by Mitchell Brown, Reporter
Issues of the legality, religious liberty and freedom of expression are front and center in the documentary, “Hail Satan?”
In the minds of the uninitiated, the mention of something called “the Satanic Temple” might conjure up mental pictures of malevolent and sinister activities, church burnings, and human sacrifice, but that’s not what the Satanic Temple is about.
It’s all shocking symbolism and morbid metaphor, heavily borrowing elements from the works of Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, yet the Satanic Temple’s ideology is not a complete replication of LaVey’s.
The greatest commonalty between the ideas and practices of the Satanic Temple and Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan is the inversion of Christian ritual and iconography and the idea of Satan as an archetype of the ultimate adversary, not an actual anthropomorphic deity to be worshiped.
However, the most notable difference between LaVey’s philosophy and that of the Satanic Temple is the elitism and Social Darwinist elements of LaVeyan Satanism are subtracted. (When writing “The Satanic Bible” LaVey took influence from some of the works of Ayn Rand and Ragnar Redbeard’s “Might is Right.”)
And socio-political activism is added regarding LGBT issues, abortion, free speech and religious pluralism.
The Satanic Temple as a political protest entity is established right from the start of the film, as we are introduced to a handful of members in action, circa 2013, marking the group’s first public outing The group is standing in front of the Florida state capital building, proclaiming praise for Rick Scott, a conservative Republican.
One of the members from the assembled news crews asks about the seriousness of the event, with a sense of vocal bewilderment present.
Such a response is understandable, if coming from someone who had never encountered such a thing before.
It’s an intentionally absurd and sensational stunt, designed to act as a mindfuck, while making a statement about religious pluralism.
Members of the Satanic Temple operate with a heavy sense of tongue in cheek humor, which probably owes as much to Loki, the Norse god of mischief, even though they are dressed in Luciferian garb.
The pace at which the documentary moves along is highly energetic and frantic, yet cohesive, flowing along a logical, linear structure, presenting a followable narrative.
One of the main, central personalities present in “Hail Satan?” is Lucien Greaves, the temple’s founder. He appears to be operating at an above average intelligence level and is skilled at image manipulation.
He makes the statement that the media is easy to manipulate when you understand how it’s structured.
A collection of clips of Lucien Greaves on various news programs, primarily Fox News, exemplifies his point. The news clips are downright hilarious in a movie that contained quite a few heaping helpings of hilarity.
The way Greaves functions also illustrates that those who are architects of movements are usually ultra-dynamic personalities, creative, charismatic, often genius/brilliant.
The rank and file members who later flock to movements once they are established usually don’t possess the same characteristics (or if they do, not as pronounced).
Another stand out in the documentary was a leather-clad, motorcycle-riding, raven-haired punkette named Jax Blackmore, the founder of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. If Lucien Greaves was the mastermind and intellectual architect, then Jax Blackmore gladly fulfilled the role of enforcer, with so much fire and fury.
Her main mode of activism took shape in the form of blasphemous, deliberately offensive performance art, meant to convey a message.
One jaw-dropping and jolting incident was when she orchestrated a public demonstration to counter anti-abortion protesters, in which members of the Satanic Temple wore baby masks while dressed in BDSM gear. Blackmore’s point to this street theater of the absurd was expressing her opinion that pro-life Evangelicals are engaging in the fetishization of fetuses.
Blackmore was working in extremes, but lines were crossed a bridge too far when during some type of ceremony, she spoke of disrupting press conferences, unleashing snakes into the governor’s mansion and assassinating the president. These statements directly collided with the set of established rules and tenants of the Satanic Temple.
The footage of her making these statements is in the documentary — she appeared so rage-filled when speaking the words, yet the delivering of these proclamations also seemed deliberately over the top, reveling in the spectacle she was creating. It came off like an aggressive catharsis, much like the destruction rituals that LaVey wrote about.
In all fairness, Blackmore did not engage in any of the actions she bellowed about.
It’s obvious why statements made by Jax Blackmore would offend God-fearing normals, but why is it that just the adoption of Satan as an archetype, the imagery or a Baphomet statue would provoke such hostility in 21st Century America? (often accompanied with the notion of American being a “Christian nation.”)
Where did that come from?
When one takes the time to do historical research, it’s clear the framers of the Constitution weren’t building a theocracy, but a secular government with a clearly defined wall of separation between Church and State (see the Establishment Clause).
The film pinpoints the growth of such a notion to the 1950s, the Cold War, which saw the birth of an Evangelical political lobby.
During this time, “In God We Trust” was put onto paper currency, and “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, and through the construction of these mythologies and practicing of said rituals, the idea of the American Christian nation was fermented in many minds.
As the movie builds to a crescendo and then winds down, a cat and mouse game between Evangelical organizations, an Arkansas senator named Jason Rapert and the Satanic Temples unfolds over the issue of displaying a monument of the Ten Commandments on government property. The Satanic Temple responded by building a gigantic statue of Baphomet, bringing it to the Arkansas state capital in Little Rock, being met with all of the hysteria that would predictably go along with such an action, then the statute was later rolled out, point made.
At times “Hail Satan?” comes off like a recruitment commercial for the Satanic Temple, but that doesn’t stop it from being a quality movie that amounts to one hell of a wild ride.