This must be the end of days, as watching Penny Lane‘s crafty, arch entertaining doc on a growing group of civic-minded Salem-based, Florida-hatched US Satanists almost got me thinking backwards, like a spell on a Black Sabbath vinyl. There is no denying that separating church and state is always a good idea.
Hail Satan? certainly encourages a rear-view mirror framing of religious timelines as we encounter group after group of Christian zealots, in various settings, demanding their version of universal truth be universally represented and legally upheld – left, right and centre, confronted by a motley yet focused crew of TST (The Satanic Temple) activists begging to differ – and the latter appearing well-spoken, more grounded, and certainly, kinder. History, in this context, is an ongoing series of religious operations of oppression by the ruling few, executed by the obedient and the dull-minded, against the clever and the freedom-loving.
You’d then say, yes, this seems somewhat accurate – but why, consequently, follow Satan? And the short answer is, as given by TST, and Anton LaVey, in archival footage, the founder of the 1966 Church of Satan – because the Fallen Angel from Christian myth is the ultimate rebel. The adversary to despotic rule. Or, as Jesper Aagard Petersen, one of the authors of The Invention Of Satanism puts it – the original troll.
Satanism was hereto always a label, issued by others, or more accurately, a stigma or curse. The 20th century now inaugurated it as badge, through means of self-proclamation.
TST suggests that it’s really not anti-Christian, rather it’s post-Christian, or just purely political, overall. In fact, many members see it as straight-forward shock-value legal-trolling street-performance activism, with no deity to worship, highlighting the hypocrisies of a system founded on a maxim of equal rights for all. One of its co-founders, Jex Blackmore, performance artist and feminist activist, now in exile from the Temple, concludes that one cannot dismantle corrupt systems of power while functioning within them.
However, playing the devil’s advocate to the devil’s advocate, and why not – one must remember that Lucifer finally fell from grace due to hubris, not (just) because he was otherwise cool. And hubris, ultimately, is peak uncool. Go figure.
This 360 degree turn in perspective, although admittedly still Christian-centric (as this story’s mythos is), logistically offers so much more to unpack while we run around Arkansas with the doc’s director tagging the super media savvy TST team, led by Mr Lucien Greaves, the Temple’s Harvard-neuroscience-educated co-founder and spokesperson, in their quest to erect (fun pun) a statue of Baphomet alongside the statue of the Ten Commandments, in front of the state capitol. Reasons why? To remind the public that the US is fundamentally built as a secular society, no matter its extra loud Christian spin.
Not surprisingly, most TST members interviewed come from a strong Christian background, some were even deeply involved in religious practice. As one of them succinctly puts it – when he was confronted by the dogmatic reality of his early educational environment – he wanted to be the opposite of what these people were.
Another, talking about the media hyped ‘satanic panic’ centering around the alleged widespread abuse of children in the 1980s and 1990s, and stemming from ‘aberrant’ teen behaviour (i.e. occult interests, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal music) – and taking into consideration the subsequent discoveries regarding the simultaneous decades long cover-ups in the Catholic Church, wraps it up: It was projection. They were doing it. I was playing D&D.
It’s the shadow not the mask that, in the end, does the evil deed.
Nowadays, TST walks the walk of social justice across the US at large, stocking homeless shelters with dry socks and feminine hygiene products (aka ‘menstruation with Satan’), using pitchforks to pick up rubbish along the highway, endorsing planned parenthood and LGBTQ+ human rights, inevitably ruffling a few feathers with their after-school Satanic club for children, focused on faith-less creativity and Socratic reasoning.
What this arcade of anti-establishment Goths & green activists dressed in black pitted against riled up & righteous patriarchal true believers actually left me with is a profound reckoning on why mainstream religions so massively end up serving as effective pulpits for base-variety hate, and equally, why rebelling against injustice and prejudice head-on but internally unchecked then slowly starts conjuring delusions of a different ilk. Undeniably more sophisticated, but eventually, end-game destructive (see Blackmore’s elaborate hardcore private ritual which, hence, marked the end of her TST membership and collaboration with Greaves).
Possibly all our downfalls occur because the human mind requires a cosmology, then mistakenly appropriates it into the confines of one’s small, fragile yet ambitious Ego.
Bottom line, ideology always ends up in more ideology.
In the meantime, on Earth, it’s all about who holds the power. And whose is the hand that wields it. Left or Right? For good or for ill?