desire to bring spirituality into the political realm.
I designed the ritual not just to bind Trump from doing harm, but as a self-exorcism—a way to ritualistically purge the grotesque Trump egregore that has infected and colonized our minds. If nothing else, the relief people feel when they cast the spell each month is proof enough that it’s working.
By putting your name out there in connection to the bindings has made you some enemies obviously. What sort of harassment have you had to endure?
I got the usual death threats from conservatives and fundamentalists that every publicly political person gets nowadays. I expected as much. What I didn’t expect was so much flack from the occult and pagan communities. Many witches thought the spell was a violation of their threefold law and would rebound against participants.
I’m not a witch or Wiccan, so I found that argument unpersuasive. One particularly unhinged leader of a Hermetic order that shall not be named, who happens to be a reactionary Trump fan, decided to paint me as a satanic cult leader and made a handful of videos and blog posts suggesting I was responsible for him wrecking his car and for the death of his dog.
But overall, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, whether from occultists, average people who have never practiced magic, journalists, and especially witches. I love the smart, supportive, growing community that has grown around the spell.
You are also a published author with three books currently available that in fact represent a trilogy. Can you provide an overview of that work?
My Blackwater Lights trilogy incorporates all of my interests and obsessions into what I hope is a fun, scary story of magic and cosmic horror. If that sounds interesting, please consider checking them out.
What do you plan to release next?
I have a number of projects in the works, including a book on the magic resistance movement (which my agent is shopping around), another on working with historic tarot decks, and I’m going to put my intensive beginner’s tarot course online.
If I can manage, I have another novel gnawing at me that I need to get down on paper, too. And I’m hoping to get some of my thoughts on practical magic into a more organized form.
To learn more about Michael's workshops, articles and books, check out his website.
Purchase his fiction books on Amazon
Purchase his fiction books on Amazon
He can also be found on Twitter.