Lifestyle

You May Have More in Common With Satanists Than You Thought

Satanists walking their satanist kitty
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Forget Democrats and Republicans -- let’s talk about Satan, shall we? Specifically, how he has become the figurehead for what is arguably one of the most interesting political organizations at work in America today, with an active Los Angeles chapter that threw its biggest-ever event earlier this year.

The Satanic Temple is a relatively new organization, officially founded in 2014 by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry, and though it has chapters all over the world, it’s headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts (for obvious reasons). The Los Angeles chapter formed in January of 2016, and has over 50 people who identify as members and regularly attend events. Their coming-out party, if you will, took place in the form of a Satanic Mass back in January that included a live bloodletting ritual as well as a lecture on demonic cats. Since then, they’ve been busily hosting regular community meet-and-greets, appearing at politically charged demonstrations, and holding a Walpurgisnacht march down Hollywood Boulevard. (In German folklore, this is the night when witches and warlocks assemble.)

“The Satanic Temple states that to embrace Satan ‘is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.’”

At its core, though, The Satanic Temple probably espouses values closer to your own than you’d think. Its macabre aesthetic is one of blood red and black, of heavy metal and leather -- all the trappings of a ‘90s goth party or a modern sabbat -- yet it may surprise you to know that its members don’t personally believe in or worship Satan as a deity. In fact, not a single goat (nor virgin, for that matter) has been sacrificed here. What the Satanic Temple does believe in, and advocate for, is the separation of church and state, religious freedom, personal autonomy, and critical thinking. It also views Satan as the misunderstood rebel character around which its work revolves. Satan, as you may recall, is allegedly the one who encouraged Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

Doing the (Dark) Lord’s Work

The Temple’s core campaigns often involve topics where a dominant religion might encroach on legislature, such as gay marriage, reproductive health, or a woman’s right to choose. Other campaigns come into play when religion is being inserted into an area where the Temple believes it shouldn’t be, Constitutionally speaking, such as public schools or government properties. The Satanic Temple states that to embrace Satan “is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions.”

In 2015, the Temple’s LA chapter conducted a ritual in San Gabriel to "demonize" Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan who, in the 1700s, founded several of the initial California missions. Serra had been canonized by Pope Francis several days prior, which drew controversy as Serra's missions greatly impacted Native Americans already living in the area at the time, whom the Spanish attempted to convert. "During the Spanish colonial and the Mexican period we lost 90% of the Indians in California," Ron Andrade, director of Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the LA Times. "Serra was no saint to us."

In a release, the Temple explained its actions: “The Pope's canonization of Serra underscores the hypocrisy of his ‘liberal’ PR campaign in America, an attempt to sway public perception of an organization that still condemns same sex marriage, refuses women the right to govern their own bodies and [has] done little to address the horrific crime of child abuse running rampant in its ranks.”

The Temple also appeared in the city of Lancaster, about a 70-mile drive north of Los Angeles, on June 6, 2016 (6/6/16, as it were). They conducted rituals at five points around the city, enveloping it in an intangible pentagram. The ritual was in response to Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who had declared the city a "Christian community" and opened public meetings with prayer, ruffling the feathers of not just Satanists, but residents of other religions and the ACLU. The Temple issued another statement: “We will stand with the good people of The City of Lancaster and struggle for our constitutional right to individual liberty, freedom of expression, and the separation of church and state in your community.” As you might expect, their actions were protested by some of Lancaster’s Christians, as depicted in this short film from 60 Second Docs.

“Temple members are routinely greeted with rape and death threats from members of other religions.”

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.

Sign up here for our daily LA email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Los Angeles has to offer.

Juliet Bennett Rylah is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, CA, who, while not a Satanist, enjoys a good ritual every now and again. She loves Halloween, cats, immersive theater, escape rooms, and roadside motels. She's at @jbrylah (both Twitter and Instagram).