March 17, 2023 | FEATURES | By Asa Gartrell
This piece was initially written as an assignment for GS216: Introduction to Journalism. It has been edited by The Catalyst’s staff for content and clarity.
“No gods, no masters.”
So says Christopheles, a member of The Satanic Temple South in Colorado Springs.
The comment comes at a time when it might feel like America has awoken a new kind of ‘Satanic Panic,’ as rural Paonia welcomes its first After School Satan Club and a demonic GRAMMY performance elicited concerned comments from political figures. But in Colorado Springs, a small group uses satanic symbolism to promote care for the community and each other.
Since its founding by the quaker general William Palmer in 1871, Colorado’s second-largest city has been a cradle of religious activity.
Today, the city boasts more than 400 churches, many of which got their start in the 1870s. The 1930s and ‘40s saw a rise in evangelism, and the Springs became a magnet for evangelist congregations after Young Life and the Navigators arrived in the mid-19th century, according to Colorado Public Radio. The Springs experienced a 167% increase in religious organizations between 1986 and 1993, largely due to the arrival of the parachurch organization Focus on the Family in 1991.
But in 2006, this expansion slowed when a male prostitute exposed Springs-based megachurch pastor Ted Haggard for soliciting his services and buying crystal meth.
The news created turbulence in the parachurches of the Springs, and smaller congregations provided a religious alternative. In the shadow of the city’s large ministerial organizations – which bring in more than a billion dollars a year – the religious character of the city is vibrant and varied; the Springs boasts evangelist congregations large and small, numerous denominations of Christianity, progressive churches, a handful of synagogues, eastern meditation centers, and an Islamic society.
Among these religious groups is a relatively new face on the block: The Satanic Temple South, also known as TST South. Distinct from the national Satanic Temple based in Salem, Massachusetts, the Springs’ congregation is a branch of the Satanic Temple Colorado and has worked to establish itself throughout the 2010s.
“We’re trying to be a new church, a new religion with the same protections as any other group,” said Christopheles in an interview following a recent Tuesday-night meeting in the basement of Bar-K downtown. (Congregants use alternative names, called ‘satanyms,’ within the TST circle.)
“The Springs is a hotbed for all religious groups and a very exciting environment to be a part of,” Christopheles said.
Among pinball machines and ping-pong tables, the congregants of The Satanic Temple South meet weekly in the bar’s austere basement on East Costilla Street. Neon signs and bright lights play across beer advertisements and hardwood floors. In contrast to the wood-paneled warmth of All Souls Unitarian Church or the reverent, vaulted chamber of St. Mary’s Cathedral, TST South’s home in the brightly lit basement suggests, perhaps, that outer appearances are secondary.
For TST South, it’s all about the messaging.
In accordance with The Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple, the group aims to challenge arbitrary norms and tyrannical authority. TST has pursued this goal by starting Colorado’s first After School Satan Club at Paonia K-8, which had its first meeting on Monday, March 6.
Following other branches across the nation, Paonia’s ASSC serves as an alternative to Christian programs. Another critical demonstration came in the form of a goat-headed statue next to a monument of the Ten Commandments outside the Little Rock capitol in Arkansas.
“I interpret the world as being a sort of default that’s heteronormative and Christian. It’s fine for people to be like that, but they often don’t see the kind of privileges they’re afforded,” said Autumn, a congregant of TST South. “When we show the public some evil-looking shit, there’s a point to it.”
These actions reflect the Temple’s belief that public affairs should be open to all religions or free from any established religious presence.
“When we start these events off with a prayer like we show up and do some bizarre thing and people freak the fuck out. We’re like yea, that’s how we feel about you,” Autumn said. “This is how you make us feel, and you don’t see it.”
TST South members say their Satanic iconography represents a challenge to the status quo.
As practitioners of non-theistic satanism, many members don’t believe in God, the devil, heaven, or hell. Instead, they identify Satan as a rebellious character who gave mankind knowledge.
They also stand for promoting an empathetic and benevolent world.
This manifests in cemetery and highway cleanups, organizing ‘Menstruatin’ with Satan,’ a period product drive, and gathering donations for Hero’s Puppy for Life, a non-profit that supports veterans and first responders. Another component of this vision is a focus on personal autonomy. The congregants of TST South make a point not to proselytize, instead promoting guidance by the individual will.
“My satanism is mine, no one can tell me how to Satan, just as I cannot tell anyone else how to Satan,” said Dux, a TST South congregant.
In light of the attention the national organization has received for actions such as establishing an online abortion clinic, Dux said the group has experienced shallow, sensational national press, but he feels they have been received well locally.
“I’ve never gone to the Satanic Temple or done anything with them, but I have had a lot of experience talking to and interviewing people who survived the Club Q mass shooting through some of my own reporting,” said Devan Karp, a reporter for KOAA News5 in the Springs. “A good portion of the people told me that they go to the Satanic Temple. They’ve said it’s a very comforting, nurturing space, and they’ve felt very safe there after everything that happened to them.”
Underneath TST South’s devilish imagery lies the common characteristics of many religions.
Their aim is to create an assembly of like-minded people committed to furthering altruistic principles in their community. Moreover, they strive to offer an accepting environment and a sense of shared understanding.
Dion, short for Dionysus, is an unofficial congregant of TST South. The Satanic Temple has provided them with what they call the “most welcoming, non-judgmental group of people” they’ve ever been around.
“This is really corny,” they said. “But it’s been like finding family – like finding home.”