Joining the traditional nativity scene and menorah in the Illinois Capitol rotunda this month is a statue that’s been dubbed Snaketivity. Sponsored by The Satanic Temple’s Chicago chapter, the work depicts a snake coiled around Eve’s arm as she holds an apple.
Officially titled Knowledge Is the Greatest Gift, the statue portrays Satan as the hero in the Fall narrative, according to group spokesman Lex Manticore. Seeking knowledge is “the greatest individual pursuit of bettering yourself,” he says, “and we believe that you should basically act with the best scientific understanding of the world when you make decisions.”
Any group—religious or not—can apply for a display, as long as content isn’t funded by taxpayers. A nearby sign notes that the rotunda’s first floor is a public place, so the First Amendment prevents state officials from censoring content. Also in the rotunda is a winter solstice statement from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Ten years ago, a Springfield resident applied to display a Festivus pole.
Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker says only a few complaints have been lodged, but some have been “vociferous.” On Twitter, Illinois Family Action wrote that Snaketivity’s defenders “fail to realize that the little baby in the manger has CRUSHED Satan’s head and the gates of hell will NOT prevail.”
What the Satanic Temple Represents
Manticore, a leader of the 150-member Chicago chapter, says The Satanic Temple doesn’t believe in “anything supernatural,” meaning it has “no deities.” He adds, “Not only do we not worship a literal Satan, but we don’t believe one actually exists.” Instead, Satan serves as a historical metaphor for “a character that represents rebellion in the face of religious tyranny.” Regarding the statue, Manticore says, “We just want equal representation.”
Co-founder Lucien Greaves says The Satanic Temple is “on the front lines in the war against encroaching theocracy.” The non-theistic organization aims to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
The Group Has Used Similar Tactics Before
This isn’t the first appearance of provocative statues. Previously, The Satanic Temple displayed a snake at Michigan’s Capitol, and this year a haloed goat head is in its place.
In response to the controversial Ten Commandments monument at the Arkansas Capitol, this summer The Satanic Temple unveiled a statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed winged creature. Ivy Forrester, co-founder of the group’s Arkansas chapter, said, “If you’re going to have one religious monument up, then it should be open to others, and if you don’t agree with that, then let’s just not have any at all.”
Previously, the group has publicly opposed the divisive Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas and sponsored controversial after-school Satan clubs. Various chapters also work to adopt highways and fight laws that “unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive anatomy.”
Last month, The Satanic Temple sued Netflix for copyright infringement after “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” featured a statue similar to its own.