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We “refuse to be silent any longer”: magic as self-care after Kavanaugh

Modern-day witches are creating rituals to foster solidarity, activism, and healing.

Katelan Foisy is one of many women who uses ritual as a form of feminist self-care.
Katelan Foisy

First, take a candle.

Then, pour some salt into your hand.

Then, keeping the grains in your palm, take a pen to write out a thank you to Christine Blasey Ford, the woman whose allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee — and now justice — Brett Kavanaugh, stunned a nation.

Or, if you prefer, simply say, “I believe you.”

It’s just one of the many quasi-religious rituals circulating the internet — particularly pagan and #resistance circles — in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. These rituals help self-identified witches process trauma, anger, and grief.

The Gratitude Spell was authored by Instagram user @celestight (who did not respond to request for comment) for the pagan political organization WitchtheVote, which mobilizes voters to support candidates that defend progressive and feminist causes. In this open-ended spell, participants might choose to make a sigil — a sacred sign — on the paper, or vary their tribute to Ford in accordance with their own personal experiences and history. They might, if they so choose, send their note to Ford directly.

No matter what, the message is the same. We’re in this together. I believe you.

Modern Wicca and other New Age traditions in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s were tied to second-wave feminism. Witchcraft and ritual have become more prominently associated with progressive political causes in recent years with the rise of the contemporary #magicresistance. Last year, for example, a 13,000-strong Facebook group formed to cast regular binding spells on Donald Trump.

But in the aftermath of the bitter fight over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, during which the judge firmly denied sexual misconduct against Ford or other women who came forward with similar allegations, rituals have become more than just an emotionally rewarding part of political energy-raising. They’ve also become a form of self-care.

It makes sense that rituals — and magic — would provide an effective and therapeutic outlet for survivors of sexual violence. After all, we live in a world where 994 out of every 1,000 rapists escape criminal justice, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). We live in a world where — as theologian L. Gregory Jones pointed out last month — we have almost no socially cohesive rituals or structures by which abuse survivors can experience justice, or abusers can be rehabilitated.

These rituals of witchcraft, for some, fill a gap in the societal order by providing a structure and a vocabulary for issues that American culture more broadly has not yet satisfactorily addressed.

Once, women were put to death for witchcraft. Now it could be “life-saving” for some.

In the absence of effective, socially enforced structures by which abusers can face justice for their actions, rituals and ritual behavior take on a vital spiritual, psychological, and social role for survivors. They foster community and solidarity. They enable the processing of trauma. And for the 20 percent of Americans who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” rituals can provide a framework for finding meaning in trauma or pain.

Describing their meditation and ritualistic process, yoga teacher Laura Kelleher told Vox, “as a nonbinary genderfluid person I’m focusing on integrating my own feminine and masculine aspects and moreover the abusive and abused parts of my psyche.”

Rituals devoted to exploring these two elements, Kelleher said, double as a form of self-understanding: “What causes aggressive parts of me to force or manipulate unwilling parts of me to do things? What causes me to deny myself rest and connection? Where and how can I allow freer flow of both active and receptive energies to promote balance?”

The historical nature of witchcraft has made it a particularly fruitful field for ritual. As the organizers of an upcoming “Hex Kavanaugh” event at Catland, a pagan bookstore and supply shop in Brooklyn, put it on their event page, “We are embracing witchcraft’s true roots as the magik of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised and it’s [sic] history as often the only weapon, the only means of exacting justice available to those of us who have been wronged by men just like him.”

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A Gratitude Spell for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Tools: A candle and lighter/matches Salt Paper and pen/pencil Sit or stand wherever you're comfortable. Ground yourself and light the candle. Pour some salt into one hand and hold it gently while you write a thank you to Dr. Ford, something like "Thank you Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for your courage and sacrifice" or even just a simple "I believe you, I support you". You can make it a sigil if you want. Now sprinkle your salt over your note, and picture the salt glowing softly, blanketing the paper. Place your hands just above your salted note, not quite touching it. Close your eyes and picture all your gratitude and loving support pouring from your hands in the form of warm light. Feel its tinglies flowing from your palms and dancing around the note, making the salt sparkle like prisms. Picture the salt absorbing all of the abuse and threats that Dr. Ford and her family have suffered through this ordeal. Brush the salt off the note, sweeping all that gross energy away with it. When you feel you've poured all the support you can into the note and cleared all the salt off, picture Dr. Ford seeing it in front of her, reading it, and putting it in her pocket. Stay in this space with her for a few moments or longer. If you'd like to send your note to Dr. Ford, you can send it to: Christine Blasey Ford c/o Rep. Anna Enshoo 698 Emerson St. Palo Alto, CA 94301 If not, you can roll it up and carry it around like a talisman, bury it in one of your houseplants, or add it to a sacred space. The end of the spell is to take action. Read up on ballot questions, register your friends to vote, donate to organizations for sexual assault survivors if you can. Let survivors know you believe them. Don't stop. : @sogayjen

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Witchcraft’s historical association with subversive female power has only made it a more vital ritualistic tool for those working to regain a feeling of control in a political environment that many women see as seeking to deny their agency.

As Kristen J. Sollee, author of the book Witches, Sluts, and Feminists, told Vox, “Witchcraft is particularly powerful for women and folks on [the] feminine spectrum right now because we need tools steeped in community, empathy, and nature to both heal ourselves and fight the abuses of capitalist, white supremacist heteropatriarchy head on. Witchcraft is about conjuring strength and agency from within and not bowing down to arbitrary authority, so it’s a reminder that your oppressors, your trauma, and your government don’t have to define you — or break you. Ironically, the very practices that may have once spelled death for women centuries ago can now be life-saving.”

Both individuals and organizations are creating rituals to deal with trauma and sexual abuse

Different pagan organizations are taking different approaches to their rituals. The WitchtheVote spell focuses on solidarity and support among survivors.

Catland’s “Hex Kavanaugh” event focuses on retribution and redress — participants are invited to hex their own abusers alongside Kavanaugh — followed by a second ritual focused on healing for survivors. That ritual, which the organizers term the “Rite of the Scorned Ones,” “seeks to validate, affirm, uphold and support those of us who have been wronged and who refuse to be silent any longer.”

The Magic Resistance — the Facebook group behind the Trump hexing — also focused their ritual efforts on Kavanaugh. In a “Bind Kavanaugh” spell performed before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh on Saturday practitioners lit a white candle, symbolizing justice and purity, and placed the Justice tarot card adjacent to it on an altar, before wrapping a black thread around a paper doll, symbolizing Kavanaugh, to bind him. Practitioners were encouraged to chant the names of Kavanaugh’s known accusers, binding him “in the name of” all those they believed he had wronged.

According to the group’s founder, magic practitioner Michael M. Hughes, author of Magic for the Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change, the cathartic nature of the ritual came from the fact that Kavanaugh, in his view, was the “epitome of every entitled ... guy who never faced the consequences of his actions.”

While Kavanaugh might not have faced consequences for his alleged actions in the material world, Hughes told Vox, ritual provided a cathartic way to symbolically effect those consequences. “It is purgative and emancipating. ... Ritual provides an outlet, which is why it has always been a tool of the oppressed.”

Other practitioners, however, have chosen individual or private rituals, rituals that are as much about healing as about anger. Writer, performer, and educator Maggie McMuffin told Vox that a private mental ritual helped her block out the negative energy she experienced during the Kavanaugh hearings as she went about her day. “I’ve been closing my eyes or looking ahead, taking a deep breath, and just imagining a shimmery shield around me that keeps all this out so I can engage with it on my own time and terms.”

Citing her own experience with abuse, McMuffin told me that visualization exercises have helped her come to terms with sexual trauma.

“I’ve been picturing myself as my best and strongest self. I have been picturing my abuser and other abusers I know, or know of, [as] just being gone. Erased. Like pictures blurred out or half-forgotten dreams. Until now I didn’t really think of this as a form of meditation because I just do it to get by on the subway but that’s what it is. Imagining a better world where those who harmed us are destroyed for it and where people are protected from it ever happening again.”

Similarly, artist Jasper Meadowsweet told me that they have started making protective charms to share with their like-minded friends as a gesture of solidarity and support. “They are made with various flower petals, herbs, and a few chips of amethyst, each placed carefully in layers while I focus on memories with the other person in which they are feeling happy, or calm, or loved.”

The result, they said, was to “fight off feelings of defeat and despair, so carrying the charm around in a pocket or in a bag, somewhere easily in reach is best so it might serve as a comfort wherever or whenever it is needed.”

Katelan Foisy, a performer and artist of Cree ancestry, told Vox that she has created a ritual centered around the figure of the Deer Woman, a female spirit that appears in a number of Native American folkloric traditions.

In some accounts, Foisy said, the Deer Woman is characterized as a woman who was raped and left for dead, but who returned to the land of the living to lure offending men to madness and death. “I call on Deer Woman to aid in these times,” Foisy says, “I call on my ancestors to rise up and expose the truth.”

Katelan Foisy prepares rituals to call upon the Native American figure of the Deer Woman.
Katelan Foisy

Rituals are as much about personal transformation as they are about physical consequences

Of course, for some practitioners, a vital question remains: Why keep doing magic if it doesn’t necessarily work?

Hughes, whose “Bind Kavanaugh” ritual did not stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said that rituals can work in different ways. Simply by galvanizing a despairing group of people to action, he said, a ritual can prove efficacious.

“I mean, we tried everything,” he said, referring to his attempts to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “Sit-ins at [Sen. Susan] Collins’s office. ... Constantly calling senators. Emailing. Signing petitions. When you’ve exhausted all your tools, and you see the awful people winning, it can lead to despair. ... So we need to do things to counter that despair and hopelessness. Ritual is powerful in that respect. Putting aside questions of its efficacy, it absolutely works in transforming consciousness and empowering those who do it.”