The late Irene Park is unique among the Christian converts in this series because she claimed to have been a witch for four decades, over twice as long as Doreen Irvine, before becoming a Christian minister. Her story is nearly identical to Irvine’s in most key aspects, but it is far more bizarre and disturbing. You see, when Irene was a child of 3 she had an imaginary playmate. At least, she thought she did. This playmate was actually very real, and he was a demon.
He led her into Satanism, sexual abuse, “perversion” (lesbianism), and heroin addiction.
She became the “High Wicked Witch of Florida”. She offered blood sacrifices to the Devil. She smuggled and sold drugs.
Then she was saved, and branded herself “the most evil woman in the world” and “the witch that switched”.
Follow the Evil Brick Road
Born in 1924 to an itinerant laborer and his wife, Irene had a hard life. At the age of 3 she witnessed police officers beating her father. Filled with rage, she sat beneath a tree to brood. That’s when a strange man approached her and introduced himself as her new imaginary friend, Red Horse. He promptly took her to a nearby house to take part in her first Satanic orgy.
Red Horse sounds like a flesh-and-blood sexual predator, but Irene insisted she was the only person who could see him. Not even the other orgy participants were aware of his existence. They simply accepted a toddler wandering into their sex parties on a regular basis, because that (according to “former Satanists”) is the kind of thing that Satanists do.
The story Irene later gave to her stepson, Jeff Park, was a bit different. As he told Spy magazine in 1989, her demonic friend was named Indian Joe and she met him at the age of 5. By accepting his friendship, Jeff said, his stepmother unwittingly made a pact with the Devil. Let’s just ignore the racist overtones, here, because frankly there’s little to be gained from overanalyzing something so profoundly weird.
When she was a bit older, a witch in Lake Wales, Florida, began giving Irene witchcraft lessons in a local cemetery (Satanists and witches love to hang out in cemeteries). This unnamed teacher rubbed foul unguents on the girl’s body, chanted incantations, mixed up magical potions, and summoned demons. Little Irene was determined to learn as much black magic as she could, so she could get even with the cops who beat her daddy. As she tells it, her magical revenge campaign was mostly successful; several of the cops, and even members of their families, died terrible deaths. She even boasted to Spy magazine – after becoming a Christian – that the law couldn’t pin these deaths on her. You would think that if a faithful Christian felt responsible for several deaths, she would turn herself in to police, or at least express some serious remorse.
At 14 Irene ran away from home. This echoes the story of Doreen Irvine, who ran away at 13.
Irene ended up in Tampa and fell in with a band of gypsies who taught her “mind control using a crystal ball”, whatever the hell that means. Crystal balls are using for scrying, not for gaining psychic influence over others.
Just like Irvine, Irene Park turned to prostitution and heroin abuse. She also became a thief, smuggler, and drug dealer. She joined a witch coven. Like Doreen Irvine’s cult of “black witches”, these people focused more energy on defiling and mocking Christianity than on their own beliefs and rituals, which is unusual in the extreme. This would be like a Catholic spending 99% of his time bitching about witches and only 1% of his time going to Mass and confession. It just doesn’t compute
Irene told pastor John Osteen that when she was practicing witchcraft she would take blood from a sacrificed chicken, use a syringe to empty the contents of a gel capsule, then fill the capsule with blood. On Sundays, she would go to a Catholic church in Key West and stand up during the service, squeezing the capsule in her hand until it burst. Believing she was a stigmatic, some of the Catholics would “bow and worship her”.
As an adult, Irene divorced three times. She apparently didn’t have any children of her own, but she claims she carried on the tradition of inducting children into the occult by adopting an Indian orphan named Richard in 1956 and training him to practice “voodoo” and witchcraft. A few years later she adopted a little girl she called Hope.
Despite her alleged devotion to occult perversion, Park realized at some level that Red Horse’s Satanic brand of pedophilia wasn’t so great, and tried to keep Hope out of his clutches. Sadly, she didn’t succeed. She later learned that Red Horse had “seduced” Hope when she was very young.
I think it’s safe to assume that Red Horse or Indian Joe was a figment of Irene Park’s very active imagination, or perhaps the product of a troubled mind. But was Park really a witch?
I doubt it. Park betrays her ignorance of the occult again and again. She conflates witchcraft with Satanism, and Satanism with “voodoo”. Park’s teachings on Halloween are eerily similar to the nonsense spewed by John Todd, with a few weird variations: Each October 31, Irish Druids went door to door wearing grotesque masks, collecting offerings for Satan (rather than sacrificial victims, as Todd said). They carried pointed walking sticks known as “leprechaun staffs” or “fairies’ wands”, which brings to mind the “elfin fire” mentioned by Todd. If an offering was not to their liking, the Druids would castrate the man of the house with a walking stick. The history of Halloween as told by “former Satanists” is mostly fantasy (for a more accurate view of how Halloween began and what it means to Pagans today, check out this guest post by Schwarherz of the Heathen Ramblings blog).
At some point, Irene was christened the “High Wicked Witch” of Florida, a nonsensical title that doesn’t exist in any of the pagan, Wiccan, or Satanic traditions of the 20th century. If Park belonged to any coven, it was a small and highly idiosyncratic one that has left no mark on history.
From Wicked Witch to Reverend
Just like Doreen Irvine, Irene suffered severe, unspecified maladies that brought her to the brink of death, supposedly caused by her heavy drug use, drinking, and sexual promiscuity. Around 1970, she was admitted to Tampa General as a “vegetable”, and doctors informed her she would certainly be dead soon.
Irene checked herself out of the hospital and went home to die. But she didn’t die. Two Christian women who were looking after her obeyed God’s injunction to pray over her and fast for 40 days.( It is extremely dangerous – even idiotic – to fast for this length of time. I don’t care who tells you to do it: DON’T.)
Fortunately, the women – if they existed – didn’t die. And Park was spontaneously filled with the love and healing power of Jesus. The Wicked Witch of Florida became a born again Christian.
Her fourth and final marriage to a man she called “Pappa” (Jim Park) lasted until his death in 1986.
Though never ordained as a minister, Irene established herself as a preacher in the Tampa area and founded Christ’s Deliverance Ministries, Inc. She called herself a reverend.
CDM sold small pamphlets on the dangers and evils of the occult, Halloween, fantasy role-playing games, etc.
In 1980 Park published her memoir, The Witch That Switched. It is still available from Christ Deliverance Ministries, an online ministry started by Herb Pohlmeyer to spread Park’s work. His unintentionally hilarious website contains a bio of Park with this description of her legacy: “Irene knew that the enemy of our faith will use any means possible to deceive those that are enticed to learn about any mystical powers, through board games, roll playing, or witchcraft.“
Irene sometimes preached at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, headed by the late John Osteen (father of Lakewood’s current pastor, Joel Osteen). This was a coveted venue for any preacher, and she was not above playing dirty to knock out the competition. When Kenneth Copeland introduced a stigmatic named Lucy Rael to Lakewood, she became a wildly popular attraction at the church. Park immediately denounced her as a fraud, telling Osteen how she used to fake stigmata herself.
Osteen brushed her aside, so Irene rented a conference room near his church and invited his parishioners to attend a sermon about Lucy Rael’s fakery.
Now don’t get me wrong; Lucy Rael was probably a fraud. She manifested “holy feathers” and diamonds, and performed other common magic tricks that have been used by fraudulent mediums and gurus the world over for generations. But Park was clearly acting out of jealousy. Here we have a fake Satanic witch trying to ruin the reputation of a (possibly) fake stigmatic. Just like Mike Warnke speaking out against John Todd before he himself was exposed as a liar.
Park wasn’t above spreading rumours and falsehoods that served her purpose, as well. She actively propagated the legend that Sybil Leek, the world’s best-known witch (and somewhat of a fraud in her own right) had been converted to Christianity on her deathbed. There is no evidence that such a thing occurred.
Later in life, Park branched into conspiracy theories. For instance, she speculated that Pat Robertson’s ’88 presidential campaign was thwarted by a black magician in the George H.W. Bush camp.
Park died in 2007. The fate of her two adopted children, Richard and Hope, is unknown. There is, of course, a strong possibility that they were as phantasmal as Red Horse/Indian Joe.
Irene Park’s books and pamphlets are still widely disseminated among certain Christians, and her misinformation about the origins of Halloween is frequently cited by anti-Halloween preachers like Pastor David L. Brown.
Her testimony added more “evidence” to the growing fundamentalist belief that all forms of occultism lead to depravity, criminal behaviour, drug addiction, and even child molestation. The latter issue would soon become very prominent in the stories told by “former Satanists” and their alleged victims.
The same year The Witch That Switched was published, an imaginary friend made an appearance in the first account of Satanic ritual abuse, Michelle Remembers. Michelle Smith, in the course of therapy with the late Dr. Lawrence Pazder, vividly “recalled” Satanists murdering and dismembering her imaginary playmate. Despite this and other implausibilities in the book, Michelle Remembers was embraced by many as an accurate account of modern Satanism. Irene Park’s story helped pave the way for it.