Photo courtesy of the Satanic Collective / Twitter
Story by Angele Latham / Contributing Writer
In a surprise twist fit for the month of Halloween, a new organization has come to MTSU: the Satanic Collective, a group of student Satanists, occultists and other practitioners of “alternative religion.” While the name often brings to mind images of dark occult gatherings and sacrificial altars, Levethan Letson, the student pioneering this unique group, wants to set the record straight.
Letson fits the profile of your average student: a freshman theatre major with a plucky demeanor and a never-ending schedule of homework and tests. Little about him stands out as controversial or rebellious. Throw in the fact that Letson is a Satanist, however, and suddenly his story isn’t as common – or generally socially acceptable – as one might originally think. This, he says, is why he decided to start the Satanic Collective.
“Well, people, when they hear Satanism, automatically think of sacrificing goats and eating babies and drinking blood and all kinds of crazy stuff,” Letson said. “… There’s so many Christian organizations (on campus). I’ve seen some Islamic organizations, some Jewish, some Catholic, but I didn’t see any occult or any alternative religions. And I thought, you know what? If somebody can open the door for this, it might as well be a Satanist, and they can at least show it’s not evil. (To show) that it’s just another side of life.”
Satanism as a religious ideology is often shrouded in mystery and social stigma. Dating back centuries, Satanism is by no means a new concept. However, the existence of a more open and organized Satanic group can be largely traced back to one man: Anton Szandor LaVey. LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan in 1966, authored the Satanic Bible in 1969. This factor above all others gave rise to the new wave of Satanism in the largely Christian U.S.
Letson, like many other Satanists, have LaVey to thank for their conversion, however indirectly.
“Well, I was raised Southern Baptist,” Letson said. “My family was very conservative … When I was in eighth grade, I started researching the occult and outside religions and all of that. And I read the Satanic Bible for the first time on my iPod touch, and ever since then, I’ve kinda been on this journey. “
Letson says this group will be about bringing like-minded people on the same journey. A journey of activism, community service and above all, acceptance.
“The reason I started this was because I saw a lot of arguing between (sects of Satanism), and I don’t think that’s fair given that, for the most part, they support the same message,” Letson said. “And I thought ‘Why not just create a group that accepts both?’ Then we can all work together … Obviously, not everyone is going to believe what I believe, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I want a lot of diversity in here.”
Not everyone on campus is ready for this brand of diversity, however. In reaction to the Satanic Collective’s meeting announcement on Facebook, MTSU students were quick to voice their opinion.
“I wake up on this fine day to see someone promoting a new Satanism group,” posted Aureon Johnson on the MTSU Class of 2021 Facebook page. “Let me go pray real quick.”
Rachel Bailey, another student on the page, agreed.
“I have never seen or heard anything good come from a Satanist organization,” she said in direct response to Letson’s original post.
Not every student was a dissenter, however. Some even compared it to their own religious experiences.
“While I do not personally share your beliefs (because, well, I am Catholic lol) I hope getting your group together goes well!” commented Cerridwen Kaiding. “People who claim Christianity and in the same breath talk down about your religion and who are unkind to you are not great representations of our values, and I’m sorry on behalf of those who are going to treat you unkindly. I hope all is well with you!”
“All he is doing is trying to express his right to freedom of religion. Not trying to force anyone, only trying to inform people,” said Elizabeth Coram in response to Letson’s post. “I stand by him because I would probably get the same backlash if I wanted to start a Pagan or Wiccan group or community on campus.”
Some students chose to treat the issue with humor.
“Any chance membership comes with a free pitchfork?” asked Austin Ford on the MTSU Class of 2020 page. “I’ve been so inefficient pitching wheat lately and could really use an upgrade.”
Reactions could even be found among other campus religious organizations. Weston Duke, a campus minister for Christian organization Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), says he believes there are more similarities at the heart of the two groups than generally thought.
“I think most people want to believe there is something bigger than us at work in the world, something that can give our lives purpose, meaning and direction,” he said. “This group is simply another manifestation of that longing. But at RUF, we believe the answer to that longing is only found in the Bible’s story of God’s redemption through Jesus.”
Letson also encourages students to discover what they think is right, albeit from an obviously different perspective.
“I would say that it’s better to keep an open mind and research things on your own rather than hear it from somebody else,” Letson said. “If people really are that afraid of (Satanism), then they should just come to a meeting and see what it is.”
Through the many contrasting opinions, one thing remains clear: Students at MTSU have never had so many options to explore their spiritual side. Whatever students’ tastes, religious plurality has a strong grip on campus and isn’t likely to let go anytime soon.
To join the Satanic Collective, email SatanicCollectiveMTSU@gmail.com
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