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'The Beautiful Side of Evil': How Johanna Michaelsen found and lost the occult

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"The Beautiful Side of Evil" by Johanna Michaelsen

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This is the autobiographical account of author Johanna Michaelsen’s involvement with the occult. She tells the reader how one night when she and her younger sister Kim were home alone, an entity moved in, stomping up the stairs and slamming doors. Out of all the family members, it chose her to manifest itself to in gruesome and frightening ways. Housemaids never stayed long.

Later, in college, she came across spirits in many places such as auditoriums where she rehearsed for plays. No one else saw them. After college, she worked with a psychic surgeon named Pachita in Mexico. She views Pachita as being possessed by an entity that enabled her to perform supernatural healings. Not all of her healings were successful, of course.

Michaelsen sees her own sensitivity to the spirit world as inherited from her mother’s great-aunt, Dixie Haygood, a stage performer, known for her amazing feats of apparent strength and later as a medium in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her stage name was “Annie Abbott, the Little Georgia Magnet.” Mediumship is not mentioned in the Harrington biography of Haywood, which paints a picture of Haywood as a performer using parlor tricks, though these are never explained or specified. Michaelsen, on the hand, sees her power as having a demonic source.

When Michaelsen becomes a Christian, the spirits turn threatening and only after a great struggle is she “delivered,” as it is termed. She now writes and speaks against all things mystical or demonic, in or out of the church, as mysticism is (according to her) demonic in disguise.

The book has forward written by Hal Lindsey, a preacher well-known in Christian circles for his many books on end-times prophecies such as The Late Great Planet Earth. He was once married to Michaelsen’s sister, Kim.

While the author projects a simplistic worldview, she tells a rich story of lonely young girl who never quite seems to fit in, to whom an aura of weirdness is attached, rightly or wrongly. In one vignette, she tells of wearing a snake around her neck as part of getting into her character for a play she was in in college. An acquaintance paused to admire her necklace and touched it. After the “necklace” moved, the acquaintance took off like a shot.

On another level, the work becomes so black and white that the author claims yoga is a gateway for demonic possession.

The last part of the book is an extended Bible lesson on the demonic and the pitfalls of falling in its deceptions.

*An earlier version of this review appeared on Epinions, a site that is no longer active. It has been rewritten.*

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