How Britain's Witches Cast a Spell on Hitler

German Dictator, Adolf Hitler addressing a rally in Germany
1933 German Dictator, Adolf Hitler addressing a rally in Germany. Getty Images/Hulton Archive / Stringer

 In February 2017, a mass binding spell, organized on social media and performed by witches in the U.S. and around the world, went viral. The target? POTUS #45, Donald J. Trump. Some members of the Pagan community embraced the idea and eagerly got to work. Others felt that there were better alternatives. A good many were troubled by the idea, touting the “rule of three” and other reasons why they felt Real Witches Would Never. 

On the contrary, Real Witches Totally Would. In fact, they did. There’s a historical precedent for the use of magic aimed at a political figure. In 1940, a group of British witches got together to organize Operation Cone of Power, targeting none other than Adolf Hitler himself.

The Background

Hitler Reviews Troops
Did British witches work magic to keep Hitler out of England?. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

By 1940, Hitler had significantly increased Germany’s military presence, which had been diminished following the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. In early May of that year, the German army invaded the Netherlands and began to advance, arcing westward. After a number of failed Allied attacks, the Germans reached the coast, effectively cutting Allied forces in half, with the French army to the south, and British Expeditionary Forces and Belgian troops to the north. Once they arrived at the English Channel, the Germans began moving northward, putting French ports at risk of capture. As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, the British and Belgian troops, along with several French units, could be captured if they didn’t escape the path of the oncoming German forces.

On May 24, Hitler issued a halt order to the German troops—and the reason behind this is widely debated by scholars. Whatever the motivation, that brief interlude allowed the British Royal Navy a chance to evacuate British and other Allied troops. Some 325,000 men were rescued from Dunkirk before Hitler’s forces could capture them.

Allied troops were safe from the advancing Wehrmacht, but there was another problem looming on the horizon. Brand-new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and many members of Parliament were concerned that England could be invaded by the Germans.

The Cone of Power

Women's Home Guard
The Women's Home Guard, southern England, 1941. Harry Todd / Getty Images

Britain’s New Forest lies on the island’s southern coast, not far from the port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. While neither of those are the closest point in England to the French coast—that honor falls to Dover, which sits just 25 miles from Calais across the Channel, and 120 miles from Southampton—it’s entirely conceivable that any German invasion from Europe could land somewhere near the New Forest. That meant that the people living along Britain’s south coast had a vested interest in protecting themselves, by mundane or magical means.

During the late 1930s, a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner returned to his home after many years traveling abroad. Gardner, who would later become the founder of modern Wicca, joined a coven of witches in the New Forest. According to legend, on Lammas Eve, August 1, 1940, Gardner and several other New Forest witches got together near the town of Highcliffe-by-the-Sea to cast a spell on Hitler to keep the German military from invading Britain. The ritual that was performed that night became known by the sort-of-military-sounding code name Operation Cone of Power.

There is little information about what the ritual actually involved, but some historians have pieced bits of it together. Tom Metcalfe of Mental Floss quotes Wiccan author Philip Heselton, and says, “In a forest clearing surrounded by pines, Heselton wrote in Witchfather, they marked out a witches' circle, the stage for their magical efforts. In place of a traditional bonfire—perhaps for fear of being spotted by enemy aircraft or local air defense wardens—a flashlight or shuttered lantern may have been placed to the east of the witches' circle, in the direction of Berlin, as a focus for their magical assaults. Naked, or "skyclad" as Wiccans say, they began to dance in a spiraling pattern around the circle, building up to the communal ecstatic state that they believed can control magical forces.”

Gardner wrote about this magical working in his book Witchcraft Today. He said, “Witches did cast spells, to stop Hitler landing after France fell. They met, raised the great cone of power, and directed 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 and their remoter forefathers had done to the Spanish Armada with the words: “Go on,” “Go on,” “Not able to land,” “Not able to land.” … I am not saying they stopped Hitler. All I say is that I saw a very interesting ceremony performed with the intention of putting a certain idea into his mind, and this was repeated several times afterwards; and though all the invasion barges were ready, the fact was that Hitler never even tried to come.” 

Ronald Hutton says in Triumph of the Moon that Gardner later described the ritual in even more detail to Doreen Valiente, claiming that the frenzied dancing and chanting involved had resulted in ill effects on many of the participants later. In fact, Gardner alleged that a few of them had died from exhaustion over the course of the next few days.

Although Gardner and his fellow magic-makers never revealed the location of the ritual, a few authors have tried to parse the site out. Philip Carr-Gomm says in his book The Book of English Magic that is was most likely in the clearing where the Rufus Stone sits – and this was allegedly the place where King William III was fatally wounded with an arrow in 1100 c.e.

Heselton says in Witchfather that, on the contrary, the ritual more than likely happened somewhere near the Naked Man, a massive oak tree from which convicted highwaymen were hanged in a gibbet and left to die. Gordon White of Rune Soup explains why the idea of elderly pensioners scampering about in the woods to cast spells is not without its problems.

Regardless of where it happened, the general consensus is that seventeen or so witches indeed got together to put a hex on Hitler, with the end goal being to keep him out of Britain.

Hitler and the Occult

Four young women dancing in forest, holding hands (B&W, blurred motion)
The cone of power is a way of directing magical intent. Rob Goldman / Getty Images

Traditionally, the cone of power is a method of raising and directing energy by a group. Those involved stand in a circle to form the base of the cone, and they may connect to each other physically by holding hands, or they might simply visualize energy flowing between the members of the group. As energy is raised – whether by chanting, singing, or other methods – a cone forms above the group, and eventually reaches its apex above. Once the cone is completely formed, that energy is then sent out into the universe, directed towards whatever magical purpose is being worked on. Could Hitler – or his agents – have known that this had taken place in August 1940?

Much has been written about the interest that Hitler and many members of the Nazi Party may have had in the occult and supernatural. Although historians are divided into two distinct camps – those who believe Hitler was fascinated by the occult, and those who feel he avoided and abhorred it – there’s no doubt that it’s been a source of speculation for decades.

Biographer Jean-Michel Angebert wrote in The Occult and the Third Reich: The Mystical Origins of Nazism and the Search for the Holy Grail that mysticism and occult philosophy were at the core of the Nazi ideology. He posited that Hitler and others in the inner circle of the Third Reich were actually initiates of secret esoteric societies. Angebert wrote that the central theme of the Nazi Party was “Gnosis, with its most significant thrust represented by the prophet Mani, its evolution necessarily brings us to Catharism, a neo-Gnostic sect of the Middle Ages, and thence to Templarism.” Angebert traces the path from Gnosis to the Rosicrucians, the Bavarian Illuminati, and eventually to the Thule Society, of which he claims Hitler was a high-order member.

In the Journal of Popular Culture, Raymond Sickinger, Professor of Cultural History at Providence College, theorizes “that Hitler thought and acted in a magical way and that he found a magical approach to difficult problems to be efficacious.” Sickinger goes on to say that “In his early life, Hitler indeed thought and acted in a magical way and his experiences taught him to trust, rather than to discredit, this magical approach to life. For many people, however, the word “magic” unfortunately raises images of Houdini and other illusionists. Although Hitler was certainly a master of illusion, that is not the meaning intended here. The magical tradition has very deep roots in the human past. Magic was once an essential part of life and certainly an essential part of political life, because its primary purpose was to give human beings power.”

How Effective Was the Spell?

Vintage British Boy Standing With Union Jack
Whether it was the result of witchcraft or not, Germany never invaded Britain. RichVintage / Getty Images

It does seem more than likely that some sort of magical event took place in the New Forest that evening in August 1940. As most magical practitioners will tell you, though, magic is simply one more tool in the arsenal, and has to work in tandem with the non-magical. Over the course of the next few years, British and Allied military personnel worked tirelessly on the front lines to defeat the Axis powers. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker, and the war in Europe ended within a matter of months.

Was Hitler’s defeat due in part to Operation Cone of Power? It could have been, but there’s no way we will ever know for sure, because there were so many other non-magical things happening in Europe at the time. However, one thing is abundantly certain, and that is that Hitler’s army was never able to cross the Channel to invade Britain.

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Wigington, Patti. "How Britain's Witches Cast a Spell on Hitler." ThoughtCo, Oct. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/british-witches-hitler-spell-4134250. Wigington, Patti. (2017, October 25). How Britain's Witches Cast a Spell on Hitler. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/british-witches-hitler-spell-4134250 Wigington, Patti. "How Britain's Witches Cast a Spell on Hitler." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/british-witches-hitler-spell-4134250 (accessed November 18, 2017).