DANCING WITH THE DEVIL
by Rula Al-Nasrawi
We were several drinks in when the army vet led us through a dimly lit hallway in The Jane. If you haven’t been to The Jane, it’s the hotel where all of the Titanic survivors stayed in 1912, and some of their spirits are rumored to still stroll the halls from time to time. We were the only ghosts that night. And we ended up strolling into more than we bargained for. Within a matter of minutes, my best friend Rod, Jason the army vet, and myself found ourselves crammed in a hotel room with several strangers, watching a woman pee into two people’s mouths. Quite literally “drinkin’ the piss,” as they say. Let me backtrack though.
Rewind a few days back, I found a link for a press screening of a movie called “The Witch,” watched the trailer, and realized that not only did the movie look terrifyingly good, but the Satanic Temple would be hosting the premier. Let me just say that I didn’t know much about the institution that is the Satanic Temple. But one thing I knew for sure, was that if Satan is throwing a party, you don’t think on it, you fucking attend. The Temple has revealed its horns more than usual in the mainstream media more recently. In August, Temple members protested outside of a Detroit Planned Parenthood with a guerilla performance featuring men dressed like clergymen dousing kneeling women with milk. Earlier in the summer, the Temple faced protests when they released a bronze statue of the goat god Baphomet, intended to be placed right next to the Oklahoma Capitol grounds’ Ten Commandments statue.
From what I gathered, this crowd sounded like their favorite activity was getting high off of trolling the Conservatives. Rod and I decided this could be one of our only chances to rub shoulders with Lucifer’s elite, to temporarily join the “dark side,” to see if it’s really even dark at all. The event poster, which advertised both the film and a ritual to follow, asked in fine print “Woulds’t thou like to live deliciously?” To which Rod and I unblinkingly said: hell yes.
Ok, I’ll admit. The night before this event I got a little nervous. My Christian roommate warned me of evil spirits hitching a ride with us back to our uptown apartment. She half-jokingly told me that she planned to cleanse our home just in case. I laughed but part of me was like “Fuck. If I bring home some Rosemary’s Baby shit I’m literally never hearing the end of this.” It doesn’t help that I have at least a handful of paranormal experiences under my belt as well. Not that those two are related but, I’m aware that we inhabit the same space as all kinds of spirits and sometimes, those worlds might just happen to intersect.
On the day of, I met up with Rod at a Thai place by the theater after work and we threw back some pregame drinks before this movie. Without giving anything away, “The Witch” orbits this pilgrim family who gets shunned by the church and is forced to survive alone on a farm. Literally my true vision of hell is living on a farm with no WiFi, no phone service, and literally you’re crushing on your brother because he’s the only boy you know, end me daddi.
I won’t say too much about the movie itself, but we were feeling pretty VIP at this screening I’ll say that much. Free popcorn and a drink is one great way to get on my good side so I was already feelin’ the Temple. I could get used to this, I thought to myself as I drowned my kernels in butter. The movie was horrific as expected, involving different elements of witchy folklore tales, and honestly a lot of the witch moments just reminded me of being drunk in the woods with my girl friends at my college, UC Santa Cruz. Literally “The Witch” just being the Santa Cruz first rain naked run, help.
The lights come back on and Rod and I decide we want to pregame a little more. We were told that the ritual was taking place in The Jane ballroom after the film, but no one told us what time. We figured that satanic rituals must take a little time to set up; who knows if they plan on sacrificing something, or someone. That’s a lot of potential prep, you know? We float to Art Bar and throw back a couple more drinks there, I prematurely download Hinge for a focus group the next day, and promptly regret it as Rod and I swipe from boat shoes, to polo and boat shoes, to cigar and sailor hat and boat shoes. “Omg fuck Hinge” I say to literally no one, taking a gigantic gulp of my Hot Tomato martini. At that moment I missed my Tinder and thought about re-downloading it. There’s much more diversity on Tinder, I thought to myself broodingly. And the boat shoe ratio is little to none. Should I just download it again and see if I don’t hate it this time? Oh fuck. Wait. The satanic ritual. We had been sitting at this bar for an hour swiping through endless boat shoes and we had a literal satanic ritual to attend. Shit shit shit.
We booked it to The Jane. A man is standing in the lobby welcoming us. “Hello, welcome to our event! I just want to let you know, the party is happening around the corner but unfortunately you already missed the performance.” WELL. THERE’S THAT. We look at each other like “Of COURSE we fucking missed the event.” We collect ourselves and walk into The Jane ballroom and it’s an open bar satanist party. Let me put this into perspective for you guys; Rod and I purposely dressed in head-to-toe all black for this party because we wanted to make sure we weren’t the only two fools wearing neon in the corner. We knew truth. Well, we walk in and it’s every goth kid from my high school’s wet dream. The place was packed with attractive satanists dressed in black lace, fishnets, leather, you name it. The OzzFest crowd would have collectively gotten down on its hands and knees with its giant tongue hanging out and its eyes rolled back.
We met Sarah at the downstairs bar. Sarah was an asexual Wiccan who worked at an occult bookstore downtown. She wore black-rimmed glasses and black lipstick and her blue eyes lit up when we told her we were reporters. She ordered us a round of whiskey drinks and told us that she herself was not a satanist but she showed up with some satanist friends who were floating around the party. Sarah told us that the ritual was short, and featured a line of naked men and naked women standing across from each other with a man in the center, calling people to join the Temple and stand against all of the political corruption in our country. Basically Satanic propaganda. Sarah was our spirit guide for the night, she told us about her own strict religious upbringing in Massachusetts and her defiant pushback against anything that reminded her of her straight-laced childhood. She also told us a SparkNotes rundown of the origins of the Satanic Temple. The Church of Satan, she told us, was founded in 1966 in San Francisco by Anton LaVey, who was the church’s high priest until he passed away in 1997. LaVey was bald with sharp arched brows and a goatee, he also wore an earring. If someone asked me to describe the high priest of the Satanic Church, I would describe someone who looked like LaVey; a third vampire, a third pirate, and a third regular daddy. Sarah told us that prior to starting the church, LaVey allegedly worked at a carnival where he saw the same people attending the Sunday services also attending the raunchy nightly shows, leading to his disgust with Christianity and affirming his beliefs in religious hypocrisy. LaVey plugged the “Left-Hand Path,” the alternative path to the closed-off religiously constrained path many were on. LaVey conducted ceremonies and seminars in the Black House, a small black painted home in San Francisco that was later sold when LaVey separated from his partner Diane Hegarty.
LaVey was visibly yet another charismatic white guy leading an alternative lifestyle in the 60s, but unlike the others, his fight was not fueled by rock music but solely by his principles. In fact, LaVey notably hated rock; for the 60s, hating rock music made you even more alt than the people who got lit off it. After our talk, I found out that the new high priest Peter Gilmore, was appointed in 2001 and the church’s headquarters were moved to Hell’s Kitchen, in New York City. A little too on the nose but I’ll take it.
Sarah then pulls out her phone and shows us photos of LaVey’s daughter, who she described as an “evil Taylor Swift,” Zeena Shreck. Taylor Swift is already evil in my honest opinion, but Shreck certainly looked like a Bad Sandy T.Swift. Shreck’s baptism I later found out, was performed in the Black House, with her father LaVey performing the ritual over a naked woman acting as a ‘satanic altar.’ Shreck was estranged from her dad, to the point where she eventually became a publicly known Tibetan Buddhist. After his death, Shreck came out and told the media that many of the tall tales her father told the press allegedly were not even true.
We eventually ended up parting ways with our occult spirit guide; her satanist friend was carrying her wallet and even witches need cab fare. She promised us a free tarot reading one day and then quickly vanished into the crowd. After a few minutes of lingering at the bar, we met a new and different spirit guide, a 30-something army vet named Jason. He stood over us with sleepy blue eyes, asking about our work. He told us about the army, and his longtime girlfriend who happened to be the reason he was there that night. It turned out she worked for The Jane events and told him this was an event he shouldn’t miss. So there we were; two tipsy journos and our army vet bodyguard in the eye of the storm of fishnets, black shadow, goat horns, and Lucifer himself. His girlfriend told us that there was something upstairs that we needed to see. And all of a sudden, there we were. Crammed in a tiny elevator with two other girls, we went up to this room with red-tinted lighting and mint green wallpaper. Two men were laying face up on the beds; the first one was mummified in green saran wrap, a buzzer strategically placed over his nether region. The other man wore a mask and a French maid costume. A short woman in all-leather stood over them ridiculing them, pushing a button that clearly gave the green mummy electric shocks to his dick. She decided she was bored. She took out two little funnels and told the two to huddle together. “You should feel lucky that I’ve been hydrating all day,” she said getting up on the bed. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. I look over at Rod and his phone is out, SnapChat at the ready. “Can you not film this please?” the woman breaks out of character to ask. It was the only moment where she actually seemed a little scared. Were we the ones in control now? He pretends to put his phone down but when I look back he’s filming again with a light smirk on his face that only I recognized. A word to the wise: never ask a drunk journalist to do something, they’ll just look you in the eye and do the exact opposite. Didion said it herself; writers are always selling somebody out. Would I ever compromise content for my future memoir? My snap story? My future Pulitzer? Hell no. And before you start blubbering about ethics this and ethics that, take a long hard look at yourself in your front facing camera and admit that you probably would have filmed this woman’s golden shower session too.
So there we were, watching this woman urinate buckets into these two people’s mouths. People were chuckling, others just watched with their mouths open. After the show it was time to get a chopped cheese and go home. Were we different people after brushing shoulders with NYC’s finest Satanists? Not really, no. If I learned anything from that night it was that fringe communities like this remind us to be ourselves to a fault. If you want to take off your clothes and douse yourself in goat blood, get up and do it. If you’ve been waiting all day to pee in someone’s mouth, drop those panties and let it go. Ok, I mean like, if you do either of those things just know that Rod and I have free reign to Snap you though. One thing I know for sure is that there may be not actually be a tangible dark lord parading in goat horns whispering in your ear to sin on the daily. But there is evil in this world. And on a separate vein there’s unapologetic rebellion. And while those two may sometimes intersect, they will never be the same, no matter how many times Trump or your church or your Sunday School teacher tries to bash that into your brain. Satanisn is not about praising Lucifer, it’s not about worshipping bad juju, it’s about freedom and countering the status quo. And y’all, if Hell is anything like that party we went to, then put our names on that fucking guest list. Praise Satan, praise Satan, we’re drinkin’ the piss too.