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Local Satanist group plans ‘unbaptism’ ceremony

By Tim Kitz

The Satanic Temple (TST) of Ottawa will be holding an unbaptism ceremony Nov. 25 at the Happy Goat Coffee Co. Proceeds will go to purchasing reproductive health items for Ottawa’s homeless population.

Members of The Satanic Temple just before marching in Ottawa’s 2017 Pride Parade Credit: Nick Theriault

The Satanic Temple Ottawa chapter head, Nick Theriault Credit: Alex Medlin

If those two sentences don’t startle you, you’re too jaded — or in the know already.

To try and sort out why TST is just as concerned with justice and science as it is with rebellion and Beelzebub, the Leveller caught up via email with TST Ottawa’s chapter head, Nick Theriault.

Can you describe the “unbaptism” ceremony you will be holding?

The ritual will symbolically evaporate the water shed upon the brow during baptism, as well as reject the holy covenant of baptism. Using powerful symbolism and cathartic affirmations, participants will be encouraged to follow their own will and soar on their own wings.

What is the purpose of the ceremony?

By staging this event, we re-assert our positions on both spiritual autonomy and the requirement for multiple religious points of view. We are providing an opportunity to shed religious pasts. Whereas baptism is an act of obedience to god, this ritual is meant as a powerful symbol for rejecting religious tyranny, and encouraging individual empowerment.

Can you describe TST generally, and how it was started?

TST was founded in the U.S. in 2013, by Lucien Greaves and Malcolm Jarry. The lack of pluralism intrinsic in so-called “faith-based” programs, as well as the increase in evangelical dominance of the religious narrative, are all reasons which made the mandate of TST resonate with so many. The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. The Satanic Temple have publicly opposed the Westboro Baptist Church, advocated on behalf of children in public schools to abolish corporal punishment, applied for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed fraudulent and harmful, pseudo-scientific practitioners and claims in mental health care, and applied to hold clubs alongside other religious after-school clubs in school besieged by proselytizing organizations.

What are the general guiding principles of TST?

Our seven fundamental tenets are as follows:

  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • 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 your own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  • 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.

Wikipedia describes TST as a “political activist group.” Is TST a religion?

Satanism provides us all that a religion should, without a compulsory attachment to untenable items of faith-based belief. But it’s absolutely a religion, based on our deeply held beliefs.

So to be clear, Satanists generally and TST members specifically don’t usually worship or believe in a literal Satan?

It is the position of The Satanic Temple that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition. As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan. To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions. The Satanist should actively work to hone critical thinking and exercise reasonable agnosticism in all things. Our beliefs must be malleable to the best current scientific understandings of the material world — never the reverse.

From a TST position, do traditional forms of religion have value?

There are certainly aspects of religion which can be helpful.  Religion can provide an important  narrative by which we contextualize ourselves. It provides a body of symbolism and religious practice — a sense of identity, culture, community, and shared values. What TST is advocating, of course, is that all of this can exist, and in fact thrive, without any dependency upon supernatural beliefs.

How public are TST members about their affiliation? Are there consequences for being “out” as a Satanist?

Sadly, the stigma the word Satan carries is a real thing. The infamous “Satanic panic” — a modern day witch hunt that peaked in the late 80s and early 90s — has never fully abated. Also, as the religious narrative south of the border turns increasingly towards evangelical Christian dominance, the Satanic character stands to fill-in once again as scapegoat-du-jour. As a result, many members have experienced both professional and personal scrutiny, as well as death threats, rape threats and threats to their livelihood. Therefore, the level of safety and comfort each member feels, in terms of their affiliation, is entirely up to them.

What drew you personally to TST and Satanism generally?

As I child, I would always find myself identifying with the rebel character in any story presented to me. My mother read a lot of mythology to me as a young child, and I remember seeing role models in characters like Prometheus, Odin and Lucifer. Having always felt inherently different from others, their rejection of tyranny was inspiring to me. It led to me immersing myself in satanic literature and studies for years.  By the time TST appeared, it seemed to fit perfectly into my own personal brand of Satanism — one that wasn’t reliant on the elitist attitudes of The Church of Satan, one that was active and dynamic in its membership, and one that dared to adapt to the current climate.

From online interactions and reading Anton LaVey (founder of the Church of Satan), I have the impression “traditional” Satanists tend to have a very elitist, Nietzschean and power-worshipping worldview. Can you contrast this with TST’s egalitarian emphasis?

First off, I’d have to disagree that COS [Church of Satan], or similarly inclined brands of Satanism, are “traditional.” As obvious throughout the literary tradition, the concept of seeing Lucifer as a symbol for the eternal rebel within, fighting against oppression, and giving voice to the voiceless, is quite old, and certainly pre-dates the Satanic Bible by centuries. Also TST has no illusions that we must invariably adapt under ever changing social climates. As such, we do not prescribe that any one point-of-view  should dominate any religious discussion, including Satanism. If some work towards the idea of a fundamentalist view of Satanism, that is their prerogative. Simply put, TST would rather work towards furthering our campaigns, answering the call to action from our communities and in doing so, fully embrace the very critical reasoning and opposition to arbitrary truths which Lucifer represents to us.

Does TST Ottawa have any upcoming events in the works?

In fact, we are currently in the planning stages for two more events after the unbaptism. First, there will be a Krampus- themed masquerade ball — Krampus being the Germanic legend of Saint Nicholas’s dark pan-like sidekick, brought along to both balance light and dark, as well as to discipline the “naughty” children. Second, we will host a Rite of Sexual Empowerment a little  later in the season.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2017).

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