What 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 any person can be a great sinner if they significantly undermine arbitrary authority or bankrupt social norms.
Sinners often 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 celebration 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.
An American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, skeptic, best-selling author, and a champion of popular science, Sagan brought an unapologetically secular and material scientific philosophy into America’s living rooms through his hit TV show “Cosmos,” couched in terms that promoted the beautify and inspiration of the natural universe on its own terms. Other scientific minds sometimes criticized Sagan for adopting tools like television and popular culture, but Sagan believed that science is best served for appealing to people directly.
“People who used to make fun are now fans. I had the last laugh.”
Baltimore actor and crossdressing icon Harris Milstead achieved fame and infamy in equal measures under the stage name Divine. A high school friend of all-time great schlock director John Waters, Divine starred in some of Waters’ most acclaimed (and obscene films), including Pink Flamingos and Mondo Trasho. Divine demanded respect and recognition as an actor and performer rather than a novelty, and one New York Post reader called them “one of the few truly radical and essential artists” in America.
One of the all-time great singers, songwriters, and artists ever to come out of the UK rock & roll scene, Mercury’s sublime voice and overwhelming personal magnetism continue to attract acclaim decades after his death. The son of conservative Zanzibaras immigrants, Mercury crafted a public persona marked by his flamboyant style, open pansexuality, daring musical craftsmanship, and star-making ambition that brooked absolutely no compromise. He also–tragically but fatefully–became one of the most prominent faces of the HIV crisis in the early 1990s.
Hollywood’s original femme fatale, Bara embodied alluring licentiousness and exotic decadence during the earliest silent film era with movies like Salome, Sin, and The She-Devil. The daughter of Jewish immigrants, Bara’s scandalous but magnetic public image helped cement the new medium of film as potentially dangerous, inflammatory, and even perverse–just as audiences liked it, despite the protestations of moral guardians. At a time when women’s social roles were as tightly regimented as ever, Bara achieved fame and success with an image of practiced amorality.
“Hello Satan, it’s time to go.”
The King of the Delta Blues Singers, an itinerant guitarist whom modern musicians still credit as a tangible influence on their own work. In rural 20th century America, blues was the devil’s music, an unwelcome distraction from churchgoing piety and the competing gospel music tradition, and Johnson was the foremost purveyor of blasphemous but soulful signatures like “Crossroads Blues” and “Hellhound On My Trail.” So large loomed his profile that a legend persists to this day that a young Johnson sold his soul to Satan in exchange for his musical prowess.
An Austrian-American actor, inventor, and filmmaker noted for provocative roles in movies like Samson & Delilah and A Lady Of the Tropics and, later, for bucking convention by producing her own independent films, a slap in the face to the Hollywood studio system that resented the idea of a woman taking the initiative to create movies of her own. During World War II, Lamarr patented a special radio signal modulator intended to make it harder for the Nazis to decode allied messages, technology that formed the basis for future cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth communication.
The author of over 40 transcendentally funny and savvy satirical novels, Pratchett was one of the foremost wits and satirists of his time, selling more than 80 million books in over 30 languages. Though made popular for his dry wit and madcap humor, Pratchett’s greatest assets were his abiding impulse to speak truth to power and his talent for channeling disgruntlement at the status quo into keen and prescient storytelling. Pratchett’s clear-eyed and humane writings about death, dying, and mortality also made him a standard-bearer for the death with dignity movement, especially as he grappled with long illness toward the end of his own life.
Hunter S Thompson
The ultimate iconoclast of American letters, Thompson was a 20th century crusader for counterculture, outsider art, and borderline alien values. A cult journalist, Thompson exposed the strange and self-serving underbelly of American life with books like Fear & Loathing On the Campaign Trail ‘72 and articles with headlines like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” writing in a zealous, angry style that exposed the flimsy double-standards of mainstream values and made him an enemy of law enforcement, Richard Nixon, and very likely any number of harried copyeditors.
After studying film at Penn State and graduating with a thesis film titled Jizz Mopper: A Love Story, Peaches became San Francisco’s high queen of great cinema, bad cinema, and greatly bad cinema with her immortal Midnight Mass movie nights. Possessed by a spirit of irreverence onstage and onscreen, Peaches embodies Satanic and sardonic wit while exploring both high art and lowest denominators. Most recently, Peaches helped defile one of San Francisco’s most historic buildings with the assistance of incorrigible local Satanists…but we don’t need to reveal everybody’s secrets here.
Opera singer, swordswoman, outlaw, and daredevil, Julie d’Aubigny fled Paris with her fencing master lover in 1687, dressing like a man and openly carrying a sword. Infamous across France for her many affairs with women and men, she habitually dueled and killed men who disapproved of her escapades. When one of her paramour’s parents forced the girl to become a nun to get her away from Julie, Julie snuck into the convent, rescued her, and set the building on fire in order to cover their escape and convincingly fake their deaths.
Born a slave in South Carolina, Smalls served unwillingly aboard a Confederate military ship in the early days of the US Civil War. In 1862, while the ship’s white officers went ashore, Smalls seized the boat and sailed it to freedom in the North along with 20 other escaped slaves, then turned the boat, its guns, and all supplies over to the Union. Smalls went on to captain the same ship in blockades of Southern ports, then after the war became a congressman and established the first free public school system in the United States.
France’s greatest Modernist poet, Baudelaire was a tragic and melancholy figure with a reputation as a decadent and a dandy and a not-so secret personal despair that led him to produce some of the beautiful but scandalous verses of the age. After dabbling in political revolution, Baudelaire published his groundbreaking collection The Flowers of Evil in 1857; its seamy poems about sex, death, and the profanity of viltal life inspired, as one fellow writer put it, “admiration and anxious fear.” His “Litanies of Satan” and a few other poems were so provocative that some printings of the book still excise them even well into the 21st century.
Marsha P Johnson
Legend has it that Johnson threw the first brick at the Stonewall Riots in 1969; though various parties–including sometimes Johnson–have contested the charge over the years, that brick nevertheless cemented Johnson’s reputation as a queer revolutionary. Founding groups like the Gay Liberation Front and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, Johnson delved into AIDS-related activism in the ’80s as well. When challenged about gender, Johnson pointedly told busybodies that the middle initial “P” stood for “pay it no mind.”
Unlike some other Civil Rights agitators of the 20th century, history has largely glossed over Rustin on account of his Socialist politics. Beginning to organize against segregation in the 1940s, Rustin later put himself at additional risk by coming out as gay, declaring “if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice, aiding and abetting the effort to destroy me.” Rustin took a weird, regrettable turn toward right-wing politics toward the end of his life, but maintains a reputation principally as a radical.
“The Queen of Ocean Beach,” Schuldt was the preeminent pioneer of 20th century counterculture in San Francisco, long before the Beats, hippies, or punks arrived on the scene. Though she worked in night clubs and on fishing boats, Schuldt’s first love was the beach, where she was initially considered strange for rushing into the ocean mostly naked. The beach is also where she met a great many of the runaways and disaffected teens she fostered over the years, many of them queer youth who had been disowned by their own families and turned to Schuldt for guidance and acceptance.
Mary Ellen Pleasant
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.
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 Michael Jackson to Pat Robertson. Zappa was famous for his uncompromising standards, racially integrated band, oddball sobriety, anti-censorship activism, and vivid creativity.
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.
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
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.
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 at the last minute just to block him from office. Often arrested for frequenting gay bars and cruising spots, Sarria defiantly declared, “There is nothing wrong with being gay; the crime is being caught.”
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
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.
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 shocked to discover the source of her wealth that he renounced the money and fled the country.
Vine Deloria Jr
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 racist historical assumptions 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.
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.
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.
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.