The Satanic Temple’s Lucien Greaves On His Debut Band and the Fight for Reproductive RightsThe co-founder of The Satanic Temple gives us the exclusive on his new musical project with Dave Lombardo—and on the latest legal battles the Temple is charging against
As co-founder and spokesperson of The Satanic Temple (TST), Lucien Greaves has been playing a key role in shifting conversations about the separation of church and state through campaigns that include erecting a Baphomet monument on public grounds, to ensure equal representation. In addition to leading the nontheistic religion’s ever-growing activism, Greaves has completed his first musical project as the lyricist and vocalist of Satanic Planet.
Greaves gave us the first look at his band’s highly-anticipated debut album, which spans a wide gamut of Satanic soundscapes ranging from bone-chilling dissonance, to snippets of children’s voices, to messages revealed when songs are played backward. He spoke about his creative visions for live shows, as well as the “Baphomet” music video that will be released on March 26th, followed by the self-titled album on May 28th. Greaves also updated us on The Satanic Temple’s ongoing advocacy that includes ingenious legal battles to uphold individualism, bodily autonomy, and religious liberty.
RIOT FEST: Lucien, can you tell us about the genesis of Satanic Planet? How did you link up with your band members: Justin Pearson and Luke Henshaw (Planet B), and Dave Lombardo (former Slayer / current Suicidal Tendencies drummer)?
LUCIEN GREAVES: Satanic Planet can be said to have emerged as a result of an interview I did with a heavy metal magazine in the UK a couple of years ago. The Hail Satan? documentary had premiered at the London Sundance, and as part of my press tour for it this magazine did a piece on my music interests and asked me to list some of my favorite acts. I named Dead Cross, a band that both Justin Pearson and Dave Lombardo are part of, along with vocalist Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle. This caught Justin’s attention, and he reached out to me to ask if I would be on a podcast he records with Luke Henshaw, his bandmate in Planet B. In November 2019, Justin and Luke came to Salem to look around and record their podcast, and at some point one of them floated the idea that I might do a guest appearance on a Planet B album, doing kind of a full-length spoken word Satanic manifesto.
By January, I was in San Diego, in the studio with Justin and Luke, and we were ready to record, but none of us really had a clear plan regarding what we would do. We had been exchanging some audio files for what we assumed would be musical backgrounds for spoken word material, but we ended up recording this deranged avant industrial-type album instead. “Spoken word” gave way to chants, growls, droning rasps, and robotic processing, punctuated by Justin’s hysterical screaming. It just somehow came together the way it did, and we worked really well together.
After we laid out a rough outline, Justin went to Dave Lombardo who signed on and added a whole new deep, relentless, atmospheric element to everything. Instead of being a Planet B album with me as a guest, it became its own project: Satanic Planet.
What’s the current status of Satanic Planet?
I am happy to report that the current status has us releasing the album on May 28th. We will start releasing videos leading up to that date shortly, beginning with the music video for “Baphomet” on Friday, March 26th. Ultimately, we decided to self-release the project rather than partner with a label at this time. Between the four of us, I feel we have an audience that will help us reach a fairly large market without a label’s marketing support, but we shall see.
Is this your first musical project, or have you been involved in vocals and songwriting in the past?
I had never done vocals before, but I had always played around with abstract sound experiments, sometimes personally soundtracking silent films just for my own pleasure—not with any intention for release to a general audience.
What type of sounds and themes can listeners expect? How do your lyrics tie into the causes that The Satanic Temple (TST) stands for?
Sound-wise, I feel like we have produced some of the most brutal music one can find at a relatively low BPM. But the album covers a spectrum from dark and relentless to whimsical and spastic. Because it was originally going to be a type of audio manifesto in spoken word form, I started recording tracks feeling that I should give each of the tracks Satanism-specific themes. Even when we were clearly heading into a full-on music project, I was still thinking of it as a one-off, so I felt like there were certain things that needed to be said. There is a “Baphomet” track, a “Grey Faction” track, a ritualistic “Unbaptism” track, etc. I very quickly found that I disliked putting together lyrics that seemed too preachy, overly-specific, and lacking in any poetic ambiguity. People listen to music to feel a mood, not to receive talking points from some lyrical TED Talk. I have stood before audiences and given two-hour lectures about The Satanic Temple’s Grey Faction campaign against pseudoscience and Satanic Panic witch hunts, for instance, and still only hardly scratched the surface of the topic.
For a “Grey Faction” track, we tried to capture the feeling of the desperation of the victims of that which Grey Faction opposes while playing upon the conspiracist mythology of Satanic mind control programming by utilizing backward masking and the discomforting dissonance of my growling monotone juxtaposed with Justin’s severe screaming. After approaching the “Grey Faction” track in that way, I discarded a lot of text I thought might work within the vision of the original concept, and began hacking out lyrics in real-time, in the studio, that I thought worked more atmospherically with the sounds and beats we had queued up.
Satanic Planet released a music video for the song “999” that is ablaze with sigils and images of human flesh. What type of imagery might we expect in future videos?
The “999” video was made in a rather short time frame by Displaced/Replaced, and that early release was a result of the fact that we were already booking shows—which we never came to perform due to COVID—and our manager needed at least one publicly available track with which to use in booking. My friend, and long-time essential TST collaborator, Kym LaRoux is putting together a video for the “Grey Faction” track that will definitely raise some eyebrows. Our talented Idaho chapter is doing a very authentic video for “Unbaptism.” Neil Edwards (director of “Sympathy For The Devil: The True Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgement,” 2016) created a great video shot on Super 8 for a track called “Liturgy,” and various film artists within the rest of the band’s social network are working on videos for us as well. In the end, I think we will end up with a video for nearly every track, and the visual imagery will be as diverse as the sounds.
How about your live performances—are there blasphemous sets, rituals, or stage outfits in the works?
For stage shows, I really want a theatrical set, and I hope to make the performance as much of an interactive occasion as possible. I want the audience to feel as participating congregants in a massive Satanic ritual. I will be collaborating with Shiva Honey, who has done a lot of ritual creation work in The Satanic Temple, and who also did some vocals for the album, on creating this experience. So far, we are pretty determined to perform live “unbaptisms” while we perform the “Unbaptism” track.
The Satanic Temple continues to fight affronts to religious liberty through legal action. Can you update us on your campaign to erect an 8.5 foot tall bronze Baphomet next to a Christian monument, on Arkansas’ public grounds?
We are petitioning to place a Satanic Baphomet monument on public grounds—the Arkansas State Capitol Grounds—where the government decided to open those grounds to privately donated monuments in order to justify the placement of a Ten Commandments monument. The Baphomet trial was scheduled to take place last July before it was delayed due to COVID. Since then, we have heard pretty much nothing, and I have no idea when the court will update us. There really isn’t much we can do other than wait. It isn’t like what you see on television where all the facts are discussed and new information is introduced at some dramatic courtroom showdown that results in the judge walking away for a few minutes only to return with a ruling that addresses the question once and for all.
The Satanic Temple has also challenged the restrictions that some states have enacted, which interfere with abortion access. How have the courts reacted to TST’s claim that its members are religiously exempt from such regulations?
In the case of our Reproductive Rights litigation in Missouri, we went through all the courts, eventually appealing to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, and we were dismissed every step of the way—based on desperately far-reaching and ludicrous technicalities—without the actual legal question we brought to the court ever ruled upon at all. It is spinelessness on the part of judges who will do anything to avoid ruling in favor of The Satanic Temple, or ruling, completely in the face of solid precedent, against Religious Liberty.
For instance, in Missouri we were claiming religious exemption from their abortion restrictions and we had a plaintiff who was a member of The Satanic Temple while trying to terminate her pregnancy. Judge Henry Edward Autrey sat on the case for over nine months before issuing a ruling wherein he dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiff could no longer be pregnant, thus the case was, according to him, moot. Never mind that there is a standard of “capable of repetition yet evading review” that is supposed to prevent judges from mooting cases in this fashion; there is little that one can do when one is stuck with an irresponsible judge who abdicates professional responsibility.
The Satanic Temple has recently ramped up its reproductive rights campaigns. Could you tell us about TST’s various actions to help its members claim exemption from state laws that interfere with abortion access?
Ever since Roe v. Wade, the Theocratic Right has been consistently attempting to inhibit, block, ban, and criminalize abortion access, often creating superfluous, medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access. The question of when life begins is undoubtedly a matter of religious belief. Anti-abortion Christians will maintain that life begins at conception, and though they will attempt a facile scientific justification of this view—often citing unique DNA (an unconvincing argument given the reality of ectopic pregnancies and tumors both also of unique DNA)—the real argument seems to be that fetal tissue becomes “ensouled,” or imbued with a soul, the moment the sperm meets the egg.
People can believe that if they want, and nobody is going to force them to get an abortion if they don’t want it. Satanists, however, do not believe that fetal tissue is ensouled, nor do we believe that non-viable fetal tissue, devoid of any higher cognitive functioning, constitutes a unique and distinct human life as opposed to part of the pregnant person’s own body —and it is the pregnant person’s decision whether to carry the pregnancy to term or not.
We have seen lawmakers impose “informed consent” standards that demand that people who are seeking an abortion receive materials that inform them of the Christian Nationalist superstitious view of the procedure. Legislation has been introduced in various states that seeks to arbitrarily ban abortions when a heartbeat can be detected, and some states have seen legislation that tries to impose funerary standards for the aborted tissue, which is both cost prohibitive and insultingly absurd. Clearly, burial rites are within the religious domain, and it would be very difficult to imagine even the most hostile court finding a way to deny us exemption from that.
The aforementioned litigation in Missouri, where we dealt with corrupt judges, were in relation to our claiming exemption from abortion waiting periods that were imposed with the express intent of compelling those seeking to have an abortion consider “informed consent” materials that advanced the Christian view of conception.
More recently, The Satanic Temple has devised an “abortion ritual,” a self-affirming ceremonial approach to terminating a pregnancy that helps the subject to affirm their decision’s legitimacy as their own will, with deference to our tenets, as a way to mitigate any guilt or shame, especially as Christian Nationalists attempt to stigmatize abortion in any way possible. The abortion ritual is a clearly defined ceremony in which the abortion itself is part of the process. To interrupt this process, or impose additional, medically unnecessary procedures to it (such as state-mandated sonograms) would be an imposition upon our constitutionally protected Freedom of Religion.
This February, TST filed for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in Texas against state-mandated sonograms. The document asserts that these restrictions interfere with a TST member’s ability to get an abortion in accordance with her Satanic religious practice. Can you tell us more about this claim of exemption, and why Planned Parenthood is named in the suit?
In Texas, our plaintiff sought to terminate a pregnancy and asked exemption from state-mandated, medically unnecessary impositions on the grounds that those impositions would interrupt the abortion ritual. We filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) that named Planned Parenthood because it is Planned Parenthood that is made to execute the sonograms and other state-mandated restrictions. Planned Parenthood is not named in the subsequent lawsuit. In the TRO filing itself we made it clear we don’t hold this against Planned Parenthood, but the TRO itself would need to be directed against them to let them know by legal order that TST members are exempted from these state restrictions that are otherwise generally applied.
Some people interpreted this to mean that we were going to sue Planned Parenthood and that they will ultimately suffer from this. In fact, we’re trying to get their clinics absolved of enforcing these state mandates, which necessitates that we name them in a filing like this. A lot of people did not understand this legal process, and when they saw a Temporary Restraining Order naming Planned Parenthood, they jumped to conclusions in the same way they typically comment at length upon an article’s headline without ever reading its contents. It’s frustrating when “armchair legal theorists” read one line at the top of the page and decide we’re doing the opposite of what we announced to do, and without clarification go on an active campaign against us. Then, when they’re corrected, they double down on other complaints or give a vague retort about how we should have done something else. We’re not fighting this fight for optics. We’re fighting this fight on principle. Our objective is to see that TST members’ exception from these restrictions is generally respected, and that the state respects our rights in the future.
When I visited The Satanic Temple’s headquarters in Salem, I was impressed by your extensive library of 1980s-90s Satanic Panic literature. Today, false claims of Satanic ritual abuse continue to run rampant, particularly among QAnon conspiracists. How is The Satanic Temple pushing back through its Grey Faction initiative?
I have been collecting this type of material for a very long time out of personal interest. In The Satanic Temple we have our Grey Faction initiative which actively fights against the propagation of Satanic Panic, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theories. The Center For Inquiry in Buffalo, New York houses the archives of The False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a now-disbanded non-profit that fought against the still-used, but long-debunked practice of employing Recovered Memory Therapies to draw forth “repressed memories” of trauma —often creating false memories, the likes of which formed the evidentiary basis of crimes of “Satanic Ritual Abuse.” We were given permission to copy the materials in the False Memory Syndrome Foundation archive, and that was an absolute treasure trove of moral panic lunacy. Some of what you can find in our library are scans of that material.
With the rise of QAnon, there has been a greater interest in The Satanic Temple’s Grey Faction campaign, at least within The Satanic Temple itself. If anybody is interested in helping our efforts to fight back against modern witch-hunters like QAnon, please check out greyfaction.org and reach out to us.
How has COVID-19 affected TST and your work? Since the Salem headquarters are currently closed and in-person gatherings are discouraged, how have members maintained the sense of community that is so essential to any religious organization?
I have not been going anywhere or seeing anybody. We developed our Virtual Headquarters platform at tstvhq.com during the pandemic in hopes that it could be a viable alternative to in-person interactions. Unfortunately, it is fairly expensive to maintain, so instead of it being an online “place” where people from TST can meet remotely whenever they like, which was the original naive business-ignorant vision, we are holding virtual ticketed events on the platform intermittently. I was supposed to tour with my band, Satanic Planet, beginning in March of 2020, but of course that was cancelled due to Covid. That reduced my income to being pretty much fully dependent upon subscriptions to my Patreon page.
Nonetheless, I gambled that subscribers would still be willing to pay, if they could, even if I made my content free to view for anybody in recognition of the fact that the pandemic was going to exact a terrible toll on some of our members financially. Fortunately, I was right—I made the content free, and it did not significantly impact my overall subscriber income, but some people who had to scale back still don’t have to feel left out. Probably the best thing to come out of the pandemic for me is TST3K—weekly streaming triple feature movie nights I host on TST TV with a live chat in the sidebar. It has developed a fairly faithful following of viewers who seem to enjoy offering commentary on horrible films as much as I do.
Lucien, as we head into 2021 with a new U.S. president, what does TST consider to be the most pressing causes to advocate for?
The Satanic Temple will certainly keep fighting for pluralism, and in defense of true religious liberty. I am a bit concerned that people have far too much faith in the Biden administration to have the ability and/or will to fix everything that was wrong during the Trump administration. I worry that too many people don’t understand how much we have lost as the theocrats have relentlessly advanced their attempt at a Christian Nationalist coup in the United States. We are no longer at liberty to merely “hold our ground.” We actively need to push back. My own dire assessment of the future sees the Biden administration desperately accommodating the theocrats, refusing to prosecute Trump, doing nothing to fix the corrupted electoral map, and the 2024 election will be as much of a life or death affair as 2020.
If we are lucky, the next Trump will just be Trump again. If we are not lucky, the next troubled, deranged, narcissistic con-man who wins the presidency for the republican party will be a whole lot smarter than the incompetent and ineffective Trump… and he’ll have a coherent agenda that he will know how to execute. We will be at the beginning of a new Dark Age. We will do everything to fight it, and hopefully these next four years will do more to prevent that than I anticipate… but tactically, I like to assume the worst and plan accordingly.