The concept of exorcism has captivated and horrified the American public for decades. We grapple with our primal fear of dark forces from the great beyond through books, movies, and television programs. But, sometimes, the real-life events that have inspired these horror stories are far more terrifying than anything humans could conceive. Today we’ll uncover the violent truth about the death of Anneliese Michel and the 67 exorcisms she endured, which inspired the exorcism of Emily Rose.
Anneliese Michel was born on September 21, 1952, to a fairly normal bavarian family in West Germany. The Michels were devoutly Catholic, but that wasn’t all that surprising, considering 70% of the almost 11 million residents were catholic at the time. Anneliese’s family was religious, yes, but they were more than that. They were true believers living by a strict religious code.
Anneliese and her three sisters were forced to go to catholic mass twice a week. Her mother, in particular, pushed the girls to pray and devote as much time as possible to religious devotion. In many ways, Anneliese’s childhood was taken from her. Because of her devout Catholic upbringing, she was denied so many of the experiences normal kids have.
According to the doctor, Anneliese met with later, she developed neuroses related to religious iconography, as a result of punishments that were inflicted upon her as a young girl. Remember this diagnosis, because it will come into play later.
As religiously oppressive as the Michel house was, Anneliese’s friends said she was a great student, showed strength in language study, and was publicly happy and playful.
In her private life, though, Anneliese carried darkness inside her. A festering wound poisoned by the religious torment she was suffering, the emotional ramifications of the Michelle family dynamic would come back to haunt them all for years.
Her Epilepsy And Social Stigma Began At 16
Whether it was demonic possession or mental illness, Anneliese’s condition progressed gradually and worsened incrementally over a period of years.
While at school one day in 1968, a then 16-year-old Anneliese unexpectedly blacked out for a few minutes. During this first documented blackout, her classmates said she fell into a trance-like state. Anneliese said she didn’t remember the event and claimed she was fine after the episode.
But that same night, she woke up suddenly feeling a presence pressing heavily down on her body and then wet her bed. Fearing there might be something seriously wrong with their daughter, Anneliese’s parents kept her home the following day. But there were no further incidents.
It seemed like it was a one-off occurrence. Anneliese said she felt fine. And she was, until August 1968, when Anneliese experienced a similar episode and was taken to a local hospital for examination and observation. Her primary care physician, dr. [inaudible],, referred her to a neurologist, dr. Siegfried lüthy. After an examination and a series of tests, dr. Lüthy found nothing wrong with her brain function. Physically, Anneliese seemed completely healthy.
But, in February of 1970, Anneliese experienced the third event. After catching tuberculosis and spending months in a hospital, Anneliese suffered yet another blackout and another bed-wetting episode.
She became the laughingstock of the hospital ward she was staying in. The other patients mocked her for wetting the bed and blacking out. No one wanted to have anything to do with her. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
This third blackout was different from the others. After coming to, Anneliese reported seeing colors, hearing sounds, and feeling euphoric while praying with her rosary beads. She underwent more tests with a second neurologist, a dr. Von Haller, who diagnosed her with epilepsy and prescribed her medication. And that’s when things went from bad to worse.
Anneliese Thought She Was Cursed
Anneliese eventually returned to school later in 1970. But now she was a completely different person.
Her friends said she was depressed and withdrawn and seemed to have a darkness about her. People started to talk about her behind her back.
What caused this change in personality? was it the shame of repeated blackouts and bed-wetting episodes? was it being ostracized and ridiculed while staying at the hospital?
No. It was her seizures, which began occurring with increasing frequency. Her doctors were unable to offer any insight into the root cause of her seizures, which only compounded her family’s frustration with the situation.
Anneliese pressed on, though. She turned to religion as a coping mechanism. She threw herself into researching catholicism while finishing up high school. And, in 1973, she enrolled at the university of würzburg to become a teacher.
She continued to take her medication during this time, but her condition steadily declined. By mid-1973, Anneliese experienced hallucinations while praying and believed she was damned. She became obsessed with the idea that the devil was inside of her. She prayed and prayed and prayed. She would cry herself to sleep at night clutching her rosary beads.
To rid herself of what she perceived as a demon, Anneliese would add regular visits to a priest along with her standard doctor visits.
Anneliese’s Behavior Became Erratic And Much More Disturbing
By late 1973, Anneliese’s strange behavior became completely unpredictable. She was evidently being driven crazy by whatever darkness had taken hold of her.
To make things even worse, her erratic and unpredictable symptoms kicked into overdrive. Finally, her parents had to confront her. They informed her that they had no other choice but to pull her out of college.
From that point on, she was confined to her bedroom under a literal house arrest.
It was during this time she started taking Tegretol, an anti-seizure drug, and mood stabilizer. Also during this period, Anneliese reported hearing a strange knocking in her bedroom. Her sisters confirmed that they heard the knocking as well.
She also claimed to hear a voice that would regularly damn her to hell. Despite dutifully taking her daily cocktail of neuroleptic medications, Anneliese’s symptoms worsened in a terrifying and unexplainable way.
She started growling like an animal. She saw demons. She exhibited hulk-like strength. During one episode, Anneliese began throwing her sister around the house like a rag doll. At one point, after arguing with her parents, she urinated on the floor, then got down on all fours, and lapped it up like a dog.
She would regularly chew coal, rip her clothes off, and eat insects she found around the house. She was angry, irrational, and almost completely unreachable by her family members. To make things even more frightening, religious objects like crucifixes and holy water drove her mad.
Her mother recalled an incident where she caught Anneliese staring at a framed portrait of the virgin mary, and that her daughter’s eyeballs were 100% jet black.
The Michel family began to realize they might be seeing the symptoms of what the catholic church might consider a demonic possession.
Anneliese’s family eventually asked several local priests for an exorcism, but the men declined and encouraged Michael to continue with the traditional medical treatment she was already receiving. Despite what you see in the movies, it isn’t that easy to get an exorcism.
A catholic exorcism requires the permission of a bishop, which the Michel family could not seem to arrange.
The Secret Exorcisms
Sometime in 1973, Michael’s met father Ernst alt, a local priest who, upon meeting Anneliese, almost immediately said she didn’t look like an epileptic and claimed she wasn’t suffering from seizures.
Father alt was convinced Anneliese was possessed by demons and was able to get the attention of the local bishop about what was happening to Anneliese and her family.
Archbishop Josef Stangl eventually granted father Arnold Renz’s permission to exorcise Anneliese in compliance with the ritual Romanum of 1614, but with a very important caveat. The exorcism was to be performed in complete secrecy.
Father Renz performed Anneliese’s first exorcism with father alt assisting on September 24, 1975. During the rite, she reportedly began talking about dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church.
Eventually, she stopped eating, saying she was no longer allowed to. At this point, Anneliese’s parents had given up consulting doctors and cut off her medication.
Instead, they put all their faith in the Catholic rites of exorcism. And Anneliese was subjected to 67 exorcisms in all, over an 11-month span during 1975 and 1976.
It wasn’t unusual for Anneliese to endure two sessions a week, with some exorcism sessions lasting up to four hours. In audio recordings from these sessions, one can clearly hear Anneliese’s distorted, guttural voice. She growls like a wild beast. And makes profane utterances in response to the religious ritual.
Six Demons Prossessed Anneliese
The gruesome audio recordings during her exorcisms also reveal that fathers Renz and alt talked to six spirits allegedly possessing Anneliese. These spirits or personalities, if that’s what they were– made up a murderer’s row of evil incarnate. Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler, and valentine Fleischman, a disgraced Frankish Priest from the 16th century.
Given Anneliese’s history with religion and her obsession with Christian teachings, there were later theories that Anneliese chose these figures intentionally. It’s almost impossible not to agree.
Anneliese Had To Be Restrained During The Exorcism
Despite being not much more than skin and bones, Anneliese had to be physically restrained and held down while her exorcisms took place. This abuse, along with the lack of medical treatment and food or water, took a toll on her body.
Anneliese Michele died at her home on July 1, 1976.
Her death certificate stated that Anneliese ultimately died of malnutrition and dehydration. Her autopsy, however, revealed broken teeth, blackened eyes, and bruises on her hands, arms, and wrists. She also had broken knees and numerous other wounds on her body.
The Case For Stigmata
Fathers alt and Renz, as well as Anneliese’s parents, were put on trial for negligent homicide in 1978.
During the trial, the priests boldly maintained the exorcisms were successful and had liberated Anneliese from the demons possessing her. Father alt even insisted that some of the wounds documented by Anneliese’s autopsy were the stigmata corresponding to the divine wounds suffered by Jesus Christ, as a result of his crucifixion.
The evidence apparently didn’t line up, and the story of Anneliese’s alleged demonic possession wasn’t enough to sway the german court’s three-judge panel. All of the defendants in the case were found guilty, but their sentences varied.
Fathers alt and Renz were charged with manslaughter and given six months in prison with suspended sentences. Anneliese’s parents received no punishment at all, as the German legal system deemed that they had experienced enough suffering.
In 2005, a loose film adaptation of the story was produced, titled, the exorcism of Emily Rose. The film follows an agnostic lawyer who’s tasked with defending a parish priest, who is accused of negligent homicide due to an exorcism he carried out.
The screenplay for the film was written by Scott Derrickson and paul harris Boardman. Derrickson views himself as a believer, and Boardman as a skeptic, and thought that their contrasting views would make the screenplay more dynamic.
Ultimately, while the film is loosely based on the life of Anneliese Michel, it takes a vast creative license with the story. Around the same time, Hans-Christian Schmid also produced a german adaptation of the story, titled, requiem.
The German film is a bit more faithful to the real-life events, but it, too, takes quite a bit of creative license.
Requiem tells the story of Michaela, a woman who is struggling to lead a normal life. She’s trapped in a limbo, which, depending on the viewer’s perspective, could be a demonic possession or a form of mental illness.
Both versions of these stories hold certain similarities with Anneliese’s trials and tribulations, but they also each diverge greatly. Ultimately, the story of Anneliese Michel is a horrifyingly simple tale.
Was she suffering from epilepsy, or another undiagnosed physical or psychological condition? or was Anneliese Michel, in fact, possessed by six demons?
In the end, we’ll never truly have the answers. All we can say for sure is that Anneliese endured a horrible tragedy, and the pain and trauma that she and her family endured was very real and has never quite faded away.