Satanism. The word summons visions of medieval Black Masses – black-robed cultists gathered around an altar to sacrifice women, children, and animals to Beelzebub and then bathe in their sacrificial blood, maybe with some pentagrams, black candles, and spooky Latin chants thrown in for good measure.
DGO recently caught up with the latest group of Coloradans to take up the mantle of “Satanists,” and they don’t quite match up with the image we’ve formed through pop culture. Above all else, they seem extremely ... benevolent. Don’t worry, though; they’re still pretty metal.
The Satanic Temple ColoradoIf you run into someone who self-identifies as a Satanist in Colorado, chances are good they’re affiliated with The Satanic Temple.
Formed in 2013, The Satanic Temple has, at last count, 22 chapters across the U.S., with two more in Canada and the U.K. The Colorado chapter, formed in 2017, has four subchapters: a metro group in Denver, a northern group in Fort Collins, a southern group in Colorado Springs, and a western group in Grand Junction. They would also have an eastern group in Limon, but that area barely has people in it, let alone Satanists.
We caught up with the Temple at one of their Denver meetings in the basement (spooky!) of the Falling Rock Taphouse (less spooky). Almost everyone there was clothed in black, but the style veered more towards hoodies and standard goth fashion. There was nary a robe to be seen. To his credit, the spokesperson of the group, Viktor LaMent, wore an all-black suit and tie that we would expect for, say, Lucifer’s PR guy.
The meeting itself was primarily a planning session, outlining what Colorado’s Satanists have planned for the rest of 2020. If you’re expecting anything truly evil, prepare to be disappointed.
While their political, moral, and religious beliefs might not suit everyone’s taste, they don’t do anything abjectly malicious. When it comes down to it, The Satanic Temple is one-third political advocacy group, one-third social club for atheists, and one-third a heavy metal version of a Kiwanis-style service organization.
Satan, for the Temple, symbolizes the ultimate outsider, and the group has adopted practices and aesthetics antagonistic to devout Christians. But the Satanists aren’t just cloaking themselves in demonic imagery without a particular goal in mind.
Temple versus ChurchModern Satanism began in 1966, when Anton LaVay founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco. While it acknowledges this earlier version of Satanism as a forerunner to their own, The Satanic Temple disavows most of the Church’s core beliefs. For instance, the Temple does not endorse any supernatural beliefs, whereas the Church is a bit more vague and sometimes tells its members they can perform supernatural “magick” by focusing their own willpower to manipulate people and situations.
The two forms of Satanism also differ wildly in their relationship to the people around them.
“We credit LaVay as the father of modern Satanism, and there’s a lot of vestigial elements of what he had written that still exist in what we do, but his base core beliefs are not canon for us at all. It is entirely too reliant on social Darwinism,” LaMent said. “We don’t really believe in this law of the jungle stuff.”
Persephone Gray, co-head of the Denver sub-chapter, describes the Temple’s philosophy as very humanist.
“We specifically try to do outreach within our local communities ... where we exist. Not only so that we’re seen as a member of the faith-based community, but also because we feel strongly about helping those around us,” she said. “We just all believe that we should help our fellow man.”
According to its website and literature, The Satanic Temple follows seven fundamental tenets:
I. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
II. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
III. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
IV. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
V. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
VI. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
VII. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
The Devil may carePerhaps the most surprising aspect of The Satanic Temple, at least to the uninitiated, is its humanitarian work.
The Colorado chapter in particular does a lot to help support the homeless population, said Damion Luciano, the other co-head of the Denver sub-chapter.
One of the Temple’s current initiatives, which exists in multiple chapters throughout the U.S. and has been adopted by Colorado, is “Menstruatin’ with Satan.”
“Each of our regions have identified either homeless or domestic violence shelters in their area that would be in need of menstrual care products. These are products that are often overlooked or, honestly, shunned a bit by donors because there is a stigma around menstruation that still exists due to the patriarchy,” said Gray. “Within Denver, we have a large homeless community and a lot of people who are couch surfing or in domestic violence shelters, and it’s hard for them to get menstrual care products because they’re so expensive and they’re not considered a basic need by most agencies, even though they very much are.”
Pride is also a big event for the Temple. According to Luciano, more than 60% of the organization’s membership, nationally, is LGBTQA+, and that percentage is probably higher within the Colorado chapter.
“A lot of the same people who are making us fight for our religious rights are making us fight for reproductive and sexual identity rights as well,” he said.
The Satanists had a booth at Colorado Springs’ Pride festival last year and got a lot of public support, even from some surprising sources.
“We were set up next to churches, and we had a Christian pastor come over and say, ‘I’m willing to talk to you guys,’ and we’re like, ‘What do you mean, willing to talk to us?’ We had a really nice dialogue with him, and he was super on board except for the Satan thing. He was like, ‘I get it and I kind of, like, don’t hate you now,’” said Gray.
“That was a little weird,” LaMent said, “because we were also handing out what we were calling a Pride-ritual-in-a-bag, which had a ritual card with a mantra you would repeat written on the card’s backside. But it also came with instructions for how to do the ritual, a little black candle, and a Bible page that you’re supposed to light on fire. And so we were explaining to him like, ‘Hey, you should take one of these ritual-in-a-bags,’ and I guess I hadn’t really thought about how blasphemous the lighting of the Bible page would be because I was like, ‘All you do is you just say this affirmative thing and light the Bible page on fire,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m probably not going to do that.’”
This year, The Satanic Temple Colorado will be at Denver’s Pride festival.
The group has also adopted a few miles of Colorado State Highway 128 near Broomfield and clean it up several times a year. One might call it the Highway to Hell, but Broomfield isn’t that bad of a place.
Rites, rituals, and recreationThe Temple’s normal meetings are pretty causal, but its members break out the theatrics every once in a while, including for its rituals.
“Obviously they’re not supernatural in nature – we don’t actually believe that we’re like calling forth demons or anything,” LaMent said. “It’s just kind of a theatrical cathartic release. It’s more or less, for lack of a better term, kind of like group therapy.”
Examples from the Temple’s website include a destruction ritual, in which “participants destroy an object they own that symbolizes a source of pain in their lives,” and an unbaptism, in which “participants renounce superstitions that may have been imposed upon them, without their consent, as a child.”
The Colorado chapter also has events for Samhain, a pagan festival that coincides with Halloween, and a huge party and fundraiser for Saturnalia, the ancient Roman predecessor to Christmas.
Outside of those more religious events, the Satanists also hold regular events geared more toward their own amusement.
The chapter’s Hellfire Club is where its members gather to discuss philosophical concepts and ideas that are not necessarily stated in the Temple’s tenets, Luciano said.
The group also has “dark arts and crafts” nights, some of which allow them to put together, say, homeless kits or decorations for rituals, while others are just fun projects. In one of the Satanists’ upcoming nights, they plan to attend a workshop on making stained glass. The subchapters also have simple game nights (Cards Against Humanity is quite popular thanks to its potential for blasphemy.)
Finally, the Temple holds fun events for the public, such as metal shows and beer releases. The Temple is one of the hosts of the upcoming “Baphie’s Blastbeat Bonanza” Hexxenact Sabbath, a death metal show featuring several bands (Luciano’s band, Katalysk, is among them), on May 9 at Denver’s Roxy Theatre. Last year, the group teamed up with Black Sky Brewery to release Ale Satan, a honey coffee brown ale. (At the meeting we attended, the group was still workshopping what this year’s beer, a passionfruit-sour apple saison, will be named – one suggestion was “Taste of the Fruit.”)
Political activismIn the news, The Satanic Temple is best known nationally for its political actions. One of its most famous campaigns, as documented in the film “Hail Satan?,” was the creation of a bronze statue of Baphomet.
The 8.5-foot statue was commissioned in response to a 2015 bill passed in the Arkansas State Legislature to install a monument to the Ten Commandments on the State Capitol grounds. The Temple objected to that installation stating that it violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by giving preferential treatment to one religion over others in a government setting. As such, the Satanists brought out their Baphomet statue, arguing that if the Capitol was to have a Judeo-Christian Monument, then all other religious groups must be allowed to erect symbols of their own faiths.
The Arkansas Legislature passed an emergency bill barring the placement of the Baphomet monument, but lawsuits are pending, both on behalf of the Satanic Temple and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Temple is more than happy to take on the government for other reasons, too. The national organization is putting together a rally for reproductive rights this spring in Salt Lake City and chapters from around the U.S. and Canada, including Colorado, plan to attend.
The rally is a response to Project Blitz, a coalition of Christian Rights groups that seek to, among other things, promote the Bible in public schools and establish religious exemptions to LGBTQ civil rights protections and women’s reproductive healthcare.
“We feel very strongly that all of the laws, particularly the restrictive abortion laws in eleven states, that were put in place as part of Project Blitz last year, are part of a larger push to introduce more theocratic laws,” LaMent said. “We feel we have a religious right to exemption from those particular restrictive laws ... and Utah has one of the most restrictive sets of theocratic laws.”
Luciano said the state funding of crisis pregnancy centers – which pose as clinics but overtly steer women away from abortions – is particularly egregious in the Temple’s eyes.
Friendly neighborhood SatanistsUltimately, Colorado’s members of The Satanic Temple want freedom from the oppressive religious structures they see around them.
“Most people, the first thing they ask is why Satan?” said Luciano. “There are a bunch of different answers, but the most important one is that we live in a Judeo-Christian-dominated country, and Satanism is the only way to sort of break apart that kind of mold.”
“We are here to try to usher in some changes to the way things are done, but we’re not as frightening as some preconceived notions might lead you to believe,” he said.