A Ritual Against Hitler That Really Happened?

Via the Pagan Newswire Collective (should I just have a dateline with “PNC” in it?) comes this link to a witchcraft ritual reportedly performed against Adolf Hilter and the Nazi regime in Maryland in January 1941, which is almost a year before the United States officially declared war.

It was  inspired by William Seabrook’s Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today, originally published a few months before—Seabrook himself is in the photos.

In other words, this is not the Wiccan religion nor any variation thereof but witchcraft in the purely magic-working sense.

Having once worked briefly for one of the old-school, cigar-chomping big-city “press agents,” I immediately wonder if the whole thing was not a collaboration between some publicist and the photographer. In other words, was there media involvement from the beginning? So often, things that seemed to have “just happened” in fact did not.

Second, whether contrived or not, this magical working is better sourced than the more famous Lammas 1940 working supposedly performed by British witches. It was during the summer of 1940 when German invasion of southern England was imminent, until the German High Command canceled the invasion.

That Lammas ritual was fictionalized in Katherine Kurz’s Lammas Night. It was described in Gerald Gardner’s 1954 book Witchcraft Today, in which he coyly describes it as being performed by “witches” but does not say if he was there. (Although he was Wicca’s chief founder, his pose in the book is that of an ethnographer/historian, not a participant.)

They met, raised the great cone of power and directed the the thought at Hitler’s brain: “You cannot cross the sea,” “You cannot cross the sea,” “Not able to come,” “Not able to come.” Just as their great-grandfathers had done to Boney [Napoleon Boneparte, 1804] and their remoter forefathers had done to the Spanish Armada” [in 1588] (104).

The problem is, the only knowledge that we have of the 1940 is Gardner’s say-so. All accounts of it trace back to him. My old friend Evan John Jones was skeptical that more than half a dozen people participated, but I am more skeptical. I think that it is equally likely that Gardner, who served in the Home Guard (before moving inland away from the coast) and wrote letters to newspapers advocating desperate resistance to the expected invasion, described the ritual as something that should have happened.

It is  more attested that Dion Fortune’s ceremonial magic group (and possibly others) were trying to affect the course of the war by magical means.

8 thoughts on “A Ritual Against Hitler That Really Happened?

  1. Robert Mathiesen

    The photographs and short accompanying article are in the issue of Life Magazine for February 10, 1941, pp. 86-89. The whole issue is available on the web through Google Books. The ritual is very much along lines laid out in Seabrook’s _Witchcraft_, and the article states that Seabrook was present and that he designed the ritual.

    I think one can make a good case that Gardner or one of his witch friends read Seabrook not long after it came out.

  2. Robert Mathiesen

    It’s likely that Gardner saw the article in Life. However, I had Seabrook’s book (Witchcraft) in mind, and wrote carelessly. It was published in New York by Harcourt, Brace & Co. in 1940, but in 1941 an English edition appeared, published in London by Harrap.

    I seem to remember reading at least one passage in Gardner’s early manuscript “Ye Bok of ye Art Magical” which either mention Seabrook’s book outright or echoed its wording closely enough that I thought Seabrook had been used as a source.

  3. Judy Harrow’s essay on Gardner’s book sources in the 2004 Citadel edition of Witchcraft Today does not mention Seabrook. Nevertheless, Gardner might well have borrowed from him.

  4. gosh that is absolutely fascinating, it certainly lends to proof? something that there was most likely a style of organised modernish witchcraft and magic happening in America, during the same time Gardner was also doing things… *ponders this*.. most interesting.

    makes me wonder about other countries as well.. *ponders this to*



  5. Pitch313

    Putting aside things like the presence of a Life photographer, an identified heiress, and the theatrical costuming, what bothers me most about this intriguing photo-story is the use of drums “borrowed” from the Department of Interior.

    Whatever their rightful cultural origin, I think that most Neo-Pagans these days (including me) would find this “borrowing” on the far side of cultural poaching.

    The way I see it, “the ritual against Nazi invasion” is legendary. It need not have occurred in this realm to have been real magic.

    Gardner in those early days of launching Craft in the public/publicity world, reminds me of a magpie. He had amassed a glittering collection of all sorts of witchy and magical stuff. Piled it together. And picked this and that and the other to fetch attention. The ritual against invasion could well have come to him from that book and/or the Life story. I don’t think juggling dates would have bothered him much.

    FWIW, Maryland? I really imagined that log cabin on the other bank of the Potomac, probably thanks to Hollywood occulture…

  6. In the realm of fiction, there is a rather creepy new novel out, set in an alternate timeline, where magic by “warlocks” is used against the invading Germans– who in turn use the powers of odd kids who have been ruthlessly selected. In the end both sides pay a steep price, and we last see the kids being toted off by the Soviets, who intend to “employ” them.

    There will be more. The book is called Bitter Seeds by one Ian Tregellis, a writer from Los Alamos (not England). The cover is quietly nightmarish, the recurring image one of carrion crows in winter fields. I rather liked it.

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