Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Prodigal Witch: A Thumbnail Sketch of Johanna Michaelsen

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Before we get into the story of Lauren Stratford, let's take a quick look at another woman who had a powerful influence on the Satanic panic of the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
Without Johanna Michaelsen, Stratford and other "former Satanists" might not have achieved superstardom within the Christian community. As a former New Age believer who had been born again, Michaelsen used their stories to support her ongoing crusade against the occult and all "non-traditional" religions. She turned a blind eye to the implausibilities in these stories, and never sought confirmation that they were actually true. When the stories were exposed as fabrications or fell apart on their own, she either strenuously defended them or simply moved on to the next one without comment.

But she's not content to just spread the lies and misinformation of others. Michaelsen herself has thrown out a great deal of nonsense about the paranormal, Halloween, and earth religions. In a single interview with The 700 Club in 1999, she attempted to tie school shootings to the occult and industrial/metal music (blaming Rammstein for the Columbine massacre, even though Klebold and Harris didn't know German); stated the Celts used Ouija boards; and warned that Satanists are grooming our children for their imminent "reign" by indoctrinating them with Halloween festivities. Because we all know that Satanists like to dress up as Disney princesses and beg door-to-door for Laffy Taffy, right?

Johanna, born in the '40s, was raised by American parents in Mexico. She began having paranormal experiences at the age of eleven, starting with horrific visions of severed body parts. These gave way to more pleasant encounters with angels. As an adult, Johanna still believes these visions were real and that she inherited the supernatural abilities of her great-great aunt, Dixie Jarratt Haygood. In the late 1800s, Haygood performed as Annie Abbott, the Little Georgia Magnet (as did several other women, it seems). She hoisted grown men and furniture into the air, balanced heavy objects on her fingertips, and exhibited other signs of superhuman strength, but as fellow "wonder girl" Lulu Hurst later revealed in a tell-all memoir, these were fairly simple parlour tricks. When the vaudeville acts grew stale, Mrs. Haywood turned to trance mediumship. In other words, she was a magician. That Michaelsen actually believes this woman possessed superpowers indicates she is far removed from reality. Or as they might say in Georgia, "Porch light's on, but nobody's home."



Johanna wanted to become an actress, but in her twenties grew so fascinated by psychic phenomena that she instead devoted herself to an array of what she now considers "occult" practices: yoga, meditation, Silva Mind Control, etc. After her acting class experimented with mental telepathy, Johanna attempted to psychically influence others and was, she claims, partially successful. She even summoned Jesus during visualization sessions and received guidance from him.

In 1970 she apprenticed herself to a Christian psychic surgeon in Mexico, the famous Pachita. This elderly woman claimed to be possessed by the spirit of a powerful healer she called Hermanito Cuauhtemoc, an Aztec warrior who appeared to perform miraculous healings in the name of Jesus.
Over a fourteenth-month period, Johanna assisted over 200 psychic surgeries that were mostly successful. But she gradually realized that some "patients" experienced intense pain during Pachita's procedures, that not all of them were healed, and that Hermanito was a jerk.
One night in 1972, Johanna felt a "black cloud" descend over her and heard voices threatening to kill her as demons pressed their faces against a window, leering in at her.
She ultimately decided all of her mystical experiences had actually been demonic counterfeits, and turned away from them to accept the true Christ.

This had a lot to do with her younger sister Kim, who had been a fundamentalist Christian throughout this time. It was Kim who advised Johanna to meet with Os Guinness and other Christian counselors at L'Abri, Switzerland, where Johanna fully embraced Christianity for the first time.
Kim became the third wife of Hal Lindsey.
Johanna married Randolph (Randy) Michaelsen, then an associate pastor at the Tetelestai Center church in Torrance, California. He is currently the pastor of King's Harbor Church in Torrance.
The Lindseys and Michaelsens all attended Tetelestai Center throughout the '70s and '80s, at the peak of Hal's popularity as a Christian author. His Planet Earth books, which blended pop eschatology with dire prophecies about geopolitical trends, were bestsellers.

In 1982, Harvest House published Johanna's first book, The Beautiful Side of Evil, with a foreword by Hal Lindsey. It documented her "occult" experiences and conversion to Christianity. From then until now, she has appeared on numerous TV shows and given presentations to expose the dangers of the occult, with particular emphasis on New Age "infiltration" of Christian churches. Her appearance on The John Ankerberg Show, alongside The God Makers author Dave Hunt, is available on Youtube.
At the height of Satanic panic in the U.S. (the late '80s and early '90s), she warned of widespread crime and ritual abuse supposedly being perpetrated by devil-worshipers.

In 1987, the Michaelsens took a middle-aged woman known as Lauren Stratford into their home for a month. She claimed she had recovered memories of belonging to a murderous Satanic cult in the '60s, and needed help healing from the trauma. They introduced her to Hal Lindsey and several other prominent Christian authors, who all encouraged Stratford to write her life story. Her memoir, Satan's Underground, was published by Harvest House in 1988. Johanna wrote the introduction to it. In February of that year, she and Lauren appeared together on Oprah to describe the Satanic atrocities Lauren had survived. They also appeared together on Hal Lindsey's TV show.

In 1989, Harvest House published Michaelsen's second book, Like Lambs to the Slaughter, a guide for parents on how to prevent the occult from encroaching on their children's souls. Among other things, she warned against letting kids watch The Smurfs because one episode featured Gargamel standing in a pentagram, casting a spell. This was cited by a few anti-occult crusaders of the '80s (see Phil Phillips' hilarious Turmoil in the Toybox, for example), but what Gargamel really did in the episode "Winged Wizard" was draw a hexagram on the floor and bounce up and down on one foot chanting, "Upsis downsis hoozie whatzits, rara avis 31 flavours." Which is probably more product placement than Satanic ritual, if you ask me.



In the '90s, Hal Lindsey left Kim for one of his Bible study students. She became his fourth (and current) wife. This probably eroded the relationship between Lindsey and the Michaelsens.

In 1991, Cornerstone magazine investigated Lauren Stratford's background and discovered that it bore little resemblance to the stories she told in Satan's Underground. Among other things, Stratford had claimed to have inside information about ritual abuse supposedly occurring in California daycare centres during the mid-'80s. She imposed herself upon the parents of the alleged victims and told bizarre stories that could not be verified - not that they had any direct bearing on the abuse allegations, anyway. Johanna admitted to the Cornerstone researchers that she knew of Stratford's more outlandish tales before Satan's Underground was published, but failed to explain why she unquestioningly accepted Stratford's other stories. She also admitted that Hal Lindsey had been "bluffing" when he told his TV viewers he possessed documentation of Stratford's claims (see "Satan's Sideshow" by Bob and Gretchen Passantino and Jon Trott).

In 1992, when Cornerstone exposed the lies of "former high priest" Mike Warnke, Michaelsen fired off an angry letter to the editors. Without addressing any of the information the authors had uncovered, she accused them of trying to "annihilate" Warnke. Her message seemed to be that if someone is a strong voice for Christ and brings in new believers, deception and fraud are beside the point.

18 comments:

Highland Host said...

All too often we believe what we want to believe, accepting uncritically those stories that support our beliefs, while rejecting out of hand those that do not. An example of this would be the fact that I have had a friend e-mail me links to two clearly fake Kenyan birth certificates for Obama saying they prove that he was born in Kenya, yet this same man rejects the Hawaii certificate out of hand. In fact we need to test everything.

But it's a fact that the Celts did perform human sacrifice, and the wicker man ritual described by classical writers such as Strabo and Caesar is historical (See Miranda Green, 'The World of the Druids', Thames and Hudson, 2005). What the anti-occult campaigners don't tell you is that the Druids seems to have regarded criminals as particularly good sacrifices - so at least some Celtic human sacrifices combined religious ritual with capital punishment. The sacrifice of children, while recognised in the ancient Near East, is practically unknown in Celtic cultures. And of course all this is totally irrelevant where modern neo-pagan groups are concerned. These groups are mostly harmless nature-religions, and none approve, much less carry out, human sacrifice. They are attempts to revive, always in a modified and benign form, the ancient religions of pre-Christian Europe, but have no direct connection to those religions (contrary to some claims they may make).

This sort of panic is the equivalent to the Medieval blood-libel against the Jews, the ancient accusations of cannibalism made against Christians, and the accusations of Maria Monk that Roman Catholic nuns were sex-salves of the priests. It is based in a fear of the unknown, and an unwillingness to actually look into facts.

Highland Host said...

Of course, while one might say that the Celts were sacrificing people to Satan without realising it, the idea that they were doing it consciously is nonsense - they were making sacrifices to their gods, most of whom seem to have been identified with some aspect of nature. Interestingly several of the Early Church Fathers were actually rather positive about the Druids, the Celtic priestly class. These writers include Clement of Alexandria (about 150-212). They don't mention human sacrifice, but respected the Druids as wise teachers. I would suggest that respect, without trying to say that we are all saying the same thing (we're not), is the correct attitude that the Church should have for these groups. Respectful disagreement, not panic and paranoia, is the way forward. And again, I write as a Christian minister.

That respect is damaged on both sides by the repetition of falsehoods. The neo-pagan views the Christian as an ignorant bigot and hate-monger, the Christian is encouraged to view the neo-pagan as a servant of Satan and a devil-worshipper. This doesn't help anyone.

S.M. Elliott said...

HH, you are quite correct about Celtic "wicker" sacrifice. I mistakenly believed Julius Caesar was the only one to mention it (and there seems to be general agreement that he didn't actually witness one). But Strabo described "wicker" sacrifices in greater detail nearly 20 years later.
Thank you. I'll remove the basket reference.

Respectful disagreement, not panic and paranoia, is the way forward.

I deeply agree. At this moment I'm under fire from another group of skeptics merely for saying there should be civility between skeptics and conspiracy theorists. Meanwhile, UK 9/11 Truther Charlie Veitch has changed his mind about 9/11...and is receiving hate mail and death threats from former comrades.

Respecting freedom of thought sounds simple enough, but it can become a grueling challenge when you encounter thoughts that appear to be the antithesis of your own.
I believe we must meet that challenge.

Highland Host said...

That the druids performed human sacrifice is widely accepted by scholars (the Miranda Green volume is the most recent book on Druidism of which I am aware). There is archaeological evidence as well as documentary evidence - though what is normally missed by those who abuse such reports is that the victims were usually either criminals or foes captured in warfare (It is probably that Boudicca sacrificed Roman captives taken in her revolt against Rome). But then, the problem is that too many - on both sides - are all to ready to accept what they hear. I suppose I am unusual in Evangelical clergy in having a science degree from Liverpool University, and a father who is an academic historian (not to mention a brother who is an academic historian, a mother with an MA in history, and a younger brother who is an archaeologist. The past, you see, was all around me in my youth, and science with its canons of evidence as well. This means I will accept nothing without real evidence. I have also met genuine neo-pagans, and they tend to be nice people. Much nicer than certain extreme American Fundamentalists I have encountered!

You're right, respectful dialogue is difficult when ideology is involved. But we have to make the effort, for the sake of the truth.

Of course, it gets harder when you're dealing with people who don't care about the truth, and are willing to lie to make their point. I have been viciously attacked on the internet by an anonymous person for daring to prove that a writer had fabricated quotations to prove that Bishop Westcott of Durham was an advocate of New Age beliefs. It's hard to have any respect for a person who does that.

S.M. Elliott said...

I knew of Celtic sacrifice, but doubted Caesar's "wicker" story, which sounded a bit too bizarre. That the Celts practiced sacrifice is of course well-documented and basically indisputable (not that it reflects in any way on neo-pagan practices). It's the gaps in our knowledge about them that leave room for Michaelsen and company to make up anything they please and pass it off as genuine history. Sometimes, it seems, it's easier to entrench lies as truth than it is to spread the truth to those who are reluctant to hear it.

Highland Host said...

It's the desire for certainty over truth, I'm afraid. Demonising the other. I got into a long argument with a Christian the other night on Facebook because I pointed out that the arguments linking Mormonism with witchcraft are a load of rubbish - and she accused me of being wishy-washy and not defending the faith. Why? Because I dared to point out that a bad argument is one. That offends me, because it says in effect "I don't care about the truth, I just want to be told that these people are bad." Sorry, but if anyone thinks that's a valid form of argument, then they need to wake up to reality!

Ignorance is not bliss. And not all information is equal. Leigh and Baigent are not equivalent to Nicholson's book on the Knights Templar. And as ever, the best way to find out about some other group is to ask them!

S.M. Elliott said...

I suppose that's exactly what gets me in trouble with other skeptics - fraternizing with "the enemy". I've always been compelled to spend just as much time investigating things I don't like (Satanic panic, literary fraud, hoaxes) as things I do. And I don't feel the need to surround myself with people who think exactly like I do. If you're secure in your beliefs, you don't need yes-people.

son of gaia said...

"In 1992, when Cornerstone exposed the lies of "former high priest" Mike Warnke, Michaelsen fired off an angry letter to the editors. Without addressing any of the information the authors had uncovered, she accused them of trying to "annihilate" Warnke. Her message seemed to be that if someone is a strong voice for Christ and brings in new believers, deception and fraud are beside the point".

Yes. You really cut straight to the heart of the matter with this succinct summation of the rationale behind all fraudulent testimonials:"...if someone is a strong voice for Christ and brings in new believers, deception and fraud are beside the point".

Of course, that rationale is applied far beyond the sphere of Christian evangelism - "If someone is a strong voice for Ritual Abuse/ Trauma Based Mind Control/ Illuminati-New World Order conspiracy 'truth', and brings in new believers, deception and fraud are beside the point" - for example.

And then there is the field of Health Promotion and its Social Marketing 'evangelists', with their own variant: "If a calculated falsehood or deliberately manufactured false belief is a strong voice for Health Promotion goals and persuades people to modify their behaviour so that it aligns with those goals, deception and fraud are beside the point".

and many, many more variants in many more spheres of modern life.

Buy Generic Viagra said...

I have a co-worked who is like Gargamel, he has Baldness hahahaha!thanks for sharing It is amzing

The Pixel Hero said...

What a sham. For the record, any type of biography that does not counter someones supposed erroneous ideas with actual fact is not supporting any evidence to the contrary just expressing their counter opinion. Making claim that Johanna is over doing it since its a 80's and 90's fad to think everything is Satanic has no factual evidence to support she was wrong in any instance of her beliefs. She is not and can not be perfect in all things, but so what. Are you?

How many faux Satanic rituals need to be preformed in a children's cartoon to raise a red flag? 1? 5? 27? Is it really logical to conclude that since the ritual was not in sync with real rituals it should be dismissed?

An example of "misinformation" in this very article is when they wrote "...but what Gargamel really did in the episode "Winged Wizard" was draw a hexagram..." Yes, he drew a retarded hexagram instead of a circle, but not only is the 5 point candle set-up intact, but the instructions from his so called book of secrets are in quote. "Heed me well oh hapless human, draw this pentagram on the ground...". So is there something I am missing about a demon giving orders to a wizard to draw a pentagram with candles in ritual that is not LIKE any real form of develish ritual? Anyone who says these things are not real should ask their local police force about "fake" satanic rituals and how many missing persons are linked to such events. They will never ask.

Ultimately, anything that you don't want to hear or research that may compromise your current mind set is too bad for your own image.

I saw a claim that the article made saying Johanna is silly for thinking the kids should not watch the Smurfs so i looked it up and saw this on youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIDfBT_K11Y

A little personal research on your end will give results, unless you really do not want to know the truth. And if you do not, good luck out there, don't say I did not warn you.

wakawakwaka said...

what do you really think happened with Pachita?

wakawakwaka said...

@ Pixel Hero its just showing that she can be rather unreliable at best

wakawakwaka said...

@ Pixel Hero she lies and exaggerates about lauren strratford,mike warnke and also she makes lies about halloween so what does that show you about her characer?

S.M. Elliott said...

@ Wakawaka: No clue what happened with Pachita, as I don't know much about her. As with Juan de Dios and other miracle healers, though, I sincerely doubt she got real, lasting results for the severely ill.

Let's be nice to "Pixel Hero" - he/she is stuck in the '80s or very early '90s when it comes to belief in Satanic crime and whatnot. There are many people in that particular boat. If P.H. truly believes the Smurfs are a hazard to society because of an animated "ritual" that involves ice cream, so be it. I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything; they can take the information here or leave it. I'll add that P.H. is not going to convince me of anything with vague comments about missing people, either.

wakawakwaka said...

yes but did you read michelsen's biography she claims pachita did cataract surgery with out modern tools....but i think john of god did the same thing and hes a fake

alittlemoretolerant said...

Dear me, how intellectual you all sound! (Except for the one person who is willing to admit to the possible existence of real psychic phenomena.) I might sound the same, were it not for the strange occurrences that took place in my own family some years back. If you've never had first-hand experience with some of these occultic uglies, you can be happy for it. I can tell you, however, that they can be most unpleasant. We are grateful for those kind people who helped us recognize those things for what they were, and who also taught us how to be free and how to stay free from them. Ignorance is not always bliss.

Anonymous said...

The best way to find out anything about anyone is not to ask them but to see what they claim in their own belief systems.
There's not much point in going to a Moslem to find find out what they want you to believe about their religion, especially as they have taqqiya. Instead, read the Koran & Hadiths which will tell you what they really do believe.
Don't go to Orangemen to find out about Catholic teachings or vice and versa, check out their writings to see what they say about themselves.
Making excuses for ancient Celts (and I am a Celt) and not making excuses for those who disagree with their their practises is a tad hypocritical.
Qualifications, like knowledge, mean little (I am qualified academically and disagree with many--probably most academics who themselves disagree with and contradict each other) and a person with a little knowledge armed with tight logic will fare better in their world views than those whose paradigms dictate the facts rather than the other way around.
Just heed ANY political debate!
For most people facts are squeezed to fit already held paradigms.
Just like a littlemoretolerant, I have experienced spiritual forces. I saw a Christian cast a demon out of someone's home (where a room was as cold as the inside of a fridge and had been so for years; and this was in summer-time and there were heaters on in the room).
Moments after that, the same Christian took authority over a demon in a person living in the house who had anorexia. It was made leave through the name of Jesus Christ the same way with the demon in the cold room.
The room immediately became warm and the person sat down and dined with the rest of us.
All present were amazed and (except perhaps for the Christian) would never have expected this. It was done in seconds.
What seemed a bit confusing was, as the family were Christians, they hadn't done this themselves. I don't think they had considered that the coldness of the room or the virtual healing of the anorexia had anything to do with spirits.
I am a great believer in logic. I know the difference between evidence and proof and between facts and proof. I also know when people are selecting facts, having studied logic at university (as well as English and History) and I can tell when people are making ad hominem, straw men and circular arguments. I also understand the Law of the Undistributed Middle. I'm sure alittlemoretolerant will understand.

S.M. Elliott said...

Nowhere in this post did I state that paranormal powers don't or can't exist. That is beside the point. What I addressed in this post were the specific claims and actions of a specific person, Johanna Michaelsen. I am asking readers to carefully review the manner in which Ms. Michaelsen assesses information about the paranormal. She believed that the "magnetic wonder" had paranormal powers, even though other "magnetic" girls of that era were performing the same feats using simple tricks that made use of balance. There is no reason to believe that any of the girls possessed paranormal abilities. So what might this say about Michaelsen's assessment of the Satanic menace? Did she possess firsthand information of crimes committed by Satanists, or was she relying on second-hand information? Did she base her accusations on solid evidence, or on how she felt about a situation? When she defended fraudulent claims of others, did she do so because she genuinely believed those claims and had supporting evidence of their veracity, or because she sympathized with the people perpetrating the frauds?

Again, this post is about Johanna Michaelson and her influence upon the Satanic panic outbreak of the '80s and '90s. It is NOT a post about the paranormal in general, Christianity in general, faith in general, nor psychic surgery in general.