I believe this book retains its importance in today's religious landscape. I'd like to take a few minutes and explain why. I'll start with a quick overview of what the book is about.
For someone like myself that was raised in a church that warned against the dangers of psychics, mediums, spells, etc., this book starts off like a horror story. Johanna unknowingly thrust herself deep into the world of the occult as a young woman.
As a young child she saw things that others did not. She experienced things that others did not. Her encounters with "ghostly beings" won't be at all surprising to those who have watched reality TV like Paranormal State or A Haunting.
The initial influence that seemed to make her think that things like seances were safe was, sadly, a bishop she knew and respected as a young person. He had begun to attend seances in an attempt to reach out to his son who had died unexpectedly. As she grew older, she became involved in Silva Mind Control (now known, I believe, as the Silva Method) where she learned to meditate and enter a trance-like state where she would communicate with spirit guides. She chose two spirit guides: Jesus Christ, and Sarah Bernhardt (Johanna was an aspiring actress at the time) who was later replaced by an Indian woman who called herself Mamacita. Johanna became very good at psychic readings, and seemed to have definite psychic gifts.
Before I go any further, let me clarify something. Some of Johanna's critics accuse her of professing to be a Christian medium. When she was young, Johanna had recited the sinner's prayer and believed that she was saved. She was, to the best of her knowledge, a Christian functioning with all the light she had at the time -- and was still working in the occult because she honestly did not know any better. This is far different from working as a medium after learning the occult is wrong. If we know the occult is wrong, and persist in it against the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we will lose out with God.
Pachita did far, far more than that. There were witnesses to incisions she would make with a rusty hunting knife -- all with her eyes tightly shut. She would shove an old pair of surgical scissors inside an opening she had made with the hunting knife and remove things from the body, or put things inside. People would see the open wound while she was working in it. One woman, a Christian who went to her, didn't turn out well at all and was left with a deep wound along her spine that took a long time to heal. Johanna herself stood by her side and assisted during many of these procedures, and was convinced that Pachita had a gift from God. Johanna was deceived.
Doctors witnessed her treatments, and attested to the reality of what went on. Without a doubt Pachita was empowered, but not by the Holy Spirit.
Eventually, enough questions arose from Johanna's friends and family about what she was involved in that she began to sincerely seek the Lord to show her the nature of the spirits she was working with, and He did. She was visiting L'Abri in Switzerland at the time that this revelation took place. She confronted her spirit guides a short time later, and realized the evil behind their beautiful exteriors. Once she knew that these things were wrong, she renounced all affiliation with the occult and occult practices.
Why do I feel this book is still important to the Christian world, 34 years later? Because we desperately need to know how to discern the spirits in our churches, prayer groups, and Bible studies. Evil can put on a beautiful face, sit down in the pew next to us, and do wonderful things ... but it is still evil. Not every miracle comes from God, not every anointing comes from the Holy Spirit, and not every gift manifested in the church comes from the Lord.
This is Biblical, because I John 4:1 tells us "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Also consider II Corinthians 11:13 - 15, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds."
I won't dwell on this topic, but know this: the power of the Devil is real. As long as we believe that all these works of the enemy are simply tricks and the work of charlatans, we cannot acknowledge that the powers of darkness may be working around us. As long as we allow ourselves to entertain the thought that the Devil is not active, we are open to his deceptions.
One of the things I like most about this book is the last few chapters, where Johanna discusses how to disentangle yourself from occult activity, and then applies Biblical principles on how to test whether or not things going in our churches have their source in God or the power of darkness. There are lessons in this book that are timeless, and worthy of a read. I highly recommend The Beautiful Side of Evil by Johanna Michaelsen.
Here is a link to the website that belongs to her and her husband: Michaelsen Ministries.
Sara McCaslin is an engineer, a computer scientist, and a freelance writer.