Lucifer, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Old Scratch, The Prince of Darkness, The Devil, Satan — the mere mention of the names instantly bring an opinion to one's mind. For some, perhaps because of years of religious dogma, the names may evoke fear or general evil; for others, perhaps a picture of a red and horned devil may come to mind. Either way, the concept of what Satan is has been stamped into our collective consciousness … but what if people looked at it differently?
The Satanic Temple has a location in Boise — and if Christians interpret their religion based upon faith and belief, then TST followers see their religion as one based upon facts and science. The first ordained minister of TST in Idaho, Shaun Kobal, said the members don't believe in magic or supernatural beings. Instead, he said, the Temple is about empathy and science-based reasoning. (Editor's note: Kobal is a pseudonym he uses to protect his anonymity.)
"Full disclosure: I am not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization of TST nationally, just authorized to speak on behalf of myself and the local congregation," said Kobal. "It's a nontheistic religion and we worship Satan as a literary metaphor for the rebellion against tyranny and arbitrary authority."
The local chapter of TST started Aug. 17, 2020 with a small membership. The congregation in Boise formed at the beginning of the pandemic and are now holding their first event open to the public. "Horns & Halos" is a benefit held by TST in coordination with local performance fire troop Flow Dojo at The Lounge at the End of the Universe, Oct. 30 from 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. The event will feature an upstairs "heaven" and downstairs "hell;" the parking lot will be "purgatory." There will also be carnival games, beer and wine, 17 DJs, fire dancers, a costume contest and a destruction ritual. It's not only a chance for the public to engage with the Temple members but it's also a fundraiser for the chapter and the money raised will go towards TST's local community projects. Tickets are $25 and people can get more information on the event Facebook page.
"It's pretty rare for us to do public-facing rituals and by doing this I want to allow people a safe space to rid themselves of unwanted emotion," said Kobal. "It doesn't involve harming animals or people; there's no sacrifice. To me, the destruction ritual is a way for me to get to know my community more and share my religion that I'm incredibly proud to be a part of. Rituals are meant to be liberating and enriching. Rituals can be an affirmation, a celebration, a catharsis, a recognition of a certain moment in time, as well as an expression of camaraderie. Instead of relying on the supernatural, it's a recognition of one's own strength."
The act of ritual is performed in most religions and for various reasons. In Christianity, for instance, rituals include baptism, prayer and the eucharist. The Idaho chapter of TST's destruction ritual invites people to bring an item that has had a negative impact on their lives to burn in a fire. Pen and paper will also be available to write words or memories down that people wish to burn. The ritual is 100% consensual and people can withdraw consent at any time. People can also share stories if they choose for an added form of release. Kobal said the ritual is a form of catharsis, similar to meditation; it's like seeking insight through reflection. He explained it as being akin to the ritual of making tea — a series of actions you go through to pause and reflect in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of self and the world. Not all members participate in rituals and they can be different for everyone. TST holds respect for body autonomy and gives space to all of the different members of the congregation, said Kobal.
"I was an atheist for years," he said. "I went to different atheist meet-ups locally and found opinions on human rights to vary so much. Upon building TST community here I truly have found people with shared values and it has created a shared community safe space."
Although often confused with The Church of Satan formed by Anton Szandor LaVey in the 1960s, the two groups have distinct differences. The Church of Satan believes in magic and individualism based, in part, on the teachings of Ayn Rand. It is not recognized as a tax-exempt church by the IRS and hasn't been politically or socially active for some time. Nationally, TST became active in January 2013 created by co-founders spokesperson Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry. The religion celebrates holidays — Lupercalia, Hexennacht, Unveiling Day, Halloween and Sol Invictus — and adheres to seven tenets, or guiding principles. These were formed by the Enlightenment values of the 18th century and include, for example, freedom of expression, eradication of religious authority, democracy and individual liberty. For some people this may seem like the antithesis to what Satan stands for and what they've previously known, but TST uses Satan as a metaphor representing the direct opposite of theocratic religious autocracy. According to the website:
"The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy, eject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits."
This, then, is a much different take on the modern Judeo-Christian concept of worshiping Satan. However, the idea of what and who Satan is has changed throughout Christian history, from fallen angel and metaphor to the representation of snake and pure evil. The Christian bible never describes Satan's appearance and many of the different traits and images people may associate with the devil have often come from earlier and different religions. According to The National Geographic, "(Satan's) role in the early Middle Ages was much like his role in the Old Testament: He was an adversary but not an active enemy. Throughout the Middle Ages Satan evolved into an aggressive, malignant force set on tormenting as many human souls as possible."
TST sees it differently. In a June 28, 2017 interview with Haute Macabre, co-founder Greaves said, "The Satanic Temple espouses a non-supernatural anti-authoritarian philosophy that views the metaphorical literary construct of Satan as a liberator from oppression of the mind and body. Our canon embodies the Romantic Satanism of Milton, Blake, Shelley, to, particularly, Anatole France, whose 'Revolt of the Angels' is a primary text in TST. From its inception, modern Satanism, as it came to be defined in the revolutionary era of Romantics, was very much a non-theistic movement aligned with liberty, equality and rationalism."
The Temple doesn't believe in Satan as a person or deity but rather like a mascot standing as a model against oppression. A comparable idea is the way that the American far-right has used the comic book character The Punisher as a symbol for its ideology — although the creator of the comic has often pointed out that people seem to be confused as to what The Punisher stands for.
"Idaho is in a unique spot because it's pushing boundaries of theocratic rule at the state and local level," said Kobal, "it favors one dominant religion. I myself believe that America is a pluralist nation, that there are many faiths that should have the same protection as the dominant one. I want to point out that we are not anti- theistic. We actually work with a few faith-based organizations in town."
TST is comprised of two pillars: a congregation and a campaign branch. Congregations differ according to the needs of their communities and the Temple has several campaigns: After School Satan; The Grey Faction, to combat pseudo science and conspiracy theories especially in the medical profession; The Good Works Campaign, that includes various community projects; The Religious and Reproductive Rights Campaign; and the Protect the Children Campaign, designed to end child corporal punishment.
The Idaho chapter is also involved in public work campaigns. It's held a "Menstruatin' with Satan" hygiene product drive, that collected 42,287 individual products and distributed them through a partnership with the Boise Period Project.
"TST Idaho and its members have volunteered weekly at an HIV clinic and food pantry here in Boise since 2019," said Kobal. "We also have two highways across the state we clean and maintain through the Idaho Department of Transportation's 'Adopt a Highway' program — one in CDA and another in the beautiful Palisades Reservoir area on the Idaho Wyoming border. For our recent 'Diapering Little Devils' drive, we were able to collect 1,437 diapers, and 2,096 wipes," he said. "For that drive we unfortunately were not able to find an organization willing to take a public-facing donation from Satanists. But we were able to find a local organization here in Boise that was willing to take an anonymous donation, thank Satan."
"As far as what Idaho can expect from us Satanists in 2022? I guess everyone will just have to wait and find out."
Locally, TST has five ordained ministers and a growing congregation, said Kobal. For more information on the Idaho chapter of TST, people can visit the website thesatanictempleidaho.com. For a more in-depth look at TST people can read "Speak of the Devil: How The Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk about Religion."