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The Horrific Case of Anneliese Michel’s Possession and Excorcism

I don’t believe in demonic possession. I do believe in mental illness, and personally I think that demons are a convenient scapegoat for religion, taking the onus off the individual in cases of bad behaviour, or off of God in cases of actual illness of the mind. So I fall on the side of skeptic in the infamous case of the possession of Anneliese Michel, a German Catholic woman who was subjected to 67 exorcisms over the course of less than a year, which eventually led to her death from dehydration and starvation.

Anneliese_Michel_2Anneliese Michel began experiencing symptoms of mental illness in the late 1960s at the age of 16, which culminated in a diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy following a severe attack of seizures. She kept experiencing seizures over the next several years, with her symptoms progressing into hallucinations and voices in her head. The Michel family was deeply religious, as was Anneliese, and many of her “visions” and “voices” spoke to her in religious terms, damning her to Hell and appearing in the form of demons. Despite treatment at a psychiatric hospital, her symptoms worsened. She increasingly felt an aversion for Catholic symbols and rites, and also began to self-harm, drink her own urine and eat insects. Anneliese and her family were convinced she was possessed by demons, and consulted many Catholic priests, requesting and even begging for an exorcism to be performed on her. They were repeatedly rejected based on her medical history.

 

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One priest they met with, Ernst Alt, believed them. He dismissed her diagnosis of epilepsy, and petitioned the local bishop, Bishop Josef Stangl, to grant her family’s wish for an exorcism. Bishop Stangl was moved to allow Alt and fellow priest Arnold Renz to conduct the exorcism in secret, following the rites laid out in the Rituale Romanum of 1614. Anneliese’s first exorcism occurred on September 24th, 1975, and her parents felt that she no longer needed medical treatment for her symptoms, and stopped all treatments as soon as the exorcisms began. Each session lasted up to four hours, and over the course of the next 10 months she was subjected to 67 exorcisms in total. The exorcisms were recorded, and feature the “voices” of the six demons that they believed were possessing Anneliese Michel’s body.

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During the exorcisms, Anneliese is heard growling, blaspheming and speaking is weird voices. In photos, you can see her state deteriorating; she appears bruised and beaten in some, and increasingly thin in later photos. As the exorcisms progressed, she grew more and more dehydrated and malnourished, conditions which led to her death on July 1st, 1976, at the age of 23. She weighed 68 pounds, had broken knees and was suffering from pneumonia. The autopsy report stated her death was a result of malnutrition and dehydration, and a direct consequence of the exorcisms she had been put through for almost a year.

 

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In 1978, her parents and the two priests were brought to trial on negligent homicide charges. Anneliese’s body was exhumed, and some reports state that it had barely decayed since its burial almost two years earlier. The state didn’t recommend jail time for any of the accused, just a fine for the priests. The parents were actually recommended for no punishment according to the “suffered enough” laws in the German penal code. The priests were eventually found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six month of jail time and three years of probation. They never served their time in jail, and the case caused a huge public stir, first for the sanctioned practice of exorcisms by the German Catholic Church, and second because of the light sentences recommended by the prosecution. It seemed that the state was taking the side of the Church over the psychiatrists.

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Anneliese Michel’s case has inspired films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and has been a source of controversy for the medical and spiritual communities. A person’s belief system can play a huge part in their mental illness, especially strict religious upbringings that imposed an almost supernatural view of the world on a child from birth. One person’s metaphor can be another’s reality, and in the religious world, Satan and demons can be very much tangible figures in one’s life. Throw mental illness into the mix, and those figures of temptation and evil become real tormentors. In my opinion, it was the Church who became her torturers, with her parents complicit in her slow, painful murder. If the pictures don’t tell another version of the well-intensioned exorcism, then I don’t know what does.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3

 

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Sophia

    June 28, 2016 at 1:55 am

    Two words:

    Pork Tapeworm

    There are psychic parasites and there are physical parasites.
    The mind needs the body, as a lot of religions overlook or get carried away.

  2. Jakub Mold

    May 31, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Jarrad Knight

  3. Matthew Graham

    May 31, 2016 at 4:44 am

    I’d like to hear somebody do an instrumental background music piece to her ‘possession’ recordings.

  4. Aleksey Hellasick

    May 31, 2016 at 4:30 am

    Maryana Baulina

  5. Rebekah Dunbar

    May 31, 2016 at 4:26 am

    A classic case of religious hysteria brought to you once again by monotheistic mumbo jumbo ala Salem Witch Trials and Spanish Inquisition.

  6. fucku

    May 30, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    If so-called satanists don’t believe in the devil,demons and the rest, why do they invoke his name and use imagery associated with him? Why not just call yourself atheists? I’m also wondering since you guys are all so opposed to religion, when will you do articles critical of Islam?

    • Meghan

      May 31, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Fucku – you should probably do your research on Satanism. There are both theistic and atheistic versions of Satanism. This is not the place for me to explain these doctrines, Fucku.

      Mainstream media spends most of their time criticizing Islam, so we don’t waste much time on it here, Fucku. Go watch Fox News, Fucku.

  7. Denise Marie Jarzyniecki

    May 30, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    What in the real live fuck is going on here?!

  8. Tobe Mathaniel Todd

    May 30, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    So now I know where the sound clip for Burning Halo came from… Wayne Todd

    • Wayne Todd

      May 30, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Oh shit…

    • Wayne Todd

      May 30, 2016 at 5:53 pm

      Dude. We’ve heard that voice elsewhere too. That “six six six!” in her growl.

  9. Zach Martin

    May 30, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Abby Martin

  10. Robert Carpenter

    May 30, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    A book worth reading for those interested in possession is Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin

  11. Stefania Stef Stef

    May 30, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    Ann Gemelli

  12. Jerome Reuter

    May 30, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Proof once and for all: The truth is always stranger than fiction.

  13. Robert

    May 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

    I would like to suggest a book to you. Hostage to the devil by Malachi Martin. It is 5 cases of exorcism in America in the modern age. You may find it illuminating

  14. Ozzy

    May 30, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Forget everything about the Exorcism of Emily Rose, it was an awful movie! Watch “Requiem” by Hans-Christian Schmid instead! “The film offers a medical condition (epilepsy) as the center of the affliction as opposed to demonic possession for the real-life events of Anneliese Michel”.

  15. Pedro Lopez

    May 30, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Fun fact 2: Some years ago the saw mill of the Michel family burnt to the ground. Witnesses told afterwards that they had seen the devil in the flames #justcatholicthings #welcometokatholistan

  16. Eman Alliv

    May 30, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Kinda looks like mick jagger on a bender….

  17. Trent Barclay

    May 30, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Cherise

  18. Korpus Kristi Van Acker

    May 30, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Ilian Goffin

  19. Colton Lee Taff

    May 30, 2016 at 5:46 am

    The recording was intense, could we get sources? I’d like to see and hear more.
    Googling it now…

  20. Izir Atig

    May 30, 2016 at 4:35 am

  21. Pedro Lopez

    May 30, 2016 at 4:26 am

    Fun fact: The priest came from my home village

  22. Le Chakra Noir - The Black Chakra

    May 30, 2016 at 2:06 am

    “i don’t believe in demonic possession, but i’m gonna sell you reversed cross t-shirts and “church of satan” caps. i’m against violence, nazism and sexism but sometimes i blast cannibal corpse’s “necropedophile” while reading some Nietzsche. I’m really sad bernie is not gonna make it for election… My name is meghan…”

    • Meghan

      May 30, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      Hi! My name is Meghan. Satanists don’t believe in demons, possession or any other of the religious binaries and myths. I do enjoy blasphemous imagery and anything that stands for a rejection of dictatorial religious dogma. I don’t listen to Cannibal Corpse. I am not American, and could care less about who the fuck ends up running that farce of a democracy.

  23. Lewis Cipher

    May 30, 2016 at 1:30 am

    OMG! Laura Flook

  24. Tim Diabolator Kristiansen

    May 30, 2016 at 1:08 am

    Have you heard of the myth of mental illness? haha

    • Svartir Mandar

      May 30, 2016 at 2:47 am

      If you have read the article you’ll know that yes…
      His first words are ” I don’t believe in demonic possession. I do believe in mental illness “

    • Tim Diabolator Kristiansen

      May 30, 2016 at 10:12 am

      I did read the article. I reject both sides. haha

    • Ian Phillips

      May 30, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      Tim Diabolator Kristiansen How then would you explain people who exhibit symptoms of “mental illness”?

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