Growing up during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, I had a terrible fear of, and fascination with, “devil worshippers”. I never had to guess what Satanic aesthetics might look like, every adult in my life was happy to warn me.
They wear black and red robes, pointy beards and other tedious, novelty facial hair. Other details changed to conform to the protean fears of white middle class parents: they might try to sell me drugs, or listen to heavy metal music, or, my personal favorite, entice me to play Dungeons & Dragons.
Satanists were transformed into a terrifying bogeyman, central characters in playground superstition. We knew all about them, their dress and cat-killing, child-sacrificing proclivities (how did they get away with all of that?), their unnatural appetites, but the only thing was, no one had ever actually seen a Satanist in real life.
Daytime television fixed that. Fear fueled the obsession, which fueled the fear, and the media grift exploded. Suddenly, Satanists were all over television, the subject of special investigative reports. Geraldo would trot out this procession of dangerous, dark weirdos, and they were always articulate, answering his questions with calm condescension as he tried to play “gotcha!”.
They had exotic names like “Zeena LaVey”, and stupid names like “Dark Lord Blood”, but they always looked like you would expect the devil worshippers of playground legend to look! They looked shifty and unfriendly, costumed specifically to unnerve children and upset parents (foreshadowing, dear reader). I remember the first time I saw Temple of Set founder Michael Aquino with his weird LEGO™ hair, cartoonish eyebrows and Eddie Munster cosplay and thinking, my parents are worried I’m going to get in a van with this guy?
Of course much later as an angsty teen, I discovered the work of Anton LaVey which is like catnip to an angry, spoiled child of privilege. I immersed myself in the selfishness and posturing buttholery endemic to LaVeyan Satanism, drawn like a moth to the forbidden black flame of my youth.
But as I drew closer to the Church of Satan and saw it anew with young adult eyes, I realized that I had grown up, but LaVeyan Satanism hadn’t. Sure, I would learn in my studies, Satanists really had put on a show for parents and media, slipping a great whoopie cushion under the expansive ass of Christian America. What fun!
But it was ten years later, now. What had they been doing since then? Turned out, not very much. Satanists enjoyed early adoption of the burgeoning internet, so they weren’t hard to find. In fact, online discourse then looks identical to online discourse now between LaVeyan Satanists. The robes were creased, the props were plastic, and I began to see, in earnest, not a religion, but a bunch of adults role-playing at each other for reasons I couldn’t then comprehend.
It was disappointing, and cringey. I felt embarrassed for these people, and embarrassed for my philosophical proximity to them. They weren’t doing something for themselves, they were doing it performatively, concerned above all about what sOcIetY thinks.
This would be my first lesson in, “If something looks like a joke, it probably is.”
Where the hell were the Satanic aesthetics?
That question hung in the air like a sulphurous fart while I metamorphosed through the remainder of my insufferable trajectory: Atheist, Libertarian, Atheist Libertarian, and finally a being of pure, unconquered reason.
After a Series of Unfortunate Events deposited me on both my psychic and physical ass, I had the opportunity to rediscover and define myself in the crucible of a world designed to fuck over poor people. While this experience was transformative, it paled in comparison to what most low income people experience, and the tools I’d be given and taken for granted as an entitled middle class shit allowed me to claw my way back out eventually. I was but a tourist in that world, and it changed my views on almost everything.
I digress, I came through the fire and found myself still a Satanist, but without a port to call home. One day, I saw a picture of Jex Blackmore holding up a glass during a speech and the attached article convinced me right then that The Satanic Temple was right for me.
The Satanic Temple turned out not to be everything I’d hoped either, and later, a lot of things I knew I didn’t want. Aesthetically, they were intriguing at first, but in practice they were all over the place. Of everything I’ve ever seen, some of the most and least impressive displays have come from TST. Unfortunately, most of their creative driving force split during an ugly schism over a perceived right-pivot leaving their most interesting and challenging content heavily front-loaded.
To give The Satanic Temple credit, while they didn’t really deliver, they brought into focus for me a vision of what Satanism could be, could look like, should look like, and I suspect will be the best part of their legacy when people look back as we do now on LaVey.
During my time with TST, I met a dynamo of an organizer, a Satanist who was, if anything, antithetical in appearance to the costumed goths and LEGO-coiffured demonic majordomos of my childhood.
Rose Vespira is a petite person with a mane of willful red hair. She has the porcelain complexion and small, painstakingly painted red lips of a doll, adding to her gentle, fragile appearance. With a penchant for floral print dresses, Rose looks like she belongs more at a tent revival than a Black Mass, and yet she radiates a quiet power that instantly places her in her rightful role as a key figure in this Satanic Renaissance.
Right away, I identified her as someone I wanted to know, because she was just as frustrated with the same lack of effort and discount brand theatrics as I was. Meanwhile, everything Rose touched was 𝖆𝖊𝖘𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖙𝖎𝖈. Her whole aesthetic was being aesthetic. Finally, at long last, here was someone not from the red-and-black school of un-ironed polyester robes. No capering dork this one, this lady had a real spark of Luciferian pride.
We became closer as we embarked on our journeys of founding our own organizations, sharing our woes, successes, and above all, appreciation for standards. When I decided to write about the search for Satanic aesthetics, Rose was naturally the first person I thought of, and I asked if she would be willing to answer some questions about it.
Rose is the co-founder of The Crossroads Assembly in Dallas, Texas. They are a non-theistic, Charismatic Satanic group, and I highly recommend checking them out, especially if you are in the area and able to attend their community events and rituals. I won’t take up too much space telling you about them here, and will instead refer you to their (very 𝖆𝖊𝖘𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖙𝖎𝖈 ) website and Facebook group.
JS: How would you describe the role of ritual in Satanism?
RV: I want to preface this answer with the disclaimer that I’m a Satanist who is also an atheist engaged in an eternal jazz-hands conflict between absurdism and existentialism. While my religion is Satanism, my view of this whole topic is informed by my lack of belief in anything supernatural. Humans have always participated in rituals, however, and they form an important part of the human experience.
Joie de vivre is centered, in harmony with the famous Camus quote: “Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide.”
I don’t think negatively of my comrades who are witches in the magical sense, theistic Satanists, agnostic, spiritual, etc. If I may wax a bit extra, in my eye the diversity of viewpoints in the cosmos entire, serves as a crucible from which creation and art must spring forth.
Organizationally, Crossroads doesn’t ascribe to supernaturalism, theism, or mysticism of any kind, and our rituals are chiefly informed by the exercise of will, celebration, seasons, art, beauty, and thoughtful engagement with totality. Not everyone enjoys it but for those who do, Satanic psychodrama provides a vehicle for healing, catharsis, ecstasy, and other miscellanies according to personal need.
JS: The Crossroads Assembly has very personal, intimate ritual practices. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to focus on that, and what kind of work you put into developing your rituals?
RV: We don’t want ritual to ever be a detached Megachurch or corporate experience. You can have standardization and routine practices without being cold or cringy. I think the heart of the creators and facilitators involved comes out in the expression of ritual praxis.
For those in our ritual space, participation is always voluntary, with the understanding that participation may include very physical involvement. Tying as many senses as possible to the liturgy helps heighten absorption and immersion
I’ve got to quote G.K Chesterton (I know, a theologian!) here: “We…are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.” Within the ritual chamber, we have the stories we tell and central ideas behind each venture not just as a decorative and aspirational figurehead, but also as a stamp that shapes the tempestuous waves around us that echo forth into endless unforeseen ripples that affect everything we touch.
Ritual development has included intense research, expert linguistic consultation, many revisions, historical precedent, and inspiration often sourced from the most surprising of places. I’ve been quoted in a local paper as using Tolkien during a harvest ritual. I’m sure he’d be pretty mad about that. Oops.
JS: Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to ritual planning?
RV: Aesthetics are really important to us. There are a lot of artists in the Assembly, which fosters a fundamentally everblooming wellspring of opulence and intricacy. Specific sources vary but some past aesthetics have been heavily rooted in Giallo films and the works of David Lynch. All of that is filtered through the lens of our overarching Southern Gothic feel. If that doesn’t translate well in text, dear reader of this article, please come out to Texas and experience it for yourself!
We prefer to hold our rituals in the most intimate and private locations possible. Inclusivity is important to us and we hope to one day have the resources to meet a few related goals that include offering a mass in Spanish and having an ADA-compliant space. In the meantime, we do what we can to keep the needs of congregants in high priority. Members of the ecclesiastical cohort facilitating a specific ritual will have the wellbeing of those in attendance at the forefront.
Our Satanism is informed not only by Satanists and clearly Satanic movements who came before us, but by the manifold characteristics of the broad Promethean, Outsider, Plutonian, and Trickster archetypes. This includes multiple cultural mythoi, figures, and practices beyond the typical European or Christian sources one might usually think of in regards to Satanic traditions. To be clear, we’re careful not to “take” from cultures in an appropriative manner, we simply have a diverse Assembly that we honor and that is reflected in the respectful imagery found in our traditions. As a response to our culturally inclusive organization, we get a lot of hate on the internet from white supremacists and I figure it means we’re doing something right.
JS: Are Crossroads Assembly rituals accessible to the public, or are they more for members only? Do you have tiers of rituals by rank or membership?
RV: We try to make as many of our holidays (the primary times we hold high ritual) open to the public as possible, pending resources and other extraneous circumstances. I say “public,” but most have to go through at least a bit of vetting before making it to the online forums where event details are posted. Safety is key for us.
Certain rituals are members-only but we aren’t a mystery religion and trusted guests are often allowed.
JS: Do you think silliness has a place in Satanic rituals?
RV: I do! When it comes to Crossroads, though most of our rituals are structured and somewhat somber, we do have a holiday called Pandemonium that is specifically set apart to be a sort of Satanic Mardi Gras. Earlier this year for the last Pandemonium, we held a quiet church member-only gathering that was decked out NOLA-style. The person who lucked out with the baby in the king cake got to be “King Paimon” for an evening (yes, the pop-culture reference was intended). She was bedecked with a crown and regal airs, after which she was showered with coins by the rest of us before engaging in a long evening of feasting and fun. We played ridiculous games and had a create-your-own ritual event inspired by our local OTO lodge, where participants paired off to fabricate random rituals that would then be dramatically performed in front of the rest of those gathered. It was a great time.
You could say a big element of all the above was a post-ironic take on the Catholic Mardi Gras, because while that festival is supposed to be a last hurrah before a season of self-denial, as Satanists we feel free to indulge on the daily.
Beyond that holiday, we don’t have a lot of ritual events you might call “silly,” though some definitely entail more than a few fragments of full-on frivolity. We greatly celebrate jubilant community, but the more loosey-goosey stuff happens at our parties, movie nights, potlucks, etc.
Switching to a more broad view outside of my own group, I believe silliness is lovely and respect the importance placed on it by many, but I still believe it becomes unwise if not tempered by discernment. The fool is just one card in the deck; why not explore a wider breadth of expression? It’s a scale that can be put off balance. One should be aware of the silliness and irony they’re trying to portray, without actually becoming a blind buffoon…especially when it comes to events in the public eye. At some point, a certain amount of self-aware childishness should be left to the Pastafarians. And of course, I do not care what people do (with the qualifier of safe, sane and consensual) in their own personal, private rituals.
JS: What is your biggest criticism of the approach other groups take to ritual practice, and what might people expect to be different in Crossroads?
RV: Oh boy. This can be a spicy topic. We generally have a disciplined approach to religious rites, even when a bit lighthearted, and they are always done in an appointed place and time that is meant to be totally set apart from the mundane. It’s not that we consider ourselves “sacred” or above humanity, it’s just effective operation that helps us explore and embrace our own journeys further. We allow ourselves to transition into a state that is carried by a concerted application of formulation and aesthetics with all the necessary trappings. The term “suspension of disbelief” is a little inaccurate for this topic because it’s not about belief per se, but it’s applicable as we want the same proverbial spirit that sucks you into a great film or album to bring you into a moment with us that 1. Elevates the idealistic goals of the event 2. Provides an experience you won’t soon forget, 3. Serves you in some way, and 4. Promotes collective growth and liberation.
The Black Mass, our most notable ritual, is a careful inversion of the adoration of Christ. Instead, we adore the flame within, all that is important to us, and life itself.
What bothers me most is when organizations get so wrapped up in inverting and distorting every little element of that which has hurt them or that which they dislike, that they go too far into the negative. They lose sight of a fine line that they trip over and resultingly end up making themselves look immature with their religion as just one giant troll-ish expenditure. In my opinion, one unifying factor that almost all Satanists share regardless of association is the experience of Otherness. I’m not implying at all that our primary concern should ever be What Everyone Else Thinks, but if your Otherness is positioned in such a way that it consistently lacks any self-reverence and wisdom, I think you can end up doing more harm than good and just provide fodder for our oppressive enemies to gawk at.