Satan may not be psyched about this, but most Satanists don’t believe in him. Despite what we know from metal lyrics, South Park, and B-horror flicks, the concept of a cloven-hoofed red guy with horns demanding worship and blood sacrifice from his followers doesn’t really resonate with the modern Satanist. You know what does? Feminism, reproductive rights, animal welfare, and political activism.
So, what is Satanism? If your image of Lucifer is a bald guy with a goatee, you are thinking of Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966 in San Francisco. LaVey, who claimed to be a former lion tamer, carnival barker, and crime scene photographer, offered an alternative to flower-power hippie happenings with Witches’ Workshops and sexy, dark rituals.
He described the Church of Satan as “something that would smash all concepts of what a ‘church’ was supposed to be. This was a temple of indulgence to openly defy the temples of abstinence that had been built up until then. We didn’t want it to be an unforgiving, unwelcoming place, but a place where you could go to have fun.” Members of the Church of Satan do not worship the devil—instead, they see Satan as “a symbol of pride, liberty, and individualism,” according to churchofsatan.com.
After LaVey’s death in 1997, the Church of Satan’s loudest voice went quiet, and the organization mostly stayed out of the headlines. Then, in 2013, a group called The Satanic Temple started making waves with their theatrical protests, reacting to the increasingly oppressive and mounting influence of the far religious right in politics.
Though members of The Satanic Temple do not worship the devil, the Temple does portray itself as a religion, with “Seven Fundamental Tenets” and “a sense of identity, culture, community, and shared values.” They are a nontheistic, non-superstitious organization that prioritizes critical thinking and science. But calling themselves a religion offers them the same protections that all other religions enjoy—giving them legal grounds to, for example, raise almost $30,000 to construct a seven-foot tall statue of “the Satanic goat” Baphomet in 2014, meant to be displayed beside a Ten Commandments monument erected at the Oklahoma Statehouse. While they didn’t get approval for Baphomet to stay in Oklahoma, the Temple still made their point about the separation of church and state, as the Ten Commandments monument was removed.
It is Satanists’ belief in individual freedom that has made Satanism an unexpected force in the fight for reproductive rights. “Bodily autonomy is central to Satanic philosophy,” explains Jex Blackmore, a 31-year-old Satanic interdisciplinary artist and activist. “The anti-choice movement is fueled and supported by religious institutions that seek to control women and their reproductive agency. This makes it an ideal issue to tackle as Satanists.” Blackmore, who formerly served as The Satanic Temple’s reproductive rights spokesperson and founded their largest chapter, in Detroit, has focused her pro-choice activism on guerilla theater protests: she carried a large cross while wearing a crown of thorns outside a Planned Parenthood on Good Friday in 2016. She led another group of protesters dressed as giant “BDSM babies,” in fetish gear and diapers, alternately flogging each other and drinking from baby bottles. These actions were meant to highlight the absurdity of the anti-choice movement’s obsession with using lurid fetal photos and videos as propaganda.
And recently, The Satanic Temple made headlines with its fight against Missouri’s informed consent abortion law. The law requires any woman seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours, during which time she is forced to endure an ultrasound, given an opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat, and given a booklet stating that, “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” A woman identified as “Mary Doe” claimed she informed the staff of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis (Missouri’s only abortion provider, a clinic she had to travel three hours to reach) that as a member of The Satanic Temple, her religious beliefs were different from those stated in the booklet, but her religious rights were ignored. The Satanic Temple filed a lawsuit against Missouri on behalf of Doe in May 2015. The lawyer for The Satanic Temple, James MacNaughton, stated in court, “It is a bedrock principle of our culture [and] of our country that we choose for ourselves what to believe by way of religious beliefs.” The case has made some small progress, as Missouri’s solicitor general clarified in court in January 2018 that an ultrasound is not actually a legal requirement for terminating a pregnancy, but the fight is still ongoing.
Blackmore was led to the devil, paradoxically, by the Lutheran Church. “The Church teaches us to be ashamed of our sexuality, to be obedient to God despite clear moral injustices, and to ask for forgiveness for every natural infraction,” Blackmore says. “It also paints feminists, those of any alternative sexuality or lifestyle, scientists, and free-thinkers as under Satan’s influence. If I was to be freethinking...I was going to be called a Satanist. So I started to identify as a Satanist and use this identification as a source of empowerment.”
But while Lutheranism may have seen Satanism and feminism as closely aligned, Satanists themselves weren’t always so sure. The Church of Satan’s most pointed take on feminism can be attributed to Blanche Barton, 56. Barton joined the Church of Satan in 1976, “looking for a philosophy that celebrated me as a strong, intelligent, sexual young woman,” she says. She’s been a member ever since, and spent 12 years as the High Priestess of the Church. She was also a partner to LaVey, and they had a son together: Satan Xerxes Carnacki LaVey. Barton says she was drawn to Satanism because it was “the only religion that clearly stated its support of various sexual preferences, the advocacy of feminine power, and preeminent respect for nonhuman animals and children. By aligning myself with a heritage of witches, midwives, healers, and heretics, I was undermining and protesting established norms.”
In 1997, Barton put her ideas about Satanic feminism to paper in a treatise appropriately called “Satanic Feminism,” published in a Church of Satan magazine called The Black Flame. In it, she epouses the physical beauty of Satanic women as “gorgeous, vibrant, curvy,” and criticizes feminism as “flaccid” and “lackluster.” When asked to look back and reflect on her writing today, Barton says, “I open that article by saying that the smartest, most passionate, and most beautiful women I’ve met have been Satanists, and that remains a fact. Regarding Satanic women, I see a broader beauty that sparkles forth beyond the superficial; that internal spark of vitality and self-knowledge, freedom of expression that leads to enchantment and power and enjoyment of life.” She explains that her harsh words for feminism were a response to aspects of second-wave feminism that Barton found “anti-male” and judgmental about women who chose to wear makeup and “other trappings of feminine power.” Aside from her views on beauty, though, she states that “Satanic Feminism is advocating for the freaks, the abandoned, the vilified, and demonized—using the images of Satan and the terrifying power of the witch as the culmination of all the sexual and masculine insecurities that the holy ones have projected onto us—turning their fears to our advantage.”
Blackmore rejects what she’s called the “emphasis on traditional gender roles” of LaVeyan Satanism, and in particular, Barton’s “Satanic Feminism” treatise. “The Church of Satan promotes a derogatory view of women,” Blackmore says. “Women are reduced to a sexual object, an altar, an accessory with the capacity to cause mischief.” Others agree: Ash Astaroth, 41, founding co-Chapterhead for the New York City chapter of The Satanic Temple and a former LaVeyan Satanist, says that the Church of Satan has “a fetishistic view of gender in which they tend to only acknowledge hypermasculine or hyperfeminine gender expressions as Satanically valid, which always seemed absurd to me even when I considered myself one of them,” and that Barton “seems to only consider a handful of eroticized gender expressions as being Satanically empowering or feminist.”
“I can see how [LaVey’s] ideas can seem off-putting to modern-day feminists, but [his book] The Satanic Witch really encouraged me to use my natural abilities to get the things I wanted,” explains Satanic feminist Erika Neola, 37. “And The Church of Satan’s Nine Satanic Statements can still be a great guide for how to carry yourself throughout the world.” Neola is an artist and indoor-cycling instructor at New York’s MNSTR Cycle, which is known for its Satanic sex dungeon aesthetic. Her activism happens within the sanctum of her spin studio. “We have an amazing community of fit ‘freaks,’” she says. “Transgender folks, gay boys, femmes, goths, punks, tattooed men and women, and—this is very important to acknowledge in fitness now—people who are considered overweight. Everyone has a safe space to get their sweat on!”
Others agree that their Satanism is both a means to self-acceptance and a source of activism, as well as empowerment. “It means fierce. It means darkness. It is anti-establishment. It brings the like-minded to you in the general population, but most definitely in the horror genre where I work,” says independent film producer Heather Buckley, 41, who takes strong inspiration from Satanic iconography. Buckley attends industry events wearing a leather collar, inverted crosses, chains, moto jacket, and all manner of punk rock gear. She refuses to normalize her look, partly to serve as a role model for rebellious young women. “I want to make sure the little Heathers of the world see that someone made it on her own terms,” Buckley explains. “I was teased endlessly about how I looked, about horror, about punk. I hid in my room with my VHS tapes and drew monsters. And here I am now.” Buckley, whose industry has recently been rocked by sexual assault allegations, is trying to lead by example in the fight to create a workplace free from sexual harassment. “Be a safe source of leadership anyone can go to about these problems,” she advises. “Put an end to the bullying and abuse in the industry. We have to be that change.”
According to Kristen J. Sollée, 35, author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, it should come as no surprise that some feminists are drawn to Satanism. “Occult practices—Satanism included—can be avenues to individual and collective empowerment that many feminists are seeking,” she says. “They are often viable alternatives to the patriarchal systems that seek to repress and police female and queer sexualities, bodies, and identities, because they provide access to activist-minded communities with life-changing potential.” She says that frustrated feminists and other activists may turn to Satanic groups or witch covens if other efforts seem ineffectual. “It’s no coincidence in my mind that our fraught political climate has inspired folks to seek out alternative practices as they embrace alternative ideologies and movements for social justice,” Sollée says. “If the same problems keep presenting themselves, new tools and methodologies are necessary—and even better when they can scare the hell out of Christian bigots!”
For her part, Barton—whose own activism focuses on animal advocacy, veganism, and environmentalism—is encouraged by the recent growth of Satanism and the rising interest in the occult. “I’m an environmental activist, supporting legislation that preserves resources and habitats and mitigates climate change. I have been a caregiver to my parents and child, and others I care about,” she says. “I’ve seen fellow Satanists follow similar paths, advocating for issues they feel strongly about, taking action, owning responsibility for their own health and well-being, taking care of those we love, and participating positively in our communities.”
“We must be on the right track philosophically, as we are definitely having an overall positive effect,” she continues. “At the latest Women’s March I saw a sign that said, ‘We are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.’ Yeah. We’re still here. We’re not going away.”
Story by Christine Colby
Photos by Laura McDermott (Jex Blackmore); Miguel V. Guerrero Sr. (Blanche Barton); Joel Barhamand (Erika Neola, Kristen Sollée); Matt Anderson (statue of Baphomet); Matthew Tuppen (protest on Good Friday)
This article first appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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