Stuffing dollar bills into a slot in the torso of a robotic Jesus is not how most people celebrate the holidays. The members of the Satanic Temple Colorado, however, are not most people — proudly and outspokenly not. At the same time, they’re more than merely a bunch of agents provocateurs out to wind up Christians, and they’re more dedicated to issues like social justice and community betterment than you might guess — even if their methods often involve an ever-so-small amount of subversive, heretical humor.
“Duality is a nine-foot-tall, steel-welded animatronic Jesus that’s mounted on an upside-down cross,” explains Harry Hoofcloppen, spokesperson for the Colorado chapter of the Satanic Temple and the person who designed and constructed Duality. Hoofcloppen and co-chapter heads Viktor LaMent and Persephone Gray comprise the three-pronged leadership of the Satanic Temple Colorado, known internally as the Triumvirate.
“I cannibalized Duality out of an animatronic Elvis,” Hoofcloppen continues. “I hacked the computer in it and rewired everything so that when you put a dollar bill into it — there’s a dollar-bill accepter from a vending machine in Jesus’s spear wound — he’ll speak. He’ll either deliver a Bible verse — an actual, shitty Bible verse, one of the really awful ones in favor of subjugating women or beating your slaves — or he’ll just cut loose blaspheming.”
“So, uh, the bread is my body and the wine is my blood,” intones Duality’s pre-recorded voice after a bystander feeds money into its side, as seen in a YouTube video posted by the Satanic Temple Colorado, or TSTCO, as the group abbreviates its name. “Now give me a couple of tugs, and I’ll show you some mayo, huh-huh.”
The smutty, sacrilegious robot made its debut at last year’s TSTCO Saturnalia. Based loosely on the ancient Roman wintertime holiday, the annual celebration roughly coincides with the Christian winter holidays, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2019, it was held at the Marquis Theater and included a number of local music acts as well as burlesque dancers, sideshow performers and, naturally, a full slate of Satanic rituals, including one called “unbaptism” — in which participants ceremoniously reject whatever religion they’ve been born into. Rather than simply mocking the Christian practice of baptism, unbaptism is a particularly solemn and symbolic ritual for those who undergo it, especially when performed during the holiday that exalts the birth of Christ.
That said, unbaptism does mock baptism a little. For the ritual, a stage is set up and eerie music is played while the lights are dimmed. A ritual-master administers each unbaptism with liturgical language; some form of unholy water is used. Then, according to LaMent, “the ritual-master will have people go out into the crowd, almost Catholic-style, and use water or blood” — he laughs and corrects himself, “fake blood, sorry” — to unbaptize anyone else who requests it.
Hoofcloppen adds, “In the past, instead of blood or water, we’ve also used a slurry made of burned Bibles.”
But members of the Triumvirate are quick to point out the serious side of TSTCO’s Saturnalian unbaptism. “I’ve had members who are not into the ritual portion,” says Gray. “They think it’s going to be silly. Then they witness it, and they go, ‘Oh, wow. I understand why we do that now.’”
Says LaMent, “The core of unbaptism is that many people, not all, but many people who have come to the Satanic Temple from any kind of Christian background were baptized before the age of reason, while they were still young children or even babies.” LaMent counts himself lucky to have been raised in a relatively secular environment. An only child, he was brought up in Fort Collins by his single mom, who bounced from job to job before settling into a career as a social worker. “My mother was not really tied to any one particular faith tradition,” he says. “She kind of made something up of her own. Often new elements would be brought in — spirituality, healing arts, rocks and chakras. Sometimes reincarnation was a part of it. Sometimes Native American elements were a part of it. I don’t want to say new-age, but that was kind of the direction.”
Members of his extended family, on the other hand, belonged to the Assembly of God Pentecostal church. They viewed LaMent and his mother as “apostates,” and insisted that he start attending Sunday school when he was around seven. He lasted a couple of years before being kicked out — for asking too many questions.
“Even at that age, I did not understand that we were supposed to be taking these Bible stories literally,” he remembers. “I went in thinking that Noah’s Ark was a metaphor. I started asking a lot of questions, like where are dinosaur bones from, and the answers I got in Sunday school didn’t make a lot of sense. I was big into dinosaurs as a little kid, so I was highly offended that dinosaurs were not addressed in the Scripture. I also saw some things in the Assembly of God church that were fucking insane. I saw people speaking in tongues. But I would see them rehearsing before the service started, practicing the tongues that they would speak later. From a very young age, it occurred to me that a lot of religion was a put-on.”
Gray has just as little patience for religious hypocrisy and intolerance. “Since we have a very high percentage of LGBTQIA members, many of them were told as children, ‘This or that is your religion, and God hates you for who you are,’” she explains. By her accounting, about 80 percent of TSTCO’s forty-plus members identify as LGBTQIA. “That’s one reason why unbaptism is so important. Having an unbaptism allows people to not only reject whatever religion was forced upon them as a child, but to have a little bit of an affirmation: ‘I am who I am, and I love who I am. And fuck all y’all who want to tell me I’m not okay just because of your stupid sky daddy.’ We tell people that even if they were never baptized, feel free to come have an unbaptism. If you were already unbaptized, come and do it again. It doesn’t matter.”
It’s hard to express what unbaptism feels like unless you’re there, Hoofcloppen adds. “The last couple years I’ve done it, it felt way more cathartic and way more self-affirming than you can even guess.” Beyond this, Hoofcloppen prefers not to unveil any details of his personal life, opting instead for relative anonymity that’s granted by his “demoniker” — that is, the new name chosen by each member of the Satanic Temple when they officially join the church.
“We use our demonikers online and off,” says LaMent, who also calls them “satanyms.” “We do recommend that all members select a demoniker for themselves. I think that it’s kind of a transformative and liberating experience. It’s a ritual in and of itself. When you choose a demoniker, you are reborn in your own image the way that you want to be seen. And it’s fucking punk-rock. You get to choose how other people are going to refer to you in this context.”
LaMent sees rituals like demonikers and unbaptisms as part of the Satanic Temple’s goal of reclaiming and defending one’s individuality. “A lot of people choose a demoniker for safety and security reasons, just to keep things completely separate, so that you don’t have to go through a bunch of stuff if your boss or your grandma or whatever finds out you’re a Satanist. You can come out at your own time, at your own leisure,” he says. “And for the people in TSTCO who have Christian families and have to deal with them during the holidays, unbaptism is a way to say ‘I’m going into battle, and I’m ready.’”
The battle is more ideological than literal. Sure, the holidays are fabled for fostering heated disagreements with family members that tend to settle down once the turkey hits the table. But very few angry uncles are going to stomach a side of Satanism. TSTCO’s celebration of Saturnalia every December, says Gray, is a way to help its members stay sane — and flex their religious freedom — during the most ostentatiously Christian time of the year.
“I’m from western Kansas,” says Gray. “I grew up on a cattle farm. My family is registered as independent, but they usually vote Republican. And they’re entirely Catholic — very, very Catholic, to the point where I went to Catholic school all the way through high school. I grew up with my family telling me, ‘Children and women are supposed to be seen and not heard. You’re just supposed to put your head down and do what you’re told, repeat the things that you’re told to repeat.’ I never actually questioned my faith, or anything else, until I got out of high school. When I was eighteen and still in Kansas, during my freshman year of college, I started dating a lovely human who came out to me as trans after we’d been dating a while. My religion told me that was a bad thing, but I loved this human. I didn’t know what to do. It made me start thinking, ‘Do I really even believe all this crap I was taught?’ I mean, I believe in being a good person. But it didn’t seem right to me that you can hate someone just because of who they are. I was never taught to be hateful, but there were all these things I was taught to view as weird and to never accept — which is, in a way, its own type of hate.”
She adds, “A lot of us Satanic Temple members still have Christian families, and we do observe some of those traditions with our family members. But Saturnalia is not totally unfamiliar. A lot of the constructs of the holidays today come from back then, like gift-giving and wreaths on the door.”
“A lot of the traditions we see in Christmas today were actually adopted from ancient Roman and pagan festivals and holidays,” LaMent agrees. “So we like to kind of draw attention to that and to celebrate in that manner. It’s an alternative way to celebrate this time of year, one that pre-dates what’s happening now.”
“Over the years,” he continues, “we’ve adopted a bit of a deeper meaning when it comes to Saturnalia. One of the original ideas behind Saturnalia is that it was a time of unshackling. In ancient Rome, the slaves would be unshackled, and they would act as the heads of the household. Then the masters would serve the slaves. The shitty thing about ancient Saturnalia is that the day after unshackling, things would go back to the way they were. But for us in the Satanic Temple, a common motto is ‘No gods, no masters.’ Saturnalia serves as a celebration of that, of unshackling oneself.”
“Also,” Gray adds, “it’s just a big old fucking party.” Then she admits with a hint of disappointment, “This year it won’t be much of a rager, though, since it’s all online.”
LaMent and Gray speak via Zoom, sitting side by side in one of the cluttered home offices that collectively serve as TSTCO’s base of operations. His hair is dyed Joker green and sprouts up from an otherwise shaved head. She wears a black beanie and a black T-shirt bearing the logo of Ministry, one of industrial music’s most political and transgressive bands. Both in their mid-thirties and employed in the cannabis business, they don’t look any more threatening than your average, unassuming goth-punk folks strolling the streets of Denver.
Back when people actually strolled the streets, that is. With COVID-19 predicted to hit its peak this winter, this year’s Saturnalia festivities will be strictly virtual. An evening of free online events will be curated and hosted by TSTCO on December 12, including comedy, rituals and local music acts such as Church Fire, Voicecoil, Tejon Street Corner Thieves and Chris Mandile. As with all TSTCO gatherings, everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs — and if they’d like to donate to the cause, they’re more than welcome. “We’re going to turn this year’s Saturnalia into a telethon, like an old-school Jerry Lewis telethon,” says Hoofcloppen. “There will be people on the phones accepting donations. Maybe not people, but puppets.”
Puppets? As it turns out, the robotic Jesus isn’t the only talking, hilariously blasphemous prop that TSTCO employs. Dear Satan! is a television show broadcast on the Satanic Temple’s streaming channel, TST-TV. Written mainly by LaMent and starring Hoofcloppen as its titular Lucifer, each episode of Dear Satan! includes questions from viewers, which Satan answers with a gallows, pun-filled humor. His foil is the hand puppet Belial. (Picture a floppy Muppet that’s been roasting in hell for millennia.)
In the episode titled “Dear Satan, Are You Evil?,” the introduction has Hoofcloppen-as-Satan making a corny, Phil Donahue Show-style entrance, complete with canned applause and jaunty ’80s synthesizer theme music. Satan looks at the camera, takes out an apple, bites into it, then offers the rest to the audience. Dressed in a dapper black suit, a blood-red tie, dark shades, black fingernails and an immaculate salt-and-pepper goatee, with horns sprouting from his forehead, the hellish host says, “Welcome to Dear Satan!, the show where you, a mortal, can ask me, a fictional celestial being, any question.” His voice is digitally pitch-shifted and distorted to sound comically devilish. The first viewer-submitted question he fields: “Are there dogs in hell?” His answer is, “Yes...but cats obviously go to purr-gatory.”
Running through all of Dear Satan!’s dad jokes, however, is a strong streak of the very thoughtful religious and philosophical beliefs that TSTCO holds. “Matthew asks, ‘Satan, are you evil?,” Satan reads from another viewer’s letter later in the episode. Then he turns to the camera, his distorted voice taking on a sober tone. “No, I’m not evil, and I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. There’s no such thing as a personification of evil, and most claims to the contrary are either ignorant folk beliefs or intentional subterfuge on the part of someone with something to gain by inventing an intangible scapegoat. Whenever some human up on Earth goes around saying Satan is at fault for one form of human suffering or another, it’s never” — here he’s interrupted by Belial, who clears his throat and points at the partially eaten apple — “or almost never my doing.”
Belial’s name is borrowed from the Bible by way of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible . The latter, published in 1969, marked the birth of modern Satanism as a widespread movement. It also cemented the image of LaVey’s organization, the Church of Satan, as a force of evil that threatened the American way of life by daring to challenge the unspoken supremacy of Christianity in the United States, which was supposedly founded on the principle of the separation of church and state.
Although a handful of the Satanic Temple’s beliefs overlap slightly with those of the Church of Satan, many of them run completely counter to LaVey’s teachings as put forth in The Satanic Bible. Says LaMent, “The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan are completely separate entities. We do read The Satanic Bible as sort of a history book, and we do use it as reference material. And we do credit Anton LaVey as being the father of modern Satanism, at least the way that we talk about it today. But the Satanic Temple of Colorado considers itself a post-LaVeyan organization.
“The Satanic Bible is largely outdated,” he continues. “It’s quite misogynistic, in a lot of ways. Even a lot of his sex-positivity is very, very dated, and that’s kind of what the Church of Satan is mostly known for. It is wickedly gendered. For instance, there’s a lot of discussion about how the female body should be used as an altar. That’s not figurative. They would literally lay a naked woman out and put their candles on her. We wouldn’t do that…
“Okay, we might do that,” he revises. “But we would also put any other kind of body out there, female or not. If anyone wants to get naked and serve as our altar, you’re welcome to do so.”
The most fundamental conviction that the Satanic Temple does share with the Church of Satan is a striking one: Neither believes in the existence of a literal Satan. “To us, Satan is a symbolic figure,” LaMent says. “Particularly the literary Satan of the Romantic period, the Satan of John Milton, Percy Shelley and William Blake. For us, Satan is a powerful metaphor for rebellion against tyranny and arbitrary authority. But we’re nontheistic.
“Nontheistic religion,” he explains, “is any religion that does not subscribe to a belief in any particular deity. We do not worship Satan. We do not believe there is a Satan. We don’t believe there’s an actual red man under the ground with a pitchfork condemning people to torture. We reject any and all superstition and supernaturalism. We do use a lot of occult iconography, and we do spend a lot of time talking about what those things are, the history of them, what they’ve meant to different people throughout time.”
After all, what would any strain of Satanism be without at least a few goat horns and pentagrams? None of those trappings, though, compares to a certain demonic statue that would come to serve as a lightning rod for the Satanic Temple.
The Colorado chapter of the Satanic Temple came together in 2017, but the national organization traces its roots to 2013. That year, a small group of activists dressed in black robes and Satanic horns assembled on the steps of the Florida State Capitol. They carried a giant banner that read, “Hail Satan! Hail Rick Scott!” Scott, then the Republican governor of and now a senator from Florida, had recently signed into law Senate Bill 98, which granted public-school students in the state “sole discretion in determining whether an inspirational message is to be delivered” at assemblies.
Opponents of the bill saw it as another attempt in a long line of legal efforts by evangelical Christians to inject prayer into public schools. The Satanists who demonstrated at the Florida capitol took it upon themselves to cleverly flip that script. What was good for the Christians, essentially, was good for the Satanists. As LaMent explains, “The rally was basically a way to say, ‘Thank you so much, Rick Scott. All the little Satanic boys and girls in all of our public schools will be so happy to be able to give their Satanic prayers and distribute our Satanic literature in class. We’ve lived in silence far too long.’ It was meant as a satirical, point-making public event, not the kickoff of an entire religion.”
It kicked one off nonetheless. Lucien Greaves, a member of that original Florida group, soon helped launch the Satanic Temple in earnest, becoming its public face. Eventually, the burgeoning organization opened its headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts, the infamous home of the seventeenth-century witch trials that illustrate America’s tragic history of religious intolerance and oppression. As detailed in the 2019 documentary Hail Satan?, the Satanic Temple — which has grown to two dozen local chapters across North America, including in such Satan-inhospitable spots as West Virginia and Utah — gained the bulk of its notoriety by taking its prankish activism to a radical extreme.
In 2015, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, the national Satanic Temple commissioned the sculpture of a two-ton, eight-and-a-half-foot-tall bronze statue. Named Baphomet in honor of the iconic creature immortalized by occultist Éliphas Lévi in the nineteenth century, the winged, goat-headed figure is the type of brazenly Satanic image sure to strike fear and loathing in the souls of the devout. But the Satanic Temple didn’t stop with the statue’s creation. From there, the organization attempted to have Baphomet officially installed on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Arkansas State Capitol. The Satanic Temple’s reasoning was this: Since there were already monuments to the Ten Commandments on those public grounds, Baphomet had every legal right to be erected there, too.
The calm, rational efforts by Greaves and company to confront the ingrained religious bias of American civic life drives the narrative of Hail Satan?, and it helped catapult the Satanic Temple into national headlines — all while drawing the condemnation and ire of the religious right, an energy that the Temple seems to thrive on, since it only strengthens its point about religious bigotry. Although there are no current plans to parade Baphomet down Colfax and up the lawn of the Colorado State Capitol, LaMent is quick to confirm the Colorado chapter’s deep reverence for the statue. “We care for Baphomet a great deal,” he says. For the most part, though, he and the rest of TSTCO are sticking to the practical, everyday actions and programs that the Satanic Temple has instituted nationally over the past seven years.
Drive on Colorado Highway 128 in Broomfield at just the right time, and you’ll notice a group of people picking up trash from the side of the road by the grassy plains of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Pump your brakes, and you might also catch the wording of a purple road sign as you whiz by: “Adopt-a-Highway—Next Two Miles—Friends of the Satanic Temple.”
Several times a year, members of TSTCO don orange safety vests, gloves and closed-toe shoes — ironically enough, to prevent being bitten by that most infernal of biblical villains, the serpent — and clean up this sparse stretch of highway. An official participant in Colorado’s Adopt-a-Highway program since 2017, TSTCO initially cleaned up a strip of Alameda, but then was moved to its current location. LaMent notes that while there hasn’t been any pushback against having “Satanic Temple” on a public roadway sign, he’s heard the occasional “Hail Satan” yelled from passing cars as he and his fellow Satanists clean up the litter tossed by less socially conscious citizens. Other passersby will stick their arms out the window of their vehicles and flash them a universally recognized hand gesture: not a raised middle finger, but the pinky-and-forefinger devil horns. Yes, Broomfield has a veritable highway to hell. And it’s a tidy one.
“Another major difference between the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple is that Anton LaVey was really a big believer in this social Darwinist, law-of-the-jungle, eat-or-be-eaten kind of philosophy,” LaMent says. “We’re much more of a socially conscious group of people. We feel very much that it’s our duty in a society to treat one another well and not just do anything you can to have a leg up on one another. Our mission is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, to reject tyrannical authority, to advocate practical common sense and justice, and to be dedicated by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
Picking up trash might not seem like the noblest of such pursuits, but it’s just one small piece of a larger practice of civic engagement that motivates TSTCO. The members host a recurring philosophical discussion group called the Hellfire Club. They offer screenings of documentaries about the Black Panthers. And they hold a monthly book club, most recently focusing on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — a novel that not only has a direct connection to the Satanic Temple’s coveted Romantics, but raises concerns about playing god that are as relevant today as they were 200 years ago. “Since we don’t really have a bible of our own,” says LaMent, “we’re informed by a lot of texts. We do a lot of reading.”
They also do a lot of doing. One of their community programs is Menstruatin’ With Satan, which despite its colorful name, has a vital aim: to collect and donate menstrual products to local women’s and homeless shelters. “Often when there are donation drives for shelters, menstrual products can get overlooked,” says LaMent. “Some people are too squeamish to actually buy tampons to donate them. It’s ridiculous.” Another campaign is Heathens for Heroes, which gathers everything from clothing to personal hygiene products to art supplies for art therapy programs, then distributes them to VA hospitals across the Front Range.
TSTCO is also a passionate supporter of Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA equality and reproductive rights. The Temple’s first Pride event in Colorado was in LaMent’s home town of Fort Collins in 2018. “At Pride, we do what every other participating church does,” Gray explains. “We set up a booth. We sell a couple shirts. We hand out some buttons. We answer general questions about the organization. We tell people, ‘You are part of this LGBTQIA community, and you are welcome in Satan’s space, also.’”
Last month, when Colorado voters defeated Proposition 115, the latest in an incessant stream of proposed legislation across the country that would limit access to abortion, TSTCO rejoiced. Members had been vocal opponents of 115, which they viewed as antithetical to their beliefs as Satanists. When people try to restrict abortion, LaMent says, “they’re trying to enshrine their religious views into law. We feel as though we have to be there on that battlefront to remind people that, no, we actually believe in a religion that’s the opposite of that. The Satanic Temple says that our bodies are inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”
The Temple has strong reasons for protecting not only the personal liberties of Americans, but the Temple itself. During the Satanic Panic of the ’80s and ’90s, the popularity of horror movies, heavy metal and role-playing games sparked mass hysteria about Satanic cults that had reportedly kidnapped, brainwashed, violated and killed children. Since then, these urban myths have been largely discounted, only to resurface recently in an even weirder form: QAnon conspiracy theories about a cabal of liberal Satanic pedophiles who sacrifice children — a variation of the anti-Semitic blood libel legends that have existed for centuries.
“These people are out there trying to promote these theories, and a lot of them are being adopted by a lot of mainstream people,” says LaMent. “I guess a lot of Satanists kind of assumed that based on the lessons we learned in the ’80s and ’90s, people would go, ‘Yeah, these theories are kooky.’ But no, a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, God, I didn’t know.” A lot of people are coming to our doorstep and saying, ‘We know you’re doing these things.’ But because we’re lucky enough to live in a relatively liberal state, we do not get the protests that some of our sister chapters in other places get, like in Alabama and the Bible Belt. They can’t even go outside without someone showing up to protest. Here in Denver, we’ll walk down the street in Satanic Temple T-shirts, and most people will go, ‘Fuck, yeah. Hail Satan!’”
Not all Coloradans are so down with the devil. In 2015, Gideon Bibles were handed out to public-school kids in their classrooms in Delta County. The next year, Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers and the Freedom From Religion Foundation pushed to make Satanic activity books available to middle school and high school students. Although the Satanic Temple didn’t have a Colorado chapter at the time, the national Temple gladly supplied copies of its Satanic activity book for the occasion.
That activity book is part of one of the most controversial programs the Satanic Temple has introduced, the Afterschool Satan Club. “If there’s a public school, and the only after-school program they have is a Good News Club or something like it, which is a very harmful, fire-and-brimstone version of evangelism, the Temple will sometimes offer to hold an Afterschool Satan Club alongside it,” LaMent explains. “We offer an alternative for the children to go to. We don’t actually talk about Satanism, per se, with the children. We talk about understanding and accepting your neighbor. We talk a lot of about the scientific method. We talk about rational inquiry.”
In an age when science — from COVID-19 prevention to climate change — is under attack, those can be fighting words. But making the Afterschool Satan Club even more controversial is its logo: a drawing of a cute yet creepy cartoon Satan holding out a candy cane, as if to entice children with sweets while evoking the hoary strangers-with-candy bogeyman. Adds LaMent, “My favorite part of The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities is the connect-the-dots where it makes a giant circle with a pentagram in it. It’s fun.”
Since the formation of TSTCO, there have been no efforts to institute the Afterschool Satan Club in Colorado, but LaMent is a firm believer in the nationwide effort. “Our Afterschool Satan program does not in any way try to recruit children. We do not proselytize,” he says. “There is no kind of social benefit to being involved in it. It’s literally something that you can take or leave. If you want to call that trolling, okay. I don’t. I think it’s demonstrating a valuable point. Does it piss Christians off? Yes. Do we know it’s going to piss Christians off? Yes. Can we use that to our benefit? Absolutely. We’re not doing it just to piss anyone off. That would be a waste. We are not an anti-Christian organization. A lot of people come to us thinking that we are here to troll the Christians, but that is not what we are here to do.”
“One time we were having a meeting in Colorado Springs, and I was wearing a Satanic Temple hoodie while waiting in line to pick up some bagels,” Gray recalls. “There were two ladies behind me in line, and I heard one ask the other, ‘Is that a Satanist?’ And her friend said, ‘I think so.’ Then they started whispering to each other. I wanted to look over and give them the horns or something, Anton LaVey-style, but I didn’t.
“Then I heard another woman interrupt,” Gray adds with a laugh. “And she said to them, ‘Satanists? Actually, they’re not that bad.’”
Gray remembers exactly how she felt when she first heard about the Satanic Temple, while she was still struggling to settle on a belief system a few years ago. “When TST came on my radar, I was like, ‘Oh, hello.’ I’d become an atheist at that point, but the one thing I really missed in atheism that I had gotten from Catholicism was community. When I was a kid, I would volunteer at the food pantry. I’d go visit people in the senior living community. I’d go caroling at Christmas. There was this significant sense of community that I was missing in atheism.
“It’s funny,” she continues, “but one of the things I did not like about straight-up atheism is that the only thing connecting plain-old atheists is that they don’t believe in a god. Some of them still have really shitty views on life. Some of them have no affirmative values. It’s just a negative value that they ascribe to. I wanted to be around people who not only didn’t believe in a god, but who believed in being a good person. When I found modern Satanism, I was like, ‘I can have my religious community, but I don’t have to believe in the bullshit.’”
LaMent’s evolutionary leap from a self-described “spooky atheist” to a Satanist was just as profound. Coming across articles about the Rick Scott rally in 2013, he was struck by the Temple’s absurdist yet humanist approach to activism. “I was like, ‘Look how amazing these people are.’ What they were doing was such a great way to make their point,” he recalls. “I thought it was extraordinarily clever, so I dug into it, and then I was totally into it. I was like, ‘Okay, this is badass. I really identify with a lot of this.’”
TSTCO’s numbers aren’t large, but they’re growing steadily, and LaMent, Gray and Hoofcloppen are proud of the fact that there’s very little turnover in the Colorado chapter — especially since they’re not out there recruiting. “We’re not interested in making new Satanists,” LaMent says. “We’re not interested in converting anybody. When we’re out talking to people in the community, we maybe look for allies or collaborators on a particular project. Or we just may be out there letting people know that we exist, and if you’re looking for a home and this rings true to you, this is a safe space for you.”
Now, with Saturnalia swiftly approaching, that mission is more important than ever. Shifting their wintertime festivities from meatspace to an online format is tricky, even for the chapter’s tech-savvy leadership. But even as the leaders are assembling the many moving parts of Saturnalia, they’re shopping for their Secret Satan gift exchange and staying unified in a time of disconnection. Their methods may be unorthodox, but at heart, the Satanic Temple strives to attain the basic freedom that every religion seeks: the freedom to exist. Since forming, it’s gone from a fringe group and media curiosity to a thriving religion that’s formally recognized by the government as a legitimate church. TSTCO is also a 501(c)(3), granting the group nonprofit, tax-exempt status — not that the Triumvirate is out to fleece the flock, televangelist-style. There’s no permanent, physical church in which to congregate, but that’s one of the next big steps, funds willing.
“The tax-exempt thing isn’t important to us, because we don’t have any money,” says LaMent. “What’s important to us is it gives us validity. We try to behave in a way that reflects that we’re a full-fledged religious organization. We’re a church. When we show up and try to make a certain case for why we should be allowed to be in a specific space, the first thing that people pull out is, ‘You’re not a real religion. You’re a philosophy,’ or, ‘You’re not a real religion. You’re a troll group.’ Now we can just skip all that and go straight to, ‘We are a religion. And the IRS agrees.’”
LaMent guesses that he, Gray and Hoofcloppen each spend at least sixty hours a week working on TSTCO, in addition to holding down regular employment. It’s been tough trying to organize, raise spirits and keep momentum going during the pandemic, especially for an organization that — like every church — normally runs on in-person connection, community and, yes, ritual. Even during the holidays, there’s no rest for the wicked. But for Gray, every second of the struggle is worth it. “I have two full-time gigs,” she says. “One is my job, and the other is Satan.”
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