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It’s just after noon on Tuesday and a Discord server where witches have gathered to magickally fight against the Taliban are sharing sigils and links to charities aimed at helping Afghans. “I’ve already sent a small donation and that is going to act as an aetheric link for my workings,” one witch in the chat said. “If you don’t have the money to donate you can use mine as a focus.”The digital coven is small, fewer than 50 members, but it’s earnestly working towards helping Afghans through a mixture of donations and spellwork. In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, a group of witches decided to gather online to fight against the group and help Afghans. Motherboard agreed to grant anonymity to several moderators in the group’s Discord because they feared targeted harassment campaigns.
It’s not just digital attacks the witches are worried about. A stickied post in a channel on the Discord acts as a kind of mission statement for the group. “As you are all aware, Afghanistan is in a very dire situation and many of us are preparing rituals and performing incantations to help alleviate the human suffering that is occuring there,” the post said. “The Taliban, as horribly as they’ve shown themselves to be, are very spiritually aware and they routinely take steps to dispel, ward off, and weaken magick. They have indications and rituals of their own which can at the very least neutralize us—at worst can cause damage to our spiritual selves.”Their concerns against online harassment, at least, are warranted. The group initially formed on August 17 on the /r/BewitchTheTaliban subreddit. Within hours of the group starting, trolls and shitposters flooded the subreddit. A post from the user u/dumbest_bitch went viral. “Do NOT face Allah alone when Astral projecting,” the post began. “He is so fucking powerful. I’m not at a power level to do this alone. I barely escaped from my life and I’m spiritually injured to a great amount, but I think I’ll make it.”People on Twitter and other social media platforms posted and reposted dumbest_bitch’s post, intimating that it was representative of naive magickal practitioners out of touch with reality. The moderators of /r/BetwitchTheTaliban banned dumbest_bitch and the poster apologized. “My post is not meant to be taken seriously. I’m not a witch. I have no involvement with any of it. I thought it was kind of obvious that it was a joke but I now realize that the original purpose of the sub was not satirical,” dumbest_bitch said on Reddit. “Anyways, I was really not expecting some obscure ass subreddit to get this much attention, let alone my post.”
The subreddit is now awash in similar posts and long since abandoned by the digital coven, who moved to a Discord server. “I basically stumbled my way into ‘leadership’ here,” May, a moderator for the server, told me over Discord. “I joined out of a blend of curiosity and moral obligation, and offered to make the discord server to promote more active conversation. It was the same day the trolls (a lot of whom were obvious neo-nazis) found the subreddit, and from there, they pretty much stormed the entire server, spamming copypastas, porn, and slurs.”According to May, the subreddit creator stepped back and the witches abandoned the subreddit. “This place has pretty much become the only part of the internet. It seems we can talk safely and privately about this issue and our goals, since it is far more private.”“We're not bothered about them at all,” moderator beansoup said of the trolls. “If you can't deal with a bunch of basement dwelling losers I don't think you're fit to fight an authoritarian extremist group.”beansoup said they’re a 55-year-old woman based in the UK who learned to practice magick from her aunt and mother. They want to fight the Taliban and believe that magick is the method by which they can make a difference. “As a 55 year old woman, I don’t think I’m what they’re looking for when it comes to boots on the ground,” they said.One common theme among the trolls and detractors is that the witches are looking to fight Allah, something all the moderators I spoke with rejected. “No fighting any figures from any of the Abrahamic religions,” beansoup said. “Contrary to popular belief we don’t want to put Allah in a Faraday Cage. I respect all deities.”Like other Discord servers, there is a space for the coven to introduce themselves, a channel for announcements, and another explaining the roles of the moderators. The real work is done in the curse-talking and protection-talking channels, where the coven gathers to exchange ideas on how to use spellwork to attack the Taliban’s leadership and protect vulnerable people in Afghanistan.The witches I spoke with come from different backgrounds and use different means for their magickal practice. “I haven’t been to Afghanistan, but the time I’ve spent in Egypt and Iraq has shown me the light of the Middle Eastern Star, and now the Taliban seeks to eclipse it.” moderator supersonic said. “The idea to use magick to fight the Taliban is as natural to a magician as the idea of fighting them with guns is to a soldier.”Supersonic also advocated for direct assistance for Afghan refugees and people left behind. “I am a philanthropist so I’m currently donating to organizations trying to help incoming refugees, and those still stranded there,” they said.