Three Steps to Effective Political Magic

Yesterday, the Supreme Court released its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning the nearly 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade and dispelling federal protections for abortion under a Constitutional right to privacy. We knew this was coming, but having been forewarned doesn’t make it better. The Dobbs decision is a moral and legal travesty. Countless people will die because of this court’s decision.

I don’t want to spend too much time here processing my own emotional reaction to this. I’m angry and afraid, but I also don’t have a uterus, and my voice and feelings aren’t the most important to listen to. If you’re not directly affected by the decision and you want to better understand its impact, you’d do better reading stories from people who have had abortions, whose lives would have been destroyed or even ended by forced pregnancies. If you are directly affected by the decision, well, you don’t need me to tell you how to feel.

What I do want to talk about is political magic, and how it can (and can’t) be helpful in a time like this.

Magic and witchcraft have always been a resource of the oppressed, and magic has always been directed to political ends as a means of uplifting the downtrodden. In 1590, King James I believed he was the target of a magical assassination attempt by a coven of witches. In Charles Godfrey Leland’s The Gospel of the Witches, Diana instructs her daughter Aradia to “teach the art of poisoning, / Of poisoning those who are great lords of all / … And thou shalt bind the oppressor’s soul.” And in the wake of this Supreme Court decision and other encroachments on the rights of women and minorities, lots of people are now turning their attention to witchcraft as a way of reclaiming power.

But when we think about political magic—about using magic to effect change in the systems, policies, and people that affect us—we have to be careful to ground ourselves in reality and not wishful thinking. Political magic can be done, and done effectively, but it’s hard. Politics is a complex set of interlocking institutional and individual actors, fueled by a mind-boggling amount of money and subject to countless unseen influences. Trying to effect change on something that big is a delicate and difficult process. If it were a simple thing to remove a ruler or protect abortion access via magic, King James would have died in 1590 and Roe would never have been overturned. So how can we do political magic effectively? How can we make sure we actually do something with it?

(For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming you believe in magic and are interested in using it for political ends. If that’s not you, I have no quarrel with you. I hope you will engage with political activism in concrete mundane ways, as we should all be doing, including those of us who are also trying to resort to magic.)

The mistake that people consistently make when they work political magic is that they think too big. They see the final result—in this case, the Dobbs decision—and throw their energy at combating it, but they never address the root causes. Simply doing “a spell to protect abortion access” is vague and doesn’t give your magic anywhere to go. Magical goals need to be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-sensitive. What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish? Hiwwill you know if you’ve succeeded? Who are the people involved who can make it happen? Can it really be done? When does it need to be done by?

As a general rule, you can accomplish the same amount with magic that you can accomplish without it. You’re acting with unconventional means, but the amount of influence you can exert doesn’t drastically increase when you cast a spell. So when doing political magic, the effect you can have as one person is about on a par with the effect you can have as one person when you do ordinary political activism. Can one person prevent the Dobbs decision from going into effect? Probably not. But one person can be an effective community organizer and fundraiser, can have a good deal of influence in municipal or state-level politics, can connect people in need of abortions with resources to help them, and so on. To work effective political magic, it helps to keep in mind what you want to accomplish, how you plan to accomplish it, and what a realistic scale is for your work.

For this reason, there are three steps I follow whenever I do political spellwork:

1. Break the problem down into the smallest possible components. “Federal abortion protections have been overturned” is a massive, thorny, complicated problem with no easy straightforward solution. Instead of trying to solve the big problem in one fell swoop, look at the smaller problems that make it up, and tackle those one at a time.

2. Act locally. Your sphere of influence as one individual is limited, but you can do so much at the level of your own community. Effective local magic is better than ineffective national magic. It may not be as flashy as “a spell to remove Justice Thomas,” but “a spell to keep the workers at my local clinic safe” can do a lot of good.

3. Defer to experts who know what’s needed. This is a big one. There are already people out there working concretely to address these problems, and they’ve been at it for a long time. They have plans of action, they know the actors involved, they have resources and networks built up. They understand what needs to be done and how to do it, and frankly they have a better grasp of the salient issues than you or I probably do. Reach out to those people. Find what they need, and direct your magic toward helping them get that. You’ll have a lot more success with “a spell to increase donations to my local abortion fund by 40%” than with “a spell to protect abortion rights.”

Remember also that magic is not a substitute for concrete mundane action. I’m in Washington, DC right now for reasons unrelated to Dobbs, and I attended the protest at SCOTUS yesterday. Protests can help draw public attention and—more crucially—serve as an opportunity for community organizers to connect with people, fundraise, and distribute information. At the protest yesterday, there were volunteers from Rise Up for Abortion Rights, as well as people distributing information about abortion pills, collecting donations for abortion funds, and more.

If you can, give your time and resources to organizations working for political justice. An uncomfortable truth is that the biggest thing abortion advocates need is money. Donate what you can; I especially recommend the National Network of Abortion Funds, which connects local abortion funds from across the country. This puts your money in the hands of grassroots organizers who know their communities best and are best equipped to direct resources where they need to go.

This is a frightening time, and nothing I write here can make it any less so. Magic can’t solve everything, and people will suffer and die for what the Supreme Court has done. There’s no sugarcoating that. But as a witch, I do believe that magic is a weapon available to us, and it can and should be used in the fight for justice. We just have to know how to wield it.

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