tue 23/04/2024

Hail Satan? review - the detail of the devil | reviews, news & interviews

Hail Satan? review - the detail of the devil

Hail Satan? review - the detail of the devil

Documentary reveals the comedy and politics of America's satanists

It's not all anti-Christs: Satanists protest for religious freedom

As Penny Lane’s documentary shows, America and Satanism have a long history.

From the Salem Witch trials to the moral panic triggered by the Manson murders and films like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in the 1970s, mass panic in America of the occult is nothing new. But, as Hail Satan? demonstrates, today’s worshippers of Lucifer are closer to being humanist activists involved in performance art and fighting for religious pluralism than they are the black robed, goat sacrificing clichés that are populated in the media. 

At the not-so-black heart of the documentary is Lucien Greeves, who beneath his goth trappings, proves to be a wily political maneuverer as the leader of The Satanic Temple. This creepy sounding organisation has grown since being founded in 2013 and has chapters across the United States spreading their not-so-infernal message. What they want is to expose the “Christian privilege’ in the US, and with devilish guile, they know how to go about getting it.

Lane might not always dive that deep. Quite how the Satanic Temple funds its activities is never explored, let alone pay their legal fees. But she does adeptly, and respectfully interrogate the belief system of Greeves and his legions of follows and it makes for fascinating viewing.

There’s some comedy to be found in The Satanic Temple’s peevish pranks. They attempt to erect winged-bronze statues of the goat-headed Baphomet on government property. They aren’t also beyond offending people. At one point, Greeves puts his testicles on a tombstone that happens to be the grave of the Founder of Westboro Baptist Church mother. It’s unlikely Gandhi would have agreed with this form of non-violent protest. But, despite these publicity stunts, at the core of their organisation is a message of empathy and religious tolerance. The Satanic Temple is less interested in bringing forth the Anti-Christ, and more interested in having blood donation drives and trash collecting on beaches. Really, they are little more than humanists in black robes. Lane is serious about giving the group a voice, highlighting the hypocrisy of religious attitudes in America. As one leader points out, it was the Catholic Church in Boston that remained quiet about the sexual abuse scandal that was rampant for decades. Despite this, it’s members of The Satanic Temple that are labelled the evil ones when they want to hold a black mass on Harvard’s grounds.

Lane gives plenty of time to place the group within the broader socio-political context. We learn how during the Red Scare, Eisenhower had ‘In God We Trust,’ minted onto coins, and added ‘Under God,’ into the pledge of allegiance. These are surprisingly recent, politically motivated additions. As Greeves shows, a Christian Theocracy was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Greeves and his like-minded follows are a bunch of misfit provocateurs, happy to indulge in performance art to stress the message that America was founded on the concepts of religious freedom. Behind the pentagrams, black eye-liner, and piercings is a group who see themselves as true American patriots, out to remind people that personal liberty is as at the heart of the American Dream.


The Satanic Temple is less interested in bringing forth the Anti-Christ, and more interested in having blood donation drives


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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