Ritual Redux: The Satanic Temple’s Bisbee, AZ “Nihil Sanctum” Event

Ritual Redux: The Satanic Temple’s Bisbee, AZ “Nihil Sanctum” Event November 23, 2017

Last month here on For Infernal Use Only I posted about all the various Satanic rituals that were going on this fall. I not-so-subtly suggested that ritual season (such as it is) was being capped off this year with The Satanic Temple-Arizona’s 2nd annual ritual event in Bisbee, AZ. Full disclosure, I’m a member of TST-AZ and we all put in a lot of work pulling this event together. There is no chance at all this review will be unbiased.

The Quarry owner Dana House poses as Jesus as part of the TST-AZ Nilhil Sanctum event. Image credit: TST-AZ
The Quarry owner Dana House poses as Jesus as part of the TST-AZ Nilhil Sanctum event. Image credit: TST-AZ

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee, AZ is a bit of an impossible town. It was founded as a mining town for the now defunct nearby copper mine. It’s within spitting-distance of Mexico, a mile of which is straight down because it’s tucked up in a mountain. It’s since become a tourist destination full of artists, restaurants, seance rooms, and haunted tours. Essentially Bisbee is what you get when the past 50 years of American culture gets slathered all over a Norman Rockwell painting.

In a media narrative sense there’s two ways to play this. One could say that a cabal of highly influential Satanic activists converged from all over the country in a secluded mountain commune to engage in debauched wickedness and Satanic ritual. Or, one could say that a dedicated group of TST members congregated in a bucolic mountain getaway to celebrate their shared goals and beliefs with a night of pageantry and spectacle.

There’s some truth to both views.

But I think it’s far more important to focus on the hows, whys, and whats. What inspires these people to travel from all over the country to a picturesque town and theatrically declare their rejection of a centuries old papal decree? What are Satanists getting out of being a part of this sort of event? Why, by all accounts, is Satanism growing to the extent that such an event is possible? How does this further their goals?

TST-AZ Chapter Head Michelle Short and spokesperson Stu De Haan Saturday night. Image Credit: TST-AZ
TST-AZ Chapter Head Michelle Short and spokesperson Stu De Haan Saturday night. Image Credit: TST-AZ

Satan Comes to Town

I arrived in Bisbee with Wonka, who is my co-council member for the chapter in the Phoenix area, just after noon on Friday, our friends from Colorado’s TST chapter had gotten in earlier that morning and we’d made arrangements to meet for lunch in the town’s bar furnished out of what was once the town’s stock exchange building. Most buildings in Bisbee used to be something else. Most others were still en-route or waiting at airports to provide transportation to our out of state guests. The plan was to all congregate for a family dinner of sorts once we were all settled in.

Colorado’s media liaison Ada had driven the last leg of the their contingent’s trip and was opting for sleep. As the media, that was fine since it wasn’t their chapter’s event and I didn’t particularly need liaising. We met up with her co-council members Andrew and Damion. They were coming in hot off a ritual event of their own from Halloween so conversation quickly turned to Satanic shop talk punctuated with card tricks courtesy of local magician Magic Kenny Bang Bang as he passed back and forth running errands. This is the sort of thing that happens in that town.

The overall feeling as people began to congregate would be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a conference or convention. It was clear that day-to-day life was being left behind. Andrew was not a truck driver here. He was the second person in the history of the United States to ever give a Satanic invocation at a city council meeting. One thing you learn quickly learn in this organization is they’re a very diverse bunch who are all leveraging talents that are often entirely unrelated to their day-job to the cause.

This trend toward switching from your day-to-day self and really owning who you are within the community was exacerbated as word spread of who would be there. Over the last few weeks TST-AZ Chapter Head Michelle Shortt had been advertising information about who would be there to draw in the crowd. This slowly became amplified as word spread that, even though it wasn’t advertised, co-founder Lucien Greaves would be there.

We didn’t advertise his presence to avoid this kind of thing, but there it was anyway.

Satanic Family Diner

If you’ve ever been to any kind of professional event you know that the real work doesn’t get done during panels or speaking engagements. They get done at the meet and greets, the parties, the times when everyone is really looking to make connections. This event was no different in that sense. The invite only parties are the ones that matter. The great thing about these kinds of parties are you get real decision makers all in the same room and plans start to spawn. I’m not psychic; it isn’t my job to say how a night like that plays out. But if you want to know where the next year or so of TST manifested from, it happened in that room.

For me, I particularly recall an instance when I was talking with Fred (one of the Atlanta chapter heads) about the business end of TST, how we can market, how we need to organize. That theme became a major talking point for the evening. The sense of the room was half ‘we’re all so excited to be together’ and half ‘so what are we doing next?’.

The overall sense of community was palpable though. Sure there were quibbles and disagreements but most everyone was on the same page: that night was about ‘where does Satanism go from here?’

Ritual is Art

Wonka portrays Pope Boniface as part of the event's theatrical performance with Nuns Kealy, Ada, Rose, and America. Image Credit: TST-AZ
Wonka portrays Pope Boniface as part of the event’s theatrical performance with Nuns Kealy, Ada, Rose, and America. Image Credit: TST-AZ

While we were setting up the stage, videographers (I assure you their videos are coming) were doing interviews. I surprised myself by saying that the thing about ritual is that it’s nice to be able to “experience these ideas emotionally instead of intellectually”. In my mind that’s really where the dividing line is. Yes, Satanic rituals are boisterous, everyone wears black, the women are in clothes tight enough to cut off blood supply to the men’s brains, we revel in our stereotypes. These are facts.

There is a really is a point to it all though.The espoused purpose of the event was “a celebration of secular life over divine right”, and the logical conclusion is that people are free to engage in all forms of ritualized spectacle if they see fit to do so as long as they’re not passing laws making them mandatory or otherwise infringing on someone else right to to do the same. . Yes, it’s true that when it comes to law it is important that those laws remain secular, but the reason for that is that some people feel a deep need to engage in this kind of spectacle and that … is also ok. I think that’s the overall takeaway from this sort of event. For a long time secularism and religiosity have been at odds, but Satanists don’t think they have to be. We can both celebrate in our own way to fulfill our emotional needs and defend the separation of church and state intellectually with no conflict. In the end, that’s what this was about.

Below is a quick bonus episode of the Naked Diner podcast with raw impressions of the event from myself, Wonka, and three members of The Satanic Temple Colorado, please to enjoy.

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