Lana Navalia is used to people asking her about animal sacrifice—in fact, she says, it’s usually the first thing they ask her about. That kind of comes with the territory when you’re connected to a group that goes by the name “Satanic Temple,” and Navalia is one of the leaders of the new Santa Cruz chapter.
For the record, Satanic Temple members don’t sacrifice animals, and they don’t believe in Satan as an actual entity, but as a symbol.
“For us, Satan is a metaphor for the ultimate rebel,” says Sadie Satanas, head of the Satanic Temple of Santa Cruz (TSTSC).
The Satanic Temple is also very different from the Anton LaVey “Church of Satan” that many people associate with Satanism. Rather than LaVey’s message of autocratic, self-indulgent narcissism, the Satanic Temple promotes equal rights for all people and social justice. Established in 2012 in Salem, Massachusetts, Satanic Temple founder Lucien Greaves describes the group next evolutionary step from what LaVey started. The Temple’s embrace of Satan as a symbol seems to come out of its innate sense of pranksterism, as well as its members’ passionate activism around the separation of church and state—like when they trolled Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 over his support of a bill which allowed prayer in school—since the bill didn’t specify what kind of prayers were allowed, school kids must be allowed to pray to Satan, they argued with tongue firmly in cheek, but political aims clear.
Locally, Navalia hopes the Santa Cruz community will think of Temple members first and foremost as good citizens; to that end, TSTSC adopted Seabright Beach through Save Our Shores earlier this month. Beginning Saturday, June 2, TSTSC will spend a year doing monthly debris removal and trash pick-ups.
“We want to show that you can be anyone, not just a Christian, and still be a good person,” explains Satanas.
Santa Cruz, meanwhile, loves an underdog, and commenters took to the internet to encourage the group’s activism posts like “These Satanists sound like super citizens,” and “Thank you for keeping our beaches clean.”
But not everyone was pleased with the news, and some reactions were more typical of news associated with “Satanism.” “Thus, society falls further into oblivion,” one person wrote. “They need to save themselves before they save a beach,” wrote another.
Immediately after the announcement, Bay Area broadcast news organizations KION, KRON and KSBW picked up the story, and Save Our Shores declined to comment to the reporters. However, Save Our Shores Executive Director Katherine O’Dea agreed to speak with GT, saying her group sees it all as much ado about nothing.
“Save Our Shores is an inclusive organization and we have an anti-discrimination policy,” she says. “We met the group and are delighted to have another organization that wants to steward our shores.”
“Let our actions speak louder than the misconceptions,” Satanas says.
Armed with its philosophy of promoting equality and rational thought, and its flair for the extreme, the Satanic Temple—which has 19 chapters in the U.S.—has become famous for its activism around the country. Some are legal actions, like its 2014 crusade to erect a statue of the goat-like occult icon Baphomet next to a Ten Commandments statue outside of the Oklahoma State Capitol—which was really part of the group’s drive to enforce separation of church and state. The Ten Commandments statue was eventually taken down and the Satanic Temple withdrew its application, but a similar battle is continuing in Arkansas.
Other actions are even more fueled by satire, like in 2013 when the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) announced they were picketing the funerals of victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing to promote their anti-gay agenda. In response, Satanic Temple members went to Mississippi and performed a Pink Mass on the grave of WBC founder Fred Phelps’ mother, to “make Fred Phelps believe that the Satanic Temple had turned his mother gay in the afterlife.”
But here in the more open-minded Bay Area, Satanic Temple members say their fight means coming out of the shadows and into the everyday community.
“Normalizing what we do is a way to fight for our rights in the future,” Satanas says. “People support when they understand.”
The Satanic Temple of Santa Cruz was founded in March, Satanas explains, having originated as the San Jose chapter. Most of their leadership already lived in Santa Cruz, so the relocation made more sense than driving back and forth over the hill.
“We’ve been working on [the beach clean up] project for five months,” she says. “But because of the relocation, everything was put on hold.”
The fledgling group currently has around 15 active members, and their first public meeting will be held on June 2 right after their first beach clean up. They will also participate in this year’s Pride parade on June 3, continuing the tradition from last year when they were the San Jose chapter.
“I hope it brings more attention to people wanting to clean up,” explains Navalia, who is a Seabright resident. “The beaches are a mess.”
Around here, even members of the Christian community get it.
“I think it’s awesome,” says Greater Purpose Community Church (GPCC) pastor Christopher VanHall.
No stranger to controversy, Santa Cruz’s GPCC—which is part of the Disciples of Christ denomination that preaches love and equality for all—was a victim of anti-LGBTQ hate several times last year, when vandals stole and destroyed their rainbow flag.
VanHall admits he doesn’t know a lot about the Temple of Satan, but says he respects their stewardship of the Earth. He has even extended them an invitation to Faith On Tap, a biweekly meeting of all faiths where members can grab a few drinks and discuss not only theology, but also local social and civil justice activism.
“Examining what they’re doing—which is what I think Jesus would have us do—it’s amazing,” he says. “If local evangelicals have something negative to say about it-—which I’ve seen a few online—by just looking at what they believe, they miss what Jesus was trying to communicate to the masses.”