The Witch Hunts Continue

The phenomenon and concept of the witch transcends any one cultural context and has primarily been a feature of Abrahamic folk-mythology since at least 931 B.C. Today the term is used quite loosely especially in the political arena as hyperbolic self-defense against accusations of wrongdoing the accused aims to dismiss as groundless. When prejudices are systemic against one demographic and have become institutionalized, for another demographic to claim the same prejudice without living the experience of the victimized demographic is inherently wrong (examples include white people accusing non-white people of being racist against them and men accusing women of being sexist against men).

The sensation of “the witch” is quite interesting in the fact that not only did it transcend global cultures, but time as well. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all condemn certain witches and witchcraft in their texts and mainly that of a feminine nature. A very early verse written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. in the Book of 1 Samuel, King Saul asked the Witch of Endor to resurrect the prophet Samuel to help him defeat the Philistine army, with the end result being the King committing suicide. Additionally, there is the oft-quoted verse from the Bible, Exodus 22:18, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” This passage is translated in some places as strictly in the feminine form of “sorceress.” The Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish text, tells the story of fallen angels who took mortal women as their wives and taught them what some describe as “forbidden knowledge” and others describe as “sorcery and spells.” The Talmud in the Jewish tradition has several passages regarding women and witchcraft, one being Avot 2:7, “He used to say: The more flesh, the more worms; The more property, the more anxiety; The more wives, the more witchcraft; The more female slaves, the more lewdness…” In Islam, Sihr translates from Arabic to English as “black magic.” There is a prayer in the Qur’an called surah al-Falaq which asks god to ward off black magic, “I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn; From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practice secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practices envy. (Qur’an 113:1–5)”

Two historical witch trials most people are familiar with are the European witch trials of the mid 1400s through around 1750 which included the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch trials in the state of Massachusetts in America in 1692. The book, Malleus Maleficarum (e.g. The Hammer of Witches), written by Heinrich Kramer and published in 1487 was really the spark that ignited the witch hunt hysteria across Europe. Shortly after its publication and up to around 1660, an estimated 80,000 suspected witches were put to death in Europe with around 80% of them being women. Many scholars consider these trials as gendercide. While witch folklore and accusations of witchcraft were widespread for years, according to the in-depth article, “On the Trail of the ‘Witches:’ Wise Women, Midwives and the European Witch Hunts” by Ritta Jo Horsley and Richard A. Horsley, it was the introduction of church law and their belief that any “supernatural cures not sanctioned by the Church were viewed as resulting from the Devil’s help, but in part also because of the competition the cunning folk meant to the established religion.” Popular opinion has long been that it was predominately “wise women,” healers, and midwives who were the prime targets during the trials. Recently these theories have come under scrutiny as “feminist scholars romanticizing the roles of women.” The Horsley & Horsley article uses actual trial depositions and records, as well as many other sources, to illustrate why certain demographics were targeted. They concluded that in fact these women were the ones predominantly accused for several reasons–mainly that they were elderly or otherwise marginalized. Older women living on their own was a curiosity. Documentation shows most were accused of witchcraft for years but didn’t dispute the charges because the fear the label induced was a way for them to defend themselves in their already vulnerable status. Unfortunately, this defense worked against them in the end. The article also points out that there were both “wise women” and “wise men” who were thought to use their knowledge for benevolent purposes, but it was the wise women who were eventually persecuted and usually the accusations came from the wise men. This indicates the general bias against female knowledge and power and how these traits were viewed as dangerous. The article illustrates how the patriarchal systems in place played a major role in these horrors. One example refers to several wise women who were among the accused because they “engaged in beneficent practices such as healing by folk remedies, protective magic, and teaching other women charms to make their husbands stop beating them and care for them instead.”

According to historical texts, midwives were an obsession of the church. They were recurring targets of the witch hunts with clear documentation of their deranged superstition. They were often referred to as “Satan’s whores,” and thought to eat babies or offer newborns up to devils. The church also claimed that midwives used baby parts or byproducts of birth as ingredients in their potions. They then began to require midwives undergo examinations by the church and receive licenses to be able to practice. It went so far that during the 1600s in Germany midwives “were required to report abortions, infanticide and childbirth outside of marriage to the authorities, and to submit themselves to the supervision and authority of doctors,” among other regulations. Much of this is evocative of the church and government’s ongoing persecution of Planned Parenthood in the United States.

The Salem witch trials, though on a much smaller scale, had the same level of paranoia as in Europe. Most of the accused and killed were women, but there are many theories as to what exactly started the wave of allegations. Some say people were infected by moldy bread, others say it began by the wild stories of bored girls, while others claim it had to do with ownership of land. Whatever the reason, the fact that religious authority played a major role is one constant. The strict Puritanical faith of the citizens forbade witchcraft and believed that evil spirits could possess humans. As stated in the book Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England by Elizabeth Reis, “Overall, the Puritan belief and prevailing New England culture was that women were inherently sinful and more susceptible to damnation than men were.”

Witch superstition has no borders when it comes to geography. Many countries in Africa still accuse and convict mostly women and children of witchcraft. A 2006 article in the Guardian explains that as of that year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 25,000 and 50,000 children had been accused of witchcraft and expelled from their homes. These children are often subjected to violent exorcisms supervised by self-proclaimed religious pastors. There are six “witch camps” that were established around 100 years ago in Ghana to house women who must flee for their safety after being accused of witchcraft and they are still in use. In 2008 in Kenya, 11 people were burned to death accused of witchcraft. In Nigeria, some pastors have mixed their Christian beliefs with African traditions to create a business out of witch-finding and exorcism. According to a 2009 article in the Associated Press, around 15,000 children in Nigeria have been accused of witchcraft over the past ten years and around 1000 have been killed for it. Some of these pastors perform exorcisms on the accused children that involve such atrocities as starvation, beatings, mutilation, being set on fire, being forced to consume acid or cement, or being buried alive. In 2015 Reuters reported on Christian militias in the Central African Republic that kidnap, burn, and bury women alive who have been accused of witchcraft every year in public ceremonies.

Different areas throughout Asia also continually condemn people, mostly women, of witchcraft within different cultures and religions. A 2008 report specifies that at least 100 women are abused annually as suspected witches in the state of Chhattisgarh, India with activists stating that only a fraction of the abuse is reported. Saudi Arabia still practices the death penalty for those convicted of sorcery and witchcraft. The country even has a specific division called the Anti-Witchcraft Unit of their Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice police. A paper published in a 2008 issue of Nature Human Behavior stated that 13.7 percent of one rural community in Southwestern China were labeled as “zhu,” or “witch.” The study concluded that some themes were common in the designation of witches in China which were being middle-aged women who are the head of their household. Once a woman is accused of being a zhu, they are ostracized from their community.

There is a preponderance of evidence that demonstrates how the patriarchal systems in place from the past to the present have been and continue to be primarily stacked against women. These have just been a few examples from around the world and from certain historical periods, but they all showcase the abhorrent effects religious superstition and control have on society. These atrocities also demonstrate how religious domination solidifies oppression of certain groups and most often teaches and practices misogyny. Regarding the aforementioned use of the term “witch hunt” by men for political purposes, it is not OK, and the final paragraph of the Horsely & Horsley article lucidly explains why:

   …we see in the interaction of ideology, legal machinery and social and economic
  forces, how people’s beliefs can be manipulated by the authorities, especially 
  in times of crisis and anxiety…We do see that many of the accused women were 
  very likely signaled out for being different, independent or endowed with 
  special knowledge or powers. Moreover, by suggesting how deeply and on how many 
  levels (psychological, social, economic, ideological) patriarchal attitudes and 
  structures were implicated in the witch persecutions, our investigation 
  underscores the necessity of setting the trials into the broader context of 
  women’s history and feminist analysis, both in order to understand the witch 
  hunt itself and in order to understand our herstory. The torture and killing of 
  the thousands of “witches” is an integral part of women’s history, a particular 
  and extreme manifestation of oppression which has a much longer history and 
  continues into the present. It is a sobering phenomenon which cannot be 
  dismissed as a craze.
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What do we labor for?

The month of September celebrates Labor Day, the federal holiday observing the contributions of the labor movement. Labor education is not a significant part of general education and most people aren’t very familiar with what Labor Day symbolizes. Especially in the United States, where “capitalism is king” and corporations have immense power over thought and politics, the contributions of labor are widely undervalued.

Capitalism and the United States are so intertwined that even suggesting a belief in another system, such as communism, can provoke immense ridicule. The First and Second Red Scare after each World War showcased just how linked American nationalism and capitalism are by the blacklisting, deporting, and arresting of numerous people believed to be communist or socialist spies. While there is much more background regarding what prompted the Red Scares, the paranoia of what is seen as subversive thinking was and is very real. Those targeted during these tumultuous times ranged from labor leaders and other unionists, to left-leaning politicians, celebrities, artists, the film industry, among many others. Propaganda was spread and the veneration of capitalism and condemnation of most other systems have since been engrained in American society.

 We can see these trends even today with conservative politicians denouncing more liberal politicians as “socialists” or “communists.” Anything other than a staunch capitalist is deemed “unamerican.” Most look at the history of communism and focus on its failures in certain nations by citing the leadership’s power and control along with the imbalance of wealth and resources between government and the citizenry. If we look at America, we can see very similar imbalances. The wealth inequality between most of the nation is astounding. Access to certain resources, quality education, healthcare, and healthy food, for example, is arguably structured around class and race. Powerful corporations give enormous donations to politicians and effectively control laws and policies. The successes of other nations that have a more socialist structure are minimalized if even acknowledged. Universal healthcare and free education have been enormously beneficial in many European nations. While no political system is without its flaws, there are pros and cons to all of them, it’s evident that the toxic patriotism that vilifies anyone who doesn’t endorse the consumerism and corporate control of this country is hurting the majority of the population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in the US was 12.3% in 2017, but this number goes as high as 13.4% according to other counts. The Trump Administration is now proposing a change to the federal poverty line to make it harder for low income people to receive assistance. Currently the poverty threshold in 48 states and Washington, D.C. for a two-person household is an annual combined income of $16,910. Many can agree that even as a single person, living comfortably in this country on $16,910 a year is extremely difficult. Poverty is also both a racial and gender issue. More women live in poverty than men, and Native Americans followed by Black Americans are the most affected by poverty.

Additionally, America is the only advanced nation boasting one of the strongest economies that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave, paid or unpaid vacation, or paid sick days. Conversely, the European Union’s 28 nations guarantee at least 4 weeks paid vacation, and of the 193 nations in the United Nations, only New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific Island nations, and the United States do not have a national paid parental leave law. The laws we do have regarding workers’ rights, such as minimum wage (even though America has the lowest minimum wage of 36 industrial nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), sexual harassment, child labor, non-discrimination, and the 40-hour work week are all due to the Labor Movement. If you belong to a union there can be added benefits such as collectively bargained medical coverage, pensions, paid sick and vacation time, maternity leave and higher wages. Unions have historically, and continue to, fight for these rights. But we must remember that these advances are not guaranteed, and they are not obligatory nation-wide. The current administration is waging what amounts to an all-out assault on unions with one of the major blows being the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME which decided that workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement do not have to pay union dues. The result could bring an end to many unions that won’t be able to fund themselves.

Labor, the trades, and other blue-collar work built this nation and continues to maintain it, yet the current system devalues this essential workforce. White-collar work is deemed more dignified and carries a higher status even if it is nonessential to the rest of society. This sort of bias can be seen in media with jokes about sanitation workers, housekeepers, janitors, etc. It can be seen in our educational system where trade schools are looked down upon as where the “bad” or “unintelligent” children go. Low wage rates also signify the devaluing of these types of jobs. Healthcare workers, social workers, and teachers, who are universally seen as valuable and respected, still are not paid nearly as much as stock brokers, investment bankers, athletes, or corporate CEOs, for example. Gender and racism also play a role in these wage disparities, which can lead to who is affected by the cycle of poverty. Most of the work considered blue collar and emotional work are performed by people of color and women respectively. Many of these types of jobs also serve others and benefit society, while the majority of white-collar, higher paid professions tend to solely benefit the individual. This disparity demonstrates very different value systems. Capitalism, as well as American culture, promotes individualism while more socialist countries and systems value the collective. This individualistic frame of thought fuels such negative traits like greed and apathy; mental health issues like stress and exhaustion and can become as extreme as suicidal tendencies. It also reinforces a type of selfishness and the “us versus them” dynamic that maintains a constant source of hostility nationally and globally. Instead of endorsing a framework that includes the whole or that asks, “How can we help each other?” we live within a framework that constantly asks, “How do we get more for us while excluding others?”

America is an amazing place and has infinite potential. It has resources that can benefit and help support many more people and places than it currently chooses to. As Satanists we are well aware of the mob mentality and ridicule that comes with challenging the status quo and suggesting a new way of thinking. Breaking away from what you have been taught your whole life is difficult, but not impossible. When we look back at what those people in the labor movement were able to accomplish for the benefit of everyone is inspiring. They realized that the status quo was harmful to the majority, and they demonstrated a better way. This month, as we reflect on what those before us have accomplished to make our lives better, also contemplate what we can do to benefit the collective now. We live in a world of systems, and we all live in it together. Continue to challenge those systems keeping in mind that we must strive for compassion and justice for all. When we seek to benefit more than ourselves, we all reap the rewards.      

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Living with Death

From ancient Egyptian tombs, to Irish and Scottish cairns, and East Asian cave paintings depicting burials, commemorating death has been a part of the human experience for millennia. We each experience death at some point and the way we respond to it is deeply personal. Bereavement is not solely a human condition either. Research has uncovered evidence showing many animal species engage in behavior indicative of grief. Scientific reasoning behind human and non-human animals mourning surmise that attachment, or love, for family, mates, friends and others close to you drive safety, protection, and reproduction. Neurobiologists conclude that attachment was evolutionarily selected for to ensure survival and that grief is a side-effect of that mechanism. These innate characteristics grew into complicated, multifaceted belief systems and behaviors surrounding life and death.

What started out as a hard-wired trait, with time, morphed into formalized rituals and practices. According to the “Funeral Guide” 2017 article, Why do we have funeral rituals?, “Humans are social animals and we have an inherent need to make sense of our surroundings. When someone we love dies, we can find it difficult to put the meaning of anything into context anymore.” While humans struggled to understand death and other unexplainable aspects of life, they created stories, myths, and eventually religions to help cope with loss and life’s mysteries. Scholar and author Huston Smith defines religion as “beliefs and patterns of behavior by which people try to deal with what they view as important problems that can’t be solved by other means: e.g. the need to confront and explain life and death. All cultures have religions, which are powerful and dynamic forces in human society.” The general belief in an afterlife, heaven, hell, and a soul are basically universal and have dictated behaviors associated with loss. Christianity and Judaism have varying beliefs regarding heaven and hell, but the generalized concepts of either eternal salvation or eternal damnation remain the same. The website “Interfaith Family” explains that the Talmud depicts Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, as a place of “spiritual fulfillment,” and Gehennom, Hell, as “a place of intense punishment and cleansing.” The Bible has many descriptions of judgments leading to either eternal life in Paradise or wrath and fury condemning the unrighteous to eternal fire and torment in what most translations consider Hell. People comfort themselves and others with the idea that loved ones will go to heaven after they die and eventually, they will meet up with them again upon their own death. Conversely, if people or loved ones were hurt by someone else, they are comforted believing that the perpetrator will suffer an equal punishment in hell.

Other popular religions have varying beliefs regarding death. Islam, for example, also believes in a Paradise and a Hell. Prominently Indian religions believe in reincarnation, that the deceased will begin a new life in a new body or form. South Asian religions hold similar beliefs to reincarnation describing a sort of rebirth. The major themes throughout all these religions recreate aspects from much more ancient myths and cultures. Not being able to comprehend death, coping with loss, and surviving amongst others compelled humans to create scenarios to help with the grieving process, but also to guide behaviors while living. Fearing hell or eternal damnation urges people to engage in good conduct while they are alive. While major religions still dominate most of the population, scientific discoveries, an understanding of evolution, and realizing the many reasons why and how people die have altered the way some humans deal with loss and loosens the grip fear has over living behaviors. This may include the ways we view sex and sexual relationships, marriage, sexual orientation, to more reckless or harmful behaviors. It also includes how we observe major life events, such as marriage, birth, and of course death.

Customary ways to treat the deceased, for mourners to dress and behave, where, when, and how to dispose of the remains are just a few areas where religious observances have strict guidelines, but more recently secular and environmentally friendly ways to minister to remains have also become popular. Some of these methods include mushroom suits, aquamation, sky burials, and eternal reefs. “Green burials,” or, “eco-burials” eliminate preserving the body with chemicals or embalming fluids and take place 24-48 hours after death. They use a biodegradable coffin and seek to limit any unnecessary environmental impact. The human need to grieve can still take the form of a ceremony without religious overtones. Non-religious gatherings to remember the deceased and to formally say goodbye help mourners express their feelings and offer condolences to loved ones.

The need to create religions, although born out of the need for survival and to help make sense of death, has since twisted into the actual cause of countless massacres. The fact that so much violence has been, and still is, caused by religion is a sort of phenomenon, but since religions are such powerful forces in human society, they can be used as ideological weapons to justify wars, invasions, and persecutions. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years’ War, the Northern Ireland Conflict, the Holocaust, jihad in the Middle East, the Buddhist Uprising, are just a few. Modern times see new ways to wage religious war from suicide bombers who don’t fear death because they believe they will be honored in their afterlife, to Islamophobia causing hate crimes, to a rise of radical Christian fundamentalism in the United States that is causing a wave of intolerance, oppressive “religious freedom” laws, and general unrest. Religion went from helping humans deal with death to actually dealing in death. Presently, America is facing a white, Christian uprising that promotes guns, white male supremacy, and racial, religious, and cultural intolerance. The country is host to mass shootings at any given time, where the latest slaughter consisting of two mass shooting occurring less than 24 hours apart on August 3 and 4,  saw over 30 lives lost. The entire country shares condolences, holds memorial services, and attempts to come together universally regardless of belief systems. The families of those victims grieve together, yet separately based on their religion or lack thereof. It’s a labyrinthine cycle of belief systems causing murder then bringing strangers together to mourn.     

The Satanic Temple is a religion, but its tenets are clear. We do not proselytize, we are nonviolent, and we strive for justice. As Satanists we trust science, reject superstition, and aim to live compassionately without requiring the fear of supernatural retribution to do so. Losing a loved one may challenge these beliefs and may stimulate the desire to demonstrate our feelings or pay tribute in some grand way. Suffering the death of a loved one may compel us to consider the stories of an afterlife and heaven because it is a shock to our rationale to come to terms with death, especially of those we love deeply. As stated in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, “The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence. Death becomes a mere rite of passage, like puberty or a midlife crisis.” The psychological impact of loss affects everyone differently and the desire for something after death is understandable, but as Pinker suggests, life on Earth should not be diminished because it’s temporary; rather, its significance should be magnified for that reason and the lives of our loved ones regarded while they’re with us and after they’re gone with the utmost compassion.  


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In Truth We Trust

In recent years there has been a lot of controversy over certain American statues and memorials that honor historical figures who supported slavery and segregation. Similarly, there has been debate over American holidays that celebrate such individuals or dates that are rife with historical inaccuracies and violence. There is a strong divide between whether monuments of this nature should be removed because of their offensive and hateful symbolism or remain because of their perceived historical value. Over 30 memorials have been removed in Texas alone since 2017, with additional states also removing, relocating, or renaming confederate monuments. States like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, among others, swayed in the opposite direction by passing laws to hinder or outright prohibit the removing, relocating, or renaming of public confederate monuments. Some other compromises that have been made in several places have been to add disclaimers or more historical facts to the structures themselves or to add more diverse figures from history like women, people of color, Indigenous peoples etc., to balance out historical representation. New York City, for example, has a campaign underway called “She Built NYC” to add more statues of women around the five boroughs.   

Since it glorifies enslavement, hegemony, and the erasure of Native Americans, it has become fairly common not to celebrate Columbus Day. Some cities have begun to rename the day “Indigenous People’s Day,” including—in New York–Woodstock, Ithaca, Rochester, Rhinebeck, and several more. Lewiston, New York and Tompkins County, New York celebrate both. It isn’t well-known, but Indigenous People’s Day has actually been around since 1989 where it was adopted in South Dakota and originally named Native American Day.

Similar controversy surrounds July 4th, the day the thirteen colonies declared their independence from the British. While many people revel in having a day off to eat, drink, and relax, they fail to give much thought to the problematic nature of this particular holiday. Like Columbus Day, the Fourth of July dismisses the colonialization, rape, dehumanization, and genocide of Native Americans by the British. The Declaration of Independence, written by slave traders and owners, literally calls Native Americans “merciless Indian savages.” In the document’s famous phrase, “…all men are created equal…” the Declaration fails to recognize enslaved peoples and all women. Many abolitionists and feminists throughout history have attempted to amend the statement, or at least expose the problems with it. One such attempt was made in 1848 at the famous Seneca Falls Convention. Women drafted their “Declaration of Sentiments” which stated, “All men and women are created equal […].” It was never adopted.  

Of course there is the other crucial document, the Constitution, with its highly important First Amendment, which grants the Freedom of Speech. Does censoring or removing certain monuments infringe on this essential right? Does reassessing certain holidays that celebrate certain events or individuals border on censorship? These are critical questions to ask, but what is extremely clear is that the history of this nation is a violent and oppressive one. These facts should never be overlooked. Historical figures who supported and perpetuated slavery and the genocide of Native Americans should be recognized as the reprehensible humans they were and not branded as heroes. Holidays that recognize dates in history that discount the reality of this nation should not be celebrated but rather used to remember, acknowledge, and educate on the true history of the United States of America. A false narrative has been created and taught for too long in this country. The history books have been written by only one demographic who have had a very distorted version of the past. This distortion has shaped the landscape of America from who we admire to what we celebrate, our laws to our internalized biases. So, I think that instead of asking if the reassessment of particular monuments or holidays is problematic we should be asking why it has taken so long.    

One of The Satanic Temple’s Fundamental Tenets is “The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.” There are too many people, past and present, who have yet to get the justice and recognition they deserve. The true history of this nation has only begun to come to light. We all must continue the pursuit of facts and acknowledge the many faces of our history. We need to start celebrating the true heroes of this land and rewriting the history books without omissions or half-truths. It will definitely be an ongoing struggle, but a vital and necessary one. It is everyone’s task to bring justice to those who have failed to receive it for so long. It has long been time that the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America finally includes ALL its residents and amend its vile degradation of Native Americans. This Fourth of July, in addition to gathering with loved ones for a day of leisure, take a moment to reflect upon what the day is really about. Take a moment to teach others–never gloss over the true history of our country. We all have the power to make a difference.

Hail Satan.   

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Language, Identity, and Being Proud

Language and identity are interwoven. The labels people choose for themselves or that are chosen by others have a psychological impact, so much so that a body of research has been developed called, Labeling Theory, because of the effect words have on the mind. Language and word choice influence society on a massive scale. The novel 1984 by George Orwell demonstrates how those in power strive to control speech by limiting language, creating a new language called “Newspeak.” Controlling language, in essence, limits an individual’s freedom of thought which is also a theme in Orwell’s book. We can see how the current administration is attempting to control and limit language specifically targeting the queer community. Not only is the administration literally attempting to change the legal definition of “gender” to only consider biological genitalia, but the prevalence of “bathroom bills” being brought to the forefront to enforce this definition is a heinous attack on personal identity.

The transgender community in particular is being targeted with unjust legislation and discrimination. Transwomen of color especially face overwhelming violence and bias. In 2018 there were 26 violent deaths of transgender people in the United States with all but one trans women, and all but one were people of color. This group is at higher risk of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment specifically because of their identity. Other explicit examples of this type of targeted discrimination was seen in 2016 when anti-LGBTQ groups misgendered Gavin Grimm in their legal briefs regarding his bathroom access case in Virginia. More recently, also in Virginia, the Republican House Majority Leader requested to no longer use the titles “gentleman” or “gentlewoman” since Danica Roem, who is openly transgender, won her election. These are significantly egregious acts and exemplify how important language and identity are.

To deny someone their identity, or to “otherize” them because of it, is nothing new and not restricted to the United States. Throughout history invading groups would systematically strip away the identity of those they were invading. This tactic is used to dehumanize, degrade, and break the spirit of the invaded. There are even passages from the Bible that describe how to effectively take over entire populations by eradicating everything that is part of the identity of that population. Deuteronomy 7:1-5 states,

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you… then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them…But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their alters, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.”  

Presently these tactics can also be seen in parts of China with the banning of monasteries from teaching the Tibetan language in an effort to deny Tibetan youth their native identity.

Patriarchal systems have regulated language for most of history. This is seen in how feminized words are considered weak, for example insulting a boy or man by calling them a “pussy,” and how masculine words are strong such as in the phrase “to have balls.” Heteronormativity is a part of the patriarchal system and has guided language to degrade anything that strays from that structure. Calling something “gay” means it’s not cool or calling someone “queer” as an insult because they are not heterosexual. The Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “queer” literally as, “differing in some way from what is usual or normal.” A phenomenon of taking back labels or “reclaiming” them by the communities that were stereotyped by them has also demonstrated the value of words. “Queer” has been reclaimed by the LGBTQAI+ community and is now viewed as a positive and inclusive term.  Women reclaiming the word “bitch” is another example of this. Bitch is now used by women as a word of sisterhood and power.

With the ongoing awareness and realization of gender fluidity, pronouns are undergoing a transformation. Some individuals are choosing neither the masculine nor feminine pronouns but prefer to be addressed by they or them. New pronouns have been developed as well, such as zi or zir. Of course, there is an outcry against these new usages. With change usually comes confusion, but people need to realize that language, like the human species, is forever evolving. When Gloria Steinem revived the title of Ms. for women so their identity wasn’t attached to their marital status, there was public ridicule. Eventually Ms. became an accepted title and men and women also began to accept that women sustain their individuality regardless of their relationships. Language transforms and expands to include new discoveries, new technology, and new understanding. Gendered professional titles have evolved to be nongender specific, like “policeman” to police officer or “stewardess” to flight attendant. Words have been invented to keep up with technological advances like “emoji,” “podcast,” or “Bluetooth.” So as humans’ understanding of themselves continues to progress, so should the lexicon.

Of course, there is the fundamental freedom of speech as well as The Satanic Temple’s tenet expressing the right to offend. When people hurl insults at others they usually defend themselves by declaring their First Amendment right. People refusing to address nonbinary or transgender individuals properly is offensive, and while members of the TST recognize the right to offend, within that same tenet is the understanding that the freedoms of others should never be encroached upon. An individual’s freedom of identity is paramount and to deny that is to forgo your own freedom. Having the freedom to offend does not waive common decency, compassion, or kindness. TST tenets are driven by logic and state that they are “designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail…”

As we move forward as a society, let us choose our words carefully. Instead of restricting language or limiting its reach, language should be broadening to include the expansion of human identity and thought. Let us utilize our freedoms constructively and ensure the freedoms of others. Let us continue to evolve and pursue greater understanding. Let us continue to celebrate, support, and work together to create a world that is inclusive and compassionate to all. No matter our personal labels or how anyone identifies, no matter what language we speak or what words we use to describe ourselves, let us all, indeed, be proud this World Pride Month!

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It Takes a Religion: Church, TST, and winning the battle for bodily autonomy

Recent years have seen an overwhelming upsurge in anti-choice sentiment in local and national governments masked in radicalized Christian ideologies.  These ultra-conservative views have been able to overtake and bombard states with hazardous anti-choice policies. Whatever the reasons driving this obsession to overturn Roe v. Wade: misogyny, patriarchy, to control women, to control reproduction, greed; there needs to be a powerful, united effort against it.

There have been public outcries against this persistence to upend reproductive rights, but there’s no real driving opposition. The contentions to these heinous obstructions to personal freedom are mainly seen on social media. Large gatherings, demonstrations, and protests in the streets are needed to establish a staunch resistance. Hundreds of thousands of women marched on Washington, D.C. to successfully defend abortion rights in 1992. Huge pro-choice walk-outs and demonstrations took place in 2016 in Poland to successfully stop a total abortion ban in the country. Thousands of people protested and signed petitions in 2017 in South Korea that resulted in the decriminalization of abortion. The United States has had several “Women’s Marches” recently, but none focused solely on reproductive rights. Reproductive justice and bodily autonomy need to be central in repeated, national, concerted actions. 

The Satanic Temple can be a galvanizing force in these endeavors. The indignities demonstrated by the anti-women/anti-choice establishment are a direct affront to TST tenets and ideology. With TST’s new federal recognition as a religion along with the increased notoriety via the Hail Satan? documentary, TST can make a real, positive impact, unclasping the stranglehold misogynistic leaders currently have on this nation. Concrete efforts are already being made by individual chapters, and individual TST members have been networking via social media groups and forums to provide transportation and/or board for people who need to travel to obtain abortions. 

We need the leadership, direction, and organization of TST to counter and dismantle this patriarchal, hateful, and twisted regime before it goes too far. Their endgame is to overturn Roe v. Wade and the results of that would be catastrophic. I believe in The Satanic Temple, the strength of its community, and the purity of its vision. With each chapter working together to ensure the safety, autonomy, and freedom for anyone who is affected by these attacks on reproductive justice, the current bastion will weaken and crumble, and the march towards a logical and truly secular nation can begin.               

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