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 “annihilateWarnke. 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.

The Hazards of Magical Thinking

I’ve talked about the perils of paranoia, and now it’s time to examine the problem of magical thinking – irrational causal reasoning. Like paranoia, magical thinking appears to be on the rise these days. And magical thinking can be dangerous. The Xhosa and Thembu tribes of South Africa nearly starved themselves into oblivion because some a**hole ghost told them to sacrifice all their cattle. Many an alchemist poisoned himself in his quest for gold or immortality. Bridget Cleary was beaten and burned to death by a husband who suspected her of being a malicious fairy. Belief in the efficacy of lucky talismans or rituals can lead people to take risks they normally wouldn’t even consider.

Now, there’s probably little to no harm in believing you’re an elf, wearing a QLink pendant, or practicing feng shui. But here are just a few examples of how magical thinking can go seriously, seriously wrong…

Fatal exorcisms: Untrained or inexperienced people who diagnose possession and attempt exorcisms have killed possessees, either by withholding food and water or by using violent means to dislodge the demons.
– In 1973, 19-year-old Anneliese Michel died while being exorcised by two priests. It subsequently came to light that she had stopped taking her medication for epileptic seizures.
– Father Daniel Petru Corogeanu of Romania starved a nun to death when he lashed her to a cross for days in an attempt to get the demons out of her.
– In 2000, Pastor Luke Lee of New Zealand killed Kum Ok Lee in the course of an exorcism. At his trial, he calmly assured the court she would rise from the dead. Also in New Zealand, in 2007, 22-year-old Janet Moses was drowned by family members who believed they were cleansing her of a curse.
– In 2003, 8-year-old Terrance Cottrell Jr. was smothered to death by a pastor during an exorcism.
– Last year, Ronald Marquez beat up his daughter and tried to perform an exorcism on his 3-year-old granddaughter. Police summoned to the scene by neighbors found Marquez with the child in a headlock, his daughter huddling nude and bloody in a corner. They Tasered him, which resulted in his death.
– In February of this year, Jan Clark murdered his wife after performing an exorcism on her. He claims the demons entered his body and forced him to kill her.

Baby-tossing: As reported recently, parents in India consider it lucky to pitch their infants 50 feet to the ground from the rooftop of a mosque. Do I really have to tell you what’s wrong with this?

“Reptilians steal babies”: Belief in a race of ultradimensional or extraterrestrial lizard-like entities that preys upon human beings is causing great emotional distress for some people. Kinesiologists Michael and Stephanie Relfe believe their first child was stolen from Stephanie’s womb by Reptilians (they also believe Michael worked for the government on offworld colonies). Reverse-speech analyst Peggy Kane says she has been raped by Reptilians from the lower astral plane, and that a close friend was brutally murdered by them while he was a guest in her home. Psychic alien abductee Ted Rice believes that as an 8-year-old boy he was taken into a spaceship with his grandmother and forced to watch her copulate with a tall, reptoid alien disguised as his dead grandfather. When the woman prevented this creature from raping her grandson, she was warned she would die in two days’ time. She did, Rice said. The late Karla Turner, author of Rice’s biography, thought her fatal cancer was caused by Reptilians. She also thought the reptoids had eaten Rice’s body and replaced it with an exact duplicate made from organic materials obtained during cattle mutilations! Peggy Kane also says many humans have been replaced by clones, after their real bodies have been horrifically tortured and consumed by the Reptilians.
And it gets worse. In 1999, professional scam artist Diazen Hossencofft managed to convince a clique of followers that his ex-wife, Girly Chew, was a Reptilian priestess in disguise. They abducted and murdered her at his request. Hossencofft also persuaded various women that he could cure cancer, and keep them eternally youthful with a serum he had developed. He told some his young son was a super-kid genetically engineered by NASA scientists. (This case was the basis for the CSI episode “Leapin’ Lizards”.)

Taking health advice from visionaries and mystics:
– The Conscious Development cult led by Texan Terri Keanely (formerly Hoffman) has been linked to several suicides, murders, and suspicious deaths, but one of the most disturbing stories is that of Hoffman’s third husband, Richard Donald Hoffman. He committed suicide in 1988, leaving behind a video explaining that he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. However, no trace of cancer was found in Hoffman’s body during autopsy. His children allege that Terri Hoffman persuaded their father he had cancer by revealing visions of his imminent death.
Keanely is currently one half of MoneyForce Press and co-author of The Colors of Money: Finding Your MoneyForce.
– Brazil’s Joao de Dios (John of God) is not a doctor, but he can channel dead doctors to perform surgery through him (unlawfully, I might add). Some of his surgeries take place only on a psychic level, but others are hands-on, invasive procedures that involve real instruments. These don’t resemble any known medical operations. ABC News reported in 2005 that one patient had forceps shoved up his nose and violently twisted. Needless to say, Joao doesn’t do follow-ups. Yet he boasts of healing 15 million people in 35 years. As James Randi points out “Working 8 hours a day, taking no lunch hour, 6 full days a week for 35 years, taking no holidays at all, he would have to “heal” ONE PERSON EVERY 21 SECONDS of every minute of every hour of every day he worked, with no time off, and no failures!” Busy guy.
Ask yourself, what would happen if Joao collapsed during a surgery?
– Mother of five Michelle Mingo starved her infant son to death in 1999 because her sister-in-law had received a vision telling her Mingo needed to purge herself of her “ungodly vanity” and prescribed a dangerous diet regimen for both mother and son.

Indigo/psychic children: Thousands of parents believe their children are the next step in human evolution, endowed with marvelous powers: ESP, telekinesis, mediumistic ability, the gift of listening to trees (shades of The Ramones), etc. How are these children going to feel when, as adults, they gradually (or suddenly) realize that they’re just plain ol’, run-of-the-mill human beings? This is much bigger than Santa and the Tooth Fairy. These kids are essentially being told that they’re supernaturally gifted, super-human, or just not human at all. That’s a huge misconception to get over.

Not to mention, magical thinking can lose you a heap o’ money:

– It has been estimated that Scientology Clears will have spent between $50,000 to +$300,000 in auditing and other costs in order to reach that level. For these prices, you can get psychoanalyzed (which is all auditing is, anyway, in a cruder form) and rent dozens of sci-fi movies. Same diff.
– Many have fallen for the Black Dollar (or Wash Wash) scam, but some have lost their life savings after being convinced by psychics that their money is cursed.
– Money spent on Kabbalah Center merchandise, QLink pendants, feng shui consultations, aura cleansing, firewalking workshops, and other dubiously effective products, treatments, and lessons could instead be invested in things that will benefit you directly. One example: Madonna spends the rough equivalent of one person’s college loans on Kabbalah Water every year.
– Psychic surgery can cost hundreds of dollars, not including travel, meals, accomodations, and bribes paid to customs officials.
– A 2-hour family session at A Place of Light, a center for “intuitive children” and their relatives, starts at $75. The day program for preschoolers costs $50 per week, though there is a discount if their siblings can speak with the dead or something. Factor in travel costs (the center is in Massachusetts) and you’re looking at some serious cash.