For those unfamiliar with the seminal piece of Christian fan fiction, Paradise Lost is the epic tale of Satan’s fall from heaven. In over ten thousand lines of British renaissance poetry, John Milton recounts Satan’s failed celestial coup, heavenly war against the angels, and eventual banishment to Hell for eternity. It is a story that, among many other things, reveals the awe and outright fear Satan once commanded in our cultural narratives; the most clear-cut encapsulation of supreme evil. Now, 351 years from his appearance in Paradise Lost, Satan has found himself embroiled in a war the likes of which Milton—or in fact anyone in 17th century—would’ve been hard pressed to imagine: a legal suit against popular streaming and entertainment giant Netflix.
In November, the Satanic Temple launched a $50 million suit against Netflix and its new show, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” The Satanic Temple strongly objected to the show’s inclusion of a statue of Baphomet, which it claims was cribbed from its own, supposedly authoritative, likeness of a hooved-and-horned Satan (referred to as “Baphomet” when in such a guise). While there is some hilarity in a Satanic organization claiming to have created the one true portrayal of Baphomet, which is truer than any other organizations’ attempts to render an image of Baphomet, the charges levelled against Netflix are pure comedy: copyright infringement, trademark violation, and injury to the business’ (i.e. the Satanic Temple’s) reputation. Satan is apparently due all legal protections owed to any other intellectual property.
Aside from protecting Satan’s image from slanderous use in a teen thriller, the Satanic Temple leadership clarified that they were very concerned that improper use of the image of Baphomet would only propagate misconceptions of Satanism. Co-founder of the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves commented that “It does really kind of normalize this notion that the only true meaning of this type of religious identification is one that can be associated with a patriarchal, cannibalistic cult….We’re so inundated with this anti-Satan fiction that a lot of people think it’s superfluous to pursue to a claim like this at all.”
It is worth pointing out that, for an organization so supposedly upset with the misuse of Satan’s image, they’ve been putting its cultural clout to a lot of use. In 2015, the Satanic Temple crowdfunded the creation of a bronze statue of Baphomet to be placed outside the Oklahoma Capitol in protest of the “Ten Commandments” statue that was planned to be constructed there as well. The statue was allegedly meant as a protest against religious displays on public property. A year later, the Satanic Temple further crowdfunded resources to set up “after school Satan programs” in response to a US government initiative to start “after school Christian programs” in multiple school districts. While the Satanic Temple’s attempts to troll the US government are undeniably funny, one wonders whether Satan himself would object to his image being used for blatantly political purposes that are not definitively Satanic.
Though comic in its absurdity, there is also a deep sense of disappointment in the suit’s existence to begin with. The Satanic Temple, an organization that wields the name of the most anti-authority figure ever conceived of by humans, has submitted to government institutions in order to find justice through a legal framework. Even if Baphomet’s depiction in a Netflix show really is enough to grievously damage its millennia-long reputation, the Satanic Temple’s image has been damaged much more by its decision to engage in such a legal battle in the first place. Satanic, anarchic organizations cannot expect to be taken seriously when they plead trademark violation. The Satanic Temple’s response to Netflix’s defamatory use of Baphomet should be much truer to the organization’s origins and purpose: hexes cast on Netflix’s leadership, and perhaps even a large, authoritatively accurate bronze statue of Baphomet constructed outside of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ house. Any wishing to donate to the Satanic Temple’s crowdfund for such an endeavor can find it on indiegogo.com.