Hershel Smith emerged in Southern California during the early ’70s, just like Mike Warnke and John Todd. His Christian testimony was different from theirs. He wasn’t lured into Satanist at college like Warnke, and he wasn’t born into it like Todd. Rather, he was a Christian who became a Satanist as a child. As an adult he renounced devil worship and became a Christian again. His story is told in his book The Devil and Mr. Smith, published in 1974 (just one year after Warnke’s The Satan Seller). Evangelist Morris Cerullo, the man who launched Warnke into fame, promoted Smith after Warnke set off on his own.
Smith purchased the “Witchmobile” constructed by Cerrullo, David Balsiger, and Warnke. This was a traveling anti-occult exhibit made up of witchcraft paraphernalia, designed to educate Christians about the trappings and hazards of the occult.
He became a preacher. Pastor Ernest H. Nickerson wrote a paper about his conversion, titled “A Former Satanist is Now a Preacher of the Gospel”. His story is also included in Kurt Koch’s Occult ABC, along with the stories of Doreen Irvine and David Hanson (below).
Smith never reached evangelical stardom like his two fellow “former Satanists”, though. His story was vanilla compared to their tales of sex, drugs, and Satanic hit squads. He didn’t participate in the gang rape of a co-ed, or have sex slaves prepare his hash pipe for him, or rule over 65,000 witches and warlocks. He didn’t have any startling inside information about Star Wars. You won’t find him on YouTube or in Jack Chick comic books.
He did became a high priest, however. All four of the former Satanists in this series were high priests/priestesses. You won’t find many rank and file “former Satanists”.
Smith rose to power in his coven, he said, because he would do outrageous stuff for Satan. At 13 he killed a dog, skinned it, and drank its blood. As an adult he became known as The Skin Eater because he would eat pieces of his own skin and any pieces that people gave to him. This sort of behaviour can be indicative of disorders such as autophagia or pica. Once in a while it’s an art form. But it is not a religious practice.
There’s not much more to say about Mr. Smith. He faded back into the fundamentalist wallpaper sometime in the ’70s. His book is out of print and relatively rare. Not having read it, I don’t know if Smith was ever really a Satanist or not. I can only tell you that I doubt it. His autobiography came out on the heels of Warnke’s, as though capitalizing on the latter’s success. It was co-authored by Dave Hunt, a Christian author who also co-wrote The Godmakers, a mean-spirited and sensationalist screed against Mormonism that was turned into a series of equally mean-spirited and sensationalist “documentaries” by Jeremiah Films.
Smith’s association with Morris Cerullo indicates he was hoping to gain the same kind of attention Warnke and Todd were receiving.
More importantly, though, Satanists do not welcome children into their ranks.
David Hanson lived – guess where? That’s right, Southern California. Santa Barbara, to be specific. He apparently never went on the fundamentalist lecture circuit, but his story is told in some detail in the last chapter of Kurt Koch’s Occult ABC (which I reviewed here).
In the early ’70s, Hanson was a married high school gym teacher and father feeling unsatisfied with his life. Qu’elle surprise. So when he saw a Satanist on TV, talking about the death of Christianity and all the power and fulfillment the Devil had to offer, he immediately began attending a Satanic church near Thousand Oaks. This group held ceremonies and orgies every Saturday night in Skeleton Canyon.
Hanson was a devil worshiper for two years. He gave up his car, his house, his income, and his family, possibly relinquishing all his possessions to the church. This would be extraordinarily unusual for a Satanist; penury and asceticism aren’t exactly common in Satanism, so coven members aren’t asked to give up their stuff. That’s more the domain of cults derived from Christianity and certain Eastern religions.
Naturally, being in this cult depressed Hanson. He began to feel suicidal. One day, whilst cursing God in a Satanic prayer, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God and decided to return to him. These former Satanists are nothing if not fickle.
When Hanson told the other Satanists he had become a Christian, they were initially shocked, then intrigued. He witnessed to them for nine straight hours, and ultimately converted several of them. Compare this to Warnke’s and Todd’s stories of Satanic hitmen gunning for them because they defected. True, Hanson wasn’t a high priest (unlike every other former Satanist we’ve seen so far), but these Satanists seem a lot more laid-back than the other ones supposedly active in Southern California at this time.
Even though the Satanists were cool about Hanson’s betrayal, Satan was not. That night, he audibly warned Hanson that his child would die and he would be plunged into poverty (wasn’t he already poor?). Sure enough, these things happened. And that must mean Satan was really talking to him, right? He could not have been hallucinating, pondering his worst fears, or making up scary stories to impress a pastor. I mean, a suicidal depressive who gives all his worldly goods to his church and leaves his wife and child every Saturday night to participate in outdoor orgies must be perfectly sane as soon as he becomes a Christian.
So what have we learned about Satanism from Doreen Irvine, Mike Warnke, John Todd, Hershel Smith, and David Hanson, the “former Satanists” of the ’70s? That:
– Satanism is an ancient, secret order.
– the Illuminati is the puppetmaster of Satanism.
– secret Satanic organizations are larger and more successful than prominent, well-publicized ones like LaVey’s Church of Satan.
– Satanism is tightly organized and hierarchical, yet no two organizations use the same scripture or practice the same rituals (with the exception of orgies).
– witchcraft is Satanism.
– Catholicism, Mormonism, and Freemasonry are basically Satanism.
– you can be born into Satanism.
– you can be recruited into Satanism as a child.
– you can be recruited into Satanism in college.
– you can be recruited into Satanism as an adult.
– Satanists kill babies, dogs, cats, roosters, and even their own people. They sacrifice someone on every Satanic holy day (we’ll look at the various Satanic calendars later in this series).
– Satanists routinely abduct and rape women.
– Satanists are heavily involved in drug trafficking.
– Satanists use popular music, drugs, and fashion to brainwash and seduce young people. Occult symbols are cleverly hidden in jewelry, record album covers, and just about everywhere else.
– Ouija boards, tarot cards, and fantasy role playing games are gateways to Satanism and must be avoided at all costs.
– Halloween, being a Satanic holy day, must not be celebrated by Christians.
The conversion stories of the ’70s would have a profound impact on Christians in the ’80s, and a new generation of “ex-witches” and “former Satanists” would come forward with stories that were even more horrifying … and even more implausible.