Hexes are not just for movie plots and sports metaphors. A lot of people think they’re quite real—and useful for revenge.
After Brock Turner, the Stanford University student convicted in March 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, was sentenced to six months in jail, hundreds of witches announced plans to place a hex on him.
When Donald Trump was elected president, witches organized a plan online to hex him once a month on the day of the waning moon.
Just last weekend, in the wake of the controversy over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, witches gathered at an occult bookstore in New York to hex him and “all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards, and protects them.”
In response to this last story, Catholics rallied together to call down divine protection. Fr. Gary Thomas, a diocesan exorcist in California, announced that he would be offering Masses for Justice Kavanaugh. Many other Catholics circulated exhortations to pray for Kavanaugh. Patti Armstrong, writing for the National Catholic Register, reported that an unidentified “manager at a Catholic apostolate” urged prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Some Christians may respond with skepticism; they might say they believe in Jesus Christ, not magic. Do they have a point? What is a hex supposed to be, anyway?
Generally speaking, hexes are curses, which entail the calling down of misfortune or evil upon another person. Examples of curses can be found in the Bible, and are shown to be levied by both God and men. In response to the murder of Abel, God cursed Cain (Gen. 4:10–12). Noah cursed Canaan (Gen. 9:20–26). Jesus cursed a barren fig tree for not having fruit (Mark 11:12–14). And although Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans who rejected them, he didn’t tell his disciples that curses were ineffective (Luke 9:52–56).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church warns that casting spells for any reason is forbidden, but that the act is graver when done with the intent to do harm:
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health—are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons (CCC 2117).
This passage seems to affirm that there are indeed “occult powers” that could potentially be harnessed by a hex. And we know that demons exist and have powers that can manifest themselves in our world. Does that mean hexes can work?
First, let’s look at how modern practitioners ordinarily cast spells. In practicing "magick," they usually focus their will (they might call it their “energy”) on a specific end and seek to harness power—sometimes summoned by invoking the gods they venerate—to effect a change in someone or something.
The goal might be benign, such as creating prosperity or encouraging love. But if the goal is intended to cause harm, then the spell is a hex. In the Kavanaugh case, witches used images of him as a kind of “anti-sacramental” focal point for their rage and then destroyed the images by various means to convey the harm they intended him.
Whether or not such hexes are effective usually depends on the state of soul of the recipient. Fr. Thomas told the Register, “When curses are directed at people in a state of grace, they have little or no effect.” He added that when they do take effect, he has seen “harm come upon people such as physical illness, psychosis, depression, and having demons attach to them.” A practicing witch, in a blog post on how to diagnose whether you are under psychic attack, said some of the effects of hexes can include physical contact from “unseen forces,” nightmares, fatigue, clouded thinking, acting out of character, and a string of unfortunate events in one’s life.
If we take Fr. Thomas’s observations and the experiences of witches together, we can reasonably conclude that those who remain in a state of grace need not fear being the target of a hex. But those outside a state of grace, especially those who engage in occult activity, may well experience harm from curses sent their way.
The ability to cast hexes may not necessarily be a result of demonic intervention. In my booklet on the occult, I noted the work of Abbot Alois Wiesinger, a Cistercian monk who wrote a study on occult phenomena in the 1940s. Abbot Wiesinger argued that occult phenomena can be the result of the abuse of the remnants of spiritual gifts man possessed before the Fall:
In the state of innocence such as Adam enjoyed, man led a spirit-like existence assured by the preternatural gifts. Man remained a spirit after the fall, however, and the gifts, though lost, have left their traces.
Abbot Wiesinger believed that the effectiveness of some forms of occult activity, including telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, and spiritualism, could be traced to humans tapping into those lost spiritual gifts. He also warned about the grave danger of attempting to do so:
These rudiments [of the lost spiritual powers of man] are not of much use—rudiments rarely are—and their use tends to damage the natural powers [such as the ability to reason, as we saw was noted by a witchcraft practitioner]. People have often asked why concerning ourselves with the occult should be dangerous or harmful. . . . [It] is the fall of man that has turned everything upside down.
So, how should Catholics respond the next time the witches gather to hex a public figure? Exhortations to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are sound and can be offered both for the targets’ protection and for the conversion of the witches. Masses, too, can be offered for the intentions of the victims of occult activity.
But we should also take note of the root temptation of witchcraft, which is the promise of power. The Catechism notes that recourse to the occult demonstrates “a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings” (CCC 2116). Power is usually sought when a person despairs of the goodness of God. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, advocates of magic, “despairing to move the Deity by supplication, seek the desired result by evoking powers ordinarily reserved to the Deity.”
Even if those involved in this kind of activity believe they’re exacting a form of justice—for example, against men they believe have gone unpunished for sexual assault—they are actually attempting to appropriate “powers ordinarily reserved to the Deity” for their own purposes.
When the serpent challenged Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat the forbidden fruit, he suggested that by doing so she could “be like God” (Gen. 3:5). That desire to appropriate God’s power was the first temptation of man, and perhaps also could have been the test of the angels.
In response to the non serviam of the fallen angels and all those who want to usurp God’s powers, Catholics affirm that they will serve God, and ask along with St. Michael the Archangel, “Who is like God?”