Clearly someone forgot the goat’s blood. No animals were sacrificed and no one even suggested burning a church when a few dozen Satanists convened in a subterranean location Saturday.
It was the second public event for the Satanic Temple’s local chapter, and the most nefarious component was the “cin-ful” cinnamon Rice Krispy treats.
“I think it’s time to start cutting the pineapple upside down cake,” says Karissah Peterson, weaving through a crowded corner of Magus Books & Herbs in Dinkytown.
Christian blogs have called the Satanic Temple a “cult” and “devil worshippers” and say its religion is associated with “child sacrifice.” But on this sunny afternoon they were just having a bake sale.
“When people hear Satanism, immediately all these tired old Hollywood tropes come to mind — heavy metal and D&D, listening to Sabbath in the woods behind your house and getting stoned and killing a cat,” says John Wreisner, founder of the chapter.
While the 39-year-old pins those stereotypes on Anton LaVey’s more widely known Church of Satan, his denomination preaches empathy, justice, and respecting other’s freedoms. No, they don’t worship Satan. Scratch through the pentagram surface and the Satanic Temple feels more like a social justice group than traditional religion.
Wreisner and the 20 or so core members have no physical temple (only biweekly meetings at Grumpy’s) and don’t believe in a man upstairs or down. Instead they follow seven tenets, which hold that our bodies are “inviolable” and our beliefs should “conform” to science. Nationally, the Satanic Temple has made recent headlines for suing Missouri over its abortion restrictions and erecting a controversial statue in Detroit.
“A lot of people are disarmed by the notion that we’re socially active Satanists,” Wreisner says. “As a rule I suppose we’re a religion first and foremost. It just so happens that the practice of our religion requires us to defend personal autonomy and the establishment clause in the constitution.”
In its nascent months, the local Satanic Temple wing has taken up LGBT issues under that personal autonomy umbrella. Members are launching a pilot youth program and hope to combat what Wreisner calls a “Christian fundamentalist” presence in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, home to a wave of student suicides between 2009 and 2011.
It was the social justice aspect that converted Curt Brown from atheism. The Rochester man grew up in what he jokingly calls “Pat Robertson’s house” and was a pastor-in-training before he walked away from Christianity. After feeling something was missing from atheism, he turned to the Satanic Temple.
“I was uncomfortable with the name to begin with, but I’ve gotten used to it,” says the father of four. “What it means to me is the opposite of the religious tyranny I grew up with.”
In the Satanic Temple, Satan is more of a literary metaphor than a deity, Wreisner explains. Lucifer symbolizes the “eternal rebel against authority” and is not interpreted as the biblical villain trying to destroy mankind, he says.
“Historically, people have pointed at marginalized people or people that threatened the normative cultural standards — feminists? Satan. Jew? Satan. Communist? Satanic. Gays? Satanic,” Wreisner says. “We look at these metaphorically as the Luciferian of enlightenment, the Jeffersonian gentleman dandy in offering a dissenting opinion as opposed to this being that’s bound and determined to act in concert with an Abrahamic god, who has presumably created this antagonist himself.”
So, maybe they’re not trying to conjure some dark lord to dismantle Christianity with fire and black metal riffs. They just want to sell some devil’s food cupcakes and support causes that align with their values, without pledging allegiance to a supernatural entity.
“Ethics are the most important thing to me and I’ve always been accused of that being impossible because I’m not a Christian. There’s always been the equation of Christianity to morality, and I think that’s sick,” Peterson says, as her husband approaches with a more pressing matter.
“Is there peanut oil or any nuts in the upside down cross cake?” he asks.