No need to build a stage, it was all around us. Props would be simple and obvious. We would hurl ourselves across the canvas of society like streaks of splattered paint. Highly visual images would become news, and rumor-mongers would rush to spread the excited word. … Once we acknowledged the universe as theater and accepted the war of symbols, the rest was easy.
— Abbie Hoffman, “Museum of the Streets”
In the most American way possible, the biggest magical ritual ever performed in the United States (and possibly in the world) was essentially a marketing campaign. The activist (and former student of psychologist Abraham Maslow) Abbie Hoffman believed in the power of vaporware politics: create an image of the product you want and people will believe it already exists and buy into it. (The French syndicalist philosopher Georges Sorel had much the same realization in 1908.) In other words, Esoterror, although it may seem a trifle charged to use such a term for an action intended to convince the youth of America that the youth of America already opposed the Vietnam War, which in 1967 was by no means a sure bet. Hoffman would surely have preferred Esorgasm, or perhaps Esotrickery.
And what, specifically, was that action to be? Nothing less than the levitation and exorcism (or “exorgasm”) of the Pentagon during the March on Washington of October 21, 1967, planned and carried out by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. While folksingers bleated and lefties old and new orated, Abbie Hoffman orchestrated a Working, complete with a Hittite chant discovered or invented by the poet (and member of the counterculture house band The Fugs) Ed Sanders, in consultation with the occultist and musicologist Harry Smith.
The full ritual, as planned, involved sprinkling cornmeal in a circle around the Pentagon as 25,000 hippies held hands, the Powers were invoked from the four cardinal directions, and “a cow painted with occult symbols” looked on. After consulting with Mexican shamans, the painter and theosophist Michael Bowen added a further air element: 200 pounds of daisies to be dropped onto the roof of the Pentagon from a small plane. Hoffman somehow put the whammy on the Pentagon’s negotiators, who talked him down from levitating the Pentagon 22 feet in the air (other sources claim Hoffman opened at 300 feet) to three feet, and in what I can only consider a classic (but ultimately failed) troll attempt, issued the Marchers a permit to levitate the world’s largest office building three feet off the ground.
I remember after we’d done “Out, Demons, Out,” I went down under the truck and there was this guy from Newsweek trying to hold a microphone close to [Kenneth] Anger. It looked like he was burning a pentagon with a Tarot card or a picture of the devil or something in the middle of it. In other words the thing we were doing above him, he viewed that as the exoteric thing and he was doing the esoteric, serious, zero-bullshit exorcism.
— Ed Sanders, in “Out, Demons, Out! An Oral History”
Ordo Veritatis, or DELTA GREEN, or whoever else was keeping an eye on things magical for the military-industrial complex, was on the ball that day. The Pentagon permit explicitly forbade a human chain surrounding the Pentagon; as Norman Mailer put it later, “exorcism without encirclement was like culinary art without a fire—no one could properly expect a meal.” Furthermore, the Park Police confiscated the cornmeal when Paul Krassner and some other hippies tried a “practice exorcism” earlier that day on the Washington Monument, a different police force stopped the cow, and the FBI grounded the daisy plane.
So at the moment of truth, 25,000 stoned hippies and other curious types read an abridged visualization ritual while regaled with the music of the Fugs on Indian triangle, cymbals, drums, trumpets, and finger bells. Standing in a truck flatbed, Ed Sanders did his best to invoke Zeus, Anubis, Aphrodite, Magna Mater, Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the Unnamable, the Zoroastrian fire, Hermes, the “beak of Sok,” Ra, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, “the flowing living universe,” and the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, apparently an early avatar of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Underneath the truck, Crowleian film maker Kenneth Anger crouched, burning sigils and “making snake noises at whomever should try to come near.” He had previously scattered 93 parchment-and-India-ink sigils in the men’s restrooms of the Pentagon, part of a personal campaign to tame and banish the god Mars, one more freelance ritual to snarl whatever ectoplasm or Od was left from the abortive Working. (One assumes DELTA GREEN rounded up most of those sigils. Most of them.) Finally, the Fugs announced the “Grope-In,” meant to put the “orgasm” in “exorgasm” and replace the hate-energy of the Pentagon with the love-energy of hippies having sex in the Pentagon parking lot. But by now the 82nd Airborne had deployed around the building, and enthusiastic marshals began hitting hippies with clubs, and the old left ran away and the new left got arrested.
The Pentagon, as far as anyone can tell, remained at its original altitude, and retained its original, or at least its full, demonic complement.
So, an exercise in the ridiculous, right? Well, maybe.
The Levitation and Exorcism made the evening news, and Newsweek, and more places than Abbie Hoffman could have dreamed of. Norman Mailer made much of his own tangential role in the affair in Harper’s, and then in the very very best-selling The Armies of the Night. (Its subtitle was the esoterribly clever “History as a Novel/The Novel as History,” which rather gives the game away.) Those daisies, redirected from the abortive Aztec aircraft abracadabra, wound up in the arms of the protestors — and a photograph of hippie Superjoel (or possibly a different hippie named Hibiscus) putting a daisy in the barrel of a soldier’s gun became the iconic image Hoffman had dreamed up but never imagined. Six months and ten days later, driven in large part by ballooning anti-war sentiment in his own party, President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election in 1968.