On Friday the 13th, roughly 100 witches, conjurors and assorted magical activists gathered on a grassy knoll outside the Western States Republican Leadership Conference in an effort to free the nation's leaders from a malevolent spell.
Burning sage, drumming and invoking the four elements (that's air, earth, wind and fire, to those not in the know), the protesters tied up Lady Liberty--played by a dreadlocked teen in flowing white garb, holding a green plastic torch in her right hand and a paperback edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King in her left.
The ropes were meant to symbolize the U.S.A. Patriot Act, said members of Cascadia Magical Activists, who organized the event. Enacted in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the act gave the government sweeping powers to conduct domestic surveillance, virtually eliminated judicial oversight over these new powers and allowed indefinite detention of noncitizens.
So why did the U.S. Senate approve the act 98 to 1? The Magical Activists believe they have an answer. Political leaders have fallen victim to the dark sorcery of the media, of corporate "group-think" and advertising--in short, they are under a sort of spell or "thrall."
"A thrall is essentially a spell where you have lost your free will on a certain subject," explained Ron Braithwaite, a self-described Quaker witch who attended the ritual in a fuzzy brown robe and a pentacle pendant.
At the center of the ceremonial circle--located next to a freeway off-ramp near the DoubleTree Hotel at Jantzen Beach--Braithwaite brought the ritual to a climax when he ignited a yard-long piece of paper representing the Patriot Act and dropped it into a cauldron.
As the Act disappeared in a flash of orange flame framed by Burger King and Chevron signs, Lady Liberty was unbound and--the pagans hope--the thrall was freed.
Cactus, a homeless man who viewed the ritual from his abode, a bush equipped with tan rug, battery-powered radio and paperback Mario Puzo novel, was unimpressed. The area circumscribed by the off-ramp "is our hacienda," he grumbled, "and they're clogging it up."
Neel Pender, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party, said he found the Magical Activists' concerns "to be of merit," particularly where Republicans are concerned.
"Whether [the Republicans] are drunk off of Newt Gingrich soup or have fallen victim to voodoo economics, America will be better off if this group's concerns are answered," he said.
Inside the DoubleTree the following day, however, it was unclear whether the Wiccan incantations were having much effect. KXL talk-show host Lars Larson auctioned off photographs of Bush I and II for as much as $600 to a rapt audience. Whole tables of the GOP faithful joined hands to sway in time to the strains of "God Bless America." In fact, the entire hotel seemed bathed in an aura of patriotism and lockstep consensus.
Was this the result of supernatural forces?
"Not at all," Larson replied, with a devilish flash in his eyes.