Baphomet and Sabrina: A Cinderella Story

Baphomet and Sabrina: A Cinderella Story November 2, 2018

Anyone reading this has undoubtedly heard about The Satanic Temple’s (TST’s) claim that the new Netflix/Warner Brothers series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Sabrina) unlawfully used a depiction of TST’s Baphomet monument as a symbol for the show’s devil-worshiping, cannibalistic, witches. This has lead to conversations among Satanists and non-Satanists alike over the nature of the work, whether or not TST’s claim has any merit, and (oddly) whether or not TST is right to pursue such a claim even among people who agree they have one. I think we could do with demystifying exactly what goes into this kind of challenge.

There’s something to be said for perspective

Now, it’s no secret that my ties to TST are many and the key players surrounding the case are friends of mine. Lucien writes here at the blog sometimes and TST’s legal counsel Stu De Haan is a fellow member of TST’s Arizona chapter. We had dinner together last Sunday. I haven’t really discussed the case with them very much though; I’ve just been consuming the same press-releases and statements as everyone else. One thing that’s become fairly apparent though, is that there’s a whole lot of confusion about what TST’s claim is and how copyright law actually works. So let’s take a minute and review some of the questions and claims, and hopefully shed some light on what I think is going on here and why it matters.

Baphomet Has Been Around For Centuries

True, but not TST’s Baphomet. The most common depiction of Baphomet that people refer to when they make this point is Eliphas Levi’s 1856 drawing shown here in all it’s public domain glory.

Baphomet, from Eliphas Levi’s “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie”, 1854

Many of the internet commentators with whom I’ve had or seen have discussions about the current kerfuffle (and yes, it’s a kerfuffle in every sense of the word) believe that since Levi’s image is public domain then that must mean TST’s Baphomet is just a derivative work that is not subject to copyright. That’s ridiculous. While it’s obviously the case that historical depictions of Baphomet are the inspiration for TST’s monument that doesn’t mean the work isn’t a new work subject to copyright. In fact, TST registered that copyright in 2013. I suppose (and in fact I think it’s quite likely) that whatever lawyers the makers of Sabrina would love to be able to demonstrate that TST’s Baphomet is not (to use a legal phrase) significantly transformative enough to warrant separate protections, but if we look at the history of commercial entertainment that doesn’t appear to be the case.

It’s a Cinderella Story

By way of example consider the classic fable Cinderella. No one owns the story of Cinderella. It has an interesting distinction of being a story that transcends culture dating back to pre-history. There is the classic Grimm version, there are Slavic versions in which the protagonist wears fur boots instead of glass slippers, Irish versions, Norwegian versions, and a Greek version (rather humorously called Little Saddleslut). There are even Portuguese, and Bulgarian versions of the story. Most of them aren’t even named Cinderella, but they’re all quite obviously the same story with different cultural influences and all are far too old to be subject to copyright protections.

But then there’s Disney’s Cinderella

If you remember the commercials from the 80’s and 90’s that would come on during Saturday morning cartoons (when there was such a thing) whenever marketing their video cassettes Disney was always very clear to prefix their name, Disney, onto the front of whatever movie they were selling based on older folk stories. It wasn’t “Cinderella” it was “Disney’s Cinderella” or “Disney’s Pinocchio”. They make that clear it’s not just A Cinderella, it’s THEIR Cinderella, and woe be to those who would violate a Disney intellectual property claim. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a version of Cinderella, you just can’t make one using Disney’s Cinderella.

In much the same way, Baphomet (the idea) is not TST’s Baphomet (the monument), and there are substantial differences between the historical conceptions of the mythical beast and TST’s version. Most notably the TST monument has features that most would characterize as traditionally masculine and added two children (one boy and one girl) flanking the Sabbatic Goat, which TST says is designed to maintain the symbolism of duality. It is a unique work that, like Disney’s Cinderella, is subject to copyright.

But It’s Fair Use!

If we accept that TST’s copyright claim is valid I don’t think the court of public opinion is the right place to assert fair use without some kind of arbitration. Fair use is a very complicated subject, especially in a commercial context like inclusion in a TV show. Is the show’s Baphomet sufficiently transformative? Does it affect the marketability and value of TST’s Baphomet monument and assorted merchandise? These really are questions for the courts to determine and TST has every right to pursue it if they believe their intellectual property rights have been violated.

They sure look pretty similar to me. Top: The Satanic Temple Baphomet, courtesy The Satanic Temple. Bottom: Screenshot from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina via Netflix.

No Christian Religion Would Sue Over Something Like This!

The banal answer to a comment like this is to simply point out that Satanists aren’t Christians, but even so such a critique isn’t very compelling when there’s evidence to the contrary. The Catholic Church in Brazil has sued on more than one occasion over various usages of Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer monument in film and television. Christian groups have sued over logo disputes, and megachurches create and license content for use by their affiliate churches around the country. Copyright enforcement is very alive and well in the religion industry. Much like my Cinderella analogy, you could make a movie about a church with a Jesus on a crucifix, but if that Jesus is a CGI rendering of Jim Caviezel from Passion of the Christ you should expect an angry phone call from Mel Gibson’s lawyers.

It’s No Big Deal, or, TST Should Focus on Social Justice Causes

I’ve seen a lot of criticisms along these lines, but the interesting thing here is that they’re not a legal argument at all, they’re ethical arguments that have nothing to do with law. These commenters tend to agree that TST has a legitimate copyright claim, but think pursuing such a claim would be in bad taste or (to put it in business jargon) damaging to TST’s brand.

First of all it’s interesting to reflect on the idea that Satanism’s reputation is so stellar that such damage isn’t negligible seems like the kind of idea that could only come from someone stuck in a media bubble. As religions go Satanism isn’t exactly well received in most places. Satan, after all, is the adversary of god. For all the flaws, contradictions, and silliness that most Atheists and Satanists can rattle off from bible stories god has a robust and well-funded public relations team, so Satan’s (and Baphomet’s) reputations aren’t stellar in the wider population outside of our Facebook information bubbles. None of that is of any legal consequence though.

It’s just weird to me that people would both say that TST has a claim while also saying that TST shouldn’t pursue it as a matter of taste. Copyright, as legal scholar and inventor of the Creative Commons Lawrence Lessig once wrote, “is a property right of a very special sort, [but] it is a property right”. Like any property, its owner has the right to decide what to do with it and any infringement on that right is subject to legal action. This is no trivial bit of law. Copyright is enshrined in the constitution as part of our fundamental rights of property ownership. There may be some confused communists and outright anarchists that disagree with that, but that’s not the way it is and most people agree with the idea of being able to own stuff.

The assertion that TST should forgo asserting their ownership rights because ‘that’s not what TST is for’ seems to miss the mark too. Why can’t TST do more than one thing? The organization already has, by my recollection, five civil-rights oriented lawsuits winding their way through the courts in three states, and as far as I am aware they fund those campaigns with sales of merchandise (including Baphomet merchandise), museum tours (including viewings of the monument), and donations. Their claim to their unique depiction of Baphomet is integral to the whole operation. It isn’t my job to prove that Sabrina’s use of Baphomet can cause TST financial harm, but in my layman’s opinion it certainly sounds like it might.

Leave it to the Lawyers

Again, and I can’t say this enough, I haven’t discussed this whole business with anyone in TST who makes the decisions very much. I’m not sitting in on meetings; I haven’t talked with them about their legal strategy; and I’ve  just been consuming the same news articles and facebook debates as everyone else so this whole thing is just my personal take on the situation. I really can’t blame them for pursuing this course of action. I probably would too. It isn’t exactly a distraction from the other things TST does either, the group seems to still have plenty on their plate. But for those who still want to concern themselves with the implications of TST’s actions consider this: being able to control how your work is copied is, in its own way, a form of reproductive right and I firmly believe that like every other reproductive right it’s their decision whether and unplanned and unwanted reproduction should be forced upon them.

 

About Jack Matirko
Jack Matirko is an activist, blogger, and podcaster focussing on issues of church and state separation. He runs Patheos' Satanic Blog For Infernal Use Only (patheos.com/blogs/infernal), co-hosts the Naked Diner Podcast (patreon.com/nakeddiner), and is a member of The Satanic Temple-Arizona Chapter. His opinions are his own. To contribute to his work please consider becoming a patron of his podcast. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • WallofSleep

    I made it to the third episode of Sabrina, up to the “infernal” court scene. Everything was “… your dis honor…” this and “… this esteemed and dishonorable court…” that, spoken reverently of course.

    It struck me as the kind of laughably childish and simplistic dialogue one would expect from a Chick tract printed in the 80’s. Many of the roles played came off as cheap characterizations from a televangelist’s fevered dreams.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    So glad I never wasted any time on that show. I would have been VERY pissed now.

  • WallofSleep

    The production values are high, but the writing quality not so much.

    ETA: The character Sabrina is quite likable and worth rooting for at least, but if the writing is just gonna be knock-off stereotypes from the Satanic Panic era, it get’s a hard pass from me. I’ll at least watch enough further to get to the baphomet scene, but that’ll likely be the end of my interest in it.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Unlike the current season of Doctor Who (;

  • Jim Jones

    > The banal answer to a comment like this is to simply point out that Satanists aren’t Christians, but even so such a critique isn’t very compelling when there’s evidence to the contrary.

    Just insulting their magic objects can threaten you with prison.

    https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/pennsylvania-teenager-hump-oral-sex-jesus-statue-prison/

  • Oh wow. I remember that guy … though I guess that was more of a public lewdness charge than anything else. I oppose those too, but I’m pretty sure even if it was Ronald McDonald they would’ve given him a hard time about it. That part of PA is basically just North Kentucky

  • mordred

    Thanks for the warning, sounds like a show that would only annoy me. I don’t mind a story where the bad guys are interestingly evil satanists or demon worshippers, but Chick-style bad guys are boring.

    By the way, back then I only caught a few episodes of the original series here and there, but I don’t remember any major black magic bad guys. Did I just miss these episodes or is this only a thing with the reboot?

    Edit: Or is my memory just faulty here?

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    Where did you get these illustrations? Doesn’t Baphomet’s pentagram point down?

  • WallofSleep

    “Or is my memory just faulty here?”

    I don’t recall either but if there were, they were definitely “Disney-fied” by comparison.

  • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

    When intellectual property is stolen from commercial products (like Cinderella) the studios come down hard.
    When they come after a violator, huge fines are imposed.
    Fair play! TST should absolutely sue! What goes around, comes around…

  • WallofSleep

    This story has made it to MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/satanic-temple-is-threatening-to-sue-netflix-2018-11-02?siteid=yhoof2&yptr=yahoo

    I’m not familiar at all with MW, so I don’t know how big of a deal that is.

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    It’s up to TST if they think it’s worth going to court for, but I certainly think they have a case and the right. What would particularly bother me is the way that the Baphomet is being used in Sabrina — “as a symbol for the show’s devil-worshiping, cannibalistic, witches.” I don’t think they want that idea associated with their Baphomet, any more than it is already. Letting this slide might be taken as meaning that they agree that is the meaning of their statue. The publicity might help them spread the word about their actual beliefs.

  • I was about to make a tiny addition that Cinderella’s glass slippers were originally fur (which makes a lot more sense), a mistranslation of verre (glass) rather than vair (fur), but Snopes says no.

    So never mind …

    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/glass-slippers/

  • 3vil5triker .

    Its a pity, cause otherwise I found the show to be pretty entertaining. Despite the “Satanic” visuals and symbols used to depict the “Church of the Night”, its really both a stand-in and a criticism of religions not unlike many mainstream denominations of Christianity. Its possible my own confirmation bias is making me interpret things in a way that was not necessarily intended by the authors; either way, thinking for yourself, rejecting unquestionable authority and defying religious norms and expectations are themes that are central to the show.

    Maybe they can come to some kind of middle ground? Have WB produce a featurette where they admit to and apologize for the copyright infringement, talk about the history and mythology of Baphomet, the story behind the commission and creation of the statue, and the history of the Satanic Temple itself and how it differs from fictional “Satanism”.

    That way WB does not incur in either permanent loss of income for having to take the series down or additional costs to remove/edit the statue from the episodes, and they would be directly redressing the damage caused by the unauthorized use of the statue by reaching their audience directly, something the Satanic Temple could not do with money alone.

    Just a thought.

  • 3vil5triker .

    Maybe that’s the whole point, to make the “Church of Night” to be as cartoonishly evil as possible yet make it share many characteristics with mainstream religions?

  • james

    seems commercial is the key, if a studio did a moesha cinderalla without disney buyoff that “leverages” the notoriety of the disney character. but, a no name church or PAC fighting a one-hitter quitter show. there is no value stolen or gained by the studio, but this lawsuit certainly serves to put the plaintiff and organization in the news. they’ll get more value from the publicity of suing then if they had rolled over. Any award, and it should be chump change relative to their claims, is a bonus; no award, and they still come out ahead despite being labelled as whiners.

  • Jim Jones

    Hey, they can pay TST some money and everyone will be happy.

    Even us, as the Temple does more good stuff.

    https://thesatanictemple.com/blogs/the-satanic-temple-news/protect-children-project

  • Jim Jones

    Update: TST got a better deal than I could have imagined. (It’s almost as if someone inside the studio was a secret collaborator).

    They get free advertising with every viewing!! Fan bloody tastic!

  • Jim Jones

    The original series was watchable, mainly for the stars. Although I only ever caught a few.

  • HematitePersuasion

    I thought the season was worth watching if only to get a better idea of the stereotypes around Satanists. It reminds me of what Baptists must think happens beneath pizza parlors around the world.