Monday, March 1, 2010

Exposing a "Satanic" Fraud

Conservative Christians have a real weakness for conversion stories, the more lurid the better. Since the 1970's a number of individuals have come forth claiming to be former Satanist or Wiccan leaders who were "born again" and now preach the Gospel. They then write supposed accounts of the shocking practices they and their followers once indulged in and how anyone following their former path must be brought to Jesus in order to be saved. One of the most famous of these individuals is Mike Warnke, who published a book entitled The Satan Seller in 1973. It chronicled Warnke's introduction into Satanism, the depravity that followed, and his eventual conversion to Christianity.

Further detailed is Warnke's participation in sexual orgies, alcoholism, and drug dealing; his rise in the ranks of Satanism to the level of "high priest"; presiding over Satanic rituals including magical spells, summoning demons, ritual sex including a ritual kidnap and rape; the attempt on his life — a heroin overdose — that left him angry and disillusioned; his heroism in Vietnam; and how he found Jesus and came home as an evangelist. The story ends with Warnke living happily in California with wife Sue Studer. In fewer than three months after the release, The Satan Seller had become a religious best-seller.

The only problem with this over-the-top tale is that Warnke was a fraud. He was brought down by fellow Christians in the pages of Cornerstone magazine, which in 1992 published a series of articles exposing numerous episodes detailed by Warnke that could never have occurred. The authors of the series spoke to friends and acquaintences from the time he claimed to have been involved in Satanic occult practices and none of them could confirm his stories. It still makes me wonder, though, what really did go on that prompted Warnke to publish his account? Was it all made up in pursuit of a bestselling book or was there some truth behind the exaggerated tales? If only a real occultist could have been there to offer some commentary and perspective.

A similar case is that of Bill Schnoebelen, the author of Wicca: Satan's Little White Lie which was published in 1990 by Chick Publications - the folks who make those little comic-style tracts. In it Schnoebelen makes claims that are in many cases more extravagant than Warnke's - that he was the leader of several covens involving hundreds of people while simultaneously serving as a Satanic High Priest and high-degree Freemason. All this despite the fact that the Church of Satan was never particularly organized into any sort of network like the one Schnoebelen describes - all you had to do to become a member for life was to send Anton LaVey a hundred bucks - and that the "High-Grade" Masonic degrees he claimed to have been initiated into were invented by hoaxster Leo Taxil.

As it turns out, I do know a real occultist who was a member of Schnoebelen's coven in the mid-1970's - the blogosphere's own Frater Barrabbas, who has recently published a series of articles talking about his time in the group and what Bill Schnoebelen was actually up to during the time in which he claimed to be a great and powerful Wiccan/Satanist/Freemason. I highly recommend that you check it out. It's a very informative series, and gives some real insight into the mind of a man who seems to have wanted to become a cult leader, but just wasn't very good at it and finally decided to persecute his former religion instead.

Stories like these are good lessons for anyone seeking spiritual authority. Even small amounts of power and adoration can cause an inflated sense of one's own importance, and this is a sense that can profoundly mislead those who mistake it for license to engage in manipulative or outright abusive practices and behaviors.

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1 comment:

Rufus Opus said...

I went and saw Warnke "in concert" in the late 80s or early 90s. Before he was exposed as a fraud. At the time I thought he was a bad comic who had failed in "the world" but was still better than anything most Christians would see. There's a book called "Selling Satan that details his expose by his friends. Seems some of his friends from the days he claimed were Satanic attended one of his shows and tried to talk to him about it afterwards because nothing he was saying meshed with her memories of that time. He blew her off, and one thing led to another, and finally he was exposed.

But any adulation goes to people's heads. After the modest success and glowing reviews of my Goetia book, I got all over-inflated and cocky. Shit happened, and things are different now. I never set out to be a cult leader, but I can understand the appeal. Having even four or five people tell you you're great and wise is all it takes to make you forget the depths of your ignorance. It feels good to be loved.