SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois statehouse rotunda has some familiar displays this year, like a Christmas tree, a nativity scene and a menorah. Among them, however, is a sculpture not so familiar: a woman’s left hand, wrapped in a snake, offering an apple to the viewer.
The purpose of the display is one of equality, according to Lux Armiger, chairperson of the Satanic Temple’s Chicago chapter. They erected the sculpture “to provide an alternate religious viewpoint, so one religious perspective no longer dominates the discourse in the capitol rotunda during the holiday season,” Armiger told Patch.
The statue is full of symbolism. The woman’s hand and forearm represent those of Eve, who took the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, the story goes.
She offered the apple to Adam, “inviting him to eat of the fruit and ameliorate his ignorance,” Armiger said. Adam, in the case of the sculpture, is represented by whomever is looking at it.
“The sculpture is titled ‘Knowledge is the Greatest Gift,'” Armiger said, “for it is knowledge that Satan gifted to Eve in the garden like Prometheus gifting fire to man.”
The State of Illinois is legally required to allow the Satanic display, just as it’s required to allow the nativity scene and menorah. The First Amendment means they must “allow temporary, public displays in the state capitol so long as these displays are not paid for by taxpayer dollars,” according to WBEZ.
The Satanic Temple plans to keep the display up through the month of December, Armiger said.
This is far from the first time the Satanic Temple has erected statues and displays next to Judeo-Christian symbols in public places. In August the Temple placed a statue of Baphomet, the winged, hoofed figure common in Satanic traditions, at the Arkansas State Capitol near the 10 Commandments, “essentially merging the cases.”
What is Satanism?
Most Satanists do not subscribe to the supernatural, nor that any representation of the devil truly exists, said Malcolm Jarry, a co-founder of the Satanic Temple, in an August interview with Patch. They see even the Satanic Bible, published in 1969, as a product of its time and don’t necessarily adhere to it, refusing to make any texts sacred. Those who believe in the supernatural have a place in the Satanic Temple, but do not represent the majority of its members.
Jarry said members of the Satanic Temple reject “any sort of physical or metaphysical representation of the devil,” and instead see Satan as a representation of “the indomitable human spirit struggling for wisdom and knowledge in the face of oppressive forces.”
Many of the Satanic Temple’s followers identify as “outsiders,” Jarry said, adding that the concept of Baphomet enables “harmonious inclusion with the rest of society including those who might stand in opposition.”
Jarry told Patch there is a “comical” misconception about the Satanic Temple in which people think they are illegitimate solely because they “don’t worship some image of evil incarnate.” A part of Satanism is a rejection of the mainstream idea of what a religion should entail. They reject the idea that “religious entities must strictly conform to their preconceived notions in order to be valid,” he said.
He added that the Satanic Temple, alongside fighting for civil rights, supports its chapters which “raise money for animals shelters, support the homeless with various drives for necessities and actively engage in other worthy causes.”
Photo credit: The Satanic Temple – Chicago Chapter, used with permission