Fun fact: When The Satanic Temple made its infamous seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Baphomet for the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, they modeled its abs on Iggy Pop’s.
That might be the second most interesting you’ll learn from watching Hail Satan?, the trailer for which was released today. The first most interesting thing you’ll learn from Penny Lane’s forthcoming documentary about The Satanic Temple is that its Satanists are kind of… religious?
If you’ve followed The Satanic Temple’s stunts over the past six years (the “pink mass” they held at the grave of homophobic preacher Fred Phelps’s mother; the pro-choice demonstrations involving adult baby fetishism), you might assume they’re a group of Yippie-esque merry pranksters, pretending Satanism is their “religion” just so they can make snarky points about civil liberties. But the devil is in the details, and Lane’s documentary does a fine job of parsing out the beliefs of these pentagram-wielding patriots.
Explaining why the Baphomet statue deserves to be placed on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol near a proposed statue of the Ten Commandments, Satanic Temple co-founder Lucian Greaves says the blasphemous sculpture “commemorates what makes America great; in our case, we believe that’s religious liberty.” Director Penny Lane (Nuts!, Our Nixon) backs up that idea by talking to historians who argue that our perception of America as a “Christian nation” is relatively recent, and largely the result of a 1950s anti-Communist fervor. (The words “under God” weren’t added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.)
For Satanic Temple members, Satan isn’t a dark lord hungry for sacrificed goats so much as he’s a symbol of freedom, rebellion and forward thinking. One might even say he’s woke. (And yes, this documentary will teach you about “Christian privilege.”)
Having an idol with nice abs isn’t the only way the Temple resembles Christianity. It has central tenets, and its members even do community service: The Arizona chapter initiated a “Menstruate with Satan” campaign that collected feminine hygiene products for local shelters; the Santa Cruz chapter collected trash on the beach, dressed in head-to-toe black a la “Weirdo Beach” sketch from Portlandia. (Pro tip: Pitchforks are great for spearing rogue paper scraps.)
Also like traditional churches, the Temple cultivates a sense of community. And if the members interviewed for this documentary are any indicator, it’s a surprisingly diverse community that goes well beyond the Beavis and Butt-head cliché to include everyone from a trans woman with a “666” chest tattoo, to a bow-tie-wearing lapsed Christian who resembles Kenneth, the page from 30 Rock. Then again, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Temple attracts members of various races, gender identities, and sexual persuasions, since Satan was the original “other.”
It turns out the most telegenic member of the Temple isn’t Greaves. His clouded right eye may initially appear to be an affectation a la Marilyn Manson, but Greaves has said it’s actually scarred, and he’s too retiring and soft-spoken to hold a Baphomet candle to the flamboyance of OG Satanist Anton LaVey. While Greaves appears to be a reluctant messenger, it’s his fellow spokesperson Jex Blackmore who takes to the spotlight like a sinner to flame. She doesn’t just stick to cute stunts like the After School Satan Club, which offers an alternative to Christian-based programs in public schools. She kicks it up a notch by leading warehouse ceremonies involving speared pig heads and naked, hooded men in chains. (Rest assured these rituals are both Satanic and feminist; the male nudity avoids the usual fetishization of women’s bodies.)
All of this theatricality helped make Blackmore’s Detroit chapter the largest in the country, but just like Lucifer being banished from heaven, Blackmore was dismissed from the Temple after she preached about releasing snakes in the governor’s mansion and executing the president.
Yes, it turns out the Satanic Temple has its limits, even if Greaves has a “Fuck Donald Trump” sticker plastered to his phone. (And, I should add, its members aren’t above using corporate buzzwords like “pivot” during conference calls.) After all, the group has to maintain a palatable public persona if it hopes to remain in the good graces of the media and win its ongoing legal actions. (Just this month, the Temple filed a discrimination complaint alleging that the Boston City Council rejected its request to lead one of the invocations normally given by clergy members before council meetings.) And its members need to maintain the moral high ground if they’re to keep arguing that, despite the Satanic Panic of the ’80s, it’s the child-molesting priests who are the evil ones.
Not to mention the recruitment of new members. There are said to be over 100,000 of them, and when this infectious documentary hits theaters April 19, the film is sure to hail new ones.