The tradition continues….
Jeff Harshbarger is a South Carolina minister who claims he was a teenage victim of Satanic deception and demonic possession. In 2005 he published an autobiography about his years as a Satanist, From Darkness to Light: How to Rescue Someone You Love From the Occult.
His Refuge Ministries educates others about Wicca, Satanism and the occult, with the goal of persuading them to abandon those practices in favour of Christ. His new book featuring the testimonies of other “exes”, Dancing with the Devil, is due to come out next year.
Refuge is a member of the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, and has some connections to Reachout Trust U.K., the organization that promoted the false Satanism stories of Audrey Harper and Derry Mainwaring Knight and drummed up Satanic panic throughout the UK in the late ’80s (Reachout member Doug Harris was one of Harshbarger’s teachers at Bible college).
|Jeff Harshbarger with wife Liz|
On The 700 Club, Harshbarger explained that an evil presence was first drawn to him when he was a child, after he and his brother played with a Ouija board their parents had given to them. Experimenting with the board on his own, he felt increasingly closer to this presence. This harks back not only to The Exorcist, but to the dire warnings about Dungeons & Dragons and Ouija boards issued by John Todd, Doreen Irvine, and other “former Satanists” of the ’70s and ’80s. After all those lizardpeople from Mars and Illuminati blood rituals, I have to admit it’s kinda refreshing to return to that quainter time when Satan used mass-produced boardgames to capture kids’ souls.
|If you screw around with this particular board, you’ll end up possessed and depressed.|
As Jeff entered his teens, the evil presence gave him psychic powers and the ability to travel outside his body.
In a promotional video for Refuge Ministries (below), Harshbarger gives only the vaguest details about how he actually became a Satanist. In 1978, when Jeff was 17, “another guy” (elsewhere described as an 18-year-old assistant manager at the store where Jeff worked part-time) invited Jeff to his apartment and told him all about the wonders of Devil worship. Awed by this charismatic older teen, Jeff was eager to sign on. The two boys prayed to Satan for Jeff to be possessed by demons, and voila! Insta-possession! The demons gave him a rush of power, but over time they sapped his strength and betrayed him. He could hear them speaking to him and through him, and over time he was able to see them, too.
At college, Jeff and the Other Guy formed a teen coven, recruiting half a dozen boys to take part in “elaborate rituals” with them. All of these kids subsequently became possessed by demons. Pangs of conscious and a growing conviction that Satanism was wrong almost led Jeff to commit suicide in 1981. When he actually attempted to shoot himself, however, he couldn’t pull the trigger. His attempt to hang himself also failed (on his website, he mentions that he offered himself up to his fellow Satanists as a human sacrifice, an offer they evidently refused). Instead, God spoke to him audibly. Jeff fell to his knees and accepted Christ. He had been a Satanist for just four years.
It was surprisingly easy for him to get rid of the demons. “Black witch” Doreen Irvine had to undergo seven months of grueling exorcism, but all Harshbarger had to do was go to a church and ask a member to pray over him. As soon as the woman commanded the demons to leave, they did. Poof! Insta-exorcism!
Harshbarger gives a typically flat, stereotypical portrayal of how Satanists think and behave. They all want power more than anything. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that this describes a good percentage of teenagers who don’t worship the Devil.
He was, admittedly, a self-styled Satanist. He and his mentor didn’t belong to any organized group, assembled their rituals in willy-nilly fashion, and took part in juvenile stunts like Bible desecration (though Irvine, Mike Warnke and others insisted – falsely – that this is something practiced by authentic Satanists).
The Refuge Ministries promo page for Dancing with the Devil actually contains a blurb from “former Satanist” David Berkowitz. Son of Sam has long insisted that his crimes were committed at the behest of a violent Satanic cult, and he now claims to be a Christian (though his correspondence with another serial killer would indicate this, too, is a ruse designed to attract attention and sympathy). Sadly, many gullible folks have bought into this.
Harshbarger takes a Bible-based approach to the occult, and doesn’t seem to employ any of the fire-&-brimestone hyperbole or absurdly tall tales we’ve seen from Bill Schnoebelen and Mike Warnke. Nor does he have a criminal record or a history of deception, like John Todd and Derry Mainwaring Knight. He doesn’t claim to have been the leader of thousands of devil worshipers, or part of a worldwide Illuminati conspiracy, or a third-generation warlock. In fact, he comes across as a pretty low-key guy who probably did dabble in some form of Satanism in his younger days. But his story matches nearly every point of the familiar outline laid down by the original, bogus ex-Satanist testimonies (Doreen Irvine, Mike Warnke).
– A deprived childhood (his father was a violent alcoholic, his parents divorced)
– An absence of time markers (in Harshbarger’s case, there are virtually no details at all. We know only that he practiced Satanism from 1978 to 1981)
– Lack of detail about the beliefs of Satanists (Harshbarger mentions only a craving for power and wealth), but extraneous detail about the practices of Satanists (invoking demons, communicating with spirits).
– Helplessness. Rather than being led into Satanic evil through his/her bad choices, the protagonist is usually a naive and vulnerable innocent victimized, lured, or coerced into sin by more worldly people.
– Supernatural abilities and events (Harshbarger communicated with demons via Ouija board, manifested ESP, astrally projected, and was later possessed by demons)
– A remarkable conversion experience (after God intervened in his suicide attempt, he embraced Christ and demons were expelled from his body with minimal effort)
– Complete redemption and forgiveness through Christ
– Expert advice on the occult. After sharing his/her testimony, the ex-witch or former Satanist gives us pointers on how to avoid occultism, prevent children from becoming involved in it, and/or how to expunge it from our communities. There are typically warnings about Ouija boards, Halloween, and occult literature. Harshbarger dumps Eastern religion and New Age beliefs into the same pot as Satanism.
Perhaps the number one reason why Harshbarger’s story isn’t believable is that it exists in at least two different versions. On The 700 Club and in the promotional video below, he describes his initiation into Satanism as a demonic possession. But in a written version of his testimony available online, he claims he started out with LaVeyan Satanism – which has nothing to do with literal demons, nor even a literal Satan – then worked his way up to demonology. So which is it?
Refuge Ministries promotional video
Betty Brennan is a Brooklyn-born New Yorker who claims she was a Devil worshiper for most of her adult life. She is the only practicing Catholic in this series. That’s quite ironic, given that many of the other “former Satanists” included Catholics in their lists of Satanic baddies. Bill Schnoebelen stated that all Satanic high priests are required to become Catholic priests. Leo Zagami declared that each and every Catholic works as a spy for the Vatican, which is at the head of the Satanic Illuminati.
Brennan’s message is so meticulously tailored to suit fellow Catholics that I doubt it would be of much interest to the evangelical Christians that ordinarily flock to these conversion stories. She has even told her audiences that Satanists are anti-Catholic (she herself was a “real persecutor of the Church”), and are imbued with Satanic powers that allow them to pick out consecrated communion wafers from unconsecrated ones.
Chosen faith aside, Brennan’s tale fits perfectly into the the ex-Satanist testimony template. Let’s take a look:
– A Dickensian childhood. Betty’s father died when she was a child. Unable to cope with her grief and raise a family at the same time, her mother shipped Betty and her brother to overseas Catholic boarding schools, where they lived isolated and unhappy lives.
– An early introduction to Jesus that would pave the way for salvation later in life. Betty’s mother was a devout Catholic, and raised her children to follow in her footsteps. They went to church, received religious instruction, and attended only Catholic schools.
– An absence of time markers. In her speeches, Betty always mentions how long she has been out of Satanism. But she provides no other dates at all. We don’t even know when she was born.
After graduating from boarding school, Betty returned to the States and married. One of her children was born with a terminal brain disease that resulted in a slow, agonizing death just two years later. Her daughter’s death devastated Betty and caused her to become furious with God.
Betty was a professional cellist. Shortly after her daughter died, she joined an orchestra that contained four or five Satanic priests. One of them, an older psychologist, befriended her. They had long, heartfelt chats over coffee, and she became emotionally dependent on the man.
One night, Betty insisted on accompanying her friend to a “party” held in an old barn. Reluctantly, he took her along with him, but asked her to remain outside. It didn’t take her long to figure out that a Satanic ceremony was being conducted. Instead of running away, she felt compelled to join her friend’s coven. In this respect, her story diverges from the standard testimony, in which a dewy innocent is lured into a cult.
Betty didn’t tell anyone she was a Satanist. She continued to pretend she was a Catholic. We have seen this subterfuge again and again in this series, yet in the world of real Satanism, adherents are proud of who they are and feel no need to hide their lifestyle. They certainly don’t feel obligated to pay lip service to another religion.
Betty is careful to note that although she was deeply immersed in the “upper echelons” of Satanism, she stopped short of human sacrifice, implying that others did engage in it. One wonders if she has reported this to the proper authorities – no one else in this series every bothered to do so. Just like Brennan, they shielded alleged homicidal Satanists by refusing to divulge their names. Betty does not even give the name of the form of Satanism she supposedly practiced.
– Lack of detail about the beliefs of Satanists (scripture, philosophy, etc.), but extraneous detail about the practices of Satanists (sacrifice, crime, etc.) This is particularly true in Brennan’s case. She conflates witchcraft with Satanism, and portrays the two belief systems as little more than magic shows for narcissistic, wayward people
– Supernatural events and paranormal abilities are common. As mentioned above, the Satanists Betty knew could tell if a host was consecrated or not just by looking at it (sensing the presence of Christ’s flesh, I guess). Betty developed telekinetic powers and ESP. Later, she experienced spontaneous levitation, like Edna Moses supposedly did.
– A remarkable conversion experience. Betty was working as a substitute teacher, carpooling with a colleague who happened to be Catholic. When this woman’s car broke down, she asked Betty to drive her to a healing Mass. Betty accompanied her into the church with the sole intent of interrupting the Mass by supernatural means. First she caused the lights to go out, but the priest produced candles. All her other tricks were foiled, as well. Eventually, the priest recognized that something was not quite right about Betty, and gently confronted her. With very little coaxing, she confessed her Satanism.
Betty returned to Catholicism for real, but her deliverance from evil was a protracted affair. At each Mass she attended, she would invariably awe the other congregants by levitating.
– Complete redemption and forgiveness through Christ
– Expert advice on the occult. Betty has been very active in warning other Catholics about the dangers of anything non-Catholic, and urging them to gird themselves against occult influence with their faith. One of her talks is titled “The Family Under Attack: The Sacraments as Our Defense“.