Who Are Patron Sinners?

A patron sinner is a historical figure who particularly exemplifies some value or ideal we deem Satanic.

Patron sinners are usually subversives, social critics, revolutionaries, artists, heretics, or criminals, although in theory any person can be deemed a sinner if they significantly undermine arbitrary authority or bankrupt social norms.

Sinners usually also have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes them seem at least a bit edgier or more challenging than superficially similar activists or artists, and many of them are people we believe have not received due fame or attention.

Bay Area Satanists nominate sinners once per year. Final selections are made via secret rite (secret because we’re always changing it…) and inducted at our yearly Walpurgisnacht rite on or around April 30.

Praising figures from the past always gets sticky, because more likely than not someone whose ideals or actions we admire also held some other belief we find objectionable, and the judgment calls involved with deciding who it’s appropriate to praise are very subjective.

Still, we’re not calling any of these people saints—definitively.

 

Mary Ellen Pleasant

“A demon from first to last.” 

Called both the “Mother of Civil Rights in California” and “The Voodoo Queen of San Francisco,” Pleasant was a Gold Rush-era millionaire who used her riches to fund anti-slavery politicians and revolutionaries. A figure of perpetual scandal, critics slandered her as a murderer, a blackmailer, a brothel keeper, and a witch; most likely none of the rumors were true, but Pleasant was always willing to leverage her reputation to intimidate rivals and promote her own public image.

Frank Zappa

“Without deviation, progress is impossible.” 

Guitarist, composer, artist, and director, 20th century rockstar Zappa produced over 80 albums, headlined around the world, testified before Congress, served as cultural liaison to Czechoslovakia, went to jail for selling fake porn to an undercover cop, and provoked everyone from Ronald Reagan to Michael Jackson to Pat Robertson. Zappa was famous for his uncompromising standards, racially integrated band, oddball sobriety, anti-censorship activism, and vivid creativity.

Ignaz Semmelweis

“The Semmelweis Effect: The tendency to reject new evidence if it challenges established norms.” 

A shrewd 19th century doctor practicing in Vienna, Semmelweis’ peers relegated him to the then-obscure field of obstetrics because he was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant. Obsessed with discovering why so many women died of infections after childbirth, Semmelweis observed that death rates plunged if doctors simply washed their hands. Though dismissed as a quack, Semmelweis refused to stop lecturing about this simple secret that would eventually save millions of lives.

Hypatia

“To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing.”

One of the foremost mathematicians and teachers of philosophy in Roman Egypt, Hypatia became the head of the Platonist school in Alexandria. Though widely admired, she was also considered a dangerous and seditious figure, since “Hypatia came to symbolize learning and science, which the early Christians identified with paganism.” Afraid of her popularity, erudition, and pagan ways, a mob of religious zealots murdered her in 415 CE.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair

“Woman, atheist, anarchist: That’s me.” 

Civil rights activist, flagrant Communist, and aggressive atheist, O’Hair successfully sued Baltimore public schools and ended mandatory school prayer nationwide in 1963, earning herself the sobriquet “The Most Hated Woman In America.” O’Hair also mounted campaigns against the Pledge of Allegiance, the motto “In god We Trust,” public nativity scenes, public scripture readings, and even tax exemptions for churches. She credited her atheism to her experience reading the Bible for the first time in 1932.

Jose Sarria

“United we stand, divided they catch us one by one.” 

Drag performer, vocalist, and political ne’er-do-well, Sarria achieved local fame by singing famous opera arias in drag under stage names like “The Widow Norton” and “The Nightingale of Montgomery Street.” The first openly gay political candidate in US history, Sarria provoked dozens of people to run against him just to block him from office. Often arrested for frequenting gay bars and cruising spots, Sarria declared, “There is nothing wrong with being gay; the crime is being caught.”

William Blake

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” 

Dismissed during his own lifetime as a madman, critics now acknowledge Blake as one of the all-time great English poets as well as a virtuoso visual artist. Now most famous for his seething apocalyptic poetry and surreal religious paintings, many of Blake’s best works were actually provocative satires of contemporary politics and hypocritical religious conventions.

Stephanie St Clair

“I’d rather be a lamppost in Harlem than a governor in Georgia.” 

Harlem crime boss Stephanie St Clair first made headway into New York gambling rackets by killing her abusive boyfriend in a brawl and going into business on her own. St Clair fought for years to keep the Mafia out of Harlem, and when longtime rival Dutch Schultz was fatally shot she took time to send him an insulting telegram on his deathbed. When crooked cops refused to honor her bribes St Clair exposed them to the press and City Hall, costing many their jobs.

Theresa Berkley

“She often restored the dead to life.” 

Long before words like “sadism” and “masochism” became common parlance, London dominatrix Theresa Berkley was busy at work in her house in 28 Charlotte Street, Portland Place, where for decades she flogged Victorian society’s wealthiest and most well-connected people, credited as “the queen of the secret sexual propensity the English most cherish.” Upon her death, her missionary brother was so scandalized to discover the source of her wealth that he renounced the money and fled the country.

Vine Deloria Jr

“For this land, god is red.” 

Sioux historian and theologian Vine Deloria Jr penned more than 20 books, including his uncompromising 1969 manifesto Custer Died For Your Sins and 1995’s Red Earth, White Lies, which upended the popular historical theories about prehistoric America. Deloria established the first master’s degree program in American Indian Studies, founded the Institute for the Development of Indian Law, and successfully sued the Washington Redskins.

Billie Holiday

“You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon.” 

Sans any musical training, Holiday became the premiere jazz singer of the 1930s, acclaimed for the unadulterated power of her vocals. Producer John Hammond hailed her as “improvising jazz genius,” a perpetually truant teenage delinquent who turned out to be an entirely organic, once-in-a-generation talent. Sometime stints in prison for narcotics and Holiday’s unapologetic defiance of institutional racism did not dampen her popularity, and she remained one of the most famous musicians in the world.

Zora Hurston

“Gods always behave like the people who make them.” 

Author and folklorist, Hurston lived in America’s first incorporated all-black community of Eatonville, Florida, where in her words she was “never indoctrinated in inferiority.” Now most famous for her novels like 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching god, Hurston also specialized in travelogues and anthropological writings about the religious lives and folklore of black communities in Haiti, the Caribbean, and Florida.

Wendell Scott

“If I leave in a pine box, that’s what I gotta do. But I’m gonna race.” 

Still the only black driver to win a NASCAR championship, Scott worked and won racing circuits in the Jim Crow south, where he and his family would often be barred from raceways, garages, hotels, and restaurants and where white drivers would often openly attack him during races and send him death threats later. At the Grand National in Florida in 1963 race organizers declared another driver the winner, but later review found that Scott had beaten the entire field by two laps.