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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Non Serviam

With Donald Trump’s reign of terror still going strong, and right-wingers waging war on everyone from would-be gay adoptive parents, to Muslims, to transgender people who just gotta take a leak, the American people are starting to stick a collective middle finger in the eye of the status quo. But some play Human Rights Hardball a little more ferociously than others, don’t they?

Enter TST, or The Satanic Temple. A religion forged by individuals with common, deeply held beliefs and concerns which are a direct, and VERY serious, answer to the Puritanically-minded agenda of the American Conservative population – many of whom wish to not only make abortion illegal for pregnant people for ANY reason, but who seek to criminalize MISCARRIAGE, which is often unavoidable and unintentional as well. Naturally, this has sparked a powerful wave of outrage, and LOUD opposition. TST is standing at the front lines. Especially now that a few States, like Ohio and Alabama, have laws forcing even rape and incest victims to carry the fetus to term – no matter the age of the pregnant person. 

How can a tiny clump of cells have more right to “life” than the person whose body its very existence depends on? Why should that be?

Religious Reproductive Rights Campaign Logo

Without making this article about myself, I just quickly want to explain who I am, how I became involved in TST, and why I so desperately wanted to write about this event. My name is Artemis. I am a fairly new admission to TST’s NYC Chapter. I am a bisexual, non-binary person who grew up under the Catholic theocracy, spending several of my earliest childhood years in Montana (a very Red, VERY Christian state), listening to our preacher telling us women were made to be subservient, and other lovely things I’m sure you can imagine just fine.

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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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The Role of Religious Community, a.k.a. “Church” Family, in TST

A local chapter member and friend who I frequently run into at neighborhood metal bars, burlesque shows, and—really, everywhere, it seems, except TST events and meetings—recently explained he’d been absent because he felt he wasn’t “doing” anything at the meetings themselves or contributing substantively to the organization. My first impulse was to suggest outcome-oriented, irrefutably productive acts of devotion like volunteering at a reproductive rights fundraiser or writing a blog post for our website.  Since there are a fair number of TST members—many of whom lack prior affiliation with any religious group–were drawn in by its political activism and engagement in public affairs, there can be a perceived urgency to have a measurable impact socially, legally, environmentally, and so on, or else languish in futility, orbiting unnoticed.

Because my scruples were tequila’d into submission, I suggested the obvious before recognizing (to myself or to him) that a wonderfully salubrious social impact of TST occurs within the chapter itself, not just in the ethical deeds we extend to the vestiges of civilization. I’m referring to what other religions term “church family,” and it’s a major reason why non-believers and skeptics can be found in traditional houses of worship on Sunday mornings or whenever it is they congregate.

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