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Guest Article

The Satanic Temple, What The Hell Is The Satanic Temple?

September 20, 2021

What the hell is “The Satanic Temple”? — Ep. 2: Spectacle Films Inc


For more information, see The.Satanic.Wiki

The other day, someone tagged us on Twitter in response to a tabloid headline.

Person tweeting Hey @QueerSatanic, Cevin made the tabloids

Here is that tabloid, and the completion of that joke.

@QueerSatanic tweet saying “Urine: Good Health”, quote tweeting an image of a tabloid with an older man at a table and the headline “I fought off COVID by eating cake… and DRINKING my OWN PISS”, subhed, “Medics warn Tony’s cure is ‘recipe for disaster’

[Tweet]

Which still needs a little bit of explaining.

What could drinking urine or “Cevin Soling” have to do with starting a religion?

How does this relate back to The Satanic Temple at all?

Stick with us because it is all a lot weirder and more relevant than you can possibly imagine.


Urine: Good Health movie poster, with multiple people drinking it, with credits for executive producer Cevin Soling

Urine: Good Health is the name of 1999 documentary produced by Cevin Soling.

Here’s a taste:

Urine Therapy is an unconventional and controversial practice that involves the use of one’s own urine for health benefits — a practice that has been employed throughout history by people around the world.

Naturally, you have questions.

Let’s do the easy part. Urine: Good Health was the second film produced by Cevin Soling through his corporation Spectacle Films Inc.

OK, so how did Cevin Soling, later to be a co-founder and owner of The Satanic Temple, get into the movie business?

Well, Soling is the wealthy scion of Northeast real estate developers; he’s son of Chester Soling, himself a landlord who naturally sued to evict his own tenants including one whose mother had just died. Although Chester’s obituary preferred “philanthropist”.

It’s easy to get sidetracked here, so suffice to say, the anecdote in this 1970 article “A Million‐Dollar Hotel Where the Oldest Guest Is 12” paints a picture of a certain upbringing.

But Cevin Soling apparently entered the 1990s wanting more out of life than just being a comfortably wealthy and rent-collecting vampire for the rest of his life. He wanted those things and to be considered creative, talented, and, eventually, a serious thinker.

On the same day in June 1992, Cevin registered both Xemu Records and Spectacle Films as corporations in New York State, but he seems to have focused on projects under the Scientology-nodding record company at first.

Other than raising an eyebrow about an interest in profitable cults, Xemu doesn’t really intersect with The Satanic Temple, or it might be more accurate to say: we have not come across any public record of that intersection. As you should be able to tell from the scroll bar, we have enough material to cover without it.

By the late ’90s, Beatles super-fan Cevin Soling had discovered a curious interview question-and-answer session involving John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and he was inspired to buy into another hobby:

[T]he way I got into film, for instance, I never went to film school, I just had an idea for a documentary after reading this article, this interview with Paul McCartney where he was talking about having dinner one night with John Lennon, and Lennon was saying something to the effect of, “I s’pect we get holes drilled in our heads. I read somewhere it expands consciousness.” And McCartney responding, “Well, you get it done, and if it’s great I’ll think about it.” I’m a huge Beatle fanatic, and read all the interviews… But this was something that had never been mentioned in any other interview, never came up. And so it was kind of surprising to see the story. And then I did a little bit of research and found the background of this doctor who came up with this theory about drilling holes in people’s heads, and how it results in increased brain blood volume. And he believed that it resulted in greater brain metabolism and expanded state of consciousness. So it seemed like there might be some truth to that. So I was kind of curious and decided to study it, but to make it into a film. And I had no film experience, but it was like, Hey, why not make a movie.

“Hey, why not make a movie?” indeed.

So like anyone with lots of money, he paid people to do it for him, got his producer credit, and the result was 1998’s A Hole In The Head directed by Eli Kabillio.

A Hole In The Head examines the development of “modern” trepanation as used by people in the United Kingdom, The United States, and The Netherlands for the purpose of attaining a higher level of consciousness. This procedure, used by the ancient Egyptians, Incas, and others, is believed by the voluntarily trepanned to allow for renewed brain pulsations that increase brain blood volume and thereby improve brain function. Interviews regarding the history and efficacy of the procedure are also held with some of the world’s most respected neurosurgeons and anthropologists.

Reportedly, it’s not a bad documentary, for what that’s worth.

And it was successful enough at the time to run it back and do another in the same vein, Urine: Good Health about urine therapy, again produced by Soling and directed by Kabillio. You saw the result above.

A couple of years later, Soling gets into the director’s chair himself for The War on the War on Drugs.

Comprised of over 60 independent short scenes shot in a wide variety of cinematic styles, THE WAR ON THE WAR ON DRUGS parodies drug war propaganda and those who insist we fight the drug war at any cost.

OK, sure.

But Soling’s big push, and the one he probably thought was really going to break him through to the mainstream as a big-time serious person was 2009’s anti-public schools documentary The War on Kids.

It brought him to the highs of an appearance on the Colbert Report.

Cevin Soling — The Colbert Report | Comedy Central US
Cevin Soling warns that school security has taken precedence over education.

But it also brought Soling to the lows of demonstrating that his opposition to public schooling is in complete alignment with other “libertarian” unschooling advocates, like white nationalist and “scientific racist” Stefan Molyneux.

We will return to this subject at a later time (Soling certainly has), but this has already gotten fairly long, and this may all seem rather tenuous or at least tangential to The Satanic Temple.

In actuality, Urine: Good Health and Spectacle Films’ “out-there” documentaries are a perfect lens to view The Satanic Temple because that seems to have been all it was ever meant to be.

To repeat:

The Satanic Temple was supposed to be another Spectacle Films documentary.

The earliest press releases for The Satanic Temple predated the incorporation of its own legal entity by about a year, and the connection to Cevin Soling wasn’t even kept particularly hush-hush at first.

In April 2013, Spectacle Films announces a talk to be given at Harvard:

The Cultural Studies Club of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education will be hosting ‘A History of Satanic Worship’ to be presented April 11, 2013, by academics and practicing Satanists.

Satanic Temple spokesperson,Lucien Greaves, will present ‘A History of Satanism from The Old Testament to The Satanic Temple’ accompanied and followed by long-time public Satanism advocate, Szandora Lavey, who will offer a personal perspective on the modern practice of Satanism.

Cevin Soling, of Spectacle Films, a Harvard Graduate School of Education student, will speak about the use of religion in the service of social activism and as a potential device to protect civil liberties.

(Beyond this, Szandora LaVey — former wife of a grandson of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey—doesn’t seem to factor in as a pivotal early figure in TST; if that’s wrong, drop us a line. As of 2021, she was still collaborating with TST as a burlesque performer, though as of 2019, Szandora said she considered herself “a solo figure in Satanism.”)

But the point is Cevin Soling, in his capacity as owner of Spectacle Films, was openly promoting The Satanic Temple at first.

Within a few months, Lucien Greaves had brought back in longtime friend and fellow protofascist-book fan Shane Bugbee, and in June 2013, they sent out another press release, again through Spectacle Films, for an Adopt-A-Highway fundraising campaign. This is the first video still on The Satanic Temple’s official YouTube channel. (The trailer to A Hole in The Head, is too, by the way — without noting its connection to TST’s owner and in order to promote another Soling-owned corporation, Cinephobia LLC’s The Satanic Temple TV.)

This IndieGoGo campaign fell flat, just $2,244 out of its goal seeking $15,000. This benefitted “Lucien Greaves” directly because remember, “The Satanic Temple” still doesn’t officially exist yet.

This press release gives us the explanation of what Spectacle Films’ ostensible involvement is, though.

Spectacle Films will be documenting The Satanic Temple’s efforts toward contribution to the Adopt-a-Highway program in an ongoing project aimed at chronicling the Satanic organization’s unique activities

After some sort of falling out, Lucien Greaves’ old bud Shane Bugbee posted on his own website and told then-Village Voice journalist Anna Merlan about the original plans for The Satanic Temple: a “mockumentary” in typical Spectacle Films style.

This is from a Catholic News Agency article, but they use Merlan’s reporting and put it together with some other contemporary coverage going back even earlier, to the Florida actions aimed at then-Gov. Rick Scott.

That same month [January 2013], the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog reported that Lucien Greaves was listed as casting director of a feature film called “The Satanic Temple.” A casting call on the Actors Access website sought actors “to be the followers of a charismatic yet down to earth Satanic cult leader,” required to wear “tasteful Satanic garb.”

Spectacle Films and Polemic Media … are producing a mockumentary about the nicest Satanic Cult in the world,” said the casting call, according to the Huffington Post.

Let’s take a break to quote that ad in full, via HuffPo.

Spectacle Films and Polemic Media the companies behind ‘The War on Kids’ and ‘Freeloader’ are producing a mockumentary about a the nicest Satanic Cult in the world. We are looking for actors for 8 speaking roles to play minions as well as 10 featured extras.

We are seeking people from all walks of life, goths, grandparents, soccer moms, etc to be the followers of a charismatic yet down to earth Satanic cult leader. The shoot will be on January 25th in downtown Tallahassee. Actors will be required to wear tasteful Satanic garb.

The Miami Herald further specified, “A casting call was posted on the web site Actors Access on Jan. 7 seeking non-union actors for no pay.

So there are some things they’re consistent about.

Back to the CNA article:

Shane Bugbee, an early collaborator of the Satanic Temple, told a version of the group’s history at the Vice magazine website, and then a more critical version in an interview with the Village Voice and related blog posts in 2014. He said that Lucien Greaves is in fact Doug Mesner, who reportedly studied at Harvard University, focusing on neuroscience and false memory related to ritual abuse and alien abduction.

[@QueerSatanic Note: If this is true about the credentials of Lucien Greaves, whose real name is “Doug Misicko”, no one has ever offered evidence verifying it.]

Bugbee himself had interviewed Mesner for the website Vice, an interview published July 30, 2013.

Bugbee named Cevin Soling, president of Spectacle Films, as the real man behind “Malcolm Jarry,” the pseudonymous co-founder of the temple. According to Bugbee, Soling was president of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club at the time it attempted to host the black mass. Bugbee alleges that David Guinan, owner of Polemic Media, was a third co-founder of the temple.

This is a lot of information, but it’s actually been known virtually all along. The Church of Satan has documented this stuff for years, and these accusations have never actually been refuted, despite what some TST defenders will say.

But it’s this next part that can be distracting because it goes back to “there is only one true Satanism” which most people outside of the Church of Satan don’t really care about.

Claiming a long history with Satanism, Bugbee himself said he and his wife held the final interview with prominent Satanic figure Anton Lavey, who allegedly made Bugbee a Satanic priest. He contended that Mesner is an employee of Soling and that Soling asked Bugbee to play the role of Lucien Greaves.

[@QueerSatanic Note: Whether or not this is true about the offer to Bugbee, Penny Lane’s Hail Satan? documentary contains footage corroborating that Doug Mesner/Misicko was not originally intending to take on the role of Lucien Greaves.]

Bugbee said he at first saw the Satanic Temple as a prank, believing it was “thrilling” to participate in “a joke on the public at large and, in general, the grossly inept media.”

He said the group’s purpose seemed to shift after the fake rally for Rick Scott.

The dissolving of the original idea of making a mockumentary and the rise of a want for a real religious sect seemed to happen very quick,” said Bugbee.

He objected that Soling and Guinan had “no real relationship with Satanism.”

Sure, Shane Bugbee has an axe to grind and a very particular view of Satanism, but is he wrong?

As that excerpt talks about, the original “second rich kid” in the project was David Guinan, the director for another Cevin Soling self-insert “documentary” Mr. Cevin and the Cargo Cult a.k.a. John Frum, He Will Come, being worked on since at least 2006 but officially released in 2017.

The premise of that stunt seems to be that Soling was interested in convincing the people of the island of Tanna that he was John Frum returned, the messiah of a cargo cult.

You can judge for yourself which trailer makes him come off worse (Facebook video, if the first trailer link doesn’t work).

John Frum He Will Come — IMDB.com trailer

I believed that by fulfilling the prophecy, I truly would be John Frum,” Soling says in the first trailer.

I think you’re a lazy guy who wanted to start a cult so you picked up on one that was already around,” offers up the second trailer.

Hmm.

Anyway, Professor Joe Laycock in Speak of the Devil, Laycock’s… “scholarly” look at The Satanic Temple confirms all this original intention about TST being meant to be a similar documentary, and it’s anything but a secret.

Here’s how book reviewer Brian C. Wilson, a professor of American Religious History, puts it:

Laycock’s book is roughly divided into two parts. The first charts the history and development of TST, while the second addresses how TST has shaped national debates on several fronts.

In March 2012, Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill “allowing students to read ‘inspirational messages of their choosing’ at assemblies and sporting events”. In order to push back against what they viewed as a violation of the separation of church and state, three friends, Malcolm Jarry, Doug Mesner, and David Guinan, decided to stage a public rally for a fictional organization called The Satanic Temple, praising Scott for finally allowing Satanists a public voice. Other publicity stunts followed, but by this time a creed had been created and TST began to coalesce into a real organization.

Guinan used his real name for all this, including in the book; Soling instead used “Malcolm Jarry”.

(And for those who are still confused, a person whose legal name is Doug Misicko has also publicly used “Doug Mesner” for past public work, and an absolute legion of sockpuppet names, but he’s popularly known by “Lucien Greaves” now. Unlike Soling, Greaves apparently doesn’t try to have a separate public life pretending he’s not an owner of The Satanic Temple, so we stick with Greaves’ pseudonym for most references.)

You can easily see how what was intended to just be a film taking the piss out of conservatives for their public religious hypocrisy snowballed into the beast that is The Satanic Temple today.

Penny Lane’s documentary/propaganda film Hail Satan? released in 2019 even seems to rely on some of this early project’s footage since there’s no indication anyone else was involved at that early stage in 2013 when TST hadn’t even decided if they officially believed in a supernatural devil or not.

To recap, this silly project — meant to be just one of many — came first.

But at some point, apparently rather quickly, they realized:

“you could make a religion out of this” bill wurtz text

And the connection with Spectacle Films was eventually (mostly) severed as they invested more and more into this one.

Which is unfortunate for all sorts of reasons — not least of which being that The Satanic Temple never fully lost their original ethos, and they muscled their way to the center of attention in regards to reproductive justice and abortion access in the United States by taking advantage of conservative media outrage and straight journalism’s laziness — exactly like Bugbee claims was the plan from the start.

They have also been given a lot of money by people who just learned about them five minutes prior, knowing none of this history — or of their founders’ — and The Satanic Temple’s various corporations have continued to not be forthcoming about how much money they’re pulling in with this trick or transparent in how it’s being spent.

But, and this is key, they have argued for many years that they are a legitimate religion.

That means that criticizing them, particularly with factual references to well-documented events, is not defamation.

(Even if they sue you and lose anyway.)


Next time, we’ll actually take a look at The United Federation of Churches LLC d/b/a “The Satanic Temple” and what the first year of TST looked like leading up to that entity’s incorporation.

P.S. — Spectacle Films continues to publish Cevin Soling film and book projects. The most recent of which was Tiffany Brittany Brooke.

Here’s the first page.

First page from an illustrated book, done in the style of a children’s book. “Once upon a time there was a young girl named Tiffany… or Brittany… or Brooke… who left home to follow her dream of becoming a prostitute”

In between the book printing and the eventual short film adaptation, someone apparently had the brilliant insight that perhaps the phrasing here (“young girl”) is not ideal, even for a supposed dark satire, and wouldn’t it all land a little better if it was “a young woman” instead?

So remember, self-publishing your ideas can be risky business, even if you can afford it financially

But mainly remember, when it comes to The Satanic Temple there’s always more, and it’s always worse.

[Editor’s note: A previous version of this article did not identify Szandora LaVey and her relationship to The Satanic Temple.]

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