In the Satanic breakdown of holiday hierarchy, your own birthday is of the highest significance, followed by Walpurgisnacht, exactly six months from All Hallows Eve, and then Halloween. This according to Lucien Greaves, communications director of The Satanic Temple (TST).
"The Satanist's Satan is more akin to the Satan of the literary romantic satanists inspired by Milton — the Satan of Blake, Byron, and Shelley." — Lucien Greaves
Greaves' message: It's time to stop demonizing Satanists. And everybody else for that matter. "Every year, to some greater or lesser degree, we have to deal with the never-ending War on Halloween that besieges us from the delusional fringe," he wrote me over Gchat. "People trying to ban Halloween, people spreading fear-mongering folktales of poisoned candies and Ritual Abuse predators."
That sort of intolerance is something the Satanic Temple, which is distinct from the better-known Church of Satan, is pushing back against -- and not just rhetorically. This summer Greaves performed a Satanist ritual in which a gay couple kissed atop the gravesite of the mother of the founder of the famously antigay Westboro Baptist Church (ritual participants claimed the ceremony made her soul gay in the afterlife). Greaves was charged with desecration of a grave, a misdemeanor, and will be arrested should he return to Lauderdale County, Miss. He also says he received several amorous proposals.
What follows is an abbreviated version of our conversation. It has been lightly edited for clarity.Lucien Greaves delivers a lecture on Satanism for the cultural studies club at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in April. (Courtesy of Lucien Greaves.)
NJ: Do you think it's fair to say that TST is a way of empowering atheists? Are people with TST atheists?
Greaves: Yes, I do. Atheists, all too often, are denied privileges that are afforded to the religious.
NJ: What sorts of privileges do you see having a religious affiliation as conferring?
Greaves: I am an atheistic Satanist, and the fight, to me, isn't against Christianity or religion, it's against supernaturalism. We believe that religion can be separated from supernaturalism.
NJ: What is the part of religion that you embrace?
Greaves: We are working on religious exemptions now. One of our tenets holds that the body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone. As such, we believe we have a right to exempt our children from corporal punishment in any of the 19 states where this savage practice is still allowed.
NJ: What else do religious exemptions get you?
Greaves: We also believe we should be able to exempt females from insulting, superfluous procedures such as transvaginal ultrasounds (used to dissuade them from abortions).
NJ: Can't they also be used to do things such as exempting employers from paying their employees' insurance coverage for birth control?
Greaves: That's certainly not something we would try to do. However, so long as broad religious exemptions are allowed, we will try to help our membership benefit from them.
NJ: I see. So rather than fighting religious exemptions, you're taking the tool and using it for other things you deem good?
Greaves: Sure. We're offering a counter-balance. We're a nation of religious pluralism, and I'm a religious non-believer with an explicit religious philosophy that I endorse.
NJ: Do you normally go by Lucien or is that just in conjunction with your work at The Satanic Temple?
Greaves: Just TST. Though I outed myself as [Doug Mesner], I prefer to use Lucien for consistency with TST.
NJ: It's a good name. I hear it means light, which is rather ironic.
Greaves: Lucifer = light-bringer. Not so ironic after all, maybe.
NJ: What do you do when you're not serving as communications director to TST?
Greaves: I actually do freelance writing, film work, Web design.
NJ: And where are you based?
Greaves: I am in Cambridge, Mass.
NJ: How old are you?
Greaves: About the same age as you.
NJ: I'm 28.
Greaves: Good enough.
NJ: Is there really a community of Satanists? Like Satanist Satanists?
Greaves: Well, there are a good number of self-identified Satanists and they, like anybody, appreciate the opportunity to mix with the like-minded and work toward the benefit of their collective interests. And they should be represented properly and judged for their actions, not superstitions regarding what some people think Satanism is supposed to mean.
NJ: Are you counting people like you as self-identified Satanists?
Greaves: Yes, I am a Satanist.
NJ: So you think people are wrong about what Satanism is supposed to mean?
Greaves: Yes — that Satanists worship this idea of Satan as the embodiment of all cruelty, disease, dysfunction, and negativity. That being a Satanist necessarily means acting against the interests of humanity in general. The Satanist's Satan is more akin to the Satan of the literary romantic satanists inspired by Milton — the Satan of Blake, Byron, and Shelley. The Satan as an icon of revolt against arbitrary authority. As a symbol of personal sovereignty.
NJ: Do you think there is anyone who actually does worship evil, though?
Greaves: Well, there are individual cases in which that type of iconography was taken up by psychopathic individuals. I wrote about one such case, the case of Sean Sellers. And, of course, serial killer Richard Ramirez carved a pentagram in his hand before a court appearance. But both of these cases took place during the "Satanic Panic" and neither of them were working with a larger network, nor could they point to any satanic doctrine that motivated these works. They simply knew that they had become monsters. The framework of Satanism had been constructed for them by the anti-Satanists themselves. Of course, now I might point out all the psychotic killings "the Lord" inspired. I'll spare you that....