“I feel like I’m on a personal mission to prove that smart movies don’t have
to be deadly serious and fun movies don’t have to be stupid”
- Penny Lane, director of Hail Satan?
Penny Lane’s documentary, Hail Satan?, more than accomplishes her mission. This is a smart, funny, entertaining and thought provoking film.
I have to admit that, going in, I knew next to nothing about Satanism. Turns out, neither did Lane. “I’ve always been a secular person my whole life, so I assumed that Satanists practiced animal sacrifices, at least pretended to murder babies, and things like that,” she says. “All of which turned out to be completely false.”
As a result, Hail Satan? offers a gripping and compelling insight into contemporary Satanism. Speaking to its founders and many of its members (some, fearing reprisals, have their faces obscured), Hail Satan? explores what it means to be a Satanist today. Why are they attracted to this religion? What are their beliefs?
“We are not who you think we are,” a representative of the Satanic Temple states at the beginning of the documentary - and no truer words could be said.
However, it soon becomes clear that the Temple faces a real challenge. The organisation has to face years of anti-Satanic fear mongering and misinformation. How can they combat such fear, anger and ignorance?
For both the Satanic Temple and Lane’s documentary, the answer is humour and compassion. This approach is utterly disarming and helps to open the most skeptical of minds - exposing the real issues that we need to fear in the world.
The process of making Hail Satan? began with a meeting with Lucien Greaves, co-founder and spokesperson for the Satanic Temple. “My knee-jerk reaction was always to say no,” he recalls. Thankfully, Lane earned his trust. Greaves is absolutely fascinating to watch and he becomes our main guide to contemporary Satanism.
In addition, Lane approached several other key Temple figures including spokesperson, Jex Blackmore. She provides the perfect counterbalance to Greaves - particularly because they have conflicting ideas about how best to get their message across.
There are, of course, very serious issues at play. The Satanic Temple’s main concern, as depicted in the documentary, is to protect religious freedom. For example, Greaves wants to remind Americans that the US is not a Christian country. It is supposed to be a democratic, pluralist nation. Church and state, people, church and state.
Indeed, this is just what drew producer, Gabriel Sedgwick, to the documentary project. “I’m Swedish, so the complicated relationship between faith and politics in the United States has always fascinated and mystified me,” he says. “That’s because I’m from a country where that type of mixture just doesn’t exist. Bringing religion into the political arena in Sweden is entirely taboo.”
For many years, Sedgwick had wondered how he could make a film that explored this
controversial topic in a compelling way. “Luckily, the Satanic Temple appeared on my radar and instantly spoke to my gut,” he explains. “I first heard about the Temple about three years ago when they were involved in a string of news events around the country. In terms of the cross-section of politics and religion, I thought they were extremely interesting and would make a terrific subject for a documentary.”
However, while they knew what film they wanted to make, Segwick and Lane were not quite sure how the story would unfold. “In my ten-plus years of filmmaking, I’ve never made a documentary where I didn’t already know how the film would end at the beginning of the
production,” states Lane. “I’ve never followed events as they happened over time. So, for me, the biggest challenge on Hail Satan? was learning how to manage that type of uncertainty.”
Uncertainty led Lane into some unexpectedly moving areas - particularly when she realised just how spiritually and emotionally fulfilling the Satanic Temple had become to its members. “It’s helped a huge number of people, who’ve felt like outsiders, come together and form a community,” she explains. “That was very moving to me on a personal level, because I’ve always been a secular and skeptical outsider my whole life. It made me think that my knee-jerk reaction against religion was misplaced.”
While compassion is key and Greaves (far more than Blackmore) is adamant that his is a peaceful, non-violent religion, the Satanic Temple is far from averse to controversial and provocative acts.
Greaves understands the media, he knows how to play the game and how to get attention. He pushes all the right buttons, he offends the offensive. Then, he takes the wind out of his opponent’s sales by appearing calm and entirely reasonable.
His tactics are pure genius. Nowhere is this more clear than when the Satanic Temple objects to the placement of a monument to the Ten Commandments on state property. To maintain the appearance of fairness, the Temple petitions the state to add a (crowd-funded) seven-foot statue of the goat-headed deity Baphomet alongside the Christian marker.
It is delicious to watch the chaos that then unfolds. I think we are all Penny Lane when we discover where many of these Ten Commandments monuments come from. It is farcical. Yet, the Satanic Temple takes no issue with the belief system of any religion. All the group wants is to ensure that all religions are acknowledged and treated fairly.
The way Hail Satan? explores these issues is light, fun and entertaining. However, our enjoyment is tempered by the disturbing threats of violence that the Satanists face. As we see Greaves donning a bullet proof vest, we understand just how high the stakes are - it is truly frightening.
The threats are, of course, born of fear and ignorance. However, the briefest look at the seven tenets that underpin the Satanic Temple confirms that there is nothing to fear here:
The Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple
1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance
2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws
3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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
Having watched Hail Satan? and read these tenets, it is easy to understand why the Satanic Temple has witnessed such phenomenal global growth (from three to 100,000 members in just three years). “The Satanic Temple is thriving right now because they’ve built a community of shared ideals that are religious in nature, while separating the supernatural aspect from it,” Sedgwick explans. “That’s clearly something that serves a need for many people.”
Hail Satan? is a thought provoking and compelling documentary. It is also an inspiring and empowering exploration of how much you can achieve through non-violent activism. “I’d love for viewers to realise that you can make a really big impact on people’s lives without lots of money, or political influence, or powerful connections,” says Lane. “With nothing more than a really smart idea, and maybe a few friends, you can change the world.”