Up in the winding hills near Highland Park sits a slice of mountainside covered in small, single-storied homes stacked in a row. The compound is occupied by artists and industry types, so ideal an up-and-coming LA suburb roommate mix that it could easily be fiction.
There’s only one hint of difference on the bucolic bungalow at the end of the stairs: a single robed skeleton hanging from the patio lattice. Any visitor might mistake this for a never-removed Halloween artifact, but for those in the know, it is clear that this is a purposeful, permanent installation. After all, this is the home of a Satanist.
Ali Kellogg greets our photographer and me holding Panda, a round, soft black and white cat. Like Panda, Kellogg wears stark black and dark blue against her alabaster skin. Her arms are sprinkled with a couple of tattoos, thin-lined public notes about aesthetics and interests, including vintage figures, geometric (nearly astronomic) lines and a portrait of composer Arvo Pärt.
She leads us down a hallway and a couple of steps into her bedroom, which is flocked with fairy lights and flooded with an orange glow. Beside her IKEA duvet coverhangs a full face black-hooded mask, a taxidermied goat’s head, a shelf of classic satanic books and a miniature human skull. The walls aren’t black, but her nails are, I notice as she waves for me to sit down.
I am surprised, and maybe even disappointed, that the Co-Chapter Head of The Satanic Temple’s (TST) Los Angeles chapter doesn’t have a LaVeyan shrine flanked with speared rats or bubbling potions or whatever nonsense Satanists are meant to decorate with. Instead, Kellogg has delicate lace scarves over her window panes and a poster of Welsh love spoons in her living room.
The dissonance between stereotype and reality is emblematic of TST. The name isn’t meant to imply real satanic worship, Kellogg explains. It’s a means of provoking the people working to advance our country’s most regressive policies in the name of religion.
“It’s kind of [a] punchline,” says Kellogg. “It’s supposed to be reactionary. When we ask people why [they’re mad],they get even more upset than when we say the ‘S’ word. We ask, ‘What is it about Satan that’s so terrifying?’ But they will just swallow anything fear-based.”
Kellogg, who has received death threats for her involvement with the Temple, says that, despite what might be projected onto their intentions, the goal of the organization isn’t conversion.
“We’re not trying to make anyone denounce their own beliefs,” she tells me. “We just ask that they hear what we have to say and not have fear cloud what they’re hearing. We’re not trying to eradicate Christianity or demean anyone who’s a Christian. We totally believe in co-existing with other religious groups.”
Imagery of the bloodthirsty ritualistic Satanists popularized during the late-20th Century satanic Panic—the effects of which linger today—are in stark contrast to the group’s actions. TST Chapters across the U.S. run various outreach programs, from hygiene product drives for homeless individuals (Menstruatin’ with Satan) to secular educational programs made for prisons, where even GED classes can be religious.
“Instead of being forced to read the bible,” Kellogg says, “we give them copies of Carl Sagan.”
The New Orleans chapter raised money (including via “lap dances for Satan”) to fill potholes across the city and now regularly performs the task.
TST has also taken on the fight against malpractice in the mental health industry, namely the phenomenon of diploma mill “therapists” convincing patients that they had been the victim of “satanic ritual abuse.” Kellogg explains that she’s had a number of people contact TST about these practices: “[For example, they] went through gay conversion therapy, or being held down with the therapist on top of them praying.” Over the years, TST has gotten “a couple of therapists stripped of their licenses to practice” but Kellogg says the problem is far from solved. “There’s a lot of recklessness in the medical industry.”
It’s these sorts of interventions that sparked her interest in TST in the first place.
“It was post-Occupy, which just seemed ineffective and derailed into drum circles in Times Square," she explains. "[Then I saw TST, and] it was like, ‘Ok, finally a group of people got their shit together and are doing something really effective.’ I wanted to be a part of it because I was sort of aimlessly angry and political, too. I went to protests and stuff. I’d work for non-profits and do canvassing, and at the end of the day, I didn’t really feel like I accomplished anything for the greater good. I feel like the Temple is a platform to make effective change.”
Kellogg’s sentiments are similar to those that led to the establishment of TST in 2012 by Malcolm Jarry and Lucien Greaves. Greaves was interested in Satanism long before he met Jarry at Harvard, and once he’d absorbed what he could about satanic traditions, he found that there simply was “no unbroken tradition of Satanism, no canonized satanic doctrine that extends back for centuries into biblical times” and no “uniform concept of Satan.” But by the time Greaves became interested in a theistic canon, the only satanic Church (the Church of Satan) and its leader (Anton LaVey) were both dead.
That hardly stopped him, and he became only more interested in the idea of Satanism upon meeting Jarry. Like Greaves, Jarry had “long ago… imagined the potential effectiveness of a satanic organization.” He explained to the New York Times that the first conception of [TST] was in response to George W. Bush’s administration’s faith-based initiatives.
Per the New York Times profile, “He hit on the idea of starting a faith-based organization that met all the Bush administration’s criteria for receiving funds [through the program], but was repugnant to them. 'Imagine if a satanic organization applied for funds,' [Jarry] remembered thinking. 'It would sink the whole program'.... Mr. Jarry and Mr. Mesner bonded over a shared distaste for organized religion and an inclination to fight back with mischief."
A Religion with No God
And yet despite this aversion, a religion is exactly what emerged from Greaves and Jarry’s efforts. Though there’s no satanic pope, there is a National Council of about a dozen Satanists who oversees dogma like TST’s moral code: its seven tenets.
Notably, what the religion is missing is a deity. Satanists—Temple and Church alike—largely don’t actually believe in Satan. Instead they see Lucifer, as he’s referred to biblically, as a character in a book. Kellogg explains that the draw is the iconography and the allegory of the fallen angel. “He came here to the Garden of Eden, gave knowledge to Eve, to womankind—he’s kind of a feminist icon. We see him as a literary figure the way that a kid might look up to Harry Potter.”
The story has been rewritten over the ages, says Kellogg, and especially in the King James translation, it was modified to fit the ideals of “the wealthiest people in society.”
What happened canonically, she explains, is that, “God created all of these angels, and Lucifer was the most intelligent, the fiercest warrior, the most attractive. If anyone crossed god, he sent angels to kill them. He flooded the Earth and killed all the people that didn’t worship him. So Lucifer, [after being sent to perform] 13 murders, gathered some of the other angels together in a revolt. They challenged god’s authority and asked, ‘Why do you have all this power?’ And that’s where Christians would say he’s too prideful and egotistical, and that’s why god cast him out—he’s a sinner. We see that as really brave. God was over-exercising power. He was using his power to control other people, to murder children. [But as a result, Lucifer] was cast out of heaven along with the other angels.”
Perhaps because their “deity” was born of revolt, there’s no “ideal Satanist” the way there is the concept of the Good Christian.
“I don’t think the universe operates in a binary,” Kellogg explains. “That’s something very fundamental to a lot of Abrahamic religions: You’re good or bad, you’re a sinner or you’re pious, there’s heaven and hell, there’s god and Satan. But real life doesn’t work that way. There’s a spectrum and a range of moral behavior. I would be a bad Satanist if I made a mistake in my life and pretended like nothing happened and just expected everyone to be ok with it.”
What, though, is a “mistake” in Satanism? It’s all a matter of rationality and personal responsibility.
“If I’m smoking weed once in a while, that’s my choice, and it’s not causing anybody any harm,” says Kellogg. "[But a circumstance in which] being a drug addict negatively [affects] those around me,” as in stealing from family members, violates the directive to “act with compassion and empathy in accordance with reason.”
Kellogg, in line with her anthropology background, looks at the example in light of human habits and behaviors rather than ideals. The fact of the matter is, she explains, “If you make something illegal and people want it, they’re going to find a way to do it. It’s proven that prohibition is not effective.”
Fighting Fire with Farce
And if there’s one thing that TST pursues, it’s methods that work. Things have largely calmed down, but when it was just established, TST made a name for itself with decidedly ostentatious direct actions. In April 2016, the Detroit chapter decided to stage a counter-protest against the religious obstructionists scaring away people outside of the local Planned Parenthood. Video of the action shows a crowd walking over to the protesters led by a person holding a confounding sign reading, “THE FUTURE OF BABY IS NOW!” A glitter sign next to it reads, “NO MORE LIVES SACRIFICED TO FETAL IDOLATRY.”
Nearly everyone in the group is clad in either diapers or full-on fetish gear along with whole-head baby masks that sit somewhere between being amusingly uncanny and legitimately scary. The black background is stark against the pink “Planned Parenthood harvests baby parts” sign of the other side. Like everyone’s opinions, the optics couldn’t be more different. The obstructionists begin to move away as the adult babies kneel and sprinkle one another with ash.
The intention behind the stunt, Kellogg says, was to “scare all the protesters away so women could get in without feeling threatened.” And if the TST members had to dress up like fetishists to make it work, they were clearly going to.
TST’s focus has now pivoted from theatrical protests to directly challenging intrusive legislation and practices. They’re a staple of sensationalized news—the “Oh my goodness, rabble-rousing Satanists” sentiment—and most recently filed a lawsuit against Scottsdale, Arizona for denying Satanists the right to pray during the City Council invocation.
In 2015, TST filed a case on behalf of “Mary Doe,” who went to Missouri for an abortion and had to face a long and emotionally impactful process before being allowed to get the procedure. There was a 72-hour waiting period, which for many like Doe—who had traveled out of state for the abortion—meant paying for a hotel room.She had to undergo two separate ultrasounds where she was shown “fluid” moving around (under the pretense of its being a heartbeat) and was asked questions like, “Are you sure you want to murder this child?”
TST doesn’t just show up to these cases with their sense of morality. Led by a number of jurisprudent members, they do their due diligence when it comes to direct research. “Lauren, one of our other leaders, did some undercover work.” They crowdsourced $4,000, Kellogg says, to perform a recon operation wherein a group went undercover seeking abortions armed with disguises, cameras, recorders and pregnant people’s urine (solicited from Craigslist). Doctors responded to their requests for abortions by giving them each a copy of the New Testament.
It didn’t take long for the state to agree that Missouri had encroached on Doe’s rights. “After we gave our first oral arguments to the ninth Circuit of Appeals Court,” says Kellogg, “they decided the next morning that they were gonna ban needing an ultrasound before you get an abortion.”
Ave Satanas, Carpe Futurum
“We’re not armchair activists,” says Kellogg. “What we’re doing is proving to be effective. We’ve [even] had some of our members run for office—[in the 2016 election] one of our old members Steve Hill, he ran for California state senate out of Lancaster and got 13 percent of the vote. And there’s more churches per capita in that area than any other part of California.”
While they’d disappoint a mainstream party, those sorts of numbers are hardly a loss for TST. If anything, the results have emboldened the group. “Without giving too much away, another member of the LA chapter is going to be running for office this year. We just have to get him 2,000 signatures to get him on the ballot.”
And as for Kellogg’s future? She’s been playing music and making art, but much of her free time is spent using her own savings to organize TST’s Black Masses, giant ritualistic fundraising concerts. It’s never an easy task getting the events together: “I’ve been talking to Behemoth, but it’s a crazy production budget.” Still, Kellogg does her best to put on popular events and seems energized by the responsibility.
The sun begins to set, and as I look out over the grapefruit-colored, smog-laden skyline of Los Angeles, Kellogg and I pivot to the small talk that normally ends an interview. I tell Kellogg a bit about my background, and she listens patiently as the photographer’s shutter fires off rapidly for a few last shots. She nods and tells me that I would make a great Satanist—and I can’t help but smile.
Charlie Tetiyevsky is a poet and non-fiction writer living in Los Angeles. They can be reached on Twitter at @charlie_gfy and Instagram. Photographs by David Diperstein.