Last month, the Satanic Temple announced plans to install a public monument at Veterans Memorial Park in Belle Plaine, MN. A somber black cube holding an upturned helmet with inverted pentagrams on its sides, the monument, commissioned by the temple, is a collaboration between sculptor Chris Andres and metalworker Adam Volpe. The monument came about after the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue Belle Plaine for allowing the display of a metal soldier silhouette kneeling beside a Christian cross at the park. In response, the city decided to designate a portion of the park as a limited public forum where any group, for a temporary period, could pay tribute to the fallen as they saw fit. And in came the Satanists.
"Everyone understood this could happen," said Belle Plaine resident Andy Parrish, who led the effort to restore the cross, in an interview with NBC affiliate KARE 11. "It's more annoying than it is offensive."
Sketch of the monument.
The Satanic Temple's co-founder and spokesman Lucien Greaves, however, sees this affair quite differently. He gives credit to the city, telling Creators that Belle Plaine's move was a way of avoiding an Establishment Clause issue, so that the monuments are now not government speech.
"The inevitable upshot of this move, however, was that Belle Plaine had no choice but to also accept a monument from The Satanic Temple," explains Greaves. "The Freedom From Religion Foundation, clearly, wanted to test whether or not Belle Plaine would respect the law by exercising viewpoint neutrality, or if they would illegally reject our monument, demonstrating that they only ever intended to respect their own approved religious voices. To their credit, Belle Plaine offered no resistance at all."
In early concept sketches for the Satanic Temple's monument, Andres imagined a Romantic Luciferian character that conceptually inverted the sculptures showing Saint Michael as an angelic warrior. While the temple loved it, Andres began thinking of something else inspired by Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., a fallen black obelisk embedded in the ground, and the giant steel cube sculpture, Die, by Tony Smith.
These two references, along with the three-foot size restriction and esoteric rituals of Satan/Baphomet dealing with intellectual and spiritual illumination, ultimately led Andres to create a monument that was a ceremonial object. The Freemason concept of self-evolution and spiritual perfection was also a cornerstone of the cube. Andres points out that when the cube is geometrically unfolded it becomes a cross, which references Christ as a Left-Hand Path, or black magic, rebel.
For Andres, the Belle Plain monument will serve as an "individual and communal chaos magic that must never impede on human freedom, scientific models, and plurality." The monument is also personal for Andres, whose brothers and late father were US veterans.
"The [monument's] helmet protects the seat of our soul, the brain, the mind, our reason, memories, identities, and our imagination," Andres notes. "Our truest human essence is housed in our grey matter. The upturned helmet on the monument becomes a void, the loss of our soldier, and empty vessel to place our contemplation for a veteran's sacrifice."
Volpe, who is completely self-taught as a metalworker specializing in bringing objects from movies, games, and illustrations to life, has no connection to the Temple. Volpe tells Creators that he has learned a specialized metalworking process for his monument design, with the majority of the monument being hardened steel typically used for bullet-resistant armor plates.
Volpe is electro-mechanically etching the pentagrams into the cube's surface, then making them stand out by melting bronze into the etched areas. To add a blackened patina to the cube, Volpe is applying a chemical oxide, which doubles as a rust protectant. He is both excited about the monument being a first of its kind and a bit anxious about the attention it will bring.
Katy Novatny, a Belle Plaine resident and spokesperson for Parrish's effort to restore the cross silhouette, says that as long as the temple's monument honors veterans, then all is well. She insists that the silhouette's supporters realize that not everyone shares the same beliefs, and that it wasn't set up to only represent Christians.
"We have never excluded anyone based on religious or social beliefs," she says, noting that everyone should be able to honor veterans, and that each monument shares the same opportunities for annual renewal. "We simply don't see our soldiers' grave marker as a religious symbol. It's something that has marked our soldiers' graves for a very long time."
Many people might beg to differ on this point. Even if it is a grave marker, the cross remains a religious symbol, and one placed in a public space in violation of the Establishment Clause. For his part, Andres believes the Satanic Temple's monument more fairly represents the diversity of veterans' beliefs or non-beliefs.
"[Veterans] do not represent only one religious background, but many and none at all," Andres notes. "Numerous aesthetic and philosophical perspectives congealed to inform my design of the monument. Those perspectives contain warring theologies—Satanic insight, Christian, Islamic, and Judaic mysticism, humanistic materialism—plural perspectives that dissolve into the romantic crucible of the American project."