Majanka Verstraete

majankaverstraete.com · Sep 11, 2022

Urban Legends Investigated: The 67 Exorcisms of Anneliese Michel

If you’ve watched The Exorcist, then you know that exorcisms can be scary. But in real life, they’re about a thousand times as frightening as in movies, especially when they have disastrous consequences, like in the case of Anneliese Michel.

Who was Anneliese Michel?

Anna Elisabeth “Annaliese” Michel was born on 21 September 1952 in Germany. When she turned 16, she experienced a seizure and was diagnosed with psychosis caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with depression and was treated in a psychiatric hospital.

By the time she was 20, she was intolerant of various religious objects and she also claimed to hear voices. This could partially be because of her devout upbringing: her parents were strictly religious, and because her mother had a child outside of wedlock – Anneliese’s older sister, who died during surgery – it was imposed upon Anneliese that she should suffer for her mother’s sins.

Despite medication, her condition worsened. Anneliese and her family became convinced that she was possessed by a demon. As a result, her family contacted the Catholic Church and requested an exorcism. Although rejected at first, the local bishop granted permission in 1975 for two priests to conduct an exorcism.

The Exorcism

The priest tasked with the exorcism, Arnold Renz, performed a first exorcism on Anneliese on 24 September 1975. 67 exorcism sessions followed, one or two each week, lasting up to four hours, and this during the course of ten months in 1975 and 1976.

Death and Aftermath

Eventually, Anneliese died in her home on 1 July 1976. The autopsy report stated the cause of death as malnutrition and dehydratation resulting from almost a year in a nearly-starved state.

In 1976, the state charged Anneliese’s parents and priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz with negligent homicide. The state recommended that no involved parties were to be jailed, but they did request a fine from the priests. The parents were exempted from punishment as, according to the state, they had “suffered enough”.

The trial started on 30 March 1978. Doctors testified that Anneliese was not possessed, but only suffered from epilepsy and depression. The priests gave the names of the demons who allegedly possessed Anneliese – Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Belial, Legion, Hitler and Nero, among others – and also played tapes recording the exorcism sessions. You can listen to the tapes yourself, but beware that they are quite unsettling.

Eventually, the judges convicted the accused of negligent homicide and gave them suspended prison sentences.

Was Anneliese possessed?

The answer will depend on whether you believe in demonic possession or not. The facts are that Anneliese Michel was a person who really existed, and who tragically met her faith in a gruesome way, dying from malnutrition and dehydratation, that the Catholic Church ordained an exorcism on her, that she believed to be possessed by demons, and that she certainly was troubled.

Anneliese might have been possessed by demons. Considering that a lot of people believe in demonic possession, and that the Vatican recently had to step up their game, with some 500,000 cases requiring exorcism in Italy each year – and that is just Italy! – it is one plausible answer. Or she might have received an incorrect diagnosis when the doctors found she had epilepsy, and the medications she received (in particular Tegretol) could have aggravated her mental state and intensified her hallucinations.

Ultimately, we may never know the real answer, but we can only hope that Anneliese is now at peace.

Urban Legends Investigated

Previously in this series:

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