Putting a Hex on Hitler: LIFE Goes to a ‘Black Magic’ Party

Revelers make their way to a "Hitler hex party" in the Maryland Woods, 1941.
Thomas McAvoy—TIme & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Revelers make their way to a "hex party" in the Maryland woods, 1941.
Curiosities
'40s

“On the wet windy evening of January 22, a youthful band of idealists went to a lonely cabin in the Maryland woods.”

Thus begins one of the odder stories LIFE magazine ever published—a straightforward, tongue-nowhere-near-cheek account of a 1941 “hex party” convened with one aim in mind: “to kill Adolf Hitler by voodoo incantation.” According to LIFE magazine, the party featured “a dressmaker’s dummy, a Nazi uniform, nails, axes, tom-toms and plenty of Jamaica rum,” and was inspired by a book by occultist and writer William Seabrook that was popular at the time: Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today.

Witchcraft or no witchcraft, these Nazi-haters knew how to party.

“For an hour after their arrival,” LIFE drily noted in its February 10, 1941, issue, “the young sorcerers bedeviled themselves with rum.” Inspired by his writings, they had also asked Seabrook to join them at the cabin. “He readily accepted, seeing in the event a chance not only to test his theories, but also to render a service to mankind.”

Seabrook was something of a high-profile wild man during his brief career as a best-selling author, hanging out with the likes of Aleister Crowley and famously chronicling his travel adventures—as, for example, when he dined with West African cannibals. “It was like good, fully developed veal,” he wrote of his first taste of human flesh, “not young, but not yet beef . . . and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted.”

The tom-tom drums were borrowed, LIFE wrote, from the U.S. Department of the Interior. “No cultists, [the hexers] were respectable residents of Washington, D.C.,” while the Maryland cabin where the hexing took place belonged to one Charles Tupper, who worked in a Naval factory.

“The ritual,” LIFE told its readers, “prepared by Mr. Seabrook, began with the naming of the image: ‘You are Hitler; Hitler is you!’ Next the chief hexer intoned: ‘The woes that come to you, let it come to him!'”

“The chief hexer again intoned: ‘Hitler! You are the enemy of man and of the world; therefore we curse you,'” LIFE continued. “‘We curse you by every tear and drop of blood you have caused to flow. We curse you with the curses of all who have cursed you!’ After each line the entire group responded: ‘We curse you!'”

“The occult ceremony climaxes as hexers hammer nails into the heart and throat of the image of Hitler,” LIFE reported. “The hexers called on the pagan deity, Istan, to transmit the image’s wounds to the flesh of the living Hitler . . . chanting in unison: ‘We are driving nails and needles into Adolf Hitler’s heart!'”

Decapitation, LIFE noted, ended “the brief life span of Adolf Hitler’s dummy.”

“Hitler is buried in deep pine woods to be devoured by worms,” wrote LIFE at the end of the article. “After burial, hexers were exhausted by compounded impact of drums, ritual, emotion.”

And booze. Don’t forget the booze.

NOTE: William Seabrook—who struggled with alcoholism and at one point was committed, by his own request, to a mental hospital outside of New York City—committed suicide in September, 1945.
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