BY: MICHAEL LYONS
Satanists are making their way into our schools! Satanists are out to get our children! Satanists are trying to convert our nation’s kids to the dangerous, infective belief in critical thought… oh, the humanity!
This isn’t an exaggeration: The Satanic Temple (TST), a New York-based anti-supernaturalist organization, has recently been doing the good work in Florida schools, one of their numerous spiritual battlegrounds. After a Christian group received permission to distribute religious information and Bibles in a Florida school district, TST quickly submitted “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities” for distribution as well. After all, it’s only information about another form of worship, and it’s only fair.
Part agitprop political movement, part takedown of fundamentalist religion, part critical thought zeitgeist, The Satanic Temple is leading the charge in the fight for reason, compassion and benevolence. Forget all you think you know about Satanism. Forget ritual sacrifice, or bathing in virgins’ blood, or child kidnappings. After all, those images, says TST leader Lucien Greaves, are just something someone else wants you to think.
Greaves grew up during the Satanic Panic of the ’80s and early ’90s. Fostered by day time talk shows, mainstream media and fundamentalist Christians, there was a conspiracy that roving Satanic cults were murdering children, or breeding children to be murdered, or making people disappear. “Turns out that none of that was true, but as a kid I didn’t know that,” Greaves says. “I was very curious as to what was the reality of this. When you’re a little kid you take these kinds of things said on TV at face value.”
This turned into a kind of career that found him challenging psychology professionals over the bogus practice of repressed memory recovery that often, conveniently, leads patients to believe they’d been abused by Satanic cults, or abducted by aliens. Through his research, Greaves began to make connections with people involved in Anton LaVey’s foundational Church of Satan, an American-born movement that encouraged individualism over theistic or supernatural belief.
“The more I was able to understand the mythology of Satanism and where these claims were coming from, the more I was building my critical thought processes as well and moving away from mainstream religious thought,” Greaves says.
His decision to get involved with The Satanic Temple’s projects was a reaction to what he saw as a largely a political Satanic movement, which did little to set the record straight during different iterations of the Satanic panic. This still didn’t make it an easy decision, since he’s seen people’s lives literally ruined by accusations of involvement in Satanism. “It’s suicidal, really, for your reputation, and maybe even literally,” he says. “You can get shot by some maniac, or whatever else.”
The Temple itself took hold less than two years ago. What started off as a film project by a couple of Greaves’ friends and associates hoping to explore religious pluralism and what it means to be a part of the dissenting voice quickly became more than that. Greaves was consulting on this film and another TST project when they became involved with a mock-protest in support of Florida Governor Rick Scott who, early in 2013, was signing a bill that would essentially allow prayer (euphemized as “inspirational messages”) at public school assemblies and sporting events.
The Satanists, of course, were all for it. After all, they were eager to get their own messages into these prayers. Again, it’s only fair.
“The point is most of these kids certainly already know about Christianity,” Greaves says. “The alternative messages coming in, that’s going to be what’s new to them, that’s where they’re giving the small groups an advantage. We thought once we put that idea out there, there would be kind of a pile on effect; people would really jump on that bandwagon. You would hear from Hindus, Muslims and everyone else.”
“That didn’t really happen, and we got a lot of attention,” he adds. “It didn’t take long at all before the message resonated with people so clearly that they wanted to have a part in The Satanic Temple. They wanted to be involved.”
He knew from the kind of support they were seeing that this went beyond a film project.
“I thought maybe I could still stay in the background of this, because it was too meaningful to cut it off. And you can’t have people rallying to you and then at some point say, ‘Well, we’re done. We’re walking away.’” He took on the name Lucien Greaves to keep his image out of the movement, and keep “the message about the message.”
These were the beginnings of The Satanic Temple’s extensive work, which generally sees itself in a bizarre symbiotic relationship with fundamentalist religion. Wherever the Christian right demands special privileges, The Satanic Temple is sure to be right behind them, advocating for the same privileges for themselves and all other religions, like the Scott rally, or the Satanic Children’s Book of Activities in Florida schools. They also gained some notoriety for performing Pink Mass over the grave of late, anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps’ mother, ritualistically turning her spirit gay.
“When I had really given myself up to the suicidal winds was when I… when I whipped out my nuts and dumped them on Fred Phelps’ mother’s grave…” Greaves says. “Pictures were taken that went all over the news, and that was pretty much the end of any pretenses I had that I could remain in the background of this.”
The Satanic Church is growing, too. They see a lot of gay members too, which Greaves says makes a lot of sense: “Talk about being discarded by standard religious organizations. The gay community hasn’t had it very well, and I don’t see why they should try to ingratiate themselves to any Christian churches or previous organizations that have rejected them anyway. I really don’t understand those kind of conciliatory efforts to put oneself forward as an apologetic person for who they are.”
“I couldn’t tell you why, I don’t know why that is, but I think that’s different from common self-identified Satanism up until now,” Greaves says. “It’s generally been a middle class, young, white male thing up until this point. We’re starting to appeal to a different audience.”
The Detroit Chapter, just one of the many North American TST chapters that are popping up, is headed by Jex Blackmore. Like the appeal to the LGBT community, in an age where the religious right is increasingly claiming authority over women and their bodies, The Satanic Temple is there standing up for the individual’s autonomy. Blackmore has been one of the many in Michigan campaigning for reproductive rights, which are increasingly under fire in her state, and in many other places.
Beyond these new chapters Greaves says that they’re keeping the process open and easy for becoming a member, and people are signing up every day. The e-mails are more than they can keep up with.
The revolt of angels against a tyrannical deity is the central metaphor of The Satanic Church— literary, rather than theistic. For Greaves, this is exemplified in the Temple’s central tenets of upholding individual sovereignty and always opposing arbitrary authority and authoritarian structures. Earlier in his life, as he learned about Satanism, he realized there was a need for the redemption of these ideals. “The witch hunting mentality is still very much alive in people.”
“When you allow them to simply say that Satanism, the idea, the name Satan, the symbols of Satan are blasphemy, ‘you can’t self-identify as a Satanist without naturally being criminally depraved,’ you’re actually enabling this thought process, I think,” Greaves continues, “To confront this head on, to self-identify as a Satanist and say that we can utilize this to our own ends, that really forces people to look directly at people for what they’re doing in the real world, and measure them for their real qualities.”
So next time someone starts screaming about threats to children, and our society’s values, here’s hoping the Satanists will be there, an activity book on one hand and a benevolent, compassionate open palm on the other. Hail Satan.