You don’t have big Satanic orgies, do you?
“Although the Greater Church of Lucifer has roots in Texas, the media-savvy Satanic Temple and the much older Church of Satan are perhaps better known. The three groups have some differences in belief, but they’re all up against the same set of prejudices and misconceptions. Despite decades of horror-film depictions, they do not, in fact, sacrifice virgins or eat babies. At least two of those groups don’t have “Eyes Wide Shut”-style orgies, although one wouldn’t rule it out.” (emphasis added)
—Exorcised: Luciferian church looks to start anew after harassment, by Keri Blakinger, for the Houston Chronicle
When I read that last line in the above quote in the Houston Chronicle, I just about fell out of my chair laughing. Why? Because I knew exactly how and why that sentence made its way into the article… and it was entirely my fault.
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Several months earlier, I had been walking around the Bishop Arts District of Dallas, finding places to put up flyers for an upcoming local event for The Satanic Temple. I walked door-to-door, flyers in hand. I would enter the shops and artsy boutiques, and greet the person behind the counter politely. “Pardon me, but I see that you have some flyers up in your window. I’m part of a group having a fundraiser coming up in a month or so, would you mind if I put my flyer up as well?”
True to the stereotype of Southern friendliness and charm, I almost always received a reply of, “Why certainly!”… but I would caution them.
“Before you say ‘yes’, let me tell you the name of our group. Some people see it as a little… controversial.”
The responses were mixed, but always polite. They ranged from shop owners who were outright fans of The Satanic Temple, to those who politely said “I understand what y’all are trying to do, but I’m trying to run a business and I think that’s too controversial for me. I hope you understand.”
“Of course I do! Have a great evening,” and I would move on.
At one point I was back at my car, getting a fresh batch of flyers, when my phone rings. It is a phone call I was expecting: a reporter from Houston was doing a story about Satanists, and wanted to talk to someone from The Satanic Temple. Because it was a Texas story, they were referred to me.
She was friendly and sympathetic. I could tell from the start that she wanted to do justice to the way she described and represented Satanism generally, and different Satanic groups in Texas in particular.
“So, may I ask some preliminary questions, to get them out of the way?” she asked. “I’ve already done some research, so I know the answers… but it will be helpful to get your answers on record for my readers.”
“I understand,” I tell her. “Of course.”
So we go through the usual obvious preliminaries: No, we don’t believe in a literal Satan. Yes, we are a serious religion. No, we don’t sacrifice babies. And so on. My well-rehearsed answers come quickly and easily, until….
“And you don’t have big orgies or anything, right?”
No, I mean: I really hesitated. I hesitated so long that after several heartbeats, she broke the silence with a laugh, remarking: “Wow…. that’s a really long pause!”
I laughed with her, and then I explained.
“What our members do on their own time is their business. [Laughter] But let me tell you the real reason I hesitated in answering that. Part of our fundamental morality as Satanists is that we reject arbitrary Puritanical restriction and taboos that have been imposed on us by the dominant religions in our culture. As Satanists we feel free to explore our sexuality–safely and consensually–and enjoy all of the pleasure and joy that our earthly bodies can give us. So when you ask if we do orgies, I don’t want to just quickly say oh no of course not, because that comes across as if it is reinforcing the idea that there is something wrong with it. There isn’t anything wrong with orgies. We don’t happen to organize them for our members, but we aren’t against them either. And if I just quickly said oh no of course we don’t have orgies I would be worried that it would be like…. You know how, when there is a rumor that an actor in Hollywood is gay, if he responds immediately with “of course I’m not gay” it just… it just reads poorly. It seems to just reaffirm the cultural assumption that there is something wrong with it. I didn’t want to do that, in answering your question about orgies. Does that make sense?”
She said she understood and that it made perfect sense, and we moved on to the next topic.
Several months later, I see that the entire discussion manifested in the article as: at least two of the three groups don’t have orgies.
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I’m not entirely sure that there is any “lesson learned” or punchline to this story, apart from what you should already know: never assume there is a direct path from what goes on in an interview to what appears in an article that you read in the newspaper.
Oh, and of course the more important take-home message: The Satanic Temple might have orgies… who can really say?