The writers at Cornerstone magazine, in exposing the make-believe story of Lauren Stratford, referred to the hoax as "Satan's sideshow". If Stratford was the sideshow, the late Eric Pryor was the whole circus.
Eric Pryor literally appears to have crawled out of some woodwork. Suddenly, on Halloween 1990, this strange, gawky man with bleached-blonde hair and weird blue eyes appears in front of the San Francisco Civic Auditorium with an eclectic mob of neo-Pagans, gays, and Satanists from the Bay area (see video clips below).
Pryor loudly announces they're going to perform a "public binding" against Texas televangelist Larry Lea, a vocal opponent of all things occult and gay who is holding one of his "Prayer Breakthrough" rallies at the Auditorium that night. Pryor dramatically burns and hacks up a candle representing Lea, to the amusement of onlookers and TV cameramen. Then the protesters return to their usual lives, and Pryor gets a full-time job preaching the gospel at Jubilee Christian Center, a Pentacostal megachurch in San Jose.
A sample of Larry Lea's work
Really. It seems that sometime in between the chanting and the effigy-torching, Pryor decided Bible-thumping wasn't so bad after all.
The day after his protest, he appeared on the San Francisco TV show People are Talking alongside Dick Bernal, head of Jubilee Christian Center. He identified himself as a Wiccan who wanted to prevent witch hunts from breaking out in the Bay area, and was ostensibly trying to prove that neo-Pagans are just like any other socially conscious citizens, worthy of respect and tolerance. But then he screwed the pooch re-enacting a "Wiccan ceremony" he performed on a young woman (his girlfriend Cassandra, as it turned out). In what appeared to be an exorcism, Pryor crouched over Cassandra, making repeated stabbing motions with his athame while chanting something in Hebrew. Public response to the video was less than enthusiastic. Pagans were annoyed, and Christians were appalled. (4)
But the Christians were soon rejoicing, because after the TV appearance, Pryor agreed to meet with Dick Bernal and attend Lea's service at Jubilee, all expenses paid. On November 17, he was saved. He even allowed his new brothers and sisters in Christ to clear his apartment temple of witchcraft paraphernalia and burn it in a bonfire.
By the end of the year he was in the pulpit as yet another "witch who switched".
As a Wiccan, Pryor had called himself Lord Gandalf. He claimed to have been the head of the Wiccan New Earth Temple in San Francisco, but no one in the Pagan subculture seemed to know him before his Larry Lea protest, and the "temple" was located in Pryor's apartment.
At first, he claimed to have had about 75 local followers. In 1991 he claimed "tens of thousands" of followers. (3) On a January 1992 broadcast of his TV show Change Your Life, Larry Lea said he had led 50,000 Pagans. (4)
But he revealed that he was more than just a born again neo-Pagan; in New York, he had been a prostitute and belonged to a Satanic cult that delighted in luring strangers to their temple to brutalize and torture. They didn't actually sacrifice anyone, but they came pretty close.
Weirdly, Pryor also said he had been born again once before (a notion that most Christians reject - you're born again once, period, and any reversion to your former ways is merely backsliding). This was around 1977, when he was still a teenager.
Further underscoring the supposedly violent nature of occultism, Pryor told Larry Lea that if he hadn't realized Lea was an okay guy, he might have ended up shooting him. He claimed he had a gun stuffed into his cowboy boot during the protest. Later, he claimed he and the other Pagans were equipped with an entire arsenal: automatic weapons, grenades, dynamite. (4)
As we will see, Pryor was not allowed to possess firearms, yet prominently displayed guns in his apartment and bragged of carrying a shotgun everywhere for protection against Pagan assassins. With his avowed history of violence and homicidal intentions, this should have alarmed his Christian friends. But it did not. They apparently chalked it up to his charming eccentricity. Pryor liked to dress all in black with a Stetson, snakeskin boots, and a duster coat, like some kind of spaghetti Western vigilante. At other times he would don Army fatigues and call himself a "Christian soldier".
As an evangelist, Pryor specialized in "slaying in the spirit" (sending people into an ecstatic state, knocking them to the ground with a light touch or a spoken command). His services somewhat resembled mass exorcisms, with people flopping into the arms of Pryor's assistants or onto the floor as he hollered invectives against the Devil. A transcript of one of his services shows that by early '91 he was already well-schooled in the evangelistic style, knowing just when to fire up the audience and when to pluck their heartstrings. He used just the right combination of humorous patter and earthy spirituality.
Bernal seemed delighted with his catch, referring to Pryor as "the Chief Wiccan of the Wicca cult". (4) As a former witch, a former Satanist, and a former prostitute, Pryor was the ideal evangelistic tool for a gay-friendly, Pagan-friendly region. If he had some faults, they could be politely overlooked.
The exact nature of Pryor's position at Jubilee Christian Center has remained murky, as Dick Bernal gave inconsistent statements about it. He told ABC's Primetime Live in November 1991 that Pryor received an income of $1000 per month. One month later he told the San Jose Mercury News that Pryor received $500 per month, and had his own office. (3) In 1996 he told the Metro newspaper that Pryor did not get a salary from Jubilee and was not on staff, but admitted that Pryor got to pocket the donations for all the services he held at Jubilee (though Bernal didn't mention it, Pryor also made money from videotapes that sold for $12-$45 per copy). (5)
The San Francisco Chronicle's Herb Caen reported Pryor made $100,000 in his first year of preaching. Pryor refuted this, insisting he was nearly broke. But he was wearing a Rolex as he said it. (3)
Whatever Pryor's actual income and position in the church, he did not have any other employment during the 7 years he spent there. His evangelistic roadshow, Christian Gladiator Ministries, operated out of Jubilee. By 1996, he was charging $1300-$1700 per show. (5)
In addition to his preaching, Pryor also became one in a long line of "occult crime experts" who attributed every pentacle spray-painted on an underpass to Satanic criminal gangs. Absurdly, he declared in 1996, "I'm the only one I know of in the country who does this type of investigation." (3)
His only major gig in this capacity was a "Satanic crime" seminar held on July 26, 1991 at a church in Vancouver, British Columbia.
He told the assembled law enforcement officers that Pagans usually act as front-people for Satanic organizations that are involved in criminal enterprises, and urged them to do undercover work against Pagans to expose their "real" activities. He even provided phone numbers of Pagans to get them started.
To bolster his contention that all Pagans and Satanists are bad news, he admitted to committing all sorts of crimes as a Satanist in New York and San Francisco: stockpiling weapons, robbing graves and churches, blackmailing other occultists. He said, "The occult community encompasses murder, drugs and homosexuality. The stuff I share with you could easily get me killed. New Age and Occult practices are becoming more popular and as it becomes more popular it is a cover for criminality."
He even hinted that Freemasons were part of this occult criminal underworld, claiming his temple had been located inside a Masonic hall (as we know, it was located only in his apartment). He said Satanists commit ritual sacrifices several times a year, breed babies for sacrifice and sale, abduct teenagers, and provide young children to pedophiles (he libelously claimed that the Temple of Set supplies young boys to NAMBLA).
Like ex-Satanists John Todd, Mike Warnke, and Doc Marquis, he claimed the Pagans would have murdered him for defecting. It was all the publicity that attended his conversion to Christianity that scared them away, he said. Nonetheless, he carried a shotgun with him at all times for protection. (4)
Law enforcement agencies were obviously not keen to enlist Pryor's help, so he resorted to handing out a "Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults" videotape instead. In the video, as in his British Columbia presentation, he placed peculiar emphasis on the link between Paganism (Satanic crime) and homosexuality. This was not an accident. In June 1991, he told a church audience in Cameron Park, "My goal is to destroy Satanism, humanism, paganism, druidism and the practice of homosexuality in our lifetime." (3)
In November 1991 he wed his girlfriend, Cassandra, in a Jubilee ceremony at which Dick Bernal officiated. Sandra had converted to Christianity, too.
"The witch who switched" garnered considerable mainstream media attention, much of it negative. In November 1991 ABC's Primetime Live looked into Pryor as part of its investigation into the ministries of Larry Lea and other televangelists. Diane Sawyer said, "We discovered right away Eric Pryor was never a major leader of the Pagans." Primetime also learned his first marriage had never been dissolved, and the ceremony with Cassandra was just for show (Bernal even admitted he knew Pryor was already married). The man who filmed the ceremony, Eric Marsh, claims he saw Bernal and Pryor "signing what appeared to be a wedding license. Pryor started to ask me if I would like to witness it but Bernal cut him off."
There is no doubt that Pryor tried to pass this off as a legal union. Lea proudly told Diane Sawyer that Eric had married his live-in girlfriend, and Pryor himself announced to a Denver audience that he was a married man (which was true enough, but the woman he named wasn't his wife). (6)
Also, despite the fact that donations were pouring in during his spectacular church services, Pryor had not resumed child support payments for his two children from his first marriage (a warrant was issued against him for nonsupport in 1993).
Diane Sawyer also revealed that Larry Lea's ministry had been giving Pryor money. (2)
The Mercury News reported that Jubilee moved Pryor out of his Tenderloin hovel, buying him a golf course condo in Santa Clara. Bernal claimed the move was strictly a safety precaution, as San Francisco Pagans were gunning for Pryor. (3) (Pryor complained that Pagans were attacking and menacing him, but he was the only one throwing around unsubstantiated accusations and behaving in a threatening manner. He continually warned Christian audiences that Pagans and Satanists are child-stealing, murderous perverts. He also encouraged the police to harass them and interfered with their ceremonies.)
There has been speculation that Larry Lea, Dick Bernal, and/or someone in their ministries hired Eric Pryor to fake a miraculous conversion as a publicity stunt, and there is a lot of circumstantial evidence for that. It's also possible that Pryor engineered the stunt himself: One former Pagan who met Pryor shortly before the anti-Lea demonstration, Eric Marsh, claims Pryor discussed "putting on 'an act' of going over to the Christians so that he could go undercover and get the dirt' on them."
Lea is certainly not above suspicion. Like so many televangelists before and after him, he has a history of scamming. The same year he saved Pryor, he held a fund drive to build the first Christian church at Auschwitz. However, the church had already existed for two years and was paid for entirely by Polish Pentacostals. Lea gave the church a $30,000 donation, but his ministry had nothing to do with its creation. (2)
Eric's Prior Life
Details of Pryor's early life are sketchy, and the information he gave about his background varied over time.
He was born in 1959. He said his childhood in Woodstock, New York, was marred by neglect and abuse. He was often in foster care due to his mother's mental illness. He spent much of his time studying occult books at the public library. (5) He was attracted to occultism, in part, because one of his grandfathers was a founding member of the American Nazi party and practiced mystical Nazism (Pryor stated, incorrectly, that Hitler himself was an initiate of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis). When he was 10 years old, the neo-Nazis burned some sort of insignia onto young Eric's right arm to mark him as one of their own (he never displayed it publicly). (4) Like several of the people we've seen in this series, Pryor claimed a childhood devotion to God that paved the way for salvation later in life. Just as Lauren Stratford described asking Jesus to be her daddy when she was 4 years old, Pryor said he knelt down at the age of 4 and asked God to be his daddy. (6) Pardon my cynicism, but I suspect he had a copy of Satan's Underground in that Santa Clara condo.
Because of the abuse, Eric ran away from home and became a child prostitute in New York City at the age of 12. He met Herman Slater, owner of the city's most famous occult bookstore, Magickal Childe. It was Slater, he said, who initiated him into Wicca and tutored him in the occult. Eric was such a quick study that Slater commissioned him to write sections of the two-volume Book of Pagan Rituals (1974-75) when he was just 14 years old. By the time he was 15, he said, "People were already starting to name babies after me! I was like a Mozart of the occult community, the prodigal child!" (6)
As a Christian, Pryor viciously (but ridiculously) slandered Slater by stating that Magickal Child sold snuff videos via its mail-order catalogues, and that Slater and other Pagans used him as a teenage temple prostitute.
He went on to study under Lady Sabrina of the Wiccan school Our Lady of Enchantment and Carol Bulzone, a witch of the Welsh tradition. For a time he worked at Bulzone's occult bookshop, Enchantments. He was later granted a certificate of ordination by Gavin and Yvonne Frost's Church of Wicca, and reached the third level of Gardnerian Wicca under priestess Rolla Nordic. He referred to himself as a Welsh High Priest and a reverend. He worked with prominent witch Laurie Cabot and Pagan musicians Kenny and Tzipora Klein.
Prior to being born again, he was also a Satanist thug, a parapsychologist with an honorary doctorate from the American Parapsychology Research Association, and a licensed funeral director and mortician (which enabled him to procure bodies and body parts for necromancy).
There's no evidence that Pryor had any sort of honorary doctorate, nor that he ever possessed a mortician's license, but we do know he made the abrupt leap from Wicca to Satanism sometime in the late '70s or early '80s. Just as he would later do in California, he tried to draw teenagers into his orbit. We also know that he had a rather lengthy criminal record. (4)
In 1982 he wed his first wife, Nichole, in a prison ceremony. He was serving time for a drunken assault, and fighting extradition to Texas on armed robbery charges of which he would ultimately be convicted.
The Pryors had two children. Though he never mentioned this part of his past to his born again friends, the marriage was volatile. Pryor was once arrested for shooting out the windows of his house while Nichole and their son were inside. She left him around 1987.
In 1988, Eric sought the greener pastures of California. He established his New Earth Temple in his San Francisco apartment and joined the Bay Area Pagan Assemblies. He later claimed, falsely, that he was a board member of BAPA.
Two years later, he found Jesus.
Pryor established a somewhat respectable Christian life for himself, or so it seemed at first. After his "marriage" to Sandra ended, he wed a young Christian mother, Shelly Kolt, in July 1994.
Sadly, while Eric's zeal for devil worship may have faded, his penchant for violence had not. Just one month after his wedding he was charged with spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon (a knife). During his arrest by Mountain View police, he lashed out drunkenly and had to be placed in restraints. He later insisted that Shelly was the real aggressor, though she had no record of domestic assault, and complained the police "failed to protect" him.
So did a judge, apparently. Pryor spent several months of 1995 in jail.
According to Shelly, Eric assaulted her and threatened to kill her because she was considering leaving him. At that time, according to court records, Pryor was negotiating a six-figure book and TV deal with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the deal required him to remain married (to one woman at a time, of course). (5)
Pryor soon married his assistant, another young Christian mother named Renee.
The Witch Who Switched and Then Switched Again and Then Switched Again and Then Switched Again
The story so far is that Eric Pryor was a witch who briefly became a Christian in the late '70s, then returned to Wicca, then became a Satanist simultaneously (though Wicca and Satanism are incompatible belief systems), then became a Christian again.
Exactly 7 years after being born again, Pryor parted ways with Jubilee and Christ. He grumbled about the church's "money-grubbing" and "hypocrisy".
The following year, he and a small gaggle of New Age followers rented a 38-room mansion Pryor claimed was once owned by Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery and set up the Serene Foundation to endorse a peculiar mix of Christianity, Satanism and shamanism. Pryor pledged to cure drug addiction and other disorders with natural healing and faith healing, claiming to possess potent gifts, and announced his intention to train a team of "shamanic prophets" to perform the same feats. His decision to become a full-time healer is unnerving in light of what he told a Christian audience in Salem, Massachusetts, back in 1992: As a Wiccan, he said, he charged clients "a thousand dollars to put a piece of quartz crystal on their heads and burn enough incense to kill a thousand mosquitoes." (4)
The Serene Foundation's grand opening was held on Halloween, with teenagers invited to join a "healing circle" at the mansion.
Pryor cultivated a new, kookier image and excitedly courted the small amount of media attention his return to Satanism attracted. He took to wearing leopard-print robes and colourful Satanic vestments embroidered with crosses.
Though he boasted of commanding $20,000 per public appearance as an evangelist, the truth was much sadder. The money he earned with Jubilee Christian Center and Christian Gladiator Ministries was mostly gone by the end of the 1998. He could no longer afford the rent on the Bewitched mansion and had to relocate his temple of healing to a jumble of ramshackle buildings on Vine Hill Road, optimistically named Happy Valley Estates. He tried to establish a halfway rehab house for teens, and held healing services on a cement "healing table" in the yard of the Happy Valley mansion. Various priests, priestesses, and spiritual seekers found their way to the Foundation to take shrooms and grab some enlightenment, but it never drew the kind of attention or funds Pryor seemed to crave.
His spirituality seemed to consist of a melange of Satanism, Native American traditions, and Wicca. He made his teenage stepdaughter a "high priestess". In short, he was probably the only person in this series to have a real life every bit as weird as his fantasy life.
And now things get just a little stranger. According to an obituary published by the Christian magazine Charisma in 2009, Pryor resumed Christian preaching. After moving to Carson City, Nevada, in the late '90s, he and Renee founded a Christian ministry called Peculiar Nation, and Pryor preached occasionally at churches and Christian events until the time of his death.
It's quite possible that Peculiar Nation was a Pagan or Satanic effort that Charisma mistook for a Christian ministry (the author doesn't even mention Pryor's defection from the church), but given Pryor's erratic nature, I wouldn't be shocked if he tried to return to the fold.
And stranger still, Pryor reinvented himself as a pop artist.
Now, instead of being a teen prostitute and a wicked Satanist during his New York years, he was assistant to Andy Warhol at the Factory, studied advertising and design at New York University's Center for the Media Arts and worked as an illustrator at Dentsu Advertising. He later earned a degree from the California College of Fine art and pioneered what he called the "neo-byzentine-pop" [sic] art style.
Needless to say, not one of these things actually happened. And the artist's bio, apparently written by Pryor himself, sheds a very bright light on his years as a witch/former witch/former former witch: "Both classically trained and self taught, Mr. Pryor's work has become very successful and his 'antics' & 'episodes' have become fodder for many national and international news stories both in print and on air."
What Was Eric Pryor, Exactly?
A witch? A Satanist? A Christian pretending to be a former Satanist? A Former Satanist pretending to be a Christian? An attention whore? A performance artist? A very confused man?
Damned if I know.
It's quite possible that Pryor's 1990 conversion was a PR stunt. In addition to the statements made by Pagans he knew (see below) and the statement in his artist's bio, the Primetime Live investigation discovered that Larry Lea's ministry gave Pryor cash after his conversion.
What is obvious is that despite all his alleged instruction from experienced East Coast Wiccans, Pryor had an incredibly weak understanding of Paganism, Satanism, and the occult. In a video presentation produced by Jubilee Christian Center shortly after his conversion, From Pagan to Pentacost, Pryor referred to a paperback copy of the Simon Necronomicon as an ancient and evil tome. He called temples "covendoms" and Pagan grottoes "groves". He declared that only Wiccans can become Satanists (false), said Hitler was an OTO and Golden Dawn member (false), and performed an exorcism (something Pagans and Satanists generally don't do; they seldom believe in literal demons).
Since evangelical Christians tend to embrace former witches and ex-Satanists without any sort of background checks, sorting out the facts and factoids of Pryor's many claims fell to the Pagan community. Investigations were undertaken by BAPA (to which Pryor had belonged only briefly, never serving on the board), Covenant of the Goddess, and Kerr Cuhulain. Their findings revealed that Pryor may have associated with at least one Satanist in New York (a guy named Pete Colon), but his stellar Wiccan credentials were b.s.:
- Pryor did meet Herman Slater as a youth, but he was 17, not 12. This would have been around 1977, the exact same time Pryor was supposedly born again. If that date is correct, Pryor could not possibly have helped Slater compile A Book of Pagan Rituals. Slater vaguely recalled that Lady Rhea, his high priestess, may have initiated Eric into the Welsh tradition.
- Carol Bulzone never met Pryor. And as a participant in all the initiation rituals done by Lady Rhea since 1975, she was certain Lady Rhea never initiated Pryor.
- Lady Sabrina said she never heard of Pryor, and could find no record of Pryor taking the correspondence course offered by Our Lady of Enchantment.
- Gavin and Yvonne Frost didn't know Pryor, have no record of him as one of their mail order students, and did not ordain him.
- Rolla Nordic also said she had never met Pryor, and couldn't have initiated him into a Gardnerian tradition because she was a practitioner of the Welsh tradition. In January 1991, after Pryor's conversion to Christianity, he sent Rolla Nordic an initiation certificate he created himself, asking Nordic to sign it. It stated Pryor was initiated by Nordic in 1977. Clearly, he was hoping Nordic would sign the thing without question. She didn't.
- Laurie Cabot stated she did not know Pryor, and he had no involvement with her Witches' League for Public Awareness.
- In the early '80s, Kenny and Tzipora Klein gave Pryor and his first wife a place to shower when they were homeless in New York, and that was all. They didn't work together. In September 1990, Kenny and Tzipora ran into Eric at a benefit concert in Oakland, California. He told them that he'd just come into large amount of money and was organizing a benefit concert for the homeless for Jubilee Christian Center (there was no such concert). He also mentioned he was organizing the demonstration against Larry Lea. Now that's odd. By all accounts, Eric had no affiliation with Jubilee prior to the Lea protest. This lends some support to the theory that the entire Lea affair was a mock-protest, designed to hype Lea's crusade and introduce a Satanist-turned-Christian to Jubilee (as we have seen, evangelical and Pentacostal churches love to have their own in-house former Satanists). Kerr Cuhulain learned from the Kleins that Larry Lea may have been the chaplain of the Texas prison where Pryor served his sentence for armed robbery, and speculates the two men could have met at that time. Eric's attempt to establish Wiccan credentials for himself after becoming a Christian also hints at something funky about his dramatic conversion. Is it possible that Larry Lea persuaded a prison inmate to stage a mock-protest and a mock-conversion? Or did Pryor, knowing about Lea from his time in Texas, simply decide to protest his presence in a city that is, for the most part, friendly to gays and Pagans? We'll probably never know. (4)
On June 7, 2009, Pryor was hit by a truck while crossing a street in Carson City, Nevada, and died of his injuries.
1. "6500 Christians Attend S.F. 'Exorcism'" by Don Lattin and David Tuller. San Francisco Chronicle. November 1, 1990.
2. Primetime Live report "The Apple of God's Eye." Broadcast November 21, 1991. (available on YouTube)
3. "Reborn Again?" by Dave O'Brien. San Jose Mercury News. December 14, 1991.
4. "Eric Pryor" by Kerr Cuhulain @ Witchvox
5. "Prophet Seeking" by Bob Hansen. 1996 Metro article @ Metroactive.com.
6. Transcript of testimony given by Eric Pryor at Victory in Jesus Church in Denver, Colorado, on February 4, 1991
7. "The Witch Who Switched Back" by Traci Hukill. October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro @ Metroactive.com.