To be clear, followers of the Satanic Temple of Seattle don’t worship Satan. The chapter, part of a nation-spanning, 100,000-member group, is made up primarily of atheists. Yet they still spark plenty of controversy by, say, opening an After School Satan Club in Tacoma this past December or asking to conduct devilish on-field invocations in 2015 after a Bremerton football coach insisted on game-day prayer. Local leader Lilith Starr—who says the hardest thing about being a Satanist is explaining, No, they don’t sacrifice children—shines light on a movement shrouded in misunderstanding.
How did you find Satan?
When I went to Stanford for grad school, I got addicted to nitrous oxide. It just became a huge problem, and by 2010 I had basically given up. I figured, I’m unfixable. Then I met my current husband and he had The Satanic Bible—the main Satanic work at that time. Its philosophy was basically that to find yourself, you look inside yourself for your own god. I thought, Well, maybe I should look into myself for a solution. After 17 years, I broke through the addiction.
Okay, but where does Satan come into it?
Satan represents the original rebel. Most of us have been outsiders; we’ve been “satanized.” It’s meaningful to take that label and turn it into something powerful for ourselves.
How did your worship change when you founded the Seattle Satanic Temple chapter in 2014?
Before, I was pretty much this solitary practitioner. The Satanic Temple is focused on basic humanistic ethics and fighting for the rights of those who are oppressed by the dominant paradigm of Christianity, and by those who bring Christianity into the government. Now, every day, I am working on activism in the community.
Explain how the work brings about change.
We’ve had cases where Bibles were being distributed in elementary schools. And we come in with our Satanic kids activity book, which is actually really cute, and we say, “Okay, if you’re going to distribute Christian literature, then you have to distribute these activity books which have connect--the-dots pentagrams.” So they decide, No we can’t distribute religious literature. We need to keep these things out of the schools.
You’re an atheist. Do you consider Satanism to be a religion?
It is a religion, in that there is that sense of community and friendship and belonging for people who never had a place. And it’s just amazing to see that and to help build it.
And yet, you recognize that the word Satan is pretty triggering.
Our understanding of Satan as humanitarian hero obviously is not the same as evangelical Christians, who think of him as pure evil. And with that, we like to remind people that symbols can mean different things to different people.