Part I: Mike Warnke's Story
In January 1972, televangelist Morris Cerullo introduced a young man named Mike Warnke to the evangelical Christian community. Cerullo had a rare specimen, indeed: A real, live former Satanist who had found Jesus and wanted to share his testimony with the world. And he had the ability to do it. Warnke possessed native speaking ability and natural charm, enrapturing revival crowds with no visible effort. And to top it all off, he was funny. Warnke's blend of true confession, Christian stand-up, and born again sermonizing was a winning combination.
Morris Cerullo "cures" 4-year-old Natalia Barned of cancer in 1992
So winning that by 1973, Warnke had broken away from Cerullo to form his own Alpha and Omega Outreach ministry and published his autobiography (co-written Les Jones and David Balsiger of Noah's Ark infamy), The Satan Seller. It pushed Warnke into the national Christian spotlight, winning him speaking engagments at some of the nation's most popular evangelical venues.
With his niche firmly established, Warnke enrolled at Trinity Bible College in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1975, his first Christian comedy album (Alive!) cemented his fame. Warnke quickly became the best-selling Christian comedian of all time.
Despite his chequered past, Warnke seemed stable and well-prepared for ministry. He was a Vietnam vet married to his college sweetheart, the former Sue Studer. The Warnkes had two young sons. Fellow Christians were amazed at how far Mike had come in such a short time. Truly, this was God's hand at work.
Less than ten years earlier, Mike Warnke had been high priest in a violent Satanic cult, a drug dealer, and an addict. He viciously dominated and abused the women in his life, cut himself off from his family, and led his followers into increasingly demented behaviour. The way Mike describes himself on Alive!, he was a ruthless gangsta junkie - as badass as 50 Cent, looking worse than Sick Boy from Trainspotting:
"I'd had hepatitis four times from shooting up with dirty needles. I had scabs all over my face from shooting up crystal. I was a speed freak. I weighed 110 pounds soaking wet. My skin had turned yellow. My hair was falling out. My teeth were rotting out of my head. I'd been pistol-whipped five or six times. My jaw had been broken. My nose had been almost ripped off. I had a bullet hole in my right leg. Two bullet holes in my left leg."His childhood, while not as tragic as Doreen Irvine's, had been rough. Born in 1946, he grew up in Coffee County, Tennessee, son of a truckstop owner called Whitey and his fifth wife. Whitey sold drugs and was mixed up with gangters; he carried a tommy gun in his car, which was full of bullet holes from deals gone bad. He had affairs with many young women, including the teenage waitress who became his sixth wife after Mike's mother died in 1955. For the next three years, Mike was at the mercy of a stepmother who whipped him with a dog leash at every opportunity.
Whitey died when Mike was 11. The orphaned boy lived for a short time with his mother's devoutly Christian sisters, and their influence stayed with him, just as Doreen Irvine's Sunday school teachers planted the seeds of salvation in her youth. Then he was sent to California, to live with half-sister Shirley Schrader, her husband, and their son. The Schraders raised Mike as their own child, bringing him up Catholic in the tight-knit community of Crestline.
Warnke's teen years were typical for a Catholic California boy in the '60s: Dances, parties, cruising with the guys. He never got into serious trouble, but he loved to tell tall tales and act out weird jokes. A favourite trick was to go into a restaurant with one of his pals and pretend he was a Russian who couldn't speak much English. The friend would "translate" for him. Later, at a college coffeehouse, he pretended to be an Englishman for eight months. In The Satan Seller, he boasts repeatedly that he could talk his way out of anything.
After graduating from Rim of the World High School in 1965, Warnke enrolled at a junior college, San Bernadino Valley College. It was here, on a grassy campus full of mission-style buildings, that he went to the dark side. He had already abandoned the church, having been kicked out of Bible study for asking too many questions.
College gave him the opportunity to break away entirely. He severed contact with this family in Crestline, grew his hair long, and bought outrageous clothes that made him stand out on campus. He became a kind of guru of the quad, dispensing wisdom to like-minded freshmen. He hung around campus all the time even after flunking out of all his classes.
Though he doesn't give us many time markers, we know that everything Warnke experienced at college occurred between his enrollment in the fall of '65 and his enlistement in the Navy in the summer of '66. Keep that in mind.
In The Satan Seller, Warnke tells us he was already an alcholic by the age of 18. At college, a clean-cut fellow student he calls "Dean Armstrong" offered him some pot to counteract the sour stomach and blackouts that resulted from his continuous heavy drinking. Dependence on pot led to a dependence on speed, also supplied by Dean. He also dabbled heavily in peyote, mescaline, and LSD supplied as part of a government-funded research experiment. Then Dean suggested he try something even stronger. He directed Warnke to a gathering held at a posh house in the hills; beautiful hippies smoking pot, talking religion and philosophy before having a free-love orgy.
As Mike realized after attending several such gatherings, these people were Satanists or witches (just like Doreen Irvine, Warnke uses the terms interchangeably). The sex parties were just a lure to bring selected people into the coven.
His introduction to the coven was extremely gradual, unlike the sudden initiation described by Irvine. Though time markers are few and far between, Warnke gives us the impression that a significant amount of time passed before he was allowed to proceed to the "second level". In the meantime, he became a big-time drug smuggler and dealer for Dean Armstrong. He tells us the coven was handling a "large percentage" of the drug traffic for the Inland Empire at that time.
The "secondary meetings" consisted of rituals that were blasphemous but surprisingly tame. Initiates learned simple witchcraft. Warnke estimates there were "several hundred" regional coven members at this, from all walks of life. There were even a few ministers and priests.
Warnke itched to explore the deeper mysteries of the group, so he obediently served as Dean's drug gofer and message boy until he was admitted to the "third stage". This was the inner sanctum, the core group of real Satanists. Dean revealed that he was one of the leaders, a "Master Counselor" (there were three Master Counselors at a time, which is rather bizarre).
Warnke's first "third stage" meeting was a Black Mass held in a barn near Redlands. A nude girl laid on an altar consisting of a granite slab atop two sawhorses while the three Master Counselors desecrated the sacraments, uttered blasphemies, and read from the Satanic bible, which Warnke calls The Great Mother. It was apparently far less weighy than the massive Book of Satan used by Doreen Irvine's cult, because Dean was able to rest it on the naked altar-girl's stomach without crushing her. You'll notice, in the course of this series, that the world-wide church of Satan doesn't seem to have standardized scripture. At all. Each ex-Satanist describes different books, different magical systems, and different modes of worship. Orgies are the only consistent feature. You'd think that a secretive cult angling for world domination would be slightly more organized than this.
At the end of the Black Mass, the Satanists cast curses on enemies (i.e., ex-members who were telling people about the coven and Christians who were preaching and praying against Satanism). Warnke was so impressed with this that he asked to be initiated as soon as possible. Dean told him he could join the coven at the next full moon, three weeks later.
We now see the darker side of Warnke. Up to this point, he's just a speed freak curious about Satanism. After the third meeting, he's kind of a monster. He admits to holding his girlfriend captive in his apartment for a week, using her as his "whipping girl", then pushing her out on the street for no reason.
At his initiation, also held in the barn, Mike knelt naked in the center of a circle and received a new Satanic name, Judas. He was "baptized" with holy water mixed with urine. He was given a black robe, a hood resembling those worn by Eastern Orthodox priests, a silver ring to be worn only for "Satanic business", and a necklace bearing his zodiac sign. This ceremony bears little resemblance to Doreen Irvine's initiation ritual, which involved drinking the blood of a sacrificed rooster. Instead of signing a parchment, Warnke signed his name (in his own blood) within a large leather-bound book. Some of the names already inscribed in it appeared in green ink, and Dean explained that the blood magically turned green as soon as someone betrayed Satan.
This group called itself The Brotherhood.
To his credit, Warnke tells us much more about the beliefs and attitudes of Satanic witches than Doreen Irvine did. He informs us that Satanists believe in God, but reject God in favour of the thrills and short-term benefits Satan can provide. They have elaborate rituals and spells. They don't just burn Bibles, like Irvine's "black witches". Nor does Warnke claim to have superpowers like those Irvine developed; he can't levitate, kill birds with his mind, or make himself invisible.
But Warnke doesn't get too specific about the doings of his cult. He doesn't reveal any of the contents of The Great Mother, doesn't provide real names, and gives only vague descriptions of meeting places.
Mike learned a lot about Satanic witchcraft in a very short time. First, a female witch revealed to Warnke that the powers of spells, curses, and potions came from demons. These demons had been pressed into service by their master, Satan, and performed their tasks reluctantly. So if any rule was broken or any mistakes made, the demon could lash out violently against you. An "enraged demon" had clawed her forehead once, leaving a nasty scar. Later, he learned that two Satanists had been crushed to death by an invisible force because they carelessly stepped on the wrong part of the circle during a ceremony.
Next, Dean made it clear that he was expected to go out and recruit new members. In stages, he would lure them to a female witch's apartment for sex, then offer drugs, then ease them into witchcraft. Dean supplied him with a fake ID so that he could cruise bars for "marks". Mark brought 1000 people into the Brotherhood in this manner, raising regional membership to 1500. He repeats this number at least four times in the book.
At some point, Dean told Mike that the "big guys" were giving him a big promotion, and Mike would be taking his place as a Master Counselor.
One week later, again on the night of a full moon, he was initiated into his new role. He became the "Master of Ritual" (the other two counselors were known as the Keeper of the Seal and the Keeper of the Books). Perks of Mike's new job included free rent, free groceries, a chauffeur, unlimited drugs and alcohol, and two pretty "roommates" who submissively catered to his every whim. According to Warnke these two young women were considered "slaves, or menials, or whatever", and were "just there for show and for my pleasure". But they also performed secretarial tasks, did all the cooking and cleaning and entertaining, and prepared his snacks and his drugs.
At meetings, Warnke intoned certain chants while he "exorcised" ritual knives with belladonna-laced incense, outlined a pentagram on the floor with the tip of a sword, and mock-disemboweled the naked girl on the altar. At some point he would summon a demon to do the bidding of the coven (the pentagram had to be outlined perfectly, because it magically "caged" the demon; if there was even the slightest break in the pentagram, the demon could escape and do serious damage).
After this was done, Satanists could step forward with petitions to curse their enemies.
Warnke introduced two innovations into meetings: Blood-drinking and host desecration. These things had never been done by the coven, and Warnke says he took "sadistic pleasure" in watching the female witches nervously take their first sips of blood.
From this point in his narrative, Warnke begins to hint that the "fourth step" in the Satanic hierarchy is the Illuminati. The people at this level were well-dressed professionals, almost aristocratic in bearing. Strangely, Warnke never asked his fellow Satanists about the fourth level. He seemed content to let the upper echelons remain shrouded in mystery until he was considered worthy to join their ranks.
Perhaps he was satisfied with the power he wielded. Warnke ritually summoned demons at each Satanic ceremony, and the demons did his bidding. He tells us demons are capable of possessing people and driving them to insanity and suicide. They can cause disease and impede spiritual growth.
One night, to impress a childhood pal who was visiting, Warnke summoned a demon and ordered it to burn down a bar. A short time later, the building was ablaze.
Later, the coven cursed the two young daughters of a Valley College professor who had spoken dismissively of witchcraft, and caused an ex-member to have a near-fatal car accident.
Impressed with his performance as a Master Counselor, some fourth-stagers sent Warnke to a gathering of high-level witches organized by Bridget Bishop of Salem, Massachusetts - a descendant of the first witch executed during the Salem witch trials. (Some of Bishop's descendants do still live in the area, and a decade ago several of them called for Bridget's full exoneration. A "Bridget" was not among them. According to Warnke, Bridget Bishop was a stunningly beautiful young woman who lived in a large old house stuffed with antiques.)
At this witch convention, the main topic was organization. We learn that the U.S. Satanic witch movement has a corporate-style structure and uses tactics culled from big business and the military to keep everything running smoothly.
Hearing this, Warnke had his New World Order revelation. He suddenly realized there could be a fifth stage controlling everything, not just Satanism but world events.
"A world-wide, super secret control group with perhaps as few as a very dozen at the top...with key men controlling governments, economies, armies, food supplies...pulling the strings on every major international event...and not just now, but for generations, centuries, since the beginning of civilization...manipulating men by their egos and their appetites, rewarding and depriving, enraging and pacifying, raising up first one side and then the other, maintaining a balance of frustration, bitterness, and despair?" (p. 93, ellipses in original)
He heard other attendees talking about the demons that had controlled the worst dictators of history: Nero, Hitler, Stalin. A light went on in his head, showing him that demonically inspired Satanists and their human puppets were the force beyong international finance, politics, war, industry, and everything else.
"I laughed, a little hysterically, but the light show wouldn't shut off. So that was how it was done! The global-conspiracy buffs were right, after all. Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Sirhan B. Sirhan - they were the pawns of a much bigger plot."
Keep in mind that Warnke was supposedly having this revelation in 1965 or '66. Ray and Sirhan were nonentities.
He also realized that he and all the other Satanists were just pawns in Satan's campaign of jealousy and hatred, and that Satan probably hated humans just as much as he despised the God who had denied him his rightful place in heaven.
It didn't bother him too much. He just got on with his Satanic business. He attended another witchcraft convention in New York, where he learned that some Satanists were sacrificing their fingers (mentioned repeatedly by Doreen Irvine) and eating human flesh.
Warnke introduced both practices to his coven, and added cat sacrifice to the rituals as well. He also suggested that his group collect blood from stray dogs if they couldn't get enough human volunteers, and he later learned that reports of exsanguinated dogs shot up 500% in the area.
After an occult convention in San Francisco (where he met Anton LaVey), he used a new "formula" during a meeting and inadvertently sent a young woman into a screaming, frothing fit of demonic possession.
In accordance with The Great Mother, he decided it was time to start raping virgins at sabbats. He and three other Satanists convinced a college student named Mary to accompany them to the orange grove where they usually held their rituals, then violently forced her to disrobe and lay on the altar. She was raped by an unspecified number of men before being taken to a doctor affiliated with the coven - someone who wouldn't talk.
Meanwhile, Warnke's speed use was spiralling out of control and he was becoming very paranoid. He feared the Mafia, Communists, and every bump in the night. The higher-ups evidently decided he was a liability, so his slave-girls were instructed to give him an overdose of heroin. While he was drifting in and out of consciousness, cult goons removed him from his apartment and dumped him on the sidewalk in front of a hospital. He registered as John Doe and went through agonizing withdrawal for a week.
When he returned to his pad, the slave-girls were gone and most of his Satanic paraphernalia had been removed. He had been ejected from the Brotherhood. He also lost his part-time job at a hamburger stand.
With few choices left, he joined the Navy. Withdrawal made bootcamp a nightmare, but the two Christian men in his unit lovingly tended to him day after day. These guys, Bob and Bill, seemed to be filled with a calm and peace that the others lacked. One day, Warnke's eye fell on Bill's Bible. It was open to John, and 3:16 caught his eye. He picked up the book and began reading it in the privacy of a broom closet. He found himself unable to put it down, so he read throughout the night. By dawn, he was saved.
After basic training, Warnke visited his family for the first time since he left Crestline for Valley College. While there, he ran into an old classmate named Sue Studer, another born again Christian. They were soon engaged. He told her all about his Satanic past. Both Sue and Mike claim that Satanists were gunning for Mike at this time; their friend Lorrie narrowly escaped being shot while snooping around a warehouse where the Brotherhood was gathering, and someone fired on Mike's car from a Cadillac.
Mike himself was a danger to those around him. Still in the grip of demons, he tried to strangle Sue one night. She realized what was happening and ordered the demons to depart in the name of Jesus, which seems like a rather strange reaction to a murder attempt by your fiance.
In 1967 the newlyweds settled in San Diego, where Mike went through training to become a Navy medic. They befriended a pastor who is now a household name: Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind novels. When Warnke told him about the Brotherhood and their efforts to scare him, LaHaye replied, "I've been attacked by witches," and filled him in on the history of the Bavarian Illuminati.
Every Christian who heard Mike's story was equally supportive and accepting. No one suggested that he turn himself in to the police for abduction and rape. No one advised him to seek psychological help or drug treatment. In fact, church members urged him to become a Sunday school teacher!
Just as Sue learned she was pregnant, Warnke was shipped to Vietnam. In this dismal atmosphere of death and devastation, he soon reverted to drinking and popping pills. His newfound faith in Christ dwindled. Though he was not supposed to be armed, he was, and one day an officer ordered him to execute a suspected Vietnamese spy.
In October '69, his unit was withdrawn. He returned to California in March of the following year. By this time, he had 3-month-old son, Brendon.
Their Christian friends helped Warnke regain his footing in the faith. He began giving his testimony at Jesus People gatherings in San Diego, Coronado, and La Mesa. Dick Handley introduced him to Anaheim Bulletin writer/photographer David Balsiger, who would become one of his co-authors. Balsiger was also a media director for Morris Cerullo at this time, though Warnke doesn't mention that. Cerullo and Balsiger had constructed an educational "witchmobile" full of occult paraphernalia, and Cerullo wanted Balsiger's help in writing a book titled Witchcraft Never Looked Better. In the end, Balsiger and Warnke left Cerullo out of their collaboration (Balsiger assisted Cerullo with his '73 book The Back Side of Satan).
Balsiger considered himself something of an occult expert, and Warnke donates several pages to his "knowledge". Among Balsiger's pearls of wisdom:
- "We discovered that occult practitioners open themselves to mental derangement, criminal tendencies and possible self-destruction or the destruction of other persons...many witches say that only Satanists and black arts practitioners go off the deep end and kill people or commit other crimes, but we researched eleven recent criminal cases...[and] occult practices were directly or indirectly linked to each case." He doesn't explain who conducted this research, how it was conducted, how occultism was connected to the cases, or even which cases were examined. We pretty much have to take his word for it.
- "witchcraft is being taught as an official course or as part of a lecture series in public schools all across the country under a variety of course titles, including the 'Literature of the Supernatural'."
- "40 to 50 percent of those undergoing treatment for various neuroses in and out of mental institutions have dabbled in the occult, and it never occurs to most psychiatrists to ask about this, nor would they know how to deal with it if they did ask." (Balsiger's wife, Janie, chimes in, "That's because it's a spiritual problem, and only a Christian psychiatrist would be able to cope with it successfully.")
- The peace symbol has a Satanic origin. Also, "it was used on Hitler's Nazi death notices and as part of the official inscription on the gravestones of Nazi officers of the SS, the leaders of which, incidentally, were Satanists." (The Morning of the Magicians by Bergier and Pauwels is cited as a source for this factoid)
- "In some parts of the country the occult epidemic is more serious than the drug-abuse scene among young people."
At the urging of Balsiger and others, Warnke applied for early release from the Navy (he had four years left to serve) so he could launch an anti-occult ministry.
He tries to convince us that Satanism poses a real threat to the average American. On page 195 he writes, "Drug pushers and political revolutionists are using devil worship as a way to rake in millions of dollars, weaken the government, and destroy law enforcement." When a reporter asked for his opinion on the Manson murders, he said, "Well, the main point here is that lots of crimes are committed as a result of occult involvement, and people should report to the police if they see someone going around wearing human bones as jewelry, or if there's a group meeting under a full moon."
What Warnke advocates, basically, is a new witch hunt. He even scoffs at the notion that Medieval and early modern witchhunts were "nothing but mass paranoia". At a press conference, he urged people to "get uptight" with bookstores that sold occult literature and theatres that screen horror movies.
As soon as his early release was granted - which Warnke portrays as a miracle - he began setting up speaking engagements to share his testimony.
Morris Cerullo, the preacher who got him started on this path, is not mentioned anywhere in The Satan Seller. He and Warnke had a falling-out when Warnke went off on his own, and Warnke reportedly forbade Cerullo from using any part of his life story in his revival sermons. Cerullo did include some of Warnke's anecdotes in his '73 book, The Backside of Satan, however, and those tidbits would come back to haunt Warnke.
The story of The Satan Seller concludes with Mike and Sue starting out on their glorious new ministry. At the end of the book is a list of suggestions for combatting the occult: write to congressmen and senators about the occult menace, picket bookstores and movie theatres, and "investigate schools" to make sure they aren't teaching kids about things like supernatural literature.
Part II: The Real Story