It’s only February and The Witch is being touted as the year’s best horror film (read Kalyn’s review from Fantastic Fest). As you may have read a few weeks ago, The Satanic Temple recently backed the film and took it on a four-city tour starting in New York, before moving on to Austin, Los Angeles and Detroit. I am lucky enough to live in Austin, where the Temple was making their third stop on the tour, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to partake in this unique experience (and it was a truly unique experience unlike any other). Interestingly enough, the Satanic Temple turns out to be the most appropriate sponsor for Robert Eggers’ terrifying horror film, and the ritual (which they called the Sabbat Ritual) was a ritualized “Convocation of the Godless” that denoted the inauguration of a “Satanic Revolution.” It was meant to “inspire a Satanic uprising against the tyrannical vestiges of bigoted superstitions, and will harken a new era of liberation and unfettered inquiry,” according to the event details.
I had already seen Robert Eggers’ film back in September at Fantastic Fest as well, and I enjoyed it immensely (not as much as Kalyn, but I still enjoyed it), but I wanted to see it a second time to let the film wash over me again. Upon a second viewing, I found myself noticing a ton of things that I didn’t catch the first time around, and I even found the film to be scarier the second time. It’s a miracle what tempered expectations can do to your opinion of a film.
Before I get to the real meat of this story, I would like to say my piece on The Witch: it is an excellent film. It is absolutely gorgeous filled with stellar performances (especially from the children). The score is haunting, the atmosphere is incredibly tense and it is quite scary. That being said, The Witch will be this year’s Babadook and It Follows. The hype tarnished my viewing experience at Fantastic Fest (not by much, but the effect was still there), so I can only imagine how much the hype has grown five months later. The Witch is a slow burn and has maybe a total of three jump scares (which is a breath of fresh air), but still manages to be incredibly tense and scary all throughout the film. Yet many people will walk out of the film claiming that it is either “boring” or “not scary.” That is inevitable, and before you go see it, I implore you to go in as blind as possible. Try not to read glowing reviews (maybe even just read the bad ones). Hopefully this will help you temper your expectations and will allow you to enjoy the film more.
Moving on, the schedule we were given for the night’s events was as follows:
6:30pm Check-in opens
6:45pm Jex Blackmore introduces screening and reminds guests of the ritual to follow.
7:00pm Screening starts at THE ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE
8:30pm Doors at THE SIDEWINDER bar open to public
9:30pm Ritual begins
The screening was held at the fabulous Alamo Drafthouse in the heart of downtown Austin. In case you didn’t know, the Alamo Drafthouse is the best movie theater in existence. Seriously though, its presence is enough to make me never want to move away. It’s that good. Anyway, I arrived, took my seat, ordered some food & booze and watched The Witch for the second time after Ms. Blackmore introduced the film.
After the screening, I took a 3-block walk to The Sidewinder, the venue for the Satanic Ritual. Just to give you a little bit of background on me: I was born and raised Catholic. I was raised to love God, worship Jesus, fear the Devil, etc. I’m almost 27, and at this point in my life I suppose I consider myself more of an agnostic, but I have a strong aversion to organized religion (it always sounds a little too cult-y to me). Nevertheless, some of those religious fears that were integrated into my mind are still there, so while I was open to the idea of attending a Satanic Ritual, I was more than a little nervous. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fear for my life at one point. I had this crazy idea that everyone present was going to get sacrificed at some point. I should have done my research on the Satanic Temple, as that did not happen and is not at all what they’re into, as you can see here. Seeing as I am not a member of the Satanic Temple, my terminology may not be correct for some of their titles. I apologize for that.
The Sidewinder is a typical Austin bar, and is probably the perfect place for a SXSW venue since it’s small and has a backyard (meaning people will be packed like sardines in this bar for that entire week).
Unfortunately, cell phones of any sort were not allowed in the bar, due to the fact that there was going to be nudity during the ritual, so I don’t have any photos that I can show off here. My words will just have to do. The Temple paid for all of our drinks, which I thought was polite (or an easy way to lower our inhibitions before they sacrificed us to Satan), and after about 30 minutes of waiting we were led to the backyard of the bar, where we were handed a small package containing a black-and-white American flag.
This flag had instructions on it:
These instructions would be repeated to us by Jex Blackmore before we were dismissed at the end of the ritual (I have not placed mine anywhere, though a friend of mine did put hers outside a bar we were at later in the evening).
On to the ritual! As I walked into the backyard of the bar, I was greeted with the sight of a stage with fog rolling off its edge. On the stage was a nude man and a nude woman, as well as three people wearing hooded robes (2 red and one black) holding a dagger and a mirror. After waiting for everyone to fill the yard (everyone on stage remained remarkably still while waiting for us), one of the men on stage began banging a large chain on a drum. This went on for several minutes, and once he was done a recording started to play.
At this point I would like to point out that there were a lot of people in this small yard and at this time I had had 3(ish) drinks in me so my attention was sort of all over the place. I will do my best to recount the events as they occurred, but I’ve never been very good at actively listening to sermons (which is what this ritual was) even when I’m 100% sober, so I have a tendency to zone out. Anyway, this recording was of one man detailing his interaction with Satanists. This recording went on (and on) for a while, until it stopped and the priestess in the black cloak (who was revealed to be Blackmore herself) began speaking about their cause, which you can read more about on their website linked to above.
As she began informing us, the nude man and woman stepped forward and then began chugging handles of “blood,” which was most likely wine (or red water). Basically, it looked like a jug of Carlo Rossi (see below). The nude female was really into it. She chugged and chugged the red liquid until it started overflowing out of her mouth and ran down her body. She was a trooper and finished it like a champ. The nude male, on the other hand, was not as into it. He wasn’t so much chugging as he was casually drinking. By the time the female finished, the male was only about halfway done.
Once the jugs were emptied, the priestess began spouting out a lot of propaganda. She mentioned many specific locations in Austin (abortion clinics, the home of right-wing governor Greg Abbott, etc.). She summarized their tenets and what the religion stands for, which is actually kind of sweet. Yes, I’m aware I just used the word “sweet” to describe the Satanic Temple. Reading over their website and listening to last night’s sermon, I can only imagine how much heckling they must receive (there were a group of religious protesters outside the Alamo Drafthouse when we left the screening.
The priestess then started to talk about how we are all bound to each other, at which point the nude man and woman stepped forward again and wrapped a large chain (the same one the gentlemen was banging on the drum at the beginning of the ritual) around their arms, literally binding them to each other. They got on their knees and faced the congregation as the priestess finished her sermon. Shouts of ‘Hail Satan!’ filled the open air as she asked everyone to take their black American flag (Satan Flag?) and place it where we thought Satan’s influence would be needed (like the aforementioned house of Governor Abbott). With that, she bid us adieu and the ritual was over.
Overall, it was an interesting experience. I admit that I did no research on the Temple or what the ritual would possible entail before I went to it, so my fears of death or ritual sacrifice were clearly unfounded. This organization doesn’t worship the Satan that Christians know. To them, Satan is “a symbol of man’s inherent nature, representative of the eternal rebel, enlightened inquiry and personal freedom rather than a supernatural deity or being.” You would think they would just call him something else, then there wouldn’t be as much hubbub about the Temple, but where’s the publicity in that?
I’m glad I got to go to the ritual and the screening, and while I can’t say I’m completely behind their cause, I do understand it. I still don’t understand organized religion, and because of that I will never be a convert, but still, I think it’s worth learning about.
If you’re super curious, more information about the Satanic Temple can be found at http://www.satanic-revolution.com/.
By the way, here’s me with my new flag: