In the days after Trump's inauguration, after the outspoken white supremacist Richard Spencer was punched on camera, the media became entangled in a passionate ethical debate: Is it ever OK to punch a Nazi? several news outlets pondered.
Around the same time, I was sent a Google Doc containing a poetic manifesto written by a mysterious group of anti-fascist witches called the Yerbamala Collective (YMC) that seemed to raise a similar question: Is it ever OK to curse a Nazi? The manifesto was titled, succinctly, "Our Vendetta: Witches vs. Fascists." On the first page, it read, "FUCK [DONALD TRUMP], FASCISTS, RICHARD SPENCER, MILO." On the third page, in giant font, the collective proclaimed with unpunctuated urgency, "YOU WILL NOT WIN EVEN IF YOU KILL US WE WILL HAUNT YOU OUR GHOSTS WILL KILL YOUR DOG."
An antifascist spell book created by the group (also in the form of a Google Doc) offered a more extreme alternative to the Wiccan Rede, a moral code central to Wicca and several other Neopagan and witchcraft-based belief systems. "An it harm none, do what thou wilt" is the most common form of the Rede; it simply means that those who abide by the rule are free to do whatever they wish as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. "& IT HARM FASCISTS," the Yerbamala spell book states, "DO WHAT THOU WILT."
Intrigued, I contacted the group, who informed me that an interview would be difficult to coordinate, as the members of the collective are scattered throughout the US, the UK, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, and some of them wished to remain anonymous. As a solution, one member created yet another Google Doc, which I was not allowed to access due to privacy concerns, and instructed me to email them my questions, which they answered collectively and privately. They then emailed me their responses, listing the respondents only as Witch 1 through Witch 7, and noting that none of their answers were definitive, as "this Collective is way bigger than the people who have contributed to this interview, and is not defined by what we write here, but by how we fight here/there/wherever&however we can."
I'd been expecting—or, more accurately, hoping—to talk to a group of devoted spell-casters intent on bringing Trump down beneath the light of the waning moon. At first blush, however, the YMC seemed more like a group of occult-leaning queer theorists and activists, interested in creating art that interrogates and subverts the crushing logic of capitalism, colonialism, racism, and heteropatriarchy—which, I guess, is its own kind of magic. "We want a contagious art project against fascism. Fascists use collective world-making to forge a vision of what they want the future to look like. This common vision has allowed them to gain numbers, terrorize others, and kill," one YMC member wrote. "We're witches. We knew about world-making way before these fuckers."
Though most of the group's members do practice witchcraft, some of them very seriously, the term "witch" is especially useful to them "as an inclusive identity category," they told me. "Witches are historically devalued, dehumanized, and generally, you know, destroyed. Witches are a non-consumer category… Fascism depends on denying access and human rights to people in order to eliminate them. But witches do not exist. We cannot be eliminated. This puts us in a unique position to fight."
If "witch" is the term for those who live at the margins, the people society has traditionally rejected and sought to render invisible, it has a subversive utility: It gives a name to something those in power want to keep invisible and indefinable. "Witchcraft is a name given to networks that have survived despite innumerable repressions," one YMC member said. "The history of fascism is not just the history of fascist repression. It is also the history of resistance. Witchcraft is the practice of building that resistance."
About a month after the Yerbamala Collective released its manifesto, I attended a ritual to bind Trump and his supporters from doing harm, which took place in the back room of Catland, an occult store in Bushwick. Some witches who abide strictly by the Wiccan Rede find binding spells distasteful, as they can be interpreted as harmful; when I mentioned this fact to F. Jennings, who led the ritual, he was firm in his response, noting that the magical community "includes countless immigrants, people of color, indigenous groups, and many from the LGBTQ* community," all of whom are directly endangered by Trump, his administration, and their supporters. "I am all for love and light, but the gloves come off when members of our community are the target of hatred and darkness," he said.
"This [isn't] about enlightening others—binding is restrictive work. Most practitioners would much rather lead a group ritual that helps enlighten or heal others," he added. "But that's not the time we're living in right now. This is no time to idly preach enlightenment."
The Yerbamala Collective, too, has little faith that Trump and those who support him can be reasoned with through either magical or mundane means; they see the festering beliefs that ushered Trump to power as a form of dark magic, or at least an obvious symptom of spiritual decay. "The Trump administration operates within an existing colonial-capitalist ideation of 'freedom,' as in 'Make America Great Again,'" one witch wrote. "These were dark spells that continue to be fed by white supremacy and fermented ignorances. We are pointing to this old curse. Our spells run on these circuits so that they can break these spells."
Witches do not exist. We cannot be eliminated. This puts us in a unique position to fight.
Like their definition of "witch," the collective's definition of "spell" resists neat interpretation, and intentionally so: When asked what type of magical practice they engage in, one witch wrote that "breathing, surviving, writing, and loving on this earth despite capitalism's constant assassination attempts is our practice." Another, seeming to take the question more literally, said, "Personally, I take the negative and destructive powers of the dead and try to use them for good, i.e., to destroy bad. It takes a lot of practice to do this. It's not something you wake up knowing how to do one day. I would say I have an army of demonic powers on my side to do what I want at all times."
In essence, the YMC argues, witchcraft is about individual empowerment, and it's accessible to all—even those on the fringes of society—which makes it antithetical to fascism. Jennings has a similar view. "Many magical paths, especially chaos magic, emphasize the work of spiritual growth through liberation, self-direction, and self-actualization," he said. "In short, magic has always been in a spiritual war against tyranny."
Waging spiritual war on metastasized autocracy is slow and constant work, a generations-long project without an easy end point, which the Yerbamala Collective acknowledges. "I wouldn't say YMC is moving toward a goal, but more of an alchemy of turning shit (fascism) into gold (queer futurity)," one member said. "We are invested in a participatory, collaborative craft in which the spells work best when they simultaneously disrupt fascist energies while creating an open channel for healing to take place in marginalized communities."
In the spirit of imagining a utopian, queer future, I asked the collective what spell, in the traditional sense, they'd ideally want to cast on Trump. Most of the witches who responded said they'd want to magically force him to understand the gravity of his actions, to actually feel the pain and suffering he's caused. "If any of [Trump's administration] actually felt real empathy for a moment—real feeling for anyone who is in any way different from them—they would shatter. Empathy spells are good because they fuck with hateful people while boosting the rest of us," read one particularly vivid response. "But, yeah, I would bake the Trump administration into a gigantic casserole and feed it to the poor people in coastal areas who will be the first to starve when the state apparatus inevitably fails them (again). Will send leftovers up to the polar bears."