SALEM — The Satanic Temple, a nationally recognized political and religious organization, is moving its international headquarters to Bridge Street and opening Friday, Sept. 23.
The organization is taking up shop at 64 Bridge St., a former funeral home and Victorian mansion around the corner from Carlton Elementary School. It comes paired with Salem Art Gallery, an exhibit hall aimed at educating guests about topics including the "Satanic Panic" that began in the 1980s and has followed Satanists ever since, said organization spokesman Lucien Greaves.
Greaves, born Doug Mesner, said the move to Salem aligns the Satanic Temple with the historical background of Salem.
"A lot of people see us as divisive when they see the name," Greaves said. "If you look at all the things we've done, we've always asserted our own affirmative values and asserted pluralism and respect for minority views, and just open inclusiveness. That's where we fit in."
The name may seem familiar.
The Satanic Temple has frequently been in the national news, often for responding to religious displays and religious programs using public property by requesting its own. A notable recent example is the organization's efforts to put a statue of the Satanic idol Baphomet alongside a Ten Commandments display on the Capital grounds in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Media coverage shows the same happening in Oklahoma, and the organization touts "After School Satan," a campaign pushing for Satanism-based extracurricular clubs for children featuring "a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view."
Greaves said the Satanic Temple "isn't an attack on anybody."
"We've had discussions with all kinds of different religious groups in the past, and one thing we always like to make clear is when we're fighting for our voice, we don't feel like we're fighting selfishly for the people who self-identify as Satanists," Greaves said. "We're fighting for everybody's religious freedoms."
But conflict seems to follow The Satanic Temple everywhere it goes. As the organization opens its doors in Salem Sept. 23, it does so with fully barred windows and advanced security systems protecting the property, Greaves said.
That's because people don't understand Satanism at its core and often resort to violence or making threats, he said.
Entries on The Urban Dictionary describe Satanism as "not one single religion," "a religion with many definitions" and "something most people on Urban Dictionary, and the world, obviously know nothing about." Dictionary.com meanwhile defines it as "the worship of Satan or the powers of evil," and "a travesty of Christian rites in which Satan is worshiped."
The Satanic Temple website, however, describes its mission as one encouraging "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."
To the Satanic Temple, Satan is "symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds," the organization's website reads.
"It is the position of The Satanic Temple that religion can, and should, be divorced from superstition," the website reads. "As such, we do not promote a belief in a personal Satan."
The Salem Art Gallery brings publicly available exhibits to the building that, among other things, will highlight the Satanic Panic, a witch hunt-like phenomenon Greaves said is responsible for the public's fear of Satanism going back to the 1980s.
"There really came into prominence this irresponsible, therapeutic technique of recovering repressed memories that were thought to be lurking in people's minds," he said. "This is the same for discredited techniques of recalling past lives, memories of alien abductions. It's no better than that and is all debunked scientifically, but at the same time, people were taking it seriously and the talk show hosts would give these kinds of narratives — Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael."
Greaves said the gallery will hopefully have various events, including book and author nights, film screenings and lectures.
"I think it'll be a nice little place," he said. "I'm hoping we develop a good, little, solid community there of interested people, and I think we will."
City leaders, meanwhile, aren't sure what to make of The Satanic Temple.
Though Greaves said he recently sent a letter to Mayor Kim Driscoll, her chief of staff, Dominick Pangallo, said he knew nothing of it.
"They haven't reached out to the mayor's office," Pangallo said. "The first we were hearing about it is today (Wednesday)."
Pangallo said city officials are working to get a better understanding of the temple's intended use. That connects to building permits, zoning and the like.
"An art gallery is one use, but a place of assembly is a different use and may have ramifications for their plans for the use of the building," Pangallo said. "If it's a place of assembly, there are certainly requirements for exits, sprinklers."
City Council President Josh Turiel, meanwhile, said he had "no objection to any religious group who wants to be here. I just want them to be good citizens, obey the laws, and mind their own business. And leave people alone who want to be left alone."
Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523, DLuca@salemnews.com or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.