TWH — Some Pagans have responded to the Trump presidency with calls for public magical interventions, similar to other Pagan attempts to change history. Memories of many prior attempts, however, have been lost to secrecy and death. The most famous Pagan attempts to change history are magical battle of Britain and the levitation of the Pentagon.

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Gerald Gardner [file].

The magical battle of Britain (1940)

The so-called magical battle of Britain involved Dion Fortune and Gerald Gardner. While Gardner worked with one coven, Fortune worked with many people throughout Britain, and later wrote the book of the same name.

Gardner wrote about the magical battle of Britain in 1954 in Witchcraft Today and how, with members of the New Forrest Coven, he participated in a magical battle ritual on Lammas 1940 on the channel coast, south of the New Forrest and west of the Isle of Wight.

The New Forest witches directed their cone of power towards Hitler’s mind, chanting “You cannot cross the sea” to build up the charge of that cone while dancing skyclad. Due to wartime restrictions, they used a shuttered lantern rather than a bonfire. Gardner called that ritual, “Operation Cone of Power.” He alleges that this ritual used a format from earlier rituals, such as one ritual from 1588 aimed to protect Britain from the Spanish armada, and another in 1805 aimed against Napoleon.

People have neither proved nor disproved Gardner’s story. Historian Philip Heselton has investigated Gardner’s claims and writes about it in his biography Witchfather. Heselton, who has identified several members of the New Forest Coven, accepts this story as plausible and consistent with community of belief.

Historian Ronald Hutton, however, has more skepticism. He noted that the story cast witchcraft in a patriotic light in the 1950s.

Dion Fortune asserted that she wrote weekly newsletters from 1939 up to October 1942. In these letters she described a series of meditations and visualizations. People at different locations would visualize the same image at the same time. The images involved creating a wall around the Isle of Britain, and were derived from Arthurian imagery.

In April 2018, HecateDemeter interviewed Dolores Ashcroft-Nowciki, whose grandmother had taken part in Fortune’s meditations and visualizations. While her account differed slightly, it was largely consistent with those of Fortune and Gardner.

Dion Fortune’s grave [Robert B. Osten, Aurinia Verlag].

The magical battle of Britain (1588)

Witches near Plymouth cast a protective spell against the Spanish armada during a ritual that they reportedly held on the south coast, at the border of Cornwall. Sir Francis Drake was vice admiral of 55 nearby English ships, and the enemy armada was sailing eastward through the English Channel, close by Plymouth.

The armada was involved in a fight with the English in the channel. It then sailed northwards, circling Britain, at which point a series of severe storms were encountered off the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland; those storms destroyed many of the remaining ships.

This story has become an English folk tale. People still claim to hear the chants near the ritual’s site. Across the Irish Sea, another related folk tale emerged.  In that tale, those storm-tossed Spanish sailors, shipwrecked along the Irish coast, introduced brown eyes into the Irish gene pool.

The magical battle of Britain (1805)

According to historical accounts, Witches also cast a protective circle against Napoleon. This involved a series of chants of “you cannot come.” Much less is known about this magical battle.

The levitation of the Pentagon (1967)

Another famous magical intervention occurred as part of an anti-Vietnam War protest in October 1967. It was an attempt to levitate the Pentagon three feet off the ground. The organizers had wanted to levitate it 300 feet, but they could only get a permit for a ten-foot levitation.

The levitation was political theater of the absurd. Poet Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Ed Sanders of the Fugs, an East Village rock group, organized it. Ed Sanders had studied Egyptology. Ginsberg had studied Buddhism. All were familiar with drug use to achieve changes in consciousness. The counterculture had begun to cohabitate with the peace movement.

Sanders modeled the levitation on an exorcism. Participants were to stand in a circle and chant to build a cone of power. That cone then would cause the Pentagon to levitate and vibrate, causing the demons of militarism to flee. Norman Mailer wrote about the levitation in his book The Armies of the Night

Reclaiming actions (1970s-present)

Less well-known Pagan interventions in history abound. Members of the Reclaiming tradition have specialized in ritual as political action, focusing on numerous progressive cause since the late 1970s, suggesting a relatively long history with Pagan political activism.

Blood and money ritual (1984)

The first known HIV activist civil disobedience had elements of magical ritual. A small group of gay men poured their blood onto the road that led to a nuclear weapons plant in Livermore, California. Their protest contrasted the lack of money for AIDS research with the abundance of money for weapons research. The participants described the action as a “blood and money ritual.” Several members were associated with Bay Area Reclaiming and Radical Faeries.

Ghost Dance (1890s-present)

Many Pagan-adjacent indigenous spiritual traditions played a vital role in resisting Euroamerican imperialism. Of these the Ghost Dance may be the most well known, at least in the U.S.

Around 1890, the Paiute medicine man Wovoka, began to teach the Ghost Dance, which became a pan-Indian spiritual movement that spread throughout the western U.S. As each was adopted in different tribes and nations, it was adapted to those particular traditions.

The Ghost Dance empowered Dakota resistance to forced assimilation. U.S. forces responded aggressively, massacring people at Wounded Knee and killing leader Sitting Bull. The Ghost Dance itself survived. In 1973, native people danced the Ghost Dance at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre.

The other side of Pagan politics

Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists do not intervene in politics on the same side; political expression is not at all uniform across and around this religious sphere. In the most extreme example, Odinism and other forms of Heathenry have openly intermingled with parts of the so-called “alt-right.” While Dion Fortune years ago reported working against the Nazis on the magical level during her time, she also reported encountering Nazis who worked on the magical level.

The “magical battle of Britain” was not just a metaphor.