When was the last time you were actually encouraged to channel your rage?
I’ll go first, since I’m a petty Gemini who can hold a grudge like no other: Before this weekend, I honestly couldn’t remember. I’m a card-carrying member of the most hated sign of the zodiac, sure, but I’m also a visibly queer woman who struggles openly with mental illness. Rage—at people, at shitty situations, at the fucked-up world at large—is something I grapple with frequently but quietly, not wanting to ostracize myself any more than I already feel in most spaces.
So when Dakota Bracciale, co-owner of Catland Books in Brooklyn, invited me to cover a sold-out public ritual to hex Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, I practically sprinted to the J train. Research I conducted leading up the Saturday night ritual informed me that it would be in two parts: the hexing, designed to cast scorn and misfortune upon Kavanaugh and all perpetrators of sexual violence, followed by a “rite of the scorned one,” a ritual meant to offer catharsis and solidarity to all those who have been hurt or wronged by people in power.
While my inner 13-year-old baby gay—a wannabe witch attending Catholic religious education against my will—couldn’t wait, my present-day self—a 22-year-old queer atheist jaded by most forms of religion—entered the ritual space with trepidation. Objectively, it was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced: Bracciale, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, led the ritual in front of an elaborate altar. (The centerpiece was three “dick candles,” all pierced with coffin nails: one for Trump; one for Kavanaugh; and one for, in Bracciale’s words, “that fuck-face [Mitch] McConnell.”)
That isn’t to say all of Brooklyn thought it was cool, though. Around 6:30pm, shortly before the ritual was scheduled to start, a gaggle of loud evangelical Christians began to blast religious music in protest. When the Christian rock failed to subdue our spirits, they resorted to sermons, sharing formulaic testimonies about how they were “saved” from the devil. One particularly loud protestor even professed to be a “former homosexual,” offering up an extremely nonsensical story about how he was forever changed one day when he went to play a song at his piano and received a message from the big man in the sky.
The irony of the whole thing—a group of supposedly righteous, compassionate Christians condemning a room full of “devil-worshipers” in an accusatory, offensive, and disruptive manner—wasn’t lost on Bracciale. The Catland team, including the shop’s co-owner, Melissa, and a team of security guards, handled the situation as seriously as they could. (The fact that the protestors broke noise ordinances and received several angry complaints to police didn’t bode well in their favor, either.)
Luckily, Bracciale had accounted for the pushback, and the ritual started at 7:45pm with run time to spare. The hexing itself was actually derived from Psalm 109, a biblical passage noted for its severity as a curse. After asking everybody to pull up a specific translation on their phones, Bracciale led the chant, lighting candles and encouraging us all to participate in whatever way made us comfortable. I read the psalm aloud in solidarity more than faith, but the effect was the same: For the first time in over an hour, the rabble-rousing cries of spiteful Christians outside were totally drowned out. (Later, everyone in attendance would have to be escorted out of the bookshop by security guards, who helped ward off angry protestors and intrusive reporters from alt-right media outlets.)
Bracciale, sounding somewhat awed by the collective resonance of our voices, clapped for the crowd: “We are nothing if not resourceful and fucking resilient!”
An unexpected sense of calmness washed over me as I joined the chant, and that calmness stuck around after Bracciale welcomed us all to come up to the altar and add anybody we wanted to hex to the ritual on a slip of paper. (The slips of paper would be sealed in jars, they explained, and covered with a multitude of gnarly ingredients—think grave dirt, sulfur, and urine.) I didn’t add a name to the jars, but I watched in quiet reverence as others stood and took their turns.
At this point, Bracciale firmly asked all press to turn off their video cameras and stop taking notes. This was part two of the ritual, they explained: the rite of the scorned one. Bracciale read a poignant passage and invited us all to respond in whatever way we felt compelled to. Crying, screaming, shouting—all were acceptable. Afterward, the floor would be open, and anybody who had to get something off their chest could do so. The rest of us were to offer words of affirmation in response.
I walked into Catland that night thinking I’d be able to keep my emotions in check. Boy, was I wrong: As Bracciale called upon the power of all ancestors of human history to hear our collective outrage, tears streamed down my face. I felt the energy in the room pulse through me like a bolt of lightning. Bracciale’s words continued, and the tears kept coming. My heart raced in my chest as a chorus of guttural shouts rang out around me.
Reporters, videographers, ticket-holders…suddenly, it didn’t matter who I was or how I’d gotten to this room. All that mattered was that I felt like I mattered, and my outrage was shared.
At the end of the rite and the moving personal stories of trials and triumphs from attendees, Bracciale instructed us to recite a Latin phrase, which they’d conveniently inscribed on the wall above the altar: lavetur in nobis sanguis tyrannus. In English, it translates two ways: We bathe in the blood of tyrants, and We bathe in the blood of the tyrants within us.
I don’t know what I believe in, but I do know that I experienced something magical that night. As a queer woman, being permitted to actively feel my rage—experience it, interact with it, channel it into something cathartic and productive—is an unfortunate rarity. I’m white, so I can’t speak on the experience of queer women of color, but if the “angry black woman” stereotype is anything to go by, so many women of color also fear the repercussions of leaning into anger and frustration. If anything, the facial expressions of the other people at the ritual, a diverse crowd of mostly women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks, confirmed that I wasn’t the only one feeling validated.
As we continue to stand up against the Trump administration’s never-ending assaults on the freedoms of the LGBTQ community, we can’t shy away from our rage. Because anger isn’t just powerful on an individual level: It’s incredibly productive as a tool for enacting progressive change. Where despair shuts us down, rage empowers us to fight back against the abuses of people in power. It enables us to rally together—and, if we come from a place of privilege, to help amplify the voices of those whose anger and frustrations aren’t being heard.
And that…that’s downright magical.