Last week, the folks from Morbid Anatomy gave a lecture at the Satanic Temple about how religious privilege can undermine Satanic aesthetics. And how it too may one day pass.

Actually, the presentations were on macabre latter-day carnival rides, art made from human remains, and decapitation imagery in French history. (I swear I didn’t bribe them into picking those topics for my sake, I’m actually just that lucky.)

But beyond just my own candy-coated lurid interests, Morbid Anatomy founder Joanna Ebenstein said one thing that really stuck with me.

To paraphrase: Modern Americans are unusual in segregating the macabre from the winsome. Our forebears’ prurient past times seem creepy, but possibly we’re the strange ones for trying to stick death in a closet.


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Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…

And I would go even further and say that we’re laboring under many strange standards today. We have stigmas not just about the morbid but also about the radical, the malcontent, and of course about the Satanic. But you’ll notice they’re stigmas that wax and wane with social privilege.

Context: The reason the blog didn’t update last week was because I was traveling. And while I was away I took the opportunity to pop into the Satanic Temple’s headquarters and art gallery in Salem, Massachusetts.

I wanted to visit for the usual reasons: to see some of the art, to meet a few people (including Black Mass Appeal friend and For Infernal Use Only author Jack), and to be able to say that I went. So it was just a happy accident that I was there the same day as the Morbid Anatomy crew.

Ebenstein’s Morbid Anatomy Museum (which has now closed but lives on after death as a pop-up venture) dedicated itself to “the exhibition of artifacts and ideas which fall between the cracks of high and low culture, art and science, beauty and death.”

Sometimes that means taxidermied animals having tea parties. (The work of Walter Potter, possibly the most interesting man you would never, ever want to meet at a party.)

Sometimes that means antique wax models of dissected human bodies. (Doesn’t spook me as much as Wax Trump, but that’s a race to the bottom if ever I saw one.)

And for one of last week’s lectures it meant a look at Dreamland, the lost Coney Island theme park that included dancing skeletons, exhibitions of Hell, and premature burial. Which is all still less disquieting than Dinosaur Adventure Land, but I digress.


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Nailed it.

Dreamland’s gruesome but cheeky horrors seem weird today. But as Ebenstein pointed out, historically it’s common to have a little fun with the idea of death. Our modern squeamishness is a departure.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, maybe not, I dunno. But after reflecting on Ebenstein’s words, I can’t help but notice that it’s a situational standard at best.

As I’ve noted in the past, mainstream religions involve an awful lot of weird shit. A crucifix, for example, is an image of a tortured body. Whatever its spiritual meaning to millions of people, there’s no denying it’s a bloodied corpse.

Most Satanic imagery is comparably tame. For my part, goats and basic geometry leave me less shook than hanging bodies. But those partial to the crucifix enjoy religious privilege in America, so we wave that off.

It happens in holy books too. “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, o god,” wrote the Psalmist, “Do not I hate them that hate thee? I hate them with perfect hatred. I count them my enemies.”

That sounds, ah, a touch militant. But the presumption of normalcy goes a long way I guess. (Special thanks to the beachy fundies who brought those verses to our attention via their beach ball raid on TST Santa Cruz. Yep, that really happened.)

In light of things like this, I find inspiration in Morbid Anatomy’s morbid anatomies. They remind me that what’s presumed normal will not necessarily last. And that today’s biases may become tomorrow’s curiosities.

Sometimes that’s lucky. Sometimes not. Like everything, it depends on the context. But when backing Satan against the status quo, there is great comfort in observing the inevitability of change.


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What rough beast indeed?