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When The Satanic Temple (TST) brought its first annual SatanCon to Scottsdale, Arizona last week, many detractors said they were going to perform a black mass and (through whatever supernatural mechanism) bring harm to the city. 

Black masses aren’t really a thing

People have been doing Satanic rituals like the ones done by TST and the Church of Satan (CoS) before them for a long time. CoS has been around for 56 years now and TST for nine. Conspiracy theorists often make up fantastic stories about elite intergenerational Satanists, but there have only been three (maybe four) generations of Satanists. 

Scottsdale’s SatanCon didn’t have a black mass. There was a ritual by Steven Layba, titled “The 6th Invocation of the New Creative Aeon.” I’m told the convention proceedings will be available to watch for yourself on TheSatanicTemple.TV “sometime in a week or two” according to the convention’s organizers. 

The TST ritual in Los Angeles in 2017 was, likewise, not called black mass either. They called it a Satanic ritual, and it was fine. But no one stuck a consecrated communion wafer up their ass, at least not as part of the ritual. If someone did it for fun in their hotel that’s their business. 

So has anyone ever really done a “Black Mass?”

Most people haven’t spent enough time around Satanists to grasp this but, unlike most religions that have fixed doctrine and worship services, Satanic rituals have a creative element to them. This means that no matter what La Bas says, or what any given group of Satanists chooses to do for a ritual, it almost certainly will be different from anything ever done or described before. 

For example, I was able to find one instance of what was billed as a black mass at a small curiosity shop over 35 years ago.

Picture it, Allentown 1985

YouTube video

Jay Solomon‘s Occult Emporium was in the basement at 9th and Linden Streets. It was across the street from one of those 1950s railway car-style diners. It is now a fax and copy shop. But there is a Consultas Espirituales next door in a shop called Botánica Santa Marta.

ServiExpress, former Location of Jay Solomon’s Occult Emporium. Three stories below the site of a “black mass”

Contemporary reporting from the Allentown Morning Call described the place in October of 1985:

“A first look around the crowded shop is shocking. Human leg bones dangle along one wall. Real skulls and shrunken heads grin next to crystal balls. Racks hold magic potions, herbs, and spell-producing candles. There are bats, tarantulas, and scorpions – all under glass.

Fierce-looking knives are scattered throughout the shop and spears and swords lay across pipes on the ceiling, near a great horned sorcerer’s helmet and a selection of whips. Items for sale include a wolf’s eye, a bat’s heart or the bones of a black cat.

A sign inside warns “Shoplifters will be accursed.”

Some people would never set foot inside the shop because they figure it’s a place where gullible fools looking for hocus-pocus answers to life’s problems willingly are separated from their money.

“Not everybody in the world needs what I sell,” said Solomon.”


Solomon opened the shop in 1979, but that’s not the point of this story

At midnight on October 31st, 1985 in the 3rd story apartment above the Occult Emporium Jay Solomon performed what he called a Halloween mass but the press labeled a “Black Mass” in their headline. This is not a particularly strange thing. Solomon was always willing to do a performative ritual for money. Also, the press likes to call anything a ‘black mass’ because it sells.

Again, the Morning Call was there and then reporter Jodi Duckett described the fairly tame event:

As the participants watch quietly from their standing spots along the room’s wall, the priest rings a bell nine times, turning counterclockwise and directing the bell’s toll toward the four cardinal points of the compass.

The ceremony begins.

It’s a ceremony of chanting, of calling the forces of darkness and of summoning Satan to take over the body of the priest.

Participants ask Satan to grant them their desires – money, new cars, good health, the destruction of another person.

“Go forth and prosper,” says the priest from behind a black drape as the participants file through.


Allentown was not destroyed

The Northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA) coal industry was well past its heyday, and what steel industry existed in places like Bethlehem Steel (now a casino incidentally) was about halfway through a slow decline into bankruptcy. So even if you did believe a Satanic ritual would bring blight and destruction, how could you tell if it worked?

It seems obvious now that college kids at Lehigh would pay to see one though. I was only a kid at the time but if you were living in a Billy Joel song wouldn’t you be bored enough to pay someone, anyone, to show you something interesting and different? 

I would.

You don’t have to be afraid

Many people think that the growth of The Satanic Temple is a sign of a world in decline. Many Satanists would likely agree with you. But it occurs to me there’s a way to reframe this that might be a bit more palatable to people who are worried that cabals of devil worshipers are taking over the world.

Are there more Satanists now than there were in 1985? Sure, but there’s more everybody else too. These kinds of rituals have been performed all over the place for decades. We just didn’t have the constant media presence that tells everyone about everything.

FOR INFERNAL USE ONLY Jack Matirko was raised in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but it didn't take. His projects include The Left Hemispheres Podcast, The Naked Diner Podcast, and An Ongoing and...

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