While the rest of his generation was watching MTV, listening to grunge and slowly amassing an impressive Furby collection, Joseph Rose, a “depressed and angry outsider-type” teenager in the 1990s stumbled upon a book that would fundamentally change the course of his life forever. That book was The Satanic Bible.
“When I saw that book with the pentagram on it, I was really interested—it filled a need for me at that point, it struck a chord as that young ‘outsider’ kid,” Rose tells me. I have to admit, Rose refuted every expectation of what I thought a modern-day Satanist is. Having limited knowledge of the religion, my perception was moulded by the media—often painting Satanists as evil, anti-humanity, sacrificing pigs on a pentagram… You get the idea. Rose, on the other hand, is well-spoken, intellectual and compassionate.
So, let’s smash these stereotypes and unpack this mysterious religion, and why thousands globally follow Satanism, with open minds (and ears). And what better way of explaining Satanism than from the mouth of a Satanist himself?
Just to make things clear—and to avoid the same generalisations made by the media—not all Satanists are the same. Bear in mind, Rose is part of The Satanic Temple, unaffiliated with other groups of Satanism, such as Church of Satanism, First Satanic Church or Theistic Satanism. Although they might appear similar on the surface, it’s important to clarify that the information given below only represents Rose’s particular beliefs—not Satanism as a whole.
Satanism is an umbrella term, and like with any religion, there are numerous branches to the tree. Rose continued, “As I got a bit older, I was more critical of the material in The Satanic Bible, that was until I discovered The Satanic Temple.” The Satanic Temple, the branch that Rose follows, is a nontheistic religious group founded in 2013.
Rose highlights that The Satanic Temple is a “newer organisation and the core of their belief system is based on the Seven Tenets.” Think of these tenets as similar to the ten commandments—a list of values, although open to interpretation, that guide a Satanist through life. “When I first discovered those Seven Tenets, they felt like a well-rounded sort of a moral code,” Rose adds.
Rose explains the tenets as seven ways to “be compassionate—justice, equality, science, all of these types of things. It’s nice to have them there in the background to reference and remind yourself, and analyse them in the context of our own lives.”
“They were written by the two co-founders of The Satanic Temple. They are certainly open for interpretation. So people will read them and define them a little differently, people will have debates about parts of these tenants,” Rose continues.
Let’s start by listing these tenets in chronological order. First: “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.” And the second: “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
Rose explains these two tenets address that the “struggle for justice should prevail over laws and institutions—what some might call the spirit of the law. There are times when laws and institutions aren’t in line with justice and what is right. For example, at a certain point in time in the United States, the law said that people of colour were not equal—they could not [be equal], they couldn’t vote, and they didn’t have the same rights as other citizens. In that case, the struggle for justice was necessary—it was a cause worth fighting for.”
The third tenet includes that, “One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.” While the fourth states, “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.”
The fifth states: “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.” And for six: “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.”
The final tenet highlights that: “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.”
When asked which tenet Rose particularly resonates with, he was unable to give an answer. Instead, to Rose, “they all exist with that one, as an anchor.” However, when pushed for an answer as to which Satanic teaching, above all else, really guides him in life, he said, “One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all. It seems really simple and powerful.”
To be honest, I’m beginning to believe Satanism gets a bad rap. On the surface, the bedrock of this religion seems to be built on one simple premise—don’t be a dick. And although I’m not ready to sign my life to Satanism, it begs the question, where do people even start?
Most established religions have a place of worship: Christians have churches, Jews have synagogues, Muslims have mosques… The list goes on. Places of worship are a powerful form of community building, a place where an individual can learn more about the religion from the people who practise it. But where does Satanism fit in?
Rose explains that “fundamentally, in The Satanic Temple, there was nothing in the beginning. But over time, it developed a system of chapters, satellite groups all around the country in various cities—now in multiple countries. But none of that was written as part of The Satanic Temple.”
Okay, so The Satanic Temple is a relatively new and evolving religion, with satellite groups now dotted across the globe. In fact, chances are there’s a chapter in your own city. But is there a Satanism figurehead similar to the Pope for Catholicism?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes—well, this depends on whether you consider a spokesperson a figurehead or not. Spoiler alert: it’s not Satan himself. Rose considers the spokesperson of The Satanic Temple to be Lucian Greaves. “Lucian, along with Malcolm Jerry, are the co-founders of The Satanic Temple. Malcolm stays sort of in the background, whereas Lucian is very public.”
This is a tough one—how do you even define religion in the first place? What separates religion from a cult? Most mainstream religions have been embedded in society for centuries, to the point where no one even questions their definition. They’re just there. I’m not here to write a philosophy essay, so we’ll stick to a much easier, quantifiable determiner.
In short: yes. The Satanic Temple is officially recognised by the US government as a tax-exempt religious organisation. They’ve actually used this status to practice their freedom of religion, like erecting this bronze statue of Baphomet—to the disgust of Republicans who, ironically, only uphold their rights to religious freedom when it fits them.
What happens when you die? Rose has a grounded view on death. He explains, “I tend not to believe in any of that. The Satanic Temple does not believe in the supernatural. But of course, the afterlife is one of those things that science will never be able to prove. So I guess we can’t say with absolute certainty there is an afterlife, but I tend not to believe in it.”
This raises the question if Satanism doesn’t believe in the supernatural, is there even a point in following it? Why not just claim atheism? Rose argues that atheism is just saying you don’t believe in God, without claiming what you believe in or the way you think the world should be. “By having a structured religion, a basis for our belief system, we have a moral code. That’s what we believe in. We are all atheists—all Satanists are atheists, not all atheists are Satanists.”
So, why even claim the name ‘Satan’ if the group barely represents anything to do with the traditional symbolism of the ‘devil’? Rose sums this up simply and poetically. In his words, Satan represents “the eternal rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilent enquirer who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions.”
On Monday 29 March, the infamous internet collective MSCHF released 666 pairs of the ‘Satan Shoes’ made in collaboration with rapper Lil Nas X in a PR stunt to promote the artist’s new song ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’, which debuted on YouTube the Friday before. The controversial shoes sold out in less than a minute. In fact, everything about Lil Nas X’s recent stunt was aimed to shock and divide, and it did. What most of us didn’t expect is that Nike would go after Satan, but not Jesus.
The $1,018 (£740) trainers, which feature an inverted cross, a pentagram, the words ‘Luke 10:18’, and “1 drop human blood,” were made using modified Nike Air Max 97s. Shortly after the drop was announced, Nike denied its involvement in the project, and has now claimed trademark infringement. “It has asked the court to stop MSCHF from selling the shoes and prevent them from using its famous Swoosh design mark,” reports the BBC.
What the brand didn’t seem to mind was MSCHF’s drop #7 of the ‘Jesus Shoes’—customised white Air Max 97s with soles containing water from the Jordan River that the Brooklyn collective had blessed by a priest. Nike didn’t bother to disavow the shoes then, to the disappointment of at least one designer on MSCHF’s team who spoke to The New York Times last year. “That would’ve been rad,” he said.
Nike stated in its filing that “there is already evidence of significant confusion and dilution occurring in the marketplace, including calls to boycott Nike in response to the launch of MSCHF’s Satan Shoes based on the mistaken belief that Nike has authorized or approved this product.” It included screenshots of comments from social media users expressing their outrage or vowing to never wear Nike again.
It further noted, “In the short time since the announcement of the Satan Shoes, Nike has suffered significant harm to its goodwill, including among consumers who believe that Nike is endorsing satanism.”
MSCHF is known for its viral stunts, from MasterWiki, its own WikiHow-style rip-off of MasterClass and its live recreation of all 201 episodes of the American version of The Office series over Slack to its latest ‘Birkinstocks’—Birkenstock sandals made from Hermès Birkin bags. According to Quartz, MSCHF “originally conceived of the Jesus Shoes as a way to troll sneaker makers and their fans about the proliferating number of sneaker collaborations.”
The Satan Shoes with Lil Nas X were nothing less than a logical follow-up. However, they could prove costly; in addition to asking the court to make MSCHF cease fulfilling orders for its Satan Shoes, Nike is also seeking damages. Was it worth it? If you ask Lil Nas X fans, they’ll probably answer positively.
“Since publicly coming out as gay in June 2019, Lil Nas X has unapologetically embraced his queerness in the face of his crossover fanbases of country and rap, two communities who—he remarked in a BBC interview the same year—were not overly accepting of homosexuality,” reports gal-dem in a love letter dedicated to the artist’s latest music video.
In an Instagram post accompanying the release of his new song, Lil Nas X wrote to his teenage self, recalling the fear of rejection that is still a sad reality for many LGBTQI+ people: “Dear 14-year-old Montero, I wrote a song with our name in it. It’s about a guy I met last summer. I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be ‘that’ type of gay person, I know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. You see this is very scary for me, people will be angry. They will say I’m pushing an agenda. But the truth is, I am. The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be.”
It would be an understatement to say that not everyone is thrilled with the directorial choices in the video, especially as it relates to Lil Nas X’s sexuality, but that’s not stopping him from taking the criticism in stride. The musician has been all over social media, from Twitter to TikTok, with some top clapbacks. Here’s one, for example, where he rightly points out that religious diehards always warn queer people that they’re going to hell—only to be pissed when people embrace the idea of damnation.
Although Lil Nas X’s mastery of memes is nothing new, he admitted himself to being affected by the hateful comments he received following the launch of both his new song and the Satan Shoes. “I’ll be honest all this backlash is putting an emotional toll on me,” he wrote in a tweet. “I try to cover it with humour but it’s getting hard. My anxiety is higher than ever and stream ‘Call Me By Your Name’ on all platforms now!”