Satanic rituals are acts of creative expression. Consistent with the philosophical principles of self-determination and and anti-authoritarianism espoused by The Satanic Temple, our rituals are not dependent upon prescriptive dogmatic fidelity to rote ceremonies. Rather our rituals are often constructed for a particular moment in time, for enactment at particular events, and subject to the artistic preferences, additions, and revisions, of those who will participate in them, within the limits of their collective consent. Traditional “sacred” rituals, muttered verbatim, often not fully understood by their executors or observers, and intolerant of modification, are forms of authoritarian conditioning. Satanic rituals, like Satanism itself, are meant to be liberating and enriching.
The fact that we describe The Satanic Temple as “non-theistic,” and take care to make clear that we do not advocate a belief in the supernatural, leaves a significant number of people perplexed as to why we engage in ritual at all. We ask them to merely consider weddings and funerals as examples of rituals that are commonly understood to hold equal value for believers and nonbelievers alike. Ritual can be an affirmation, a celebration, a catharsis, an expression of camaraderie, a recognition of a significant moment-in-time. And, as in the case of the Satanic Black Mass, a ritual can be a deeply personally significant declaration of independence from oppressive superstition.
In but a couple of nights, on 17 August, the Ottawa Chapter of The Satanic Temple (TST) will hold a Black Mass at what is described as a local “heavy metal bar” named The Koven. While TST’s rituals are malleable to creative input and revision, for certain rituals to hold certain names, they must respect certain themes — rituals of the same name converge upon a common purpose, not a shared script. In the case of the Black Mass, the primary requirement is that the ritual be “blasphemous,” potentially jarring, and irreverent toward symbols of superstition and arbitrary authority.
As I said of the Black Mass in 2014, when TST made international headlines — and provoked outraged controversy — for our plans to enact the ritual before a student group at Harvard University:
“The Black Mass, as it is enacted today has no need for supernaturalism, and it is not performed with the infantile expectation that it should conjure Satan or demonic spirits. In fact, it is our assertion that the Black Mass can be enacted with no ill-will toward the world at large, but as an expression of personal independence against the stifling strictures of supernatural religion that were instilled in some of us as frightened and unwitting children. The Black Mass, at its best, should have a cathartic and liberating effect for its participants and observers. In this spirit, Satanism in general embraces the blasphemous, as we reject divine fiats and the notion of symbolic crimes. The Black Mass has been described as elementary level Satanism, as it’s appeal is strongest for those just finding the light of reason and turning away from their timid superstitions, realizing that they can speak names in vain, eat the ‘wrong’ kinds of meat on forbidden days, or throw a blessed cracker away with the trash without so much as a bolt of lightning to answer in wrath.”
With no attempt to understand the meaning of the Black Mass as understood by Satanists, and likely without any real understanding of the Black Mass in Catholism’s own history, the Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, has decried the forthcoming TST event as “hateful” and “vile.” Simplistically and conveniently interpreting the Black Mass as an outward-aimed and calculated assault on Catholicism — rather than as a personally meaningful rejection of superstition-based authority — Prendergast ignorantly stated to the press, “Such a ritual sends the wrong message that we’re tolerant of what is in effect hate speech, which this has become by the widespread publicity being given to it.”
The fact is, TST is little concerned with what Catholics believe insofar as Catholics are able to practice those beliefs without imposing them, and the prohibitions required by those beliefs, upon those who do not identify as Catholics themselves. The Black Mass, as executed by self-identified Satanists today, has as little to do with Catholicism as Christmas and Easter rituals have to do with the Pagan source material from which those celebrations are derived.
Members of The Satanic Temple, and participants in the Black Mass, are, in the overwhelmingly large majority, individuals who grew up steeped in Judeo-Christian indoctrination and Abrahamic mythology. They are the inquisitive minority who saw in the story of Satan the spirit of rebellion against a petty and vengeful dictator, a liberator who encourages freedom through knowledge, in preference to servitude through dogmatism. They were, for the most part, subjected to religious conditioning at a young age, against any credible standards of consent, and now that very religious conditioning — and the symbols made relevant by its imposition — set the context for the affirmative values they have developed after rejecting the authority of “sacred” scriptures. One may not impose such a framework upon children and cry foul when some of them grow up to use those symbols as raw artistic cultural materials to express their evolution from superstition to rationalism. We are not invaders from beyond the gates, pillaging, stealing, and defacing the iconography of a foreign culture — we are products of the culture from which the symbols we have re-purposed hold deep metaphorical power, even as we reject their alleged supernatural effects.
There is a clear difference between “hate speech” and “blasphemy,” and Prendergast willfully confuses the two. Hate speech is a communication which contains no meaning beyond an expression of hatred, and possible provocation of violence “against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.” Blasphemy, however, is “the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.”
Blasphemy is critical of ideas. Hate speech denigrates a people.
If Archbishop Prendergast had cared to actually attempt dialogue with The Satanic Temple, this position would have been explained to him and, no doubt, his presence at the Black Mass itself, if non-disruptive, would be cordially accepted and to his educational benefit. If Archbishop Prendergast possessed a more nuanced sense of Catholic history, he might acknowledge that the idea of the Black Mass itself was not an original creation of self-identified Satanists, but rather originated as hysterical propaganda, invented by Catholics themselves, to denigrate the “other,” a justification for brutal outgroup purges. The Black Mass was an amalgamation of witch-hunter legends used in Blood Libels against various unjustly abused victims of theocratic Christendom. It’s repurposing as an expression of affirmative values conveys a message in defense of the unjustly outcast — a renunciation of all that actual hate speech intends.
But Archbishop Prendergast never asked, and one gets the distinct impression that he was never interested in such a dialogue anyways. Claiming himself to have been reticent to comment upon the Black Mass at all, being that he presumes to know that TST-Ottawa are “merely seeking publicity,” he nonetheless could not refrain from trying to benefit from the publicity himself, advertising that he will be conducting a “Mass of Reparation” on the morning of the 17th.
It is an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem, and a poor substitute for actual understanding.