SatanCon: World's 'largest gathering of Satanists' hails diversity, fellowship

USA Today/May 3, 2023

By Camille Fine

BOSTON — About 800 people, including many who donned sinister-themed outfits, gathered in Boston last weekend for the second annual SatanCon – an “impious” gathering of supporters of The Satanic Temple, the subject of the critically-acclaimed documentary, “Hail Satan?” Attendance more than doubled compared to last year, which had around 300 attendees, according to organizers.

Group members say that critics often and incorrectly assume the organization is made up of evil “trolls” whose goal is to worship the devil with blood sacrifices. They say their Satanism is more about free-thinking and being a champion of independence and personal expression.

Unsatisfied with other groups that were inactive, apolitical and individualistic,  Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry  formed The Satanic Temple in 2013 to offer modern Satanists an option to a more established group, according to the organization’s website.

What are The Satanic Temple's tenets and mission?

In the decade since, members have launched various high-profile campaigns and litigation with a mission to “encourage benevolence and empathy, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits."

Headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, with congregations worldwide, The Satanic Temple follows “Seven Fundamental Tenets” to inform their beliefs:

1. “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.”

2. “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”

3. “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.”

4. “The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one's own.”

5. “Beliefs should conform to one's best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one's beliefs.”

6. "People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one's best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused."

7. "Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word."

 Unlike the Church of Satan, founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in the 1960s, the Satanic Temple does not claim to be politically neutral, and its congregants regularly meet to engage with political and public affairs that “advance secularism and individual liberty.”

Their advocacy efforts have tackled a number of issues, including the abolishment of corporal punishment in public schools, equal representation when religious symbols are publicly displayed, abortion and mental health care.

Temple ministers also said the group is actively courting more diverse members into congregations that have been "more of a white crowd," said Dex Desjardins, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple.

Satanism provides 'safe' place for those who feel marginalized

Emma Yama, a 26-year-old Minnesota minister, said joining her local chapter expanded the world she knew as a Vietnamese American adopted into a white Catholic family from the Midwest.

"I didn't even know what it meant to be a person of color," she said.

Yama said she first read about the group in high school and shrugged them off as "trolls", but began to take them more seriously as she sought more ways to express her individual identity and build a community after she graduated from college.

“I'm opinionated. I want things to get done…I wanted a community that I felt like I could belong in," Yama said. “I found it. They’re family to me.”

Yama said she was finally able to learn more about and express her Asian identity after joining, but her frustration with the group's lack of a response in 2020's social justice protests led her to spearhead the Minnesota chapter's support for Black Lives Matter protests.

But Yama remains one of only two people of color in her ministry. She said even though it felt amazing to be amongst like-minded peers at the “largest gathering of Satanists,” the racial makeup of the crowd is still noticeably lacking in diversity.

Yama, a minister and spokesperson for the Satanists of Color Coalition, said she never had peers of color until she joined her local chapter in Minnesota.

Many Satanists say they experienced targeted harassment, physical harm and ostracization as a direct result of their beliefs, according to both Yama and Desjardins. When considering the systemic racism that people of color already face, it can be hard to join something that could strain a support system, they said.

Desjardins, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and was raised in the Jewish faith, said that Satanism provides similar benefits one gets with organized religion without the requirement of aligning with figures they don't believe in.  

“(Religion) is fairly universal … and when you lose a religion you lose everything that comes with that. Not just the faith but the community, the structure, the shared values,” Desjardins said.

Although  there are no official numbers, Desjardins says he's observed more diverse Satanists join in the eight years he’s been involved. The group has had many women and queer members represented in leadership, but Desjardins acknowledged the need for diversity.

"I think that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Satanists are starting to get a much bigger voice in the community, which is long overdue and it's lovely to see,” Desjardins said. “It’s diverse and it's getting more diverse. I hope it continues to move in that direction.”

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