Phoebe Rosa Castillo did her first Blood Over Intent ritual in August 2017. Draped in white fabric, the altar in her North Hollywood, Los Angeles apartment featured crystals facing North, a crucible pointing East, a candle to the South, and an arrangement of seashells marking West. Castillo, 27, spent about a month debating whether to go through with it, but she finally set up her camera carefully, and then pricked her finger with a medical lancet until she saw blood bubble up from beneath her skin.
"I intend to usher in heaven on Earth and release everyone from bondage," she reads from a prepared statement, dripping the blood from her hand onto the words on the paper. The last step was uploading the video to YouTube where it would garner witnesses and sit alongside tens of thousands of Blood Over Intent clips of others performing or discussing the ritual. "I decided to spill a lot of blood the first time, to make sure that it worked," said Castillo.
Blood Over Intent has been spreading through YouTube since at least 2013, and has picked up steam over the last two years, contributing to a sort of decentralised, internet-native spiritual community. The ritual ties everything from apocalyptic prophecy to individual self-improvement in a web of conspiracy theories, new-age beliefs, and occult ideas.
The ritual is a sort of initiation for the community's "blood brothers" and "blood sisters," who make up a loosely connected tribe that stretches across the weirder depths of YouTube, from Flat Earth to reptilian shapeshifters to any other conspiracy theory you can imagine. For those whose curiosity about conspiracies or the occult brings them far enough to find Blood Over Intent, Castillo told Gizmodo, the ritual is the holy grail, the hidden knowledge, and the community they have been looking for. "It's the end of the rabbit hole," she said.
"Where are the people like me?"
Understandably, not everyone who does Blood Over Intent agrees on exactly what it's supposed to do. In a nutshell, those who practice the ritual believe they develop spiritual powers and changes in perception that grow over time, as they shake off the false reality in which we are all supposedly imprisoned. It is a "proof of life," in the community's parlance, letting the powers that be know you're there, and allowing you to enter their graces. Spilling blood - a practice rooted in the ancient occult - is no more important than the witnessing, which takes place online, on YouTube, for the eyes of fellow practitioners, and in front of anyone who happens to click.
Blood Over Intent is "fascinating", Benjamin E. Zeller, Chair of the Department of Religion at Lake Forest College, and co-general editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions told Gizmodo. In spiritual practice, he said, "blood magic is not that unusual." He said, "in many religions, including Judaism and Christianity, blood is powerful and connected to the divine." And though the reputation for bloodthirstiness in modern pagan practice has been massively exaggerated in the past, blood rituals and sacrifices still do have a place in many of today's magical and occult communities.
"What is interesting here is the simplicity of the blood ritual, and the way it has been harnessed for a do-it-yourself digital age," Zeller said. "You just need to write your intention, seal it with blood, and upload it to the internet."
"If it calls to you, it's nice and simple way" to access a complex world of metaphysical ideas, Shyshaeia Nym, 36, who asked to only be called by her YouTube account name, told Gizmodo.
Many practitioners find each other wandering the fringes of the internet. Conspiracy culture offers believers a world of sinister, all-powerful puppetmasters, actively covering up the truth, and Blood Over Intent promises a mystical shortcut to seeing through the lies. Enough of the Blood Over Intent community overlaps with conspiracy circles of all varieties, that this nice, simple belief — that you, post-ritual, are a part the few seeing the world for what it really is — seems keenly fitting for them.
"When you're waking up, you feel so lonely," Nym, who is in the Coast Guard and lives in Virginia Beach with her daughter and husband, told Gizmodo. "And it's like, 'where are the people like me?'" Among her blood brothers and sisters, said Nym, "there's so much unconditional love... There's actually genuine respect for each other."
Castillo said most of her interactions with the rest of the community happen online, but she's met a handful of others in person, an experience she described as "like meeting another part of you." "I was very secluded before," she said.
It's hard to tell exactly how many people have done Blood Over Intent. At the time of this writing, there are over 378,000 YouTube search results for "blood over intent." As far as actual videos of the ritual, some days a YouTube search will yield five new videos of people performing the rite, some days you'll see 15 new seconds-long clips. There are videos with individualized touches, with folky or EDM backing tracks, or with a hand-drawn picture to accompany a written intent.
There are also follow-up videos. After three months, says one construction worker smoking on his lunch break, "I can see everything that's going on, all the symbols." One U.K. YouTuber, who described herself as a housewife, says, "I do feel like I'm a lot more loving. My relationships with those that matter are better" 10 months after performing Blood Over Intent. "It lit my soul on fire," says a scruffy practitioner in a beanie, a year into the process. He credits blood magic for helping him overcome his opioid addiction.
Not everyone who does Blood Over Intent is so enthusiastic about the results. In a video with more than 18,000 views, one practitioner worries he's invited dark forces into his life with the ritual, saying he "acted a little fast." For those who might regret doing Blood Over Intent, another video offers a method for "bypassing" the ritual's effects.
And of course, Blood Over Intent crowd has certainly garnered a share of criticism from within the online conspiracy ecosystem. "BLOOD Over INTENT Ritual ... WARNING ...It IS A TRAP!" warns a video with more than 40,000 views, where a concerned-looking, middle-aged woman with grey and black streaked hair says, "It's sad. You really think you are doing something good for yourself and for the world and you have just given your power away." In another clip, titled, "BLOOD over INTENT: Don't Bleed Your Own Blood," a user with 12,000 followers who identifies himself as a "Christian whistleblower" argues that although Blood Over Intent does employ some "very practical spiritual technologies," the ritual is "fatally flawed" because it's rooted in what he calls the "The Roman Pauline Christian blood-mind matrix." Comments from concerned and angry users pop up below Blood Over Intent clips all the time, condemning the ritual and cautioning that hellfire awaits those who mess with the occult.
Generally, the behaviour of Blood Over Intent practitioners tends toward utopian and sweet, but dig yet a layer in, and things start to get pretty dark.
Satan is a plumber in Coral Springs, Florida
"I put up my blood publicly on December 24, 2013, at 9pm Eastern standard time, Christmas Eve. That's when the first Blood Over Intent video entered into the YouTube system," claims Mark Braun, better known online as Quasiluminous. Though YouTube's search options don't allow for oldest "blood over intent" results to verify this belief, Quasiluminous is widely considered the movement's pioneering figure by practitioners and critics alike.
Braun is a cantankerous internet ranter of incredible bile and imagination, prone to punctuating his often terrifying spiels with "motherfuckers" and accusations of necrophilia aimed at some unseen offscreen doubter. The fact that he's so regular-looking, his dark, slightly graying hair cut short around a square-jawed face that stays almost expressionless even during his most bizarre, profanity-laden pronouncements, is part of what makes him so unsettling. That and the fact that he's obsessed with blood.
In a Skype call, he explained how internet platforms play into the form and function of the Blood Over Intent. "The internet is based on alchemy and your blood is the philosopher's stone," declared Braun. Technically, you could gather a couple in-person witnesses for your Blood Over Intent and it would still count. But online, his community is "all public, side by side." They're "blood thicker than water, standing on gallons of blood," he said. "You won't find anything else like that."
Dour and apocalyptic, Braun is a human vortex of mysticism, and every conspiracy theory and occult horror you've ever heard: The Earth is flat, and also hollow, and we are living in a hellish simulation, controlled by dark forces, reptilians, and shadowy elites; every shape, symbol, and word is a secret to be unlocked; everything you're taught in school a lie; reality itself is straight-up bullshit. He's nearly incomprehensible to the uninitiated, veering into long, self-referential diatribes about angels, black holes, and magic. Braun said he's pretty used to people questioning his mental state. Immersion in Blood Over Intent and its underlying mythos, he said, makes you "so far advanced that nobody should be able to comprehend what's coming out of your mouth."
A plumber, who also sometimes works as an electrician or AC tech, Braun believes himself to literally be the Biblical prince of darkness, and also the saviour of mankind, destined to lead a cadre of those who perform Blood Over Intent to the Holy Grail, or as the statement of intent reads, to "heaven on Earth." By posting that first video, said Braun, he opened up the book of life, in which only 144,000 names are inscribed (the number is mentioned in Revelations, and significant in several Christian traditions). Post blood and join his 144,000, he said (he doesn't know how many have joined so far), or be dead walking, asleep, doomed to a hellish cycle of pointless suffering. "Blood up or shut up," said Braun.
What separates Braun from any other edgy conspiracist and prophets of doom out there, is other people also truly believe he's Satan incarnate. And after cutting himself and wiping his blood on a statement of intent some five years ago, hordes of seekers have followed his lead.
"I don't take money, I don't take worship, I don't take advice," said Braun, who by all accounts doesn't profit from his following.
"He can't stop us from worshipping him," interjected Castillo, who was also on the call. Later, she said that the two have never met in person, but they video chat regularly.
"Quasiluminous is Satan, the one true Antichrist in the flesh," wrote Lauren Pavey, a mother of three from North Carolina and Florida, who posts extensively on YouTube about Blood Over Intent, in an email. "He is the cornerstone of Blood Over Intent because he alone was given the mythical spear of destiny to bring forth heaven on earth. No one may enter the house of god without him."
Pavey, a pale woman with big eyes and a goth vibe, writes in an email that she first did Blood Over Intent about a year ago. "I did it alone, and to me it made sense that the Creator wanted proof of life. Heaven chose Satan to lead the way. I could see the symbols in reality all around me much clearer after."
Despite the enthusiasm of his close followers, many of those who do Blood Over Intent have no idea who Quasiluminous is; they have picked the ritual up from a friend or relative, or another YouTube mystic or conspiracy theorist second-hand, like a bloody chain letter. "I imagine they eventually find out" who he is, says Braun. He comments "Blood thick with me" from one of his several accounts beneath almost every one, to a chorus of approvals and appreciation from his devotees.
Braun's dark energy scared a lot of people at first, and over the last few years, fellow YouTube conspiracist Devin Madgy, whose main current channel is called "Flat Earth Paradise," became a sort of lighter counterpart, a chill apostle for Blood Over Intent and its related mythos. Madgy, who now refers to himself as "Hermes" did not respond to requests for comment, but many of his videos discussing Blood Over Intent have considerably more views than any of Braun's. Madgy's videos about mysticism, flat earth theories, and the upcoming exodus to the "holy grail" have brought him more than 50,000 followers on YouTube, and since Braun is prone to getting his accounts taken down by YouTube, in his periodic absences from the site, Madgy and other less apocalyptic initiates have been instrumental in spreading the rite to those who might otherwise find Braun scary or off-putting.
Madgy and Braun briefly feuded publicly last year over their differing visions for the community, sniping at each other, though rarely directly or by name, in their videos. "I know that Devin had this kind of on-and-off relationship with [Braun]," says Nym. Though they have clashed in the past, in the kind of arcane YouTube drama you can find in any of the platform's more passionate communities, the two seem to have reached a sort of peace and shared sense of mission lately, building a new dialog through Blood Family members like Castillo.
"I paid more attention to what Devin Madgy was doing," said Nym. She doesn't feel particularly invested in Braun's broader claims but she believes supernatural personal identities like "Satan" or "Hermes" can be empowering spiritual tools. "We're attaching ourselves to these characters that are helping us climb out of this pit we've fallen into," she said.
In one of Nym's videos, titled "Mother and Daughter - Blood Over Intent, Soul Family," she cheerfully performed the ritual with her eleven-year-old daughter, who drew pictures of what she imagined "heaven on Earth" to look like, and laugh-winced when her finger was pricked. "I can see the light in her," commented Madgy on YouTube.
Nym said she knows of other parents who have done the ritual with their children. "Some people in the Blood Over Intent community are doing it because they feel like they're saving themselves and those they love. Some mothers are like, 'I'm pregnant, what do I do about my child?' Or 'my children are too young to understand this, can I do Blood Over Intent on their behalf?'"
Braun's son, a dark-haired teen, has shown up occasionally in his videos. Braun talks about playing video games with his kid, and in older videos, you can see the two practicing martial arts, jumping a fence, doing normal family stuff. Still, Braun told me, his son, like his wife and his coworkers know him as Satan, too. "They have already seen too much. They can see all the blood that goes up there, they know what's going on."
At his job, said Braun, "I put my blood over my paycheck, and my boss shows the videos while we're at work, saying 'look at what Mark does with his paycheck.' Everybody knows who I am."
Years before he became YouTube's most feared and respected Satan, Braun had his first brush with internet fame in 2009, when he posted a live-streamed video, in which he's covered in bandages and screaming in his home, as Coral Springs Police kick down his door. Braun claimed he was "kidnapped," for filming police officers assaulting a woman outside his apartment complex, and later beaten and locked up for two weeks.
Officer Tyler Reik, a spokesperson for the Coral Springs Police Department, said in a phone call that Braun was not arrested, and was rather taken in under the Baker Act, a Florida statute that allows for the involuntary commitment of anyone deemed mentally unstable in a way that could cause harm to themselves or others. Reik claimed Braun has "a history of mental illness," and he "just got up and walked out of the hospital after major surgery. That's why he had all those staples and bandages in the video." Reik claimed that Braun had "made suicidal threats and that's why a welfare [check-in] was needed." (Braun did not respond specifically to Reik's claim, stating, "It doesn't matter what you write. The world is already mine.")
Whatever happened that day, the experience was an "awakening," said Braun. Afterward, he said, "I could see the reality." This was hell; the world was plain inhospitable, a "fucked up situation." Now, he said, "I know none of you are safe until I make this world a safe place."
Braun's sense of peril is unsurprising, considering that only months before, he was also shot in the groin during an attempted robbery in his building. That robbery is listed in a pro-firearm paper put out by Libertarian think tank Cato Institute, as an instance of a "good guy with a gun" stopping a crime; apparently, Braun drew on his attacker and scared him off. "It ended up being painful, but the bullet went through me and didn't hit anything vital," said Braun.
Braun has had other run-ins with the law over the years, in incidents running up until 2016 that include being charged with drug and weapons possession, and misdemeanour theft and battery. Even before he became Quasiluminous, and then adopted the mantle of Satan, Braun had been careening intensely through life. It's hard not to feel some sympathy for the devil, when you consider what being shot, beaten, and involuntarily committed in the span of half a year could do to someone. "When you look into my eyes," he said, "you know I've seen some shit."
Everything on the internet
In the end, it doesn't matter if you believe Braun is Satan, or what conspiracy faction or flat Earth spinoff community you belong to. As Braun said, "It doesn't matter what anyone believes."
"We don't all agree on the same things," Castillo said. "But as long as we're pointing towards the holy grail and showing proof of life, then this is our blood family, so we're working together."
Zeller believes we're going to see more platform-based spiritual communities like Blood Over Intent. "Now, people can find whatever they want on the internet," said Zeller. "The new more occult, esoteric, or unusual ideas percolate freely and openly in the internet, and digital communities form around them."
Blood Over Intent, Zeller said, makes people "feel special, since it tells them that they have the power to reveal and access the truth, distinguish themselves from the ordinary people, and mark themselves as distinct and powerful... You don't need to be inducted into a secret society or learn a complicated new vocabulary or theology. It is simple and straightforward, and empowers the individual. This is the heart of American religious practice, which has been shifting in this direction for centuries."
From Braun himself down to any Blood Over Intent newbie, you can see this dynamic, the urge to rewrite the script, to use the alchemy to transform oneself from dead-weight lead to brilliant gold. Sometimes, Nym said, people just need "someone to acknowledge their world as being true."