Florence Birdseye chants above an effigy of Hitler, 1941.
William Seabrook was a well-known occultist (and, not coincidentally, a buddy of Aleister Crowley) who in 1940 had published a fairly popular book called Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today.
On a wet evening in January 1941, Seabrook and “a youthful band of idealists” convened at a cabin in the Maryland woods—they made sure to bring a whole bunch of rum from Jamaica, land of voodoo—with a single, lofty aim: “to kill Adolf Hitler by voodoo incantation.” A report of the event, complete with photographs, made for one of the odder features ever to appear in LIFE Magazine, under the title “LIFE Goes to a Hexing Party.”
The event had curious connections to the federal government, it seems. The tom-tom drums were borrowed, according to LIFE, from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Furthermore, LIFE described the group of voodoo practitioners as “respectable residents of Washington, D.C.,” and the cabin in which it all took place belonged to a man named Charles Tupper, who was an employee in a naval factory. The group brought, in LIFE’s words, “a dressmaker’s dummy, a Nazi uniform, nails, axes, tom-toms and plenty of Jamaica rum.” The dummy and the uniform were needed for the life-sized effigy that the group was going to create of Hitler.
One fascinating thing about this escapade is that the United States was not yet at war with Germany. That would have to wait nearly a year, when the Japanese attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7.
The ritual, prepared by Seabrook, invoked a pagan deity named Istan and incorporated the following phrases, to be intoned at the effigy:
“You are Hitler; Hitler is you! ... The woes that come to you, let it come to him! ... Hitler! You are the enemy of man and of the world; therefore we curse you. ... 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 every line the whole group would repeat, “We curse you!”
They also chanted in unison: “We are driving nails and needles into Adolf Hitler’s heart!”
Incidentally, one of Seabrook’s claims to fame was that he once ... dined with cannibals! According to him, human flesh is pretty tasty: “It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef . . . and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted.” Not chicken?
It took several years, but the United States and its allies France, Great Britain, and the USSR defeated the Axis Powers in 1945.
Here is a gallery of images from this oh-so-peculiar event. Clicking will spawn a larger version, for all images not in portrait orientation.
Revelers make their way to a “hex party” in the Maryland woods, 1941.
Chief hexer Ted Caldwell intones an incantation. On the right, in dark shirt and tie, is author William Seabrook. Hitler’s effigy sits with its back to the window.
William Seabrook adjusts the rented West Indian robe worn by (in LIFE’s words) “dark, handsome” Florence Birdseye and shows her how to dress her hair for the hexing ceremony.
William Seabrook demonstrates the proper tom-tom rhythm for a legitimate hex, while Florence Birdseye—of the Birdseye frozen-food family—keeps the beat on the right.
Florence Birdseye directs a curse at Hitler’s (or rather, his effigy’s) reputedly sensitive throat, 1941.
Hexers approach effigy of Hitler, weapons at the ready.
As she jabs an effigy of Hitler, hexer Ruth Davis intones, “Burn Hitler’s eyes! Keep them open night and day! Kill his rest”
A small Hitler doll is confronted with a chicken bone—according to William Seabrook, a “symbol of famine.”
A Hitler hex party, 1941.
“Thoroughly maltreated, thoroughly cursed, Hitler’s image lies amid ceremonial debris. Logs served as seats to hexers according to Haitian custom.”
“Decapitation terminates the brief life span of Adolf Hitler’s dummy.”
“Hitler is buried in deep pine woods to be devoured by worms,” wrote LIFE of this final image in the article. “After burial, hexers were exhausted by compounded impact of drums, ritual, emotion.” And booze. Don’t forget the booze.
Note: All captions come from “Putting a Hex on Hitler: LIFE Goes to a ‘Black Magic’ Party” by Ben Cosgrove, Time website, March 5, 2014.