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Last week, it was discovered that Netflix’s recently released series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, featured a computer-generated image of Baphomet that was apparently copied directly from a statue created by The Satanic Temple.
For the Satanic Temple, Baphomet represents their values of reason and autonomy; the statue’s use in demonstrating the importance of the establishment clause at state capitols is what first attracted many people to join the organization. But in Warner Brothers’ series, Baphomet is an idol of the evil “Church of Night” who honor their “dark lord” with blood rites and enjoy cannibalistic meals of “long pork”—i.e. humans.
The Satanic Temple commissioned the statue from sculptor Mark Porter, which took a year and half to construct and cost $100k—only $30k of which was raised through crowd funding. The statue was also filed with the U.S. copyright office, so this would seem to be a clear case of copyright infringement, a story covered in People, Fortune, Russia’s RT, and elsewhere. Yet, when the Satanic Temple threatened legal action, some criticized their attempt to protect their intellectual property as petty or greedy.
Even Ken Ham of the Creationist Ministry Answers in Genesis weighed in, tweeting that Satanists are hypocrites because they “stole” the idea of Satan from the Bible. Lucien Greaves, spokesperson for the Temple, tweeted, “I’m amazed that anybody is confused as to why we would seek legal remedy over Sabrina using our monument. Would they be as understanding of a fictional show that used a real mosque as the HQ of a terrorist cell? A fictional Blood Libel tale implicating real world Jews?” Is there, indeed, a double standard when we consider the rights of Satanists?
The name Baphomet dates back to charges made against the Templar order in 1308, who were accused of worshipping a demonic idol in secret. But the image of Baphomet as an androgynous goat demon comes from Eliphaz Levi (1810-1875) who used it to represent the occult idea of the reconciliation of opposites. Levi stated cryptically, “The dread Baphomet, henceforth, like all monstrous idols, enigmas of antique science and its dreams, is only an innocent and even pious hieroglyph.”
The Satanic Temple’s Baphomet is inspired by Levi’s design, but with several important changes, which the BBC explained in 2015. Levi’s Baphomet has breasts, but the Satanic Temple’s statue couldn’t display female breasts because it was designed to be installed on government property. They also added two children, staring lovingly up at Baphomet. The Church of Satan, a rival organization, objected to these changes, claiming they suggested transphobia and even pedophilia. This image, and not Levi’s original, is the one that appears in Sabrina. Even the children, who sculptor Mark Porter modeled on real people, are nearly identical.
Yet Lisa Soper, the show’s production designer, claimed it’s “kind of a coincidence”:
“If you look at Goya paintings, if you look at a lot of the tarot cards, or the Alistair Crawley [sic] iterations of him—because there’s hundreds and hundreds of iterations of him, he’s always seen with his people around him and it’s more of like a father figure kind of thing. So depicting his children with him, that kind of stuff, and those kinds of elements are all kind of the same.”
But looking at the two images side by side, this defense seems like gaslighting.
Still, why threaten legal action? The Temple’s position is that, while they do not own Baphomet, they do own this specific copyrighted image. Legally, if they don’t fight for their copyright, it will become harder to enforce later. But beyond this, Greaves expressed concern that real damage could be done to the Temple. With access to over 58 million viewers, Netflix has a vastly larger platform than a religious group that formed only a few years ago. If Sabrina associates the statue with evil and cannibalism, this can easily eclipse all the work the Temple has done. While some Temple supporters have suggested they should just ignore Sabrina, Greaves feels he has a duty to protect the organization and that a group that can’t even defend its own intellectual property won’t be taken seriously.
Some have commented, in response to this story, that the Temple sues anyone who crosses them for fun and profit. While it’s true that the Temple’s mission to combat Christian hegemony often leads to litigation, they aren’t making any money (or even having much fun). The Temple owes tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and holds regular fundraising events to stay afloat. Generally, they don’t sue for financial damages, only injunctions compelling the defendants to treat them equally. A demand letter to Netflix and Warner Brothers from Temple lawyer Stu de Haan simply requested that the statue be removed from the show and expressed hope that this could be resolved without litigation. An exasperated Greaves told RD, “I just really wish [Netflix and Warner Brothers] hadn’t done this.”
So why did Netflix do this? Surely their art department could have created a truly terrifying Baphomet without stealing the Satanic Temple’s version. New religious movement scholar David Feltmate uses the term “ignorant familiarity” to describe a pattern in which “people think the know enough about others to make decisions about how to treat them, but that familiarity is based in ignorance.” In other words, producers looking for Satanic images online likely assumed the Satanic Temple were “just trolls” or otherwise not a “real” organization with the same rights and concerns as everyone else.