The international headquarters for the Satanic Temple, which says its mission is to promote separation of church and state not devil worship, is set to open on Thursday in a Massachusetts city known historically for persecuting witches accused of being possessed by the devil.
It was in Salem, the home for the new center, that 20 people were executed in the notorious witch trials in the 1690s, an important event in the history of colonial America.
Gallows Hill, where the accused witches are believed to have been hung, is less than a mile (1.6 km) from the Satanic Temple’s center, a Victorian-style house that once served as a funeral home.
“The irony that a town which one executed people because of alleged ties to Satan will now be hosting the headquarters of the world’s largest satanic organization is not lost on us,” said Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves in a statement. “The fact that we have a home in Salem is a testament to the progressive mentality of the people there, and the local government’s support for plurality.”
The group, which does not promote worship of the devil as described in the Bible, says its mission is to reinforce the separation of church and set, encourage benevolence and empathy among all people and promote “practical common sense and justice.”
The building will house the group’s one-ton, 7-foot (2.13-m) bronze statue of Baphomet, a goat-headed winged deity that has been associated with satanism and the occult. The group is perhaps best known for attempts have the statue positioned next to monuments to the Bible’s Ten Commandments in Oklahoma and Arkansas, in a protest to perceived state support for one religion over another.
Officials in those states fought off the efforts.
So far, officials and residents in Salem have expressed few objections to the Satanic center.
“It’s not really that big a deal,” said Salem City Council President Josh Turiel “We’ve had weirder things pretty much on every other street corner.”
The seaside community about 20 miles (32 km) north of Boston has taken to playing up the darker aspects of its history. The downtown features the Salem Witch Museum, as well as occult shops alongside upscale boutiques, all major tourist draws in the lead up to Halloween on Oct. 31.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)