Inside America’s Satanist movement

The rise of America’s Satanists

Features

Damian Thompson

Damian Thompson

29 April 2023

9:00 AM

The largest gathering of Satanists in history is taking place in Boston this weekend. It’s not open to the public. Or, to be more precise, no longer open to the public. That’s because all the tickets have been sold.

The second annual SatanCon is being organised by The Satanic Temple or ‘TST’, the world’s biggest Satanic sect, at the Marriott Hotel in Copley Square. That’s the same Marriott chain founded by a devout Mormon family who, back in the 1960s, only agreed to serve alcohol to guests after securing permission from the president of the Church of Latter Day Saints. As recently as 2018, it advertised its faith by placing 300,000 copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in its guest rooms. Now it’s ushering Satanists into its hospitality suites. Is it possessed?

The Christian protestors who will be waving placards outside the hotel certainly think so. Others will conclude that Marriott is just commercially savvy. It’s a measure of the scale of the earthquake that has hit America’s religious landscape that TST, based in Salem, Massachusetts, now receives more indulgent coverage from liberal journalists than the Catholic Church.

A report last week by WBUR, a Boston online news service, was gushingly excited about the conference. TST ‘focuses on core values of compassion, intellectualism and personal freedom’, it said, insisting that attendees at SatanCon ‘aren’t coming to worship the devil’.

Really? This is where it gets complicated. ‘The thing is we’re not theistic,’ says Dex Desjardins, a spokesman for TST. ‘We don’t have beliefs in a literal theistic Satan.’ That might seem an odd thing for a Satanist to say, but not if you understand the Temple’s antecedents. With a purported membership of 700,000, it dominates ‘rational atheistic Satanism’, whose roots go back only as far as 1966, when a former nightclub entertainer called Anton LaVey (1930-97) founded the Church of Satan in California.

With his shaved head, goatee beard, flapping cloak and pentagram dangling beneath a clerical collar, LaVey looked as if he’d stepped out of a camp horror movie. He was an extravagant fantasist – claiming, for example, to have seduced a teenage Marilyn Monroe. But he struck a nerve with his Satanic Bible, in which a non-literal Satan merely ‘represents’ such vital urges as indulgence instead of abstinence and ‘all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification’.

This is still the message of the Church of Satan. But you won’t encounter it at SatanCon. On Saturday, there’s a talk on ‘Reclaiming the Trans Body: A/theistic Strategies for Self-Determination and Empowerment’. For young attendees, this is comforting language, barely distinguishable from the jargon in which they write their essays.

Curiously, though, it is the ultra-secular TST that is recognised by the IRS and the federal courts as the only official Satanic church, thereby enjoying tax-exempt status. The Church of Satan, by contrast, uses Twitter to remind the world that it pays taxes, and misses no opportunity to snipe at its rivals. Meanwhile, ex-members of The Satanic Temple have founded the Global Order of Satan, whose British spokesman, an undertaker called Chaplain Leopold, says he left TST ‘after discovering things that I can’t go into, otherwise they’d sue me’.

According to Leopold, the differences between the Temple and the Global Order are ‘not theological’: members of both groups are hard-left supporters of identity politics. But that isn’t true of the Church of Satan, which claims to have conservative as well as liberal members, though like all ‘rational’ Satanists it repudiates far-right Satanic groups such as the neo-Nazi Order of Nine Angles. (The latter are unspeakably nasty – they venerate the Moors murderer Ian Brady – but numerically insignificant.)

One subject that divides old-style LaVey Satanists from the pierced activists heading for SatanCon is abortion. The Church of Satan is vaguely pro-choice, glossing over LaVey’s teaching that only men should decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. But The Satanic Temple is obsessively pro-abortion. And its religious status has given it a new card to play: it claims that abortion is a sacred ritual and therefore its members should be exempt from any legal restrictions.

The overturning of Roe vs Wade last year has sent TST into overdrive. It has opened a clinic ‘offering free religious telehealth medication abortion care in New Mexico’, including ‘medication for safe abortions through the mail for members and for those who wish to perform TST’s Abortion Ritual’. This tactic is ridiculed by the Church of Satan, which argues – not unreasonably – that the last thing pro-choice campaigners need is an endorsement from Satan.

And yet it hasn’t worked out that way. Although riven by factional disputes, the latest generation of self-styled Satanists have finally found a cause that resonates with the media and Generation Z. Like the mainstream Christian denominations they despise, they’ve downgraded the supernatural in favour of aggressive secularism, with a particular emphasis on trans issues and abortion. Unlike the Christians, they seem to be able to make the strategy work. The Global Order of Satan occasionally stages ‘ironic’ black masses in support of ‘reproductive rights’. Given Satanism’s popular association with child sacrifice, isn’t that embarrassing for mainstream advocates of abortion on demand? Don’t they ever contact the Global Order to ask them to lay off the Satanic rituals? ‘You’d be surprised,’ says Leopold, ‘but they don’t.’

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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