Director: Penny Lane
Words – Natalie Mills
Who ARE The Satanic Temple, and why should we care?
Introduced at a recent Q&A screening as “the best Satanic recruitment video we’ve ever seen”, Hail Satan? is part documentary, part call to arms. Cue some fantastic clips of gobsmacked American newsreaders and some of the nicest people you will ever meet (spoiler: it’s the Satanists).
Hail Satan? is a one-stop introduction to The Satanic Temple – founded in 2013 and home to a new, altogether more woke breed of Satanist. This gleeful, thought-provoking documentary shares dozens of personal stories from TST members, alongside some of the most newsworthy highlights of the temple’s brief but active time on earth.
So what is The Satanic Temple – a supernatural cult, or the best trolling of organised religion since Pastafarianism?
Members go litter picking with pitchforks, hand out menstruation products (Menstruatin with Satan), and give dry socks to the homeless. Their 7 core tenets are filled with reasonable, compassionate, common-sense values. Can you be a socio-political, religious AND performative movement all-in-one?
Obviously, TST do not actually believe in Satan. We see plenty of historic footage of the damage ‘Satanic Panic’ caused; innocent people having their lives ruined for playing Dungeons & Dragons. At the After School Satan Club, organisers ask a complainant not to swear in front of the kids. It’s as if you can be a Satanist and be a good person.
Many members are ex-religious, and want to be the “exact opposite”. For them, atheism isn’t enough – it lacks any shared iconography, a history, ridiculously grandiose statues. Plus, everyone in TST has a cool name and looks like they’re from Underworld. “This makes life fun,” explains one member. There is a mischievous sense of purpose.
Early on, we’re introduced to charismatic co-founder Lucien Greaves, who took on the role of spokesperson to ensure Satan was “properly represented”. He approaches situations with quiet amusement – and sometimes a bulletproof vest – smiling, “I’m very excited about it” when threatened with hellfire. There are a great many angry mobs in Hail Satan?, and I’m not sure which chapter of the Bible says it’s cool to say “you people should be shot” to anyone you disagree with.
A highlight is Lucien doing his best troll face and devil horns next to a newly erected monument of the ten commandments. A battle of two statues becomes a main plot point for Hail Satan? – if one religion can erect a statue, why can’t TST erect their own statue of the demon Baphomet? This is exactly what happens, and hilarity ensues.
The Baphomet statue’s torso is based on Iggy Pop. Although only temporary, its erection spurs many enraged Christians to protest, complete with ‘HONK IF YOU’RE AGAINST SATAN’ placards.
Their pursuit of equality and separation of church and state repeatedly gets them into trouble, including a significant amount of death threats. Newsworthy moments include telling the Westborough Baptist Church that their dead relatives are now gay in the afterlife (and love Satan). They give as good as they get, with one member saying the moment they “really became a Satanist” was down to the catholic church; covering up the exact horrible things they accused Satanists of.
Another big personality of Hail Satan? was Jex Blackmore, the radical ex-leader of the Detroit sector of TST. Explaining, “activism itself is a Satanic practice”, her theatrical rituals included smashing tube lights and slamming pigs heads onto spikes. Apparently calling on followers to release snakes into the White House and kill Trump was just too rebellious for The Satanic Temple, and got her fired.
A Q&A screening at the Showroom Cinema ended with two co-founders of TST over Skype, looking like a pair of vampires at a ball game. They had trusted director Penny Lane to give an honest portrayal, after seeing her work on the anti-vax movement. Since the film was made, they’ve been working on an ordination programme, and the lawsuits are ongoing.
So what’s next for The Satanic Temple, self-described as “A non-theistic movement, aligned with Liberty, Equality and Rationalism”?
Although Trump is more of a “mindless opportunist” than a theocrat like Pence, there has been a huge surge in membership since he came into power. More people are accepting that TST do have positive values, and the opposition is just a vocal minority who can’t/won’t take a joke.
TST continue to counter the regression of human rights and rise in nationalism, with a co-founder saying he hoped, “extremes die out before anything too early-20th century can happen”.