WASHINGTON — In a modest apartment, David Salisbury leads seven of his fellow Witches in a ritual around a small table as documentary filmmaker Patrick J. Foust records the ceremony.
This ritual, however, is quite different from the placid dumb supper held by Salisbury and friends that Foust had captured the previous Samhain. The table is covered with not only branches, tealight candles, an athame, and a small cauldron sitting atop a disc-shaped pentacle, but also a five-dollar bill painted red — to symbolize blood — and a piece of paper with the huge block letters “NRA.”
The voice of Salisbury, who is one of the leaders of Firefly House, is more strident, too: “Hone in on our intention. This tragedy of rampant gun violence, murder, mass killings – all these terrible, painful things that we are seeking to stop, to put an end to this night . . . . We curse you, merchants of mayhem, profiteers of pain, dealers of death, you who fatten on the blood of innocents and feast like demons on their corpses! May your thoughts and prayers turn to poison in your mouths. May every mother’s cry be a bullet to your heart. May the weeping of children rend your flesh like shrapnel!”That scene is at the core of Foust’s new documentary, The Binding. The 14-minute, as-yet-unreleased movie which Foust plans to market to the film festival circuit, was the thesis project for his master’s degree in communications from George Washington University.
The inspiration for The Binding came when Foust, who had earned an undergraduate certificate in documentary film making from George Washington, saw news footage of Witches conducting a binding ritual on President Trump in February 2017, a month after his inauguration.
“I’m someone who is very politically active, a hardcore liberal Democrat,” Foust said during a phone interview from his home. “I just assumed that everything was going to work out fine in 2016 for us liberal Democrats, and obviously it felt like the world came crashing down around us that Nov. 9. Personally, it was devastating.
“I sensed a tremendous outpouring of grief around the country with all the protests that sprang up. I saw the Trump Tower binding and realized there was this tremendous opportunity to tell a story about how this election of Donald Trump has affected spiritual beings, affected all of us really.”
When it came time to plan his thesis film for grad school, those Trump-binding Witches came to mind. Foust “did some research on Facebook” and discovered Salisbury, an activist Witch with a social justice bent.
“I reached out to him, and lo and behold he was very willing to participate in the film,” said Foust, who is not himself Wiccan or any other sort of Pagan.
“I was raised Catholic,” he said. “I went all the way to confirmation, did religious education classes every week. Long story short is I’m just one of those millennials who fell off the path of my parents’ and grandparents’ religious trajectory. I would classify myself now as mostly agnostic but somewhat spiritual. I like to believe everything happens for a reason and we’re not just out here randomly in the world.”
Foust “didn’t know much about Witchcraft at all” prior to beginning work on his film.
“I’m a big film buff, so lots of my knowledge of the occult comes from pop culture,” he said. “As a kid, my friends and I would like read those books by Silver Ravenwolf, so I always had a tangential interest in it, I guess you could say. I started to get into shows that have supernatural and magical aspects to them. One example is Outlander. I was really fascinated with that, and obviously Celtic Paganism is a big part of that, but as far as what daily life looked like for a modern-day Witch, I really didn’t know too much.”Salisbury has written that he is “a proud queer person, vegan, and Witch experiencing life in our nation’s capital . . . . I help lead one of the largest organizations of Witches and Pagans on the East Coast, the Firefly House. The focal point of my spiritual practice is one of service, experiential gnosis, spirit contact, and deep listening. As an initiatory line, Firefly runs three covens in the D.C. area.”
Salisbury also is an initiate of the Anderson Feri tradition of Witchcraft in the BlueRose line, a member of the Ordo Templi Orientis, and the author of The Deep Heart of Witchcraft: Expanding the Core of Magickal Practice, A Mystic Guide to Cleansing & Clearing, and Teen Spirit Wicca.
Foust and Salisbury began work on The Binding in September, 2017. Foust completed the bulk of the film this spring, although he intends to launch a Kickstarter campaign this month to raise $5,000 for the final tasks of color correction, audio mixing, and film festival submission fees.
The film opens with the sound of staccato violins and text that reads, “Winter 2017 – one month after Donald Trump’s inauguration,” then cuts to a headline: “Magicians of the world are casting spells against Trump, and you can too. Meeting Michael M. Hughes, whose ritual involves burning an ‘unflattering photo’ of Donald Trump and saying: ‘You’re fired.’”
The film cuts to a Victorian-looking, black-and-white poster with a drawing of a classic witch and the text: “Witches we need you. A spell to bind Donald Trump & all those who abet him. Mass ritual.” Scenes of Witches conducting various binding rituals follow, including a Fox News video clip with the crawl: “Hocus Pocus – witches cast collective spell on Pres Trump.”
The film’s title is then projected over a photo of a smiling Trump holding a rifle.
The film jumps to the days before Samhain, 2017 and introduces Salisbury through text that says he “is an activist living in Washington, D.C. . . . a priest in the Wiccan tradition of witchcraft, and one of the leaders of Firefly House, Washington’s largest pan-Pagan organization. David uses the Craft to promote social justice and empower marginalized communities.”
Salisbury is seen reciting a daily invocation to “god herself” at his altar, replete with a living, breathing black cat, athame, crystal ball, skull sculpture, a circular wreath fashioned from vines and black ribbon with gold skulls, and a white ribbon with pumpkins stretched across the wreath in a pentacle shape.
“Holy mother, in you I live, move and have my being,” Salisbury says. “From you all things emerge, and unto you all things return. Open my heart this blessed day. Touch my body and my mind. Walk with me through the gates of power in shadow and starlight, in the fire-meting earth, in the wind on the ocean and in the sweet kiss of life. Blessed be my journey.”
Salisbury relates a primer of basic Witchcraft beliefs, then comes text explaining the history and rituals of Samhain, followed by footage of the dumb supper.
“Hekate, queen of Witches, come to us this night,” Salisbury chants, then says in a voiceover: “For Samhain this year I wanted to make space for the tragedies that have been happening not only in the country but around the world as well, so I have a brief moment where I try to connect with ancestral energies. I also kind of clear my mind and make space for all of the dead because I feel like there’s a lot of grief that the world needs to process.”
The film turns dark.
As Salisbury decries the “charged climates of hatred specifically from the last presidential election” and “literal Nazis marching the streets,” actual video footage from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer shows a car ramming into protestors, which resulted in the death of a woman.
The film jumps back and forth to various news clips of Trump. “Knock the crap out of them, would you?” the president says in one. “Seriously.”
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump says of the white nationalist rally in another.
Then comes harrowing audio footage of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb, 14, 2018 – with repeated gun shots and the terrified screams of students. The audio came from a Snapchat video of a student who was inside the building, Foust said.
“Everyone now is a camera person in their own right,” he said. “They just flip out their phone and now everything has become documentary evidence. Stories that used to be so elusive are now able to be broadcast to the world just because we all have cameras in our pockets.”
Foust didn’t hesitate to use such grim, graphic footage.
“I was taught we’re documentarians and we have to tell the truth, and the truth is pretty horrible for all of us, especially in the past year or two when it comes to gun violence,” he said. “I think it delivers a powerful punch to the viewer, which I hope it does because we’re dealing with the loss of many, many children in school, which should be a safe place for them.”“Hatred is becoming emboldened,” Salisbury says in the film. “There’s a grief around a loss of hope for a better world right now, and I try to always hold on to that hope . . . . Gun violence in America is something I’ve always felt kind of helpless about. There’s a lot of factors that we need to come into alignment, both culturally and politically. I feel the whole country is traumatized by it.”
The film heads to its conclusion with text that reads: “David has decided to host a spellbinding on Donald Trump and the NRA in response to the Parkland massacre. He has invited some friends over to strengthen the power of the binding.”
“If there is anything I can do at all that’s even remotely effective, that might be magic,” Salisbury says before the ritual.
Foust’s tool is his camera.
“My goal now is to use digital media to make a positive impact on the world,” he writes.
“With this film, I really want the world to see that there’s a lot of misconceptions around Witchcraft,” Foust told The Wild Hunt. “A lot of time, fundamental Christians or whoever will call witches evil or devil worshipers or whatever, so I want people to see that we’re all kind of the same. I think that’s the cure for a lot of community’s woes – to stop looking at each other in a tribal sense, like black people, white people Asian people. To look deeper and see, ‘Oh, his daily ritual is a lot like my prayer routine, and he’s praying for these kids getting lost to gun violence – that’s a very admirable thing for him to do.’
“I just hope people can see we’re all part of this collective community that’s grieving, and not be so quick to hate and throw stones at one another — but also to act up and fight for what you believe is right and to do it in whatever method you have at your disposal. For David, that’s his spirituality.”
Foust plans to make The Binding available to the public, via the internet, after its film festival run – “probably in a year’s time,” he said. The movie’s Facebook page will have updates on the project.