Not satire, not evil: The growing
Satanic Temple of Detroit
We talked with Jex Blackmore, the acting director of Detroit's chapter of The Satanic Temple about her acts of political theatre, the violable body, and what the mainstream media has yet to understand about their message.
On a Saturday in late August a loose group of 12 or 13 people walked across the median on Woodward Avenue, past protesters holding signs like "There's no price for a baby's heart", and towards the City of Ferndale's Planned Parenthood clinic.
A man wearing a cassock and holding a Bible led the group as they moved briskly onto the sidewalk, where protestors were offering fliers. Their hands were already full with several gallons of milk, some rope, a flag, and a sign. Only the cameraman took one.
As they began to set up, a man armed with a pistol and claiming to be the Chief of Police told the group to move on. Ignoring him, the members of Detroit's chapter of the Satanic Temple unfurled an American flag with an illustration of Satan in the middle, and began pouring the milk on two women who had bound their own hands as protesters recited the Lord's Prayer. Behind them, another woman held up a sign that read "America is not a theocracy. End forced motherhood."
Barely a year old, the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple has over 400 members and is "growing daily" according to its director, Jex Blackmore, who also serves on its nationwide Executive Ministry.
The chapter's act of political theatre in Ferndale—a response to the "day of protest" organized by various pro-life groups—would get it into the news for the second time this summer.
In late July, the Satanic Temple revealed their statue of the pagan god Baphomet in Detroit to a reasonable amount of fanfare. Local news stations came out to shoot footage of people waiting in the rain to buy tickets, Christian groups strapped a statue of an angel to the back of a rented pickup truck and prayed, and larger media outlets covered the unveiling happening later that evening at a separate venue.
Yet, while the Satanic Temple of Detroit has been enjoying a good deal of press since they formed in September of 2014, they're often viewed either as an activist group that works through politcial satire—in the same vein as John Oliver's "Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption"—or a cult that worships evil. As far as Blackmore is concerned, they're neither.
While The Satanic Temple participates in political actions, Blackmore explained, it is their beliefs that inspire their politics, "our internal group is a community, just as any religious organization, that supports itself in a variety of ways like participating in educational, social and ritual activities."
Those beliefs, Blackmore says, aren't inspired or derived from a kind of Hollywood boogeyman understanding of Satan. Members of the Satanic Temple say they view "…the Satanic figure as a symbol of man's inherent nature, representative of the eternal rebel, [the] enlightened inquiry, and personal freedom, rather than a supernatural deity or being." The tenets they profess, which are published on their website, are in fact closer to what a person might expect to hear from a new-agey mom, not a Satan worshipper, as they are popularly viewed.
The seven tenets
of the Temple
One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
One's body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone.
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 your own.
Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
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.
Jex Blackmore, 32, poses for a portrait in a once abandoned bank that was the decoy location for the Satanic Temple of Detroit's unveiling of a Baphomet statue in Detroit, Mich. on Sept. 19, 2015. Blackmore is the founder of the group which is now a year old and also a national member.
Blackmore was originally drawn to the Satanic Temple when she attended lectures given by its founders at Harvard University. Already a professed Satanist, Blackmore was excited after meeting with founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves in Cambridge, Massachusetts to find that they "shared a similar interpretation and understanding of Satanism. Specifically, we were both frustrated with how apathetic and indolent modern Satanic practice had become for a movement rooted in the tradition of rebellion." After that meeting she says, "I began to work as a consultant for TST projects with my involvement increasing over the following years."
Past projects of The Satanic Temple’s have included a mock rally in support of Governor Rick Scott’s passing of Florida’s SB98, a bill allowing students to ‘pray or give inspirational messages’ during public events. The Temple held a public event of their own on the steps of the capitol, where they placed a banner in front of a podium reading “Hail Satan! Hail Rick Scott!”
The Temple's actions have a kind of effective mischievousness to them. When they proposed the activity books in Orange County, Florida, the school board there changed the law making it so no religious group could. Oklahoma State rejected the Baphomet statue, but also ordered the removal of the Ten Commandments statue. By saying "us too," they often upset the very people advocating for religious expression in public spaces.
In an interview with Vice, Greaves said that the original idea behind TST was that it was a way of subverting the religious right's attempt to move religion into public spaces, "...Satanists, asserting their rights and privileges where religious agendas have been successful in imposing themselves upon public affairs, could serve as a poignant reminder that such privileges are for everybody".
I asked Blackmore if it was fair to say that a key aspect of the Temple being a "poignant reminder" is that they scare or unnerve people and she completely rejected the idea: "We see ourselves as a 'poignant reminder' of religious diversity because we are committed to being actively involved with conversations about religious freedom in America, and recognize that there has been a biased theocratic agenda imposed upon our nation that is not inclusive of all."
Yet when TST's Detroit chapter demonstrated in support of Planned Parenthood they were met with cries of "Well of course they do!" from their opponents. Glenn Beck opened a segment on the political action in Ferndale with, "Satan worshippers for Planned Parenthood. That should tell you something, you’re on the wrong side."
In the same state, TST won the right to present a holiday display within the capitol, and attempted to distribute Satanic activity books for school children in schools in Orange County, and display a ‘snaketivity scene’ on the lawn of the Michigan statehouse.
The Baphomet statue, originally proposed in the early part of 2014, was meant to accompany the Ten Commandments which had been donated privately and placed on Oklahoma’s capitol grounds in 2012 but was rejected by the state.
Sam Hatchet, 26, and Jex Blackmore pose for a portrait. Hatchet is a long time active member since the beginning of the group a year ago.
When I brought this up to Blackmore, she responded by referring to TST's tenets of respecting science and a person's volatility, saying that, "the religiously motivated attack on women's health clinics that support choice deeply offends our religious beliefs." Otherwise, she shrugged off the critiques from pro-life advocates as more of the same, "…all that support pro-choice are already characterized as 'Satanic' by the opposition. We just own it… I can promise you that Satanic support isn't what's motivating the opposition. If anything, as a religion, Satanists have a unique opportunity to challenge moral, theocratic legislation affecting reproductive rights more than any other organization."
Affiliate chapters, provided that they can show they're "passionate about supporting The Satanic Temple's mission", are allowed to focus on issues and activities specific to their regions. For the Satanic Temple of Detroit, challenging what they see as theocratic legislation on reproductive rights is one of the most pressing issues.
While Blackmore made sure to point out that Christian Church has played an important role in the city of Detroit, she said that the Temple "Believe[s] that the people of Detroit deserve to make informed decisions about their communities, local politics, healthcare, etc. and consider misrepresentations and distractions promoted by church leaders to be an affront to critical thinking and the character of good Detroiters". Detroit's TST hopes that political actions like the one outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Ferndale promote more free thought.
In order to do so, the Temple realizes that it needs to fight the widespread perception of them as endorsing evil—or simply putting on a costume. "We're not trolls," Blackmore wrote in an email. "The Satanic Temple is sincerely committed to protecting and preserving our tenets. Exposing political hypocrisy often happens organically when the minority rises up and challenges a majority power with something to hide."