Photos by Matt Anderson, courtesy of event organizers
There's an old saying in the South that when it's raining while the sun is shining it means the Devil is beating his wife (he's mad at God making it sunny, see). This past Saturday, the Devil was up to his vilest shit in Detroit because the rain poured and the sun shone on protesters gathered to condemn the unveiling of a long-awaited statue of Baphomet, the ram-headed, winged figure with opposite hands pointing North and South who symbolizes the duality of bright and dark of the Satanic Temple.
The event was so polarizing I had to contractually sell my soul to the Devil to witness it, and just to get to that point I had to go on a cross-city, 90-minute-long Satanic Easter egg hunt to reach the secret venue where it was held to avoid protesters. It was so juicy that CNN had scored the exclusive broadcast rights, although the final event would basically amount to a good, old-fashioned rave. The one-ton, nine-foot-tall statue had traveled a long way to be there.
The Baphomet statue was originally conceived by The Satanic Temple in protest of a Ten Commandments monument erected on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds in 2012. On its website, the Satanic Temple describes its mission as one “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.” It does not advocate for worshipping a mythical Satan but rather for advancing “rational inquiry.” Essentially, its credo is one of civil libertarianism, and among the issues it advocates for is the separation of church and state.
The Baphomet statue never made it to the Oklahoma Capitol grounds, but it got its point across: The fight prompted the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule that the Ten Commandments statue is in violation of the state constitution, noting that its existence on state grounds shows preferential treatment to a specific religion.
On Saturday, I met Satanic Temple founder Lucien Greaves— real name Doug Mesner—an outwardly humble and self-aware guy with an underlying charisma. His left eye is clouded pale grey, which juxtaposed with the olive drab of his right iris, lends itself to the equal duality he promotes: It literally appears on his face. He told me that the Oklahoma Governor and the state's Attorney General are now considering rewriting the constitution to suit their interests—in which case, he's happy to take the issue to civil court.
“Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General, seem to be genuinely stupid people,” he told me. “And they have mishandled the whole Baphomet application from the from the very beginning, so I feel if they give us the benefit of being allowed to sue for placement of Baphomet on public grounds, that lawsuit will reveal an entire culture of corruption and incompetence within the state government in Oklahoma, and I think that would probably be for the best."
Graves said that if the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling is upheld, which it since has been, Baphomet will travel to Arkansas, where the governor signed a bill earlier this year that authorizes a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol’s grounds. For the moment, though, it was in Detroit, where The Satanic Temple has a robust and longstanding presence. The buzz in the city was palapable the whole week leading up to the unveiling: On one side, Christian protesters were doing what they could to build an outcry against it; on the other, people were talking about it as a concert not to be missed, with sets from Wolf Eyes, Sadist, and William Morrison of industrial masterminds Skinny Puppy.
When I reached Bert's Warehouse, the theater that was originally set to be the site of the unveiling, early Saturday evening, a mass of around 50 protesters were huddling together under swelling rain clouds. With bullhorns and other tools, they warned of the impending danger.
“Any spirit of that magnitude is devastating to this city and we don't need that,” Brianna McKoy of Detroit told me. Bill Pye, of Plymouth, Michicgan, had brought a shofar, a polished ram's horn that one can blow through to induce a cry that expels demons and unwanted intruders. He pursed his lips and blew to demonstrate. The response was a drizzle from the heavens. He handed it to me and I attempted to create the same sound and fail. In came another thunderclap and more rain. Talking to these protesters it became instantly apparent that most were unaware that the monument’s occupation would last just one night before it headed into storage. But, hey, protesting Satan is always a good activity for a Saturday night.
So is celebrating, though. Due to fears about protesters, the organizers led revelers to a different secret location for the rave. We met outside a small, abandoned building, where Lisa Ling and the producers of CNN waited alongside a line of people, most of whom refused to give their name or speak to a reporter about why this event was important to them. In the building, I was asked to confirm my identity, given a gold wristband and a 666 stamp on my left hand, and, before receiving the location where the final event would take place, sign a contract that transferred my soul to the Devil. I signed without so much as an eyeroll. The theatrics of secrecy felt less like the cultish practice of some outlaw church and more like the old days of Midwestern raves where teens would have to follow checkpoints to get to the middle of bumfuck nowhere to party. Police were heavily protecting the Satanists from death threats. A woman with a spray bottle containing holy water sprayed us from behind. "Be gone!" She shouted, but it was difficult to feel what was rain and what was holy.
The instructions for the route told us to look for a "psychopomp wearing a red scarf" at the corner of a street near the waterfront. I hopped in an Uber to get there, and found the "red scarfed pychopomp" standing, umbrella in hand. Confirming just how small the youth culture crowd in Detroit really is—and how for many this event was not so much a global Satanic expo as another cool weekend concert—he turned out to be none other than my next door neighbor. A giant neon red inverted cross gave the warehouse an awful glow. Guests began to trickle in—some dressed for the occasion in all black and over-the-top make-up—the vibe not so far off from a wine mixer full of young graphic designers and art gallery curators. As several people noted, it was like a Halloween party in July. Baphomet's looming presence remained cloaked and pushed off to the side. Still, some people had traveled from New York and LA and everywhere in between for the event, and the energy kicked in after doom-punk band Sadist began to warm the crowd up for the headline set from Wolf Eyes.
“When they offered a gig doing this unveiling jump off the boys were stoked,” Wolf Eyes drummer John Olson later told me over email. They'd basically written it off as a cool opportunity and forgotten about it, but at the beginning of the tour they began to realize the controversy. “I saw it and remembered the gig and saw the online terror and was totally blown away,” he continued. “And it was at the end of this tour, so the stage was set for serious hometown first amendment DAMAGE.” The group's set worked like a noise seance to charge the crowd before the unveiling. Through the fog and smoke, as Wolf Eyes raged, there was a sense of unity that had absolutely nothing to do with religion: People inside and outside the scene had simply found a loudness they could call their own.
Around 11 PM Greaves began a sermon, opening with a quote from Luke 11:34 about "Your eye being the lamp of the body." More rainwater flooded through a hole in the roof, creating a waterfall as he spoke. Greaves felt more like a rock star than a cult figure, David Byrne rather than Jim Jones. He spoke about the duality of life and the necessary co-existence of good and evil. It felt part Tumblr philosophy silliness, part heartfelt, and he won the crowd over, even as the over-the-top theatrics ultimately disseminated any seriousness of the event.
Finally the unveiling began, to cheers of "Hail Satan!" The sheet was pulled off, and the monolithic mammoth Baphomet was revealed to more ear-shattering cries. While no cameras were technically allowed, cell phones were in full use. After a gaggle of models—men in capes and red painted women—posed and offered lap dances to the horned beast and its bronze children, Michael Mars—a member of the Satanic Temple best described as a local vagabond—pulled me up and we posed while I tried to keep a straight face. The whole thing telt Instahammy, religious beliefs aside, the Baphomet simply a giant set piece, the dark, adult equivalent of posing with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
In true Satanic spirit, the night took a turn into full Bacchanalia. Greaves sat on the throne looking on with a giant grin on his face, Baphomet's wings outstretched and his horn protruding above his head, as the worshipers, friends, curiosities, and heathens chanted. The protesters ended up blowing ram's horns for little more than a rave for kids on acid who ended the night waiting for Ubers to scoop them from a warehouse in Detroit and deliver them home.
Max de la Garza is a writer living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter.