Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Pulp Non-Fiction:
The Satan Seller
by Mike Warnke

(Logos Books, 1972)

Naturally the ‘Pulp Non-Fiction’ header on this post should be read with heavy inverted commas, as I suspect that this particular volume rarely ventures within spitting distance of the truth…. but then, this series of posts has already veered pretty thoroughly into the realm of outright bullshit in the past, so what the hell, right?

Anyway - I’m sure that many collectors of weird/fantastical paperbacks will be able to relate to the experience of scanning across dusty shelves, alighting upon some black spines featuring exciting words like SATAN or DEVIL, and boom, before we know it, we’re heading home with a bunch of proto-Satanic Panic Evangelical Christian literature warning readers of the nebulous perils of dabbling with the occult.

Indeed, this particular sub-genre of quasi-theological blather seems to be have been so widespread during the 1970s that such volumes are sometimes difficult to avoid, even on this relatively godless side of the Atlantic.

Of course, the back cover copy here provides us with a few dead giveaways right out of the gate (“anti-occult counselling work”, “Melodyland Christian Center”), and even the cover artwork feels a bit ‘off’, with the hooded priest bearing a curious resemblance to those impressionistic “arms raised in praise” figures commonly seen on Xtian publications. (I’d like to think that this piece provided an unusually off-colour assignment for the guy who usually spent his days doing artwork for the Good News Bible or whatever.)

But, the publication date (1972) seems ripe for a bit of that post-Manson ‘Satanic hippie paranoia’ vibe I find so irresistible, and the prospect of a purportedly factual, first-hand account of some young fellow’s descent into the black arts proved too enticing for me to resist picking it up and at least giving it a quick skim-read.

A work of limited literary merit, ‘The Satan Seller’ is written largely in the perfunctory, “this thing happened, which made me feel bad, then this thing happened, which made me feel good” style common to ‘60s / ‘70s sleaze paperbacks - but with a near complete absence of sleaze. True, there are off-hand references to ‘sexual openness’ and ‘carnal favours’ to get the believers’ forbidden juices flowing, whilst the many women Mike Warnke encounters on his journey through human misery are routinely referred to as ‘chicks’ and ‘nymphos’ - but, mindful of their target audience no doubt, that’s about as far as the authors choose to go in this regard.

What is abundantly clear from the outset however is the implicit social conservatism and cultural insularity underpinning this whole racket.

After a hard luck childhood in rural Tennessee, young Mike finds himself packed off to Southern California to live with Roman Catholic relatives - so those would be his first two mistakes, presumably. Thereafter, he is soon frequenting - heaven help us - coffee shops, where, somewhat ironically, he is able to source “hard liquor” (really, this book is as such a substance abuse memoir as anything else), and also finds himself interacting for the first time with real life black people. (In fairness, this is not overtly criticised in the text, but y’know… they still make the point of mentioning it.)

Things go from bad to worse for Mike once he makes the fateful decision to enrol in - saints preserve us! - a liberal arts college, where, before you know it, he’s attempting to fit in with his groovy peers by “blowing weed” and experimenting with the wild world of LSD.

From there of course, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump until he’s mainlining speed and boosting his income by pushing the dreaded “H” around campus;

“I finally missed so many classes I was officially classified a drop-out. This put me into a different category now, a campus hanger-on. There were several of us, and we just hung around the student union building all ‘zacked’ up and looking as weird as possible.”

Deathless cliché though it may seem these days, it’s worth noting that the transition from ‘nice’ to ‘nasty’ drugs was admittedly a central narrative of the early ‘70s counterculture. Far less believable to me however is the idea that all of this campus hard drug use is supposed to be taking place prior to 1965 - a year which Warnke and his co-authors retrospectively diagnose as “a downward turning point for the entire world - for mankind”.

Without further elaboration, Civil Rights marches in Alabama, the Watts riots and Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York(!) are all cited as events signifying “..a quickening of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan” during 1965. Furthermore;

“It was about then that the sale of narcotics suddenly accelerated, the flower children blossomed from out of nowhere, restlessness manifested itself in thousands of senseless acts all over the planet, rock music hypnotized, blanked-out thinking, and stirred confused youth to defiance of old values and traditions. Evil seemed to be afoot on Planet Earth.”

I think we get the picture. The “zacked up” Mike Warnke of 1965 however proves somewhat more susceptible to the zeitgeist, and when an acquaintance introduces him to a cabal of mystically-minded, well-to-do hipsters, he’s in like Flynn;

“We sat around in a circle and talked and smoked pot. It was not even a ritual. Just hip talk with genuine uninhibited interest in one another. No case histories, no sir! We did not even exchange last names. Dean had cautioned me about that.

As we got higher, the conversation ranged farther out into the twilight zone. Soon the fellows were snuggling up with the girls. And then they split off into couples. It was great, because there was a guy for every guy, not like most places I had been where there was a chronic chick shortage.

Cool-looking, sexy girls too. And every one was liberal. I mean, liberal! These chicks were free-lovers.”

Be warned readers - I’m a bit of a liberal myself, so who knows what might be going on around here after dark.

Suitably impressed, the young Warnke is soon a regular at these parties, finding himself on “a sex bender that was greater than any bag I had ever tried before”.

Expanding his gig as a dealer for his sinister friend Dean into more of a higher level bagman/fixer role on behalf of various shady and vague criminal enterprises, our hero gradually groks to the fact that he’s now knee-deep in “..the witchcraft kick”;

“The witches were mostly eighteen to thirty years of age, men and women from all walks of life, and I mean all: salesmen, carpenters, teachers, students, college professors, housewives, clerks, businessmen, truck drivers, and even a few preachers and priests. We were mostly white and educated, but it was open to all comers, and we had an integrated, ecumenical base that any institution would be proud of.

You could even specialize, like picking a major at college.

There were students of Satanism (utilizing the power of the devil through worship); demonology (summoning different demons - the devil’s helpers); necromancy (communication with the dead through the summoning up of spirits); vampirism (belief in vampires, blood-sucking ghosts); lycanthropy (the assumption of the form and traits of a wolf through witchcraft).

But as I said, I was getting impatient with these secondary matters, especially as I spoke to those in the know who hinted about evil spells, solemn rites, hard-core Satan worship and really deep stuff.”

Great! Let’s get to it then, shall we?

“In the centre of the circle was the altar - a granite slab supported on two sawhorses. On the slab, a girl lay on her back, nude and waiting, her skin glowing red in the light given off by the candles and the balefire glowing in a crucible nearby. An inverted cross and an image of a goat’s head stood at each end of the altar.

[…] 

The service was a Black Mass. All the traditional rituals were reversed and deliberately profaned. The sacraments were desecrated. Blasphemies took the place of prayers. Words attributed to Satan were read from the book, The Great Mother, which Dean, now standing, held open, resting the back of the book on the girl’s stomach.  

[…]

I had been high on a massive intravenous jack of speed, excited by the sudden chance to be “in,” and in addition, something in the air was going to my head. From having read and talked about rituals, I suddenly realized that the smoke curling up from the crucible on the altar was fumes of deadly nightshade - belladonna. When properly vaporized, it gave off fumes which put you in the right state of mindlessness. Under all these influences, my mind drifted off.

[…]

Later, after Dean had changed back to his street clothes - his pin-striped suit and well-pressed trousers - metamorphosed again to just an ordinary, everyday guy, I said, ‘This is for me, man. When can I get initiated?’ 

We got into the car. ‘At the next full moon,’ he said thoughtfully.”

Well, not exactly the most imaginative literary Black Mass I’ve ever encountered, but it’ll do.

Notes: 

1. What’s a ‘balefire’, exactly? Wiktionary definition. Filed away for future usage. Thanks, ‘The Satan Seller’.

2. Searching for a Satanic grimoire entitled ‘The Great Mother’, the closest match I can come up with is The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, published in 1955 by Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann. Although it’s easy to believe Dr Neumann may have claimed some space on college-educated hippie bookshelves, I very much doubt he had much to say therein on the subject of Satanism, so your guess is as good as mine here really.

Anyway, as the book goes on, Mike is properly initiated in to The Brotherhood, subsequently enjoying a memorable lesson in potion-making with a suburban witch, and seeing his drug-dealer gig expanded into that of a full-time Satanic evangelist, praying upon hip, turned on youngsters, with a steady stream of neophytes demanded by his masters. (“Screen out the squares. Soften out the marks. Provide the readiness,” he is urged.)

These particular Satanists, it soon becomes clear, live in mortal fear of actual, physical demons popping up out of the ether to molest them, should they snigger during rituals or place their toes outside the magickal circle, whilst a further note of paranoia is added by the mysterious presence of the tall, slim, taciturn ‘adepts’ who sometimes attend The Brotherhood’s rituals and are treated for all due fear and reverence. (Distant shadows of UFO/conspiracy mythology already creeping in here perhaps?)

In this vein, one thing ‘The Satan Seller’ seems at pains to make clear is that the organisation Mike has joined is a big-time proposition, its tentacles expanding into all corners of conventional society. Many of its adherents are wealthy and sophisticated, and it boasts week-long training courses, a strict line management structure and assigned offices dealing with “coven business” - filing invoices, answering correspondence and so forth. (“The chicks did a good job of keeping the place neat and tidy,” Mike notes when his newly refurbished apartment becomes one such establishment.)

Delightfully, there’s also a lot of detail about the down-to-earth practicalities of operating a covert Satanic sect;

“‘Say, Mike,’ Paul said, ‘will you give me a hand with this altar?’

‘Sure, Paul, be right there.’ I went over. ‘For the love of the devil, what did they make this slab out of, and where did you get it? It weighs a ton.’ We heaved the slab of black granite marble into the back of Paul’s pickup, then the heavy box of robes and ritual items.”

Various shenanigans which need not detain us here ensue as Mike swiftly makes his way through the ranks of the brotherhood. Enthralling as all this may seem however, things are dulled by the flat, pointedly non-salacious and comprehensively square fashion in which events are conveyed, leavened, inevitably, with achingly dull passages of soul-searching self-reflection. (For a Satan-worshipping drug-fiend, Warnke seems terribly concerned with getting to bed early.)

I did however enjoy the following bit, in which Mike, having obtained mastery over his own small coven, discusses livening up their dusty old rituals with a similarly ascended “chick”, whose forthright views he finds a little challenging;

“‘I think you need to get rid of all that archaic stuff, put a more mod appeal into the rituals. Use some acid-rock music to set the mood. Then you can shut off the music before you start the actual ceremony. Get a little hand clapping into the meetings, and, sure, go heavier into the blood and the bread.’

‘We’ve got some people who still go to Catholic Mass, then come down to the second stage,’ she continued. They go to Mass for the status and because it’s a front for the benefit of their parents, and so on, but they’re hip with us and eager to do little jobs, like stealing communion bread laid out by the priests -’

[…]

For a split second, her eyes narrowed. She wet her lips with her tongue and continued, ‘And holy water. You know the procedure with the holy bread. After the Catholic priest has consecrated it to Jesus, the guy pockets as much as he can without being noticed. Then we step on it to desecrate it and pass it around whilst we’re drinking the blood or whatever.’”

Desecrated communion wafers! Boy, I bet nobody ever thought of that one before. What kind of so-called Satanists are these guys, anyway?

Further hi-jinks ensue later in the same chapter, when\ the aforementioned “chick” instructs Mike to attend a nearby “rock concert” in order to undertake some missionary work;

“I had planned on using acid-rock to keep our young crowd tuned in. Now we had a chance to renew our acquaintance of what was ‘in’ with the hard-core hippie cult when we made the scene in Victorville.

[…]

Paul knew where we were headed and had Hank turn off on an ungraded road that went along a riverbed which had only a thin stream of water in it. Where level land fanned out in a broad valley dotted with scanty shrub, we found them, the flower children, blank eyes staring out through veils of hair.

[…]

Some had moved wrecked, engineless cars to the riverbank to use as dormitories. Some were moving aimlessly down the road, tripped out. Others were awake enough to beat noise out of tinny guitars, and a few were animate enough to sway to the discordant rhythms.”

I love how palpable the post-Manson mightmare of feral, junkyard-dwelling, braindead hippies is here. Feel the fear!

Half a century down the line, we might also be apt to wonder at the fact that the young Mr Warnke - a college drop-out who takes massive quantities of drugs, practices free love, wears bell bottoms and polka dots and ministers to a mystic, underground cult - considers himself to be entirely outside of the hippie movement. But, well… there are hippies and then there are hippies, I suppose. Who knows.

Besides which, we probably also have to take account of the fact that, despite being neck deep in counter-cultural hoo-hah, Mike still somehow manages to come on like the grand duke of squaresville. I suppose evangelical xtian rebirth will do that to you. This can be observed all too clearly a few paragraphs later, when he observes;

“When it came time for the blast, some pros in rock entertainment showed up.”

Befriending the leader of these “pros” (Lydia, “wrapped in a slinky silver sari”), Mike is allowed on-stage, interrupting their “music” (as he disdainfully refers to it, with inverted commas) for an impromptu rap on the joys of Satanism;

“‘You do for him,’ I pointed out, ‘and he does for you. When you get on a bummer, he’s there to ease you. Have hassles? No sweat. He takes care of your cares. He gives you an easy coasting and gives you a nice, soft crash pad when you need it. Heard of the magic dragon? That’s Lucifer, man! Ever hear of Pan? He’s love, man. Free and easy love. Satan’s cloven hooves are from Pan, and Pan was the natural god of love and fertility. Satan’s the pusher of all your heart’s desires and pushes up the flowers of the earth. Well, all I can say, man, is: get with it. You know.’”

You forgot ‘far out’ and ‘dig it’, Mike.

Evidently a full-blown addict by this point, Mike begins mistreating his cult-assigned slave girls (off-page, of course) and, becoming ever more frenzied in his dedication to the cause, starts sacrificing cats during his coven’s rituals, before encouraging his followers to dedicate their pinkie fingers to Satan, cutting them off and eating them(!), which I think officially makes them more bad-ass than the Yakuza, though I’d have to double-check.

Further echoes from the nexus of shady rumours which accumulated in the wake of the Manson trial [see my post on Ed Sanders’ ‘The Family’ here] can meanwhile be detected In the following digression;

“At one of the secondary meetings I got to talk with my old friend the police officer, who was present with a young lady.

‘Are you the guys who are killing all those dogs and draining their blood?’ he asked me. ‘Reports of this have increased by 500 percent over the past three months.’ He shook his head. ‘Would you talk to your people? The whole thing is causing quite a litter problem.’ I remembered reading reports in the San Francisco paper about an increase in the number of dead animals found along the highways, so I guess it was not exactly confined to our area. In some cases, the incision was made as expertly as any surgeon’s - a ‘tribute’ to our movement’s students in this art.”

Mike’s higher ups in the Satanic organisation are apparently so impressed by his evangelical fervour that, before he can even get his head together, he finds himself hustled on-board a private jet bound for (where else?) Salem, MS, there to be inducted into the company of what seem to be the next in a never-ending series of layers of well-to-do Devil-worshipping big-shots.

From hereon-in, ‘The Satan Seller’s authors go very heavy on the overtly fantastical paranoia / conspiracy stuff, portraying the Satanic overlords as the high level source of every evil on the face of the earth;

“The word Illuminati was whispered around here, too, though it was still the wispiest of references. […] A worldwide, super-secret control group with perhaps as few as a dozen at the very top… with key men controlling governments, economies, armies, food supplies… pulling the strings on every major international event… and not just now, but for generations, centuries, since the beginning of civilisation… manipulating men by their egos and their appetites, rewarding and depriving, enraging and pacifying, raising up first one side and then the other, maintaining a balance of frustration, bitterness and despair…?”

Poor old Anton LaVey and his Wurlitzer organ don’t get much of a look-in, in other words.

(Actually, LaVey makes a brief cameo in the following chapter, when big-shot Mike Warnke runs into him at some boring occult conference, summarily dismissing him, accurately though with no small degree of hypocrisy in this context, as a jive-ass phony.)

And… that just about concludes the ‘fun’ part of the book, sadly, as shortly thereafter, Mike is double-crossed by one of his underlings, forcibly ODed and thrown out on the street as part of an internal cult power struggle - at which point he finally comes to the realisation that leading a sect of blood-thirsty devil-worshippers can be a pretty cut-throat business, and that self-proclaimed devotees of evil do not necessarily make for the most reliable friends.

The narrative subsequently segues back into what I’m going to assume is something slightly closer to Mike Warnke’s actual life story, as, strung out and destitute on the mean streets of San Diego, he pulls a full 180 on his earlier life choices and, uh…. joins the navy.

Safely back within the nurturing bosom of the military-industrial complex, he in short order finds Jesus, gets shipped out to Vietnam, wonders how he can ever reconcile his new Christian faith with the horrors he finds there, heads back home shell-shocked but serene, begins his ministry, and decides that hitting the road on an “I was a teenage devil worshipper” ticket will be a good way to make a quick bu - I mean, uh, expose the evils of the international Satanist conspiracy which blights all of our lives and prevents the Lord’s earthly paradise from becoming a reality.

And speaking of making a quick buck, if there was one thing Warnke learned from his days as a Satan Seller, it’s how to milk it for all it’s worth. In addition to t-shirts, baseball caps and the book I currently hold in my hand, 1972 found Mike Warnke & Associates of Danville, Kentucky offering no less than six record albums for sale to the faithful - seven bucks a piece, postage paid.

Did these albums contain “music” I wonder? And does it lose the inverted commas when offered in praise of the correct deity? Or are they just testifyin’ and such like? I’m sure a brief google search would tell all, but I really don’t want to go down that particular wormhole just at the moment.

For now, I’ll merely conclude by noting that, for all its shameless hucksterism and bland / unimaginative prose, the central, Satanism-related segments of ‘The Satan Seller’ at least provides a fascinating (and frequently uproarious) insight into the curious confluence of mixed up ideas which initially emerged from conservative/right wing reaction to the counter-culture of the late 1960s, latching directly onto the psychic blowback from Manson, Altamont, Patty Hearst and the era’s sundry other hippie horror stories.

Often recalling the furtive, barely disguised sexual fantasies first propagated by the original witch-hunters of the late middle ages, the kind of ideas and imagery wantonly thrown about in books like this one would gradually mutate over the next few years, acquiring a degree of spurious mainstream legitimacy as they migrated into the realm of pop psychology, precipitating the more genuinely dangerous delusions of the 1980s ‘Satanic Panic’ movement. But that, thankfully, is a story for another dark night of the soul.




2 comments:

knobgobbler said...

I was a casual Baptist kid in the late 70s and Mike Warnke was a popular Christian comic. His act was a bit of music, humorous tales about his home back in the 'holler' and a finale of testifying for Jesus... the last bit is where the Satan stories came in.
Always up for a good bit of Christian porn, I bought a copy of 'Satan Seller' at the Bible Supply store and read it to find out the truth of the dark arts.
Very disappointing.
Even as a small town teenager I recognized hokum.
Warnke was eventually forced to come out and admit it was all made up nonsense.
Back then I heard all sorts of bullshit scare stories in church... and the audience ate them up, though I'm not sure any of us really believed them. There was stiff competition to have the most sordid 'come to Jesus' tale to tell on Sunday evening.

Ben said...

Thanks for your comment knobgobbler, and for providing a bit of background of Warnke's career - it helps provide this post with some helpful context which I couldn't be bothered to research up myself.

I had no idea he was a big figure in the Christian world, or to what extent this book was widely read/widely known. I'm not surprised to hear that it was soundly discredited though - it's pretty freakin' ridiculous, whichever way you look at it.

It's also interesting to learn that Warnke worked as a comic, given the total lack of (intentional) humour in this book.

In terms of full disclosure, I should probably mention that my mother was a practicing baptist for a few years whilst I was growing up, so I also had a certain amount of exposure to this culture, although I recall all the people we met therein as being essentially nice and well-intentioned, so I don't hold any grudges, and certainly don't remember any paranoid / discriminatory bullshit of this nature being preached.... although come to think of it, I wasn't allowed to play 'Dungeons & Dragons' or read horror comics, so perhaps it was creeping in there somewhere!