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“Satanic Panic” never really ended; it just fell out of fashion in mainstream media. With the rise of QAnon in Trump’s America, however, Satanism has received renewed interest across the conservative media spectrum. When the Black Lives Matter protests started bringing down Confederate memorials in June, far-right publications and organizations like The Washington Times and Turning Point USA called for the destruction of the Satanic Temple’s bronze statue of Baphomet, its patron deity with the head of a goat and angel wings.
These attempted takedowns betray long-held Republican beliefs in freedom of religion and respect of private property, leading Temple co-founder Lucien Greaves to denounce their legal and spiritual corruption. In an open letter posted on his Patreon, Greaves critiqued the false equivalence between Confederate monuments and the Baphomet statue, arguing that Satanists pose no real threat to religious freedom, and that Baphomet does not even currently stand on public property. (The statue is currently housed in the Temple’s headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts.)
“You can really learn about people’s cultural baggage by seeing how they react to the Baphomet monument,” Greaves told Hyperallergic. “It’s interesting to think this debate could merely be about what’s offensive to some type of individual, and that there is nothing qualitatively different about the Baphomet statue — which is openly symbolic of pluralism, diversity, and nonbinary identity.” (The Satanic Temple does not believe in the existence of Satan, nor does it worship the occult.)
While the statue is based on a drawing by 19th-century cult historian Éliphas Lévi, Baphomet’s folk history dates further back to the Crusades, when members of the Knights Templar were charged with heresy for allegedly cohabitating with Muslims. Scholars and archaeologists believe its name to be a bastardization of Mohammed (i.e., Mahomet) that appeared in trial transcripts. Baphomet was a symbol of gender nonconformity, sexual alterity, and religious deviance well into the 20th century, becoming solidly associated with modern Satanism after the Church of Satan created its sigil in the 1960s.
Unlike these artistic renderings, the Baphomet statue’s demeanor is not inherently sinister — an aesthetic departure from the iconography of the Church of Satan, which is unaffiliated with the Temple. Greaves and sculptor Mark Porter intentionally designed its calm and stoic facial expression to reflect the Temple’s non-violent mission and political status.
“People do not automatically think of Satanism as this murderous force anymore,” Greaves said. “There has been a perceptual shift in which people are able to embrace images that may have previously seemed untouchable and blasphemous. As much as this is a religious and cultural movement, it is also an art movement, and it all ties together.”
Thanks to everyone who donated menstrual products to the Satanic Temple of Seattle’s “Menstruatin’ with Satan” charity drive! With your help we collected over 400 lbs of menstrual products for local shelters. pic.twitter.com/TxRNRBgVxu
— The Satanic Temple – Washington State (@TST_Washington) February 17, 2019
Much like the GOP’s fear-mongering around socialism, this new wave of Satanic Panic is a form of projection. What many Christians really fear is opposition to their notions of religious dominance, in both theory and practice. The Satanic Temple’s core principles include peaceful protest, adherence to science, body autonomy, and empathy toward all living beings. Many of its local chapters perform rituals from a non-superstitious, non-supernatural perspective while actively serving and beautifying their communities. They lead cleanup efforts for parks and beaches, hold sock and clothing drives for homeless communities, and distribute menstrual hygiene products for those without access. The Baphomet statue is the embodiment of this new paradigm, representing the only organization of its kind to gain political leverage in recent history.
Conservative reactionaries have always needed a scapegoat to blame for vice and deviance, and the Baphomet monument fills that role. In reality, though, Satanists are helping to debunk pseudoscience and organize against a theocratic status quo. It is no wonder, therefore, that far-right internet trolls want to portray Satanists as cannibals working for the deep state. Grieves views Baphomet as an entry point into the Temple’s efforts to mitigate religious racism and combat white supremacy throughout the country.
“People are recognizing that there is a large group of Satanists who do good work regardless of preconceived mythology and suspicion,” he said. “And they will soon have to account for us.”
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