The Witching Hour
By Joan Connell
Mercury News Religion & Ethics Editor
San Jose Mercury News - Sat. Oct. 20 1990
As Halloween approaches, fundamentalists march
to the Bay Area to begin a crusade against
the devil and thousands of pagans and goddess
worshippers prepare for the onslaught
A peaceful prayer crusade? Or just another witch hunt?
The term "holy war" will take on a whoe new meaning in San Francisco on
Halloween, as Pentecostal Christans and goddess-worshipping pagans square off
to prove who's holier than thou.
Texas telvangelist Larry Lea is mustering 10,000 Christian soldiers in
San Francisco's Civic Auditorium Halloween night, to do battle with the
forces of Satan [sic]. And members of the normally low-key pagan community
in the Bay Area - practitioners of Wicca, nature religions and New Age
spiritualism - have launched a counter offensive, claiming Lea's spritual
warfare interferes with their constitutional right to practive their
Lea, a protege of Oral Roberts and former pastor of the Church of the
Rock in Dallas, has made a name for himself among Pentecostal and chrismatic
Chrstians for a tendency to preach in Army fatigues and hand out "prayer
army dog tags" to his followers. He is a proponent of "spiritual warfare" -
using prayer to exorcise demons.
Last month with the backing of 500 pastors of Bay Area churches, Lea
announced a three-day San Francisco crusade to "reverse the curse" of
Halloween and march through the city to convert those they consider
possessed by Satan: drug addicts, gay people, the sexually promiscuous,
believers in New Age "religions," and Wiccans: those spell-casting,
Goddess-worshipping folks commonly called Witches.
"These are not just kids having fun," Lea said at the time. "There
is actual worship of the devil [sic]."
Janet Christian, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Pagan Assemblies, an
organization of Wiccans and nature-worshippers in the South Bay, is outraged.
"We're Goddess worshippers: Witches don't have anything to do with
'Satan.' Who do these people think they are?" asks Christian, who's group
is sponsoring a Witches' Ball at the Palo Alto Hyatt tonight, an open-to-all
costume party designed to build bridges of understanding between the
practitioners of Wicca and the community at large.
"What if we brought some big-name Witch to town on Christmas day to
do a ritual outside their churches? We'd never do that to them," Christian
says. "Why are they doing this to us?"
Planning for trouble
Christian's group has taken defensive action in the pending holy war,
hiring security police to keep out any Bible-wielding Christian soldiers.
But other pagan groups are on the offensive, planning counterdemonstrations
outside the Civic Auditorium and threatening guerrilla actions to disrupt
"Larry Lea's going to find out that there are more of us than he can
handle," ways Eric Pryor, high priest of the New Earth Temple, a San
Francisco group of Wiccans and other pagans. Pryor is marshalling a show
of spiritual force at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Civic Center Park, calling together
New Age religionists, Hindus, Buddhists, humanists and other non-mainstream
faiths to form a prayer circle to counteract the Lea crusade.
Pryor, who says he has repeatedly challenged Lea to public debate but
never received an answer, has called off the annual Hallow Mass ritual at
his temple Halloween night to attend Lea's crusade in disguise, disrupt the
service and force a confrontation.
"We're not a bunch of uneducated dingbats running around in robes
waving wands," Pryor says. "We're intellegent, purposeful people who have
chosen a particular spiritual path. We have a right in this country to
practice any religion we choose." No reliable statistics exist on the
number of practicing pagans in the Bay Area, but estimates range from
30,000 to 50,000.
Lea, who arrived in San Francisco Wednesday to prepare for the crusade
says he was surprised by the intensity of the pagan backlash, which has not
been evident in similar campains in Anaheim, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Entreaties from several religious denominations to avoid confrontation -
including the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco - convinced Lea to
cancel plans for his spiritual warriors to march through the city on
Halloween night. Instead, Lea says, they will keep a low profile inside the
The right to disagree
"I love people. I love all people. I think we have been misinterpreted;
we don't want to be seen as confrontational," Lea says. "Every person
has the right to believe what they want to believe. But I have the freedom
to stand up and say they're wrong. To me, there are only two kinds of people
in the world: Those who have found Christ and those who haven't found him
The Rev. Dick Bernall, pastor of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose
is disappointed that the prayer warriors will not be a visible presence on
the streets of San Francisco. Many of Jubilee's 5,000 congregants are expected
to take part in the Lea crusade. Bernal's not a complete spoilsport about
Halloween: Jubilee kids might not go trick-or-treating, but they do get to
dress up as Bible characters for a party at church.
"Larry and I are beginning to look like a couple of wackos," says Bernal.
"The misconception is that we're a bunch of narrow-minded goody-two-shoes.
San Francisco's a city where everybody has parades; I wanted our people
to be a presence, too. We weren't going to call down fire on anybody; it
was not going to be a confrontation, just a little show of force.
"But the war on Satan [sic] will go on - inside the auditorium. There won't
be any pussy-footing around," Bernal promises. "There'll be singing,
preaching and speaking in tongues. It'll be wall-to-wall spiritual warfare."
Bernal, a former ironworker and self-described hell-raiser who says
he was born-again a dozen years ago, has gained some fame himself as a
televangelist and spiritual warrior.
After the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Bernal traveled to
Beijing and in a much-publicized ceremony, annointed the stones of the
square with oil to drive the devil out. He also has prayed to cast the
devil out of several sites in the South Bay, including the San Jose
Bernal says he respects the rights of Wiccans to worship as they
"They're sweet, sincere people, who are operating out of ignorance,
not malice." Bernal says. "I don't condemn these poor people; I want to
convert them. I was a dope-smoking, LSD-taking hippie myself once. Some
of our greatest pastors today are old, burned-out hippies."
To Eric Marsh, a 36-year old software engineer from Fremont who is a
practicing Witch, Bernal's attidue demonstrates the stereotypes that are
inflicted upon Wiccans.
"Fifty percent of big-city Witches are involved in high-tech; 90
percent are computer literate. That's because people in high technology
puersuits have innovative and inquiring minds," says Marsh, who
established a computer bulletin-board network for Wiccans who use the
technology to keep abreast of a variety of spiritual, philosophical and
What bothers Eric Pryor of San Francisco's New Earth Temple is the
automatic linkage of Satan and Wicca.
"Satan is the best friend the church has ever had. Satan's the
bogyman who has kept them all in business," Pryor says. He adds that the
members of his temple, who follow a Welsh tradition of Wicca and have been
very private about their beliefs in the past, are starting to be more
"People can come in here anytime and see we don't sacrifice babies,
we don't worship Satan and we're not lunatics," Pryor says. "And the
only good thing about this kind of campaign (that Lea is waging) is that
it makes us open up more and be more accessible."
Carl Raschke, a sociologist at the University of Denver and a
specialist on Satanism in America, regards the pending Christian-Pagan
holy war with a certain amount of amusement.
"This sounds like the gunfight at the metaphysical OK Corral,"
Raschke says. "There are Satanists out there: criminal Satanists, who do
violent things in the name of the devil. There are religious Satanists,
who dress up in black robes and do strange and essentially harmless
things. And that's part of the whole, exotic religious flora and fauna
that is unique to the Bay Area.
"Doing spiritual battle with Satan [sic] is an established tradition going
back to Jesus himself," Raschke says, adding that most spiritual warfare
is done quietly, through the power of prayer and laying on of hands.
"But in the age of TV, there's an impulse to make religion into a
public spectacle. And the whole thing strikes me as supreme street
theater. We haven't had a good, crazy religious spectacle since the
harmonic convergence," Raschke says.
"And now, on the streets of San Francisco on Halloween night, you'll
have neo-pagans doing ceremonial magic vs. Pentecostal Christians praying
up a storm. This is probably better than skinheads bashing Geraldo with