Thirteen Satanists form a crescent moon shape in front of a makeshift altar in the backroom of a local bar and restaurant in Deep Ellum. They’ve gathered this Sunday evening in late August, a day before the solar eclipse, to celebrate summer’s end and the growth of their new Satanic chapter by partaking in an unholy communion.
Black is the color of choice, of course. Most of these backroom Satanists look like they nabbed their ceremonial garb from the aisles of Target.
Three candles atop a makeshift altar illuminate the three leaders of the Dallas Satanic Temple — 47-year-old Marius, 25-year-old Rose and 46-year-old Fenris — who stand onstage. They consider themselves the "unholy trinity" and read what amounts to a Satanic prayer with lyrics from sources like "Hymn to Satan" by Giosue Carducci, "The Nine Satanic Statements" by Anton LaVey and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Even some language from J.R.R. Tolkien is thrown into the mix.
A black-robed figure much larger than the others opens the ceremony, reading Hebrew as a haunting ritualistic soundtrack plays in the background. "B'sheym heylely ben-shakhar, b’sheym hassatan," he says, letting each word resonate before he provides translation. "In the name of the Shining One, Son of the Morning. In the name of Satan."
"In nomine domini inferni Luciferi Satanas. Avete vosmtipsos. Ave Satanas," he continues in Latin, reading from a handout given to him before the ritual began. "In the name of the infernal Lord, Lucifer. Hail thyselves! Hail Satan!"
The Satanists raise their hands and flash hand gestures of devil horns, common at Slayer concerts and University of Texas football games. "Hail Satan," they say in unison.
"Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence, vital existence, undefiled wisdom, nobility in action and thought," says Fenris who, with a mohawk of dreads, tattoos from temple to fingertips and a wolflike visage, resembles a Norse viking.
Rose stands next to him like a fair-skinned, red-haired priestess from Game of Thrones. She falls into the rhythm of the prayer, speaking her lines as if she were in a trance: "Let us explore many things: shoreless seas and stars uncounted, beauty that is an enchantment and an ever-present peril, both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords."
Dressed in black jeans, black T-shirt and black jacket, Marius wears his dark hair far shorter than his counterparts and finishes the first section of the prayer. "It was written, 'In the beginning was the word.'" he says. "Here I pause because it is absurd to rate the word so holy. I find that I would have written, 'In the beginning was the mind.' Hail Satan."
"Hail Satan," the Satanists respond in unison.
Like Fenris and Rose, Marius has chosen a pseudonym to protect his identity because of death threats received via Facebook. These hostile messages on social media started not long after The Satanic Temple's national organization began pushing the boundaries of religious liberties by trying to install Satanic monuments, starting after-school Satan clubs and attempting to end corporal punishment.
"People will ask, 'Do you sacrifice babies?'" Rose says.
Organized Satanists first appeared in California in the 1960s but fell into disarray in the 1990s after the death of 67-year-old Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966. The modern generation has resurrected the traditional trappings of the religion he started, but the modern incarnation has a more public face and progressive outlook.
The national-level Satanic Temple is a master of the dark art of marketing. Its website sells the temple's logo on coffee mugs, hoodies, patches and posters. It vends miniature statues of the goat-headed deity Baphomet. Shoppers can also order The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities. Most items cost $25.
Members of The Satanic Temple — founded in 2012 by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry, both pseudonyms — don’t sacrifice babies, virgins or goats. Instead, they consider themselves to be "politically aware, civic-minded Satanists," according to the organization's website.
There was a need for The Satanic Temple, says Fenris, who co-founded the Dallas chapter with Rose and Marius in December 2016. He says there were "a lot of 'left-hand paths' [Satanists] in the area and not really much for them."
Marius discovered Satanism in high school. It was 1986, as the "Satanic panic" was sweeping the nation. Evangelical preachers warned of finding Satan in pop culture. The Lord of Darkness made appearances in heavy metal music, horror films and tabletop role-playing games while his disciples became guests on tabloid news and talk shows.
Geraldo Rivera, now a Fox News correspondent, released a two-hour primetime NBC special in 1988 called "Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground" in an attempt to establish that the devil was real and could be found in heavy metal music.
"Is it the church’s position that demonic possession is possible?" Rivera asked the Rev. James Leber, who was then the chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of New York. "It certainly is," Leber replied. "There have been many cases down through the centuries. Many in our own decade where the devil has actually possessed people and caused them to do many strange things."
Marius didn’t become a Satanist by listening to heavy metal music or playing records backward. Like Fenris and Rose, he found Satan in LaVey's Satanic Bible, published in 1968. It sold more than a million copies.
In the Satanic Bible, LaVey channeled the philosophies of Ayn Rand, a Russian philosopher who advocated reason to gain knowledge, and Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher who criticized religion and proclaimed, "God is dead." LaVey also found inspiration in the writings of H.L. Mencken, a Baltimore journalist known to criticize religion, and he borrowed heavily from Ragnar Redbeard's Might Is Right, a book that advocates egoist anarchism, amorality and hedonism.
LaVey used these works to create four books of the Satanic Bible: the "Book of Satan," the "Book of Lucifer," the "Book of Belial" and the "Book of the Leviathan." He presents Satan as a metaphor or symbol in the "Book of Lucifer." This is how a Satanist can worship the devil but deny God's existence.
"There is something to having an outlet, an upfront religion," says Marius. "And we are a religion even though we are atheists."
LaVey also advocates sex rituals. He loosely defines magic as "the change in situations or events in accordance with one's will." In the final book of LaVey's bible, the "Book of the Leviathan," he stresses the importance of using spoken words and emotion to cast "spells."
Most of all, LaVey was a showman. A year after the publication of the Satanic Bible, he appeared on The Joe Pyne Show wearing black high priest robes, with a freshly waxed head and a devilish mustache. "No one has ever come forward so far and spoken up for the devil," LaVey said. "But I think the devil is the guy who has kept the church in business for many, many years. And without him or the concept of evil, where would the church be?"
Satanists and civics
LaVey's teachings liberated Marius, an Army veteran who says he grew up a Jehovah's Witness.
"It was just the idea of someone essentially giving you the permission to say no," he says. "I was raised to conform and look at everyone who does not believe as damned and horrible people, but to have someone tell you that you are OK and there is no original sin, it was a great relief."
Fenris agrees. He grew up a Southern Baptist but says he was born a "natural Satanist." He simply didn’t discover the term until his late 20s, when a friend loaned him a copy of the Satanic Bible. "If you look at the seven deadly sins, what’s really wrong with them, other than somebody said they were wrong?" he asks.
A Pentecostal upbringing in the suburbs didn't deter Rose from finding Satan online when she was 12 and later at an occult store when she picked up a copy of the Satanic Bible.
"What appealed to me was the search for knowledge," she says. "Because my upbringing was so stringently religious, I was never encouraged to look beyond the bounds of what I’d been told. As soon as I realized that there was more out there, I was hooked and I never looked back."
Rose met Fenris and Marius late last year through a local occult network. They bonded over the conflicted, ennobled version of Satan in John Milton's 1667 poem Paradise Lost, in which Satan says, "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." The pathos resonated with the trio.
"We like the rebellious aspect," Marius says. "Someone has to stand up to authority, and we like the romantic image of Satan."
"Even in the early days of the church, Satan was just an angel doing God's dirty work," he says. "He only appears in the Bible a handful of times. And if you read between the lines on all of these stories, you're going to get more questions than answers."
Rose discovered The Satanic Temple via news stories. Greaves, its co-founder, made headlines and appeared on Fox News shows to discuss how the rights and religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution also apply to the Satanic organization.
"While the original thinking was that The Satanic Temple needed to hold to some belief in a supernatural entity known as 'Satan,' none of us truly believed that," Greaves told Vice in July 2013. "I helped develop us into something we all do truly believe in and wholeheartedly embrace: an atheistic philosophical framework that views 'Satan' as a metaphorical construct."
Rose visited The Satanic Temple website and discovered its seven tenets: acting with compassion and empathy, struggling for the pursuit of justice, subjecting the body to one's own will, respecting others' freedoms, adhering to the scientific understanding of the world, rectifying mistakes and resolving harm, and using the tenets "to inspire nobility in action and thought."
She also learned about The Satanic Temple's various campaigns. After School Satan, for example, is an after-school program for students and a response to evangelical after-school programs. Grey Faction is a direct-action response against psychologists who promote conspiracy theories, the pseudoscience of false memories and psychiatrist abuse. Religious Literature for Schools introduced the Satanist's student activity book to be included alongside evangelical groups' pamphlets and Bibles distributed to children in public schools.
The Satanic Temple has also filed both state and federal lawsuits objecting to a Missouri law that requires pregnant women seeking abortions to receive reading materials about when life begins and to wait 72 hours after an appointment before undergoing the abortion procedure.
The Protect Children Project, its newest campaign, appeared on billboards that read, "Never be hit again. Exercise your religious right." The campaign seeks to end corporal punishment, in-school suspension (which the organization calls "solitary confinement"), physical restraints and the deprivation of bathroom access.
"We as Satanists believe that we are responsible for our actions," Fenris adds. "When we make a mistake, we should do our best to own that and correct it. And I think that our duty is to teach our children the same thing."
Neither Marius nor Fenris wishes to discuss his previous affiliation with the Church of Satan or why he left LaVey's church to form The Satanic Temple's Dallas chapter. Rose says it's because they don’t want people to see the left-hand path as an "us vs. them" scenario. "We didn’t come to [The Satanic Temple] to become Satanists," she says. "We were Satanists who came to establish a network because we agreed with its ideals."
The Satanic Temple has more than 20 chapters across the nation. In Texas, chapters exist in Dallas, Austin and San Marcos. Plans are in the works to create one in Houston.
Fenris compares the Dallas chapter to an onion. It has an inner circle of about 35 people who identify as Satanists and are interested in the religious history and rituals, the more esoteric side of Satanism. Next is the outer circle of friends and allies who don’t necessarily identify as Satanists but value and support the work that Satanists are doing to help the community, such as taking clothing donations for a local women’s shelter. Chapter members say they have about 400 friends and allies who support them.
"Just like with any religion, you’ve got varying levels of adherence," Marius says.
Science of religion
At the Sunday night ritual in Deep Ellum, the Satanists repeat “Hail Satan” a few more times before drinking their red wine. They say they aren't conjuring the devil or weaving spells like in Harry Potter. Instead, they say, their magic is psychological.
"We engage in ritual and study occult practices not because we believe in an entity but because we understand the science of how religious experiences can affect people on an emotional and cerebral level," Fenris says.
Greg Stevens, a muscle-bound but otherwise unremarkable man, serves on The Satanic Temple's national council and oversees chapters in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida.
"I'm not just an atheist," he says. "I'm a member of an atheistic religion because I have an appreciation for the beauty and sort of the psychological power and importance in the social context of ritual. It's kind of acknowledging that we are social beings and we’re physical beings, and going through these actions can have a personal power even if it’s not tapping into some spirit thing."
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The Satanists wouldn't discuss how one becomes a member of the organization, except that there is an application process. According to The Satanic Temple's website, membership is free and open to people worldwide, but it is a privilege that can be revoked if you don't conduct yourself in a "manner consistent with the spirit of The Satanic Temple and its tenets." There is a membership registration form available online, and membership cards can be purchased for $25.
The Dallas chapter heads take more precautionary measures before allowing someone to join their inner circle. At first, this secret religion sounds more like a book club of what Marius calls Satanist "fan fiction." The initial canon for members includes Paradise Lost, William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Anatole France's The Revolt of the Angels.
"We see Satan not as the adversary but as Lucifer, the bringer of light, of knowledge, of enlightenment," Rose says. "I very much embody his enlightenment principles."