The Satanic Temple is out to smoke Christianity.
At a temple party inside a Denver warehouse just before Halloween, a girl with horns rips a page out of a Bible. It has a verse of Proverbs that says: be afraid of people who want to drag you to hell.
The girl sprinkles some sativa in it and rolls it up.
Her friend, a member of the Colorado Satanic Temple who goes by the "demoniker" Ada King, lights it and inhales.
Then, Ada King pulls on her horns, smears gold paint on her face and bare breasts, and takes the stage, playing the devil in an eerie ritual.
As scary music plays, black-robed Satanists burn Bible pages until they're ash. They invoke the temple's Seven Tenets, tenets which turn out to be surprisingly reasonable. A girl in lingerie holds a birthday cake, and temple members sing Happy Birthday to the Fallen One. "Hail Satan!" they say.
This is more than just a weird sideshow. Satanism is one of the fastest-growing religions in America, going from few members just four years ago to 100,000 today, the temple says. Its membership especially exploded after Trump's election. Chapters have sprung up in Arizona, Seattle and even overseas. Zeke Apollyon, chapter head in London, tells us they're attracting members in Scotland and Northern Ireland, participating in public rituals in Church of England buildings, and that the British census found a nearly 300 percent increase in self-described satanists in just four years.
The Satanic Temple doesn't actually believe in a literal Satan. They're mostly atheists. But they believe in the Biblical Satan's invitation: humans should gain knowledge and disobey God. Following that directive, they're in open revolt against Christian culture, opposing God's squad of pervy priests, ignorant creationists and hypocritical Jesus freaks.
Rolling joints with Bible pages, for instance, disgusts Christians, who want police to stop it. Satanists troll Christian bakers by ordering satanic cakes from them. They've paid for billboards that call Christians out for supporting spanking kids. They jokingly use black magic to turn the ghosts of anti-gay Christians gay, and drape their testicles on their headstones. And they're winning lawsuits saying that restrictions on abortion violate their religious belief that they control their own bodies. And when they push for their right to say satanic prayers at town council meetings, like they did in Arizona and Grand Junction, the whole town often freaks out.
At the Denver event, attended by about 50 people, it's a devil's ball — assuming the Dark One has a good sense of humor — and it's easy to see why they're attracting more members every day.
The bouncer wears a pentagram and a black hood and looks like a guy who'd enjoy watching small animals die in traps, until he lifts his hood and flashes a friendly smile. He has every party goer sign a liability waiver which, in fine print, says you sign over your soul to Lucifer. Every single person signs.
The costumes mock religion. The Mormon elder in genital-revealing bike shorts. The priest with the devil tattooed on his forearm. When you sneeze, they say "Satan bless you." To some, this is all too tongue-in-cheek. A newcomer surveys the appetizers — the caprese and the meatballs — and asks: "When do I get to eat the sacrificed baby?"
The temple, though, is not a joke. It is a real religion, even if an atheistic one. And it has become a big part of a lot of satanists's lives, who didn't know they were satanists until they first heard of the TST.
When she's not dressing like a demon, Ada King, 27, is a sweet person with an easy smile. She first heard of the Satanic Temple when she was living in Wichita, a place thick with Christian fundamentalism. As a teenager, her goth style clashed with the town's aesthetic; her mom literally threw King's gothic Tripp pants into a fire.
She's found a home in satanism, and a community. When her mom died of cancer last December, King couldn't afford to go home for the funeral. Her Satanic friends pooled their money and bought her a plane ticket.
Yes, these are kinder, gentler Satanists with a pro-social message. The Colorado Satanic Temple picks up trash on the streets and donates to the blood bank.
This night ends not in death and debauchery, but like a teen sleepover, with satanists lying on cushions watching a movie on a projector.
But the dark bouncer jokes they'd like to keep their dark mystique intact.
He tells me, "Make sure you write we had an orgy in the blood of sacrificed babies."