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 “annihilate” Warnke. 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.