Psychic Self-Defense in the Age of Trump

The importance of magic in times of debilitating anxiety, fear, and turmoil

33 Broken Mirror. Whitman Fortune Telling Cards (c. 1940s)

I’m sure many of you, probably most of you, find yourselves more than a little unsettled these days.

It would be bad enough if it was all due to one bad actor, like the treasonous grifter-in-chief many of us gather together to bind under each waning crescent moon.

Maybe it’s the recent string of natural disasters—an unprecedented barrage of deadly hurricanes and flooding, widespread wildfires, a devastating Mexican earthquake—keeping you awake at night. Or maybe the more human nightmares—like the possibility of nuclear war with North Korea or the rise of the suddenly emboldened, murderous “alt-right”—have convinced you our very reality has gone off the proverbial rails.

Boom! Tower trump, Ancient Italian Tarot. Lo Scarabeo.

To paraphrase the great magician/poet Yeats, things seem to be rapidly falling apart, and the center sure as hell isn’t holding. If there even is such a thing as a center anymore.

All of which makes it vitally important for each of us to connect with our spiritual centers as a critical tool of psychic self-defense.

We all know the prescribed methods of self-care: turning off the news, going for long walks in nature, escaping into a great novel, avoiding people who drain us and spending time with those who enrich us. Meditating, getting a massage, taking a hot bath, or having a couple glasses of wine, some valerian tea, or a high-CBD edible. There are hundreds of strategies for taking the edge off when the firehose of horrible news is relentlessly spraying us in the face.

There’s one method of keeping our psyches intact that rarely gets mentioned, however, and, to my mind, it’s one of the most valuable.


The paths of magic and directed imagination are enormously useful for keeping your head screwed on straight, especially in times of turbulence and chaos.

In fact, magic can save you. (Magic defined here as spiritual technology—rituals, behaviors, states of consciousness, and patterns of thinking independent of any particular belief system). When properly applied, magical living breaks the chains enslaving you to the paralyzing belief you are powerless, broken, and insignificant. It’s a key not just to resisting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but a way to get your mind right and your mojo back.

The ties that bind. LE DIABLE from the Tarot of Jean Noblet (Jean-Claude Flornoy).

So here is a very simple, non-dogmatic practice for times of debilitating anxiety, fear, and turmoil. It’s deceptively simple and straightforward, but please don’t underestimate its utility as a spiritual first-aid kit. This ritual requires no religious belief or adherence to any codified spiritual system (although adding that layer doesn’t hurt). Experienced magical thinkers/practitioners, deep meditators, shamans, and long-time witches will find nothing new here, but I hope this simple ritualistic practice is as helpful for others as it has been for me.

So — what’s the first thing you do when you’re lost in darkness?

You light a flame.

So do it. Grab an unscented candle. If you have the opportunity, visit a botanica and see if a devotional candle calls for your attention from the shelves (or ask for a recommendation). Set up your candle in a quiet place where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Turn off your phone, put it away, and tell the humans in your home to give you some privacy.

  1. Light your candle, then turn out the lights. Take a deep breath.

See how that simple act changes everything instantly?

2. Now put on some sacred music, i.e., music specifically designed to transport you from the monkey-mind into the realm of the spirit. Not the music you listen to solely for pleasure, but music that tunes the frequency of your environment.

This is a matter of taste, of course. I’m not a fan of anything that you’d hear coming from a boombox while getting your chakras adjusted* at a holistic healing expo — in fact, I’m allergic to most music that falls into the new age category, especially Native American flutes played by non-natives and backed with incongruous tinkly chimes, tablas, and synth swirls.


Sacred Tibetan Chants: © Erwan Grey

Chants (esp. Gregorian and Tibetan) take me very deep very quickly, but try to get the straight-up vocal recordings and avoid those layered with synthesizers and other superfluous aural junk. Singing bowls are nice, too. Indian classical ragas and devotional chants can be powerful trance inducers, and if you’re into western classical music, Chopin’s Nocturnes are exquisitely calming and elevating. And you can’t go wrong pulling from the playlist my friend Bill Richards put together for the volunteers undergoing psilocybin sessions at Johns Hopkins.

The Psilocybin Room at Johns Hopkins. © Michael M. Hughes

You might want to try environmental recordings, particularly of ocean, woodland, and jungle settings. The Tintinnabulation CD, composed of layered, computer-modulated bells, is more of a deeply felt than heard soundscape, and is useful for all sorts of meditations and magical workings when melodic music would be a distraction.

Burn pure resins or woods on charcoal and you’ll never go back to crappy incense.

3. Burn some incense. Not crappy sticks or cones from a gas station or mall kiosk, if you can help it. Instead, burn pure resins and woods on charcoal. Copal (my absolute favorite) and frankincense cleanse your environment on a number of energetic levels as, of course, does old stalwart sage. Frankincense is even being studied for its antidepressant effects.

Put the charcoal disk in a fireproof container on a layer of sand. Light it (a fireplace/grill lighter works great) and wait until it gets covered in a layer of gray ash, then put a tiny bit of your resin, wood, or herb on top. But be careful — a little goes a long way. You might want to temporarily pop the battery out of your smoke alarm.

4. Next, “wash” yourself with the rising smoke by pulling it to your head and down over your body. Do this a few times. You should feel an unambiguous shift in energy. For me, it feels like full-body chills and is immensely pleasurable. Do not neglect this step.

[If you’re allergic or hypersensitive to smoke, consider an electric incense burner/heater, which will release the scent of your woods or resins without smoke]

Now that you’ve set the proper atmosphere and cleansed yourself with the smoke, it’s time to close your eyes and go inward.

5. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Breathe slowly, naturally, and deeply. There’s no need to measure or count your breaths.

WARNING: The next step may shock many of my readers because it seems so . . . well, decidedly anti-modern, with a whiff of mothballs and the feel of uncomfortable Sunday shoes. Even corny. But try to shake off your associations, please, and just do it.

6. Pray.

No, you don’t have to grovel to the spiteful sky god, open your heart to Jesus, or supplicate yourself to whatever godform your parents pounded into your innocent head. You can do those things, of course, if they feel right. Just aim your spirit towards whatever floats your spiritual boat. Yahweh, Jesus, Krsna, Ganesh, Buddha, Hermes, Hecate, the Universe as the Ultimate Ground of Being, the Void, your deepest/highest Self — whatevs.

The key is to open yourself, in humble gratitude, to whatever exists in the vastness within you and outside of you. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t desire anything. Be quiet, and listen.

As the patron saint of nervousness, anxiety, and mental illness, Saint Dymphna might be happy to bestow some soothing vibes — if you can handle a bit of folk/Christian tradition in your toolbox (pro tip: syncretism is a beautiful thing).

This form of prayer, if you can do it earnestly, can work wonders for your mental and physical health, as attested by abundant anecdotal evidence and numerous controlled studies. If the P word freaks you out and you want to call it meditation, that’s okay, too. But your goal should be to open up to contact with something bigger than yourself — whatever that might be, even if it’s just a bigger part of you. Don’t force it, don’t demand it, just allow space for it to occur. Welcome it without intellectualizing. (You can always name it later.)

7. Sit, breathe slowly and deeply, and experience the connection for as long as you feel comfortable.

8. To conclude, blow out the candle(s). Thank whatever you connected to and tell He/She/It/You you’ll be back.

9. Ground. Get up, shake a little bit, and stomp your feet. Get back to life.

Repeat this simple magical practice at least once, and preferably a few times, during your week.

This deceptively simple ritual is a multi-sensorial, inner-focused technology that humans have used to align and calibrate themselves since prehistory. And it’s the foundation upon which a magical life is built.

Oops—damn app just crashed.

So pull your head out of virtual hells full of hungry ghosts (accessed via your hand-held black mirror) and plug back into the timeless, always-on spiritual current that never needs recharging.

It all begins with a candle flame.

*One exception is this music by Kay Gardner. It was created specifically to get your chakras spinning like pinwheels, and is reputed to have the power to pull overwhelmed psychonauts out of toxic trips. Highly recommended for all spiritual and magical workings.

Michael M. Hughes is a writer, speaker, and magical thinker. The American Spectator said, “He may play footsie with the devil, but at least the man has a sense of humor.” You can sign up for his newsletter, check out his YouTube channel, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. The official Bind Trump group may also be found on Facebook.