Oftentimes, the Temple’s theatrical contributions are rebuked by those who, unlike Temple members, regard demons as a real threat (or at the very least, an unsavory one). In that way, the Satanic Temple is like a fine sieve through which fundamentalism flows, leaving behind chunks of glaring hypocrisy -- as well as the occasional hint of violence. Ali Kellogg, chapter head of the Los Angeles branch of the Satanic Temple, said that Temple members are routinely greeted with rape and death threats from members of other religions. But this is why the Temple works. A scroll through any comment section of any article about the group reveals a mix of praise, humor, and revulsion. The occult imagery riles some people up, and sometimes, when they get riled up, they expose something important: that they only believe in freedom of religion when it’s their own religion.
What makes a Satanist?
Kellogg, a 26-year-old history teacher and musician, became involved with the Temple after donating $20 to the campaign to build a Baphomet statue in Oklahoma as a protest against a statue of The 10 Commandments appearing outside a federal building. She said she used to be more vehemently anti-religion, but has since learned to appreciate it: "Religion has undoubtedly given us a lot of bad throughout history, but it’s also given us amazing art, architecture, music, poetry, literature, human communities based off shared moral values, and altruistic worldview as a way of life.”
When it comes to the Dark Lord, Kellogg said that he means something different to each member. She finds parallels between Lucifer -- the name Satan was given as an angel, which translates to “bringer of dawn” -- and the Temple's mission, since Lucifer was cast out of heaven for not submitting to God’s authority.
“To us, we see him as sort of a role model in that regard. We’re challenging hateful, bigoted authority that encroaches on people’s personal lives and choices for no reason other than for their personal gain and quest for power -- be it politicians in a theocratic society, or an all-powerful God,” Kellogg said. “The Satanic Temple is all about diversity, community, mutual respect, altruism, and working with people from different walks of life to make the world a better place.”
The upside of grassroots Satanism
LA’s Satanists come in all ages, from all backgrounds and income levels, and are, on the whole, pretty friendly (your neighbor might be a Satanist!). Kellogg described their meetings like “family reunions,” which typically involve cooking dinner at someone’s house and then hunkering down from some good old-fashioned grassroots organization. This includes planning actions as simple as local park cleanups and meet-ups for curious potential members, or as involved as ritualistic demonstrations (like the one in Lancaster).
While photos from the Mass itself may look like your standard goth/industrial club night, you won’t find only goth kids among Temple ranks. "We have people from numerous ethnic and cultural communities working together,” said Kellogg. “One of our members, Steve Hill, is launching a program called ‘The Dark Side’ to serve as a gateway for people of color within The Satanic Temple. I think our chapter beautifully reflects the ethnic kaleidoscope of Los Angeles.”
The Satanic Temple can, indeed, be alarming to those who grew up fearing fire and brimstone. A family member told me she was too afraid to have anything to do with them after being scared by The Exorcist as a teenager. (In that film Regan was actually possessed by the demon Pazuzu, but I digress.) That said, while The Satanic Temple may be a strange bedfellow for the City of Angels, it fights hard for women’s, LGBTQ, and free-speech rights, all of which are passion points here. If you can look beyond the ornamentation, the enemy of your enemy could be your bloodletting, cowl-wearing friend.
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