Nearly a year before the United States entered World War II, a group of Americans attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Their method? Black magic.
While the magical practice of using an individual's likeness to influence his health is often associated with Haitian or West African voodooism, such paranormal acts are found across the world. "Image magic," or invultuation, as it is officially known, has been around for centuries in many countries. In European folk traditions, clay, wood, metal, and wax all have been used to make lifelike images of individuals. Purportedly, the victim will suffer torment or pine away as the doll is stabbed, drowned, burned, or tortured by various methods.
Invultuation (along with poisoning, sorcery, and other forms of black magic) was considered to be murder as early as the 12th century in England. As late as 1916, a woman showed a County Sussex vicar in England a "rude figure cut out of a turnip," which contained "two pins stuck into that part which represented the chest," ostensibly made by her husband in order to afflict her.
Such supernatural customs were still prevalent in Europe in the 1940s, so it is perhaps no surprise that they were used to afflict the world's biggest bogeyman at the time with disease or death: der Führer.
In February 1941, Central European immigrants residing in Washington, D.C., called upon the old pagan deity of Istan (akin to the Magyar or Hungarian word Istvan for god) to invoke his wrath to effect Hitler's demise. Illustrations and cardboard cutouts of a skeletal figure representing Hitler, along with wooden dolls, were stuck with pins in areas representing vital organs. A cat, a near-universal symbol of witchcraft, was enlisted to torture the effigies.
Photographs found within the Philadelphia Record photo morgue at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania document the ceremony and reveal the persistence of the belief in image magic at that time.
The month before, Life magazine had profiled a "black magic party" hosted by "respectable citizens of Washington, D.C." Influenced by the popular book by author-cum-cannibal William Seabrook, Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today, the hexers "bedevilled themselves with rum" for an hour before driving "nails and needles into Adolf Hitler's heart!"
The article also contained tips for readers interested in hosting their own similar parties, a testament to the popularity of witchcraft.