It would be easy to miss Tea Seremetkoski’s duplex in southwest Calgary among the row of residential homes if it weren’t for one distinctive decoration — the six-foot-high inverted cross on her front lawn.
Seremetkoski, who has been a card-carrying member of The Satanic Temple since 2015, says she has never hid her association with the organization despite its inherent controversial nature.
“If you tell somebody you’re a Satanist, they’re scared,” explains Seremetkoski. “They think you’re worshipping some like, mystic demon that they’ve been told about or whatever the case is. “
“In actuality, we’re just getting up in the morning, brushing our teeth, combing our hair and living our life.”
Along with her husband Viktor, Seremetkoski embarked on establishing a chapter of The Satanic Temple in Calgary last July, creating a Facebook event for an “unofficial, official meeting,” in which they would discuss the early stages of setting up the organization in Calgary.
Seremetkoski says she was inspired to organize after large fines were filed against her for unknowingly selling prohibited animal skulls through her art collective. Rather than pay the fines, Seremetkoski opted to spend four nights in jail.
After hearing similar stories from others, Seremetkoski says she felt inclined to host the meeting to find a way push back together, all under the banner of The Satanic Temple.
“They were looking for a way to fight the system, because everybody’s told one person can’t do anything,” says Seremetkoski. “If the only way we can do stuff is through an organization, well, let’s try.”
Part political organization, part anti-religion and part spiritual community, the modern Satanic Temple is a far-cry from the perceptions that may immediately come to mind.
Established in 2013, the temple is a religious organization based largely on social justice and political protest. Despite their name, The Satanic Temple’s website explains they do not worship or even believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural.
As put by Seremetkoski, they are “not into the ‘Sky-Daddy’ or the ‘Ground Troll’ worship.”
Instead, The Satanic Temple uses Satan, along with associated iconography like the pentagram and the goat-headed figure Baphomet, as symbols for protest and satire related to religious freedom, equality and separation of church and state.
In 2015, the organization made headlines for raising US$20,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to erect a statue of Baphomet to be placed beside an existing Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma City capitol ground to advocate for separation of church and state.
Ultimately, the Oklahoma State capitol opted to remove the Ten Commandments monument as a result.
According to Seremetkoski, the combination of political and spiritual aspects were what drew her to the organization.
“It is political in the sense that we are fighting because we don’t want religion in politics, we don’t want religion in schools, we want that totally separate, you know? But it’s also spiritual because it’s connecting people,” says Seremetkoski.
The Seven Tenets of The Satanic Temple
The Satanic Temple is based around seven principles, or tenets, dealing with social justice and personal freedoms.
These tenets, as stated on The Satanic Temple webpage, are:
- One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
- The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
- One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
- The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
- Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
- People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
- Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.
“There’s just seven different things we apply to our basic lives, and it’s just human, you know? We don’t worship anything other than what we can see,” explains Seremetkoski. “Science prevails, justice should prevail, your body is yours. You know, very basic guidelines.”
While the title of the organization may seem radical to some, Seremetkoski says she has found the tenets to be universal; explaining that many of the visitors to the Airbnb she hosts in the adjacent house agree with the printed-out tenets, she has left on the wall without context or title.
“We have them posted everywhere, but we don’t have it listed as The Satanic Temple — we just have it posted as tenets. And everyone who reads them are like, ‘Wow, these are great.’ And I’m like, ‘Welcome to being a Satanist.’” – Tea Seremetkoski
“We have them posted everywhere, but we don’t have it listed as The Satanic Temple — we just have it posted as tenets,” says Seremetkoski. “And everyone who reads them are like, ‘Wow, these are great.’”
“And I’m like, ‘Welcome to being a Satanist.’”
The bureaucracy of building The Satanic Temple
Since the initial meeting in July, which brought in around 20 people, Seremetkoski says establishing the chapter of the Satanic Temple has been slow moving.
While an early search regarding the availability of the organization’s name was approved, progress since has been difficult to make, with Seremetkoski saying it has an uphill battle to get a response from both government and The Satanic Temple headquarters in Salem, Mass.
There are 16 official chapters of The Satanic Temple in cities throughout North America, with Ottawa being the only Canadian city to play host to one.
Though Seremetkoski says she is willing to host the initial meetings through the community art house she runs under the name Baba’s Art Haus, she says she has no ambitions to run the chapter following inception.
“We told everyone there that day if we’re going to do this, we have to run it as a team,” says Seremetkoski. “Not as a figure-head making decisions, but for all intents and purposes, a true democracy.”
The many sides of Satanism
The Satanic Temple is just one of several denominations falling under the umbrella of Satanism.
Though The Satanic Temple and the Church of Satan are the most known sects, there are also off-shoots which deal more with occult-driven beliefs, such as the Temple of Set and Luciferianism, as well as the far more extreme and dangerous Order of the Nine Angles.
Tracy Derynck, a religious studies lecturer at Mount Royal University who teaches classes that touch on the topic of Satanism, says the commonalities of questioning authority, empowerment through knowledge and giving into earthly instincts tie the different denominations of Satanism together.
According to Derynck, a major appeal of Satanism as a whole is the rebellion against the status quo that it offers.
“When somebody gravitates towards Satanism, the number one thing is they’re trying to make a statement for themselves and about how they feel,” says Derynck. “It’s that thing of ‘Your idea of good sucks so much I would rather go off with Satan.’”
Derynck says she finds herself describing the religion in classes as far less intimidating than the immediate perception.
“I just make the point that this is just like humanism with spooky dress-up,” says Derynck. “People think they eat babies and stuff. And it’s like, no, they really don’t. Don’t watch so many movies.”
A fearful perception?
Both in personal life and through her efforts with The Satanic Temple, Seremetkoski has found ways to challenge the status quo.
Her one-year-old daughter, Mazikin, for example, was named after a character from the comic book Lucifer, who in turn was inspired by a type of demon from Jewish mythology.
Regarding the fearful perception that comes along with the idea of The Satanic Temple, Seremetkoski says she welcomes the hesitation, further applying the fear to the principle of critical thought that’s central to the temple as a whole.
“People should be scared. I think it’s a good thing,” says Seremetkoski. “You should be scared of any religion. I think people should question everything.”
Cover photo: Tea Seremetkoski, along with her husband Viktor and daughter Mazikin, stand around the inverted cross which sits on their front lawn in southwest Calgary. The family openly identify as members of The Satanic Temple, with Tea noting that she has never shied away from the controversial title in the past. Photo by Nathan Kunz.