Salem, meet your new neighbor: The Satanic Temple
When The Satanic Temple officially opened its doors on Friday, Salem became home to the organization’s international headquarters.
But pitchfork-wielding mobs protesting the move seem unlikely, as the fire-and-brimstone theology of the Puritans who once populated the city has given way to a “live and let live” attitude in present day Salem.
Less than a mile from Gallows Hill — the notorious spot where villagers executed more than a dozen people accused of witchcraft in the 1690s — an 1882 Victorian on Bridge Street will serve as The Satanic Temple’s first physical headquarters, said Lucien Greaves, the temple’s spokesman.
“The history of Salem is also part of the history of Satanism,” Greaves said. “I feel that [Salem] is a very appropriate place for this” temple.
The Satanic Temple building, which is zoned as an art gallery, will open to the public with art installations, lectures, and film screenings, said Greaves, a Cambridge resident.
Those expecting the kind of demonic scenes portrayed in Roman Polanski’s 1968 film, “Rosemary’s Baby,” will likely find themselves disappointed.
Dating back centuries, Satanism has been misunderstood by wide swaths of American society, Greaves said. Satanists do not worship an Antichrist, or any other deity. Rather, Satanism preaches independent thought and using evidence-based science as a basis for understanding the world, and views Satan as a literary figure representing an eternal struggle against authoritarianism.
The Satanic Temple currently has about 40,000 members nationwide, Greaves said. Chapters have engaged in a number of campaigns supporting causes such as separation of church and state and free speech.
Members caused controversy in Oklahoma City when they unsuccessfully lobbied for a bronze statue of Baphomet — a winged figure with the head of a goat and body of a human — to be displayed next to a Ten Commandments monument on state capitol grounds. The Ten Commandments statue was removed after the state Supreme Court last year ruled a religious sculpture cannot be displayed on government property.
So far, residents and business owners in Salem seem at ease with adding Satanists to the Witch City’s mixed bag of Wiccans, warlocks, and an array of faiths outside the mainstream.
“We’ve received a total of four phone calls” about the temple, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll’s chief of staff, Dominick Pangallo, said Monday. “They were just expressing concerns or objections.”
The one issue the city is looking into is whether the temple will operate as a place of assembly in addition to a museum because of possible zoning issues, Pangallo said.
Until last week, Robert Liani Jr., who owns the Coffee Time Bake Shop down the street, had no idea that The Satanic Temple was moving into the building that last housed an insurance brokerage and previously was a longtime funeral home.
Liani, who organizes a community pride landscaping competition among business owners in the area, said he doubts the temple will face much backlash.
“It wouldn’t be my favorite thing to put there,” Liani said. “It was a little surprising, but I guess we’re waiting to see what kind of art they show there.”
With newly installed steel bars on the windows and security cameras in place to protect against vandalism, The Satanic Temple will be open during October, when approximately 250,000 tourists visit Salem during the Halloween season, according to Destination Salem.
Rather than worrying about public reception, Greaves hopes the influx of tourists will result in a high volume of temple visitors, he said. As for locals, anyone with doubts or fears will likely come around in time.
“We’re not going to be going door to door proselytizing,” Greaves said. “We don’t want to cause any controversy in the community in Salem.”