The Alchemy of Activism: The Satanic Temple

The Alchemy of Activism: The Satanic Temple January 21, 2016

When you think of Satanists getting together, what comes to mind? Goat-centered orgiastic reverie? Diabolical cursing? Sacrifice of the innocent? Or perhaps you have studied history enough to know that the concept of the devil is a cultural phenomenon.

Satan (meaning “enemy” or “accuser”) is a title given to a moving target, depending upon who violates the comfortable norm. Following certain aspects of Satanic tradition and philosophy, but with political activism and secular achievement in place of supernaturalism and secrecy, the Satanic Temple is shattering taboos in groundbreaking ways. They are even chafing the very asses of people who will benefit from their activism.

Their work has led to the enforcement of separation of church and state in a number of high profile cases. They are agitating for the abolition of corporal punishment in American schools, raising public awareness of modern-day witch hunts like the Satanic panic of the 80s and 90s, and fighting the oppression of women’s reproductive rights. Demonstrating that rebellion can be channeled productively and used to make important social contributions, the Satanic Temple is luring progressive Satanists from far and wide.

Photo by Rebecca Petrie
Photo by Rebecca Petrie

As pointed out by sociologists, the individual exists within the context of his/her environment, and will only have as much freedom as that culture will allow. While initiations mark important cornerstones of achievement, and it feels great to send positive energies from a drum circle, perhaps one of the most important takeaways from studying magick is that it teaches the power of actions, not only ceremonial but secular.

In the words of Aleister Crowley, ”If your child is drowning, you must jump and try to save him; it won’t do to invoke the Undines.” (Liber ABA, Part III, Chapter 21). Considering the current situation of America, wherein younger generations must continue to fight battles supposedly won long ago in cases like Roe Vs. Wade (1973), I think it’s fair to say that the American Dream went under a while ago, and anyone who doesn’t want to jump in and try to save it should get out of the way.

When I first heard about the Hobby Lobby ruling in 2014, I was incensed that women’s medical needs could be dismissed as though they meant nothing. Shortly after, I read about TST’s Right to Accurate Medical Information document, which was created with the intention of defending women in need of abortions against having unscientific, Fundamentalist Christian-based materials forced on them.

Any woman can use this document; she need not be a Satanist. I felt relieved to see that someone cared enough to make this effort to arm women against the tyranny threatening their right to accurate medical information. This strikes me as an example of unselfish philanthropy, especially since the Satanic Temple does not require that people who use the document agree with them about religion. Although I have not needed to use the document in my own defense, knowing of its existence has been helpful to me in fighting off the internalization of cultural misogyny.

I see the horned goat-head as symbolic of the female reproductive system. In patriarchal culture- which is the overall norm around the world- Womyn has been demonized and silenced. This has affected generations of females, the collective psyche of which I call the world’s anima (some refer to this concept as “the Goddess”).

It is my wish that individual women and their collective consciousness will heal from the injustice of practices, laws, and policies oppressing women and causing unnecessary suffering. On the Kaballistic Tree of Life, the Sephiroth Chokma (Wisdom, male) and Binah (Understanding, female) rank together as equals, the union of which brings about the ideal balance. I hope for a day of greater freedom for women, a time when what they understand, as a result of their experiences, will be illumined and no longer hidden, trivialized, and demonized. I hope there will come a time of balance between men and women.

Goat Pentagram by Stanislas de Guaita, from WikiMedia.
Goat Pentagram by Stanislas de Guaita, from WikiMedia.
Alchemy, the concept of transforming lead to gold, has been used as an occult metaphor for personal development. Symbolically speaking, to accept a dark reality is the first step of the alchemist, or truth-seeker. The confrontation of one’s own limitation has been likened to the slaying of a dragon. In order to grow continuously, one must be willing to accept new information rather than choosing denial. It is much easier to turn a blind eye, and refuse to look within, than it is to grow. It is understandable then, that the symbol of Sulphur has been used to represent both the Devil, and the alchemical process. It is the art of accepting dark truth that makes one transform, shed skin, self-actualize, and turn to gold. In mythological terms, Satan is associated with darkness while Lucifer is the light bringer. To my thinking, they are two sides of the same alchemical coin. Light is born of darkness, as the dawn is born of the night. To apply the values of alchemy on the social level, one must be willing to break the cycle.

As stated by Detroit Chapter Head Jex Blackmore: “We believe Satanism is a philosophy of Action. We believe Satan is a liberator. This is the natural evolution of those who are forced to serve as a scapegoat – the scapegoat eventually rebels.” This statement resonates with me on both personal and political levels. I have been scapegoated, as the black sheep of my family of origin and also in a society that tends to see people who are ‘different’ as evil. I still cringe at the name of the housing project where I grew up, even though I did nothing to deserve the punishment of shame associated with living there.

I have witnessed, and experienced firsthand, bullying and harassment in the workplace. As a woman, I have experienced sexism on personal, professional, and political levels: in relationships, in schools, in jobs, and in terms of rights. I have experienced abuse at the hands of men and also a medical system which exploits the biological needs of women. My life experience has contributed to my own understanding of the Satanic outsider archetype, and it has fueled my passion for liberal politics. Like many people, I know what it’s like to be misunderstood, ostracized, and maligned.

At other times in my life I have known the position of advantage, and I have had a chance to do the scapegoating. Also I have known some people to bury the truth of their backgrounds in hopes of gaining social acceptance. That’s one way of succeeding in this society, and the socially disadvantaged often give in to it. But I would rather not participate in the misery of others by perpetuating the dysfunctional cycle of scapegoating. I’d rather push back.

I cannot and will not separate what life has taught me from my political beliefs and actions, nor should I. Who would I be to do so? A person in denial, a person unwilling to lend a hand to someone currently struggling with problems that I have suffered, such as poverty and oppression. This kind of denial represents to me the low road that people tend to choose because they are embarrassed or ashamed to take ownership of their life experiences. This denial is a major problem in our culture. It is the result of people internalizing shame inflicted upon them by dysfunctional social norms rather than fighting to change those social norms. I am galled by this denial, and the mindless acceptance of injustice. Do my values sound Satanic to you? Well, they are.

"Paradise Lost" by Gustav Dore, from WikiMedia.
“Paradise Lost” by Gustav Dore, from WikiMedia.

Does it matter that the champions of humanistic causes are Satanists? As the political right in America is using Christianity as an excuse to shun and condemn, TST is promoting equality and acceptance while making important social contributions in the name of Satanism. Who would identify with the stigmatized term “Satanic,” in such a dangerous, hysterical environment as gun-happy America, and why would they do it? Perhaps to educate the public about the fact that it is indeed possible to be a socially conscious Satanist. The Satanic label matters in the sense that it has the power to help our culture outgrow the hypocrisy of saying “Satanism” like it’s a bad thing, without knowing much, if anything, about it. Meanwhile, certain aspects of Satanic philosophy and culture manifest among a wide range of people. Just to name a few: blasphemy, non-conformity, the questioning of authority, healthy skepticism, truth-seeking, and the cathartic exploration of “dark” emotions, thoughts, and aesthetics.

Does someone need to be a Satanist, or join TST, in order to protest denial and injustice? Of course not. Personally, I am an old-school witch in many ways, and I move in many circles regarding belief systems. I value occultism, magick, and secrecy- not for social, cultural reasons, but for personal ones. To each their own.

Even if we are living comfortable lives, and we do not feel that we are personally affected by the mission of the American Religious Right, it’s important that we take a stand for pluralism, separation of church and state, and equal rights. Although Paganism has become popular in the mainstream and atheism is growing, pagans and atheists are religious minority groups, overall. Religious minorities, of all people, should care about the encroachment of religious dogma on state domain. It is an insult to us and our beliefs to have someone else’s religion forced on us against our wills. For example, even if you personally do not take issue with the use of the phrases “In God we trust,” or “one nation, under God,” you should know that they are examples of state-sanctioned exclusion of religious minorities. Those phrases imply that all American citizens are in agreement about Christian values, thereby implying that good values can only be defined by Christianity. This policy sets an example in the culture, a message that speaks loudly against the validity of non-Christian beliefs.

Christianity has had a guiding hand in the shaping of our culture. Many people who have converted from Christianity recognize and acknowledge the connection between Biblical teachings and dysfunctional cultural norms, yet they continue to allow Christianity to dictate their idea of the Satanic archetype rather than learn why someone would identify as a Satanist and draw inspiration from that archetype for action in the sociopolitical realm. Satan need not be perceived as a symbol of harming, but a symbol of individual empowerment, rebellion against tyranny, and initiation.

“[T]he serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4) The way of the serpent is the way of initiation, which is an important concept in magick. Although there are at least a few obvious similarities between Satanic ideology and magickal practice, perhaps it is easier to enjoy Satanic philosophy and culture while avoiding labels associated with Satan/Satanism. This is understandable considering the danger of associating with stigmatized labels, but it perpetuates misunderstanding. This misunderstanding keeps the Satanic panic alive – even within the magickal community, which has expressed concerns about modern-day witch hunts.

The lingering effects of the Satanic panic are living proof of the fact that contrary to what many say they believe; myths continue to hold a great deal of power over our culture. The word “myth” has been used to describe both an untruth, and also a story that explains the world as people perceive it, a story that has the power to shape a culture. Many people continue believing that their outlook is basically scientific and unsuperstitious, yet the mention of Satanism even bothers many atheists. Meanwhile, as a culture we continue to stay in denial about dark truths. We continue to regard outcasts as unacceptable and untouchable, rather than looking deeper and trying to help. By doing this, we continue to follow norms dictated by outdated myths, norms that allow our brains to shut down and refuse to accept new information. We allow old biblical myths and more recent urban legends to dictate our conceptions of Satanism and other things unknown to us, and feared by us. We maintain a dualistic perspective.

One might see Satanism as a form of Gnosticism: a view of scriptures and myths, usually in favor of man, sex, and knowledge, over an unjust god. As many occultists and Neo-Pagans know, Carl Jung was fascinated with the concept of alchemy as it could be applied to psychology and spirituality. The integration of the “shadow” has been considered important to this concept. When we throw horns at concerts, we celebrate freedom, individuality, and truth. What if we were to integrate the shadow, the devil of our culture, not just at rock concerts but in our daily lives as we interact with others in the spirit of freedom and acceptance?

What if Ozzy Osbourne didn’t feel the need to defend Ronnie James Dio against the abuse of the Westboro Baptist Church by saying that he was “playing a role?” What if Dio wasn’t playing a role? Would it have rendered him unworthy of our love and praise, and would we limit his freedom to believe as he would? Perhaps only in a culture that refuses to integrate its shadow, think critically, and be willing to investigate what Satanism actually means to some people. As culture is shaped by laws, policies, and myths, philanthropic Satanism may come as a culture shock to many… indeed, a much needed one.

Emblazoned on the Snaketivity decoration – the holiday display of TST’s Detroit, Michigan chapter: “The greatest gift is knowledge.” Looking closely at a picture of the display on Michigan’s capitol grounds last year, I saw that the book was Anatole France’s novel, The Revolt of the Angels. Curious as to why this book was obviously important to TST, I read it. I remember the moment when I drew a powerful connection between the insights shared in the novel, and the activism of TST. It was upon reading this passage:

“After this fresh disaster, the Seraph remained awhile in meditation, his head buried in his hands. At length he raised his darkened visage. Now he was Satan, greater than Lucifer. Steadfast and loyal the angels thronged about him. ‘Friends,’ he said, ‘if victory is denied us now, it is because we are neither worthy nor capable of victory. Let us determine wherein we have failed. Nature shall not be ruled, the septre of the Universe shall not be grasped, Godhead shall not be won, save by knowledge alone.

We must conquer the thunder; to that task we must apply ourselves unwearyingly. It is not blind courage… which will win us the courts of Heaven; but rather study and reflection. In these silent realms where we are fallen, let us meditate, seeking the hidden causes of things; let us observe the course of Nature; let us pursue her with compelling ardor and all-conquering desire; let us strive to penetrate her infinite grandeur, her infinite minuteness… Torn with dire wounds, scorched by flame and by ice, let us render thanks to Fate which has sedulously opened our eyes, and let us rejoice at our lot. It is through pain that, suffering a first experience of Nature, we have been roused to know her … But even though she hide her mysteries forever from us, deny us arms and keep the secret of thunder, we still must needs congratulate ourselves on having known pain, for pain has revealed to us new feelings, more precious and more sweet than those experienced in eternal bliss, and inspired us with love and pity unknown to Heaven.”

I put the book down for a moment, and contemplated that passage. Satan is the term used to describe Lucifer after he lost his innocence. Therefore, the implication is that Satan is more powerful than Lucifer because he knows the truth and he is willing to fight injustice, at all costs. This is the beauty of human existence – we must live, in order to acquire knowledge. The loss of innocence can be a painful process, but to deny what life and love have taught us is to remain as helpless children. To learn the truth is to open our eyes and become as gods. WE are the lords of the earth. WE hold the keys to paradise. Why should we wait for changes to be made, when we have the power to make those changes ourselves? Does France’s quote resonate with you? You may have more in common with the Satanic Temple than you know… and it’s not a bad thing.

Lacrimae Mundi is a solitary witch, with a background in the fields of Education and Social Work, and a lifelong student of the occult.

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