Be it for a PR stunt or a powerful conviction, the Satanic Temple is suing Netflix show The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina over the statue portraying Baphomet, an important deity of the satanic religion. The Temple was pretty clear: they are not claiming rights over the representation of Baphomet, which borrows from the famous depiction by Eliphas Lev, but rather the specific layout of the statue. In fact, although not an exact copy, the show’s prop does bear an undeniable resemblance to the real life version: both feature the deity in the same position with children looking up to it.
The Church of Satan, not to be confused with the satanic group bringing the claim, has distanced themselves from this lawsuit, dismissing it as a childish publicity stunt. However, to get a deeper understanding of this event, it is important to hint at the history that lies beneath this apparently futile issue. Before detaching themselves from this claim, even the Church of Satan, founded over 50 year ago by Anton Szandor LaVey, has expressed concerns over traditional, and in their opinion, inaccurate depiction of Satanists. Both the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple declare their affiliation to Atheism, and the acceptance of men’s true nature: yet the common depiction these shows bring is of total devotion to Satan, who is treated like a god. Although the figure of Satan and other deities in these religions are understood as powerful symbols of free will and human nature, in these shows they are often shown as evil forces that draw men into all sorts of hellish affairs, such as ritual cannibalism and witchcraft. It is in these sorts of stereotypes that the satanic panic of the 80s and late-90s buries its roots. With mass hysteria leading to the imprisonment of numerous people, most infamously the West Memphis Three, this sort of misrepresentation is not to be taken lightly, especially when it infringes the law while doing so.
All of this history has built up to the importance of the claim brought by the Satanic Temple. For organizations that want to distance themselves from such stereotypes, it is understandable how the use of one of their statues would strike as not only unlawful, but offensive. The show complies with the traditional view of the satanic practice, portraying it as the dark side. Founded via a crowdfunding campaign, the meaning behind the statue is pretty interesting: not only did it serve as a religious symbol, but it was specifically meant as a promotion of freedom of religion, standing in contrast to a Christian monument in Oklahoma City. For fear of an excessive response, the statue ended up being moved to Detroit, where it currently stands.
Maybe this is still a childish PR stunt. Maybe the Satanic Temple just wants to take the entertainment giant for a ride. This doesn’t change the law: the prop bears an undeniable resemblance to the statue, and the meaning assigned to it by the show amounts to false description. This is probably why Warner Bros. has agreed to reach an ‘amicable settlement’ with the group.