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Thriller Thursday: Exorcism. Do you believe?

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You all know I love the paranormal, and some of you know I’ve had enough personal experience to be a believer. But what about demons? If you believe in ghosts, does that mean you accept the idea of demons? After all, they are an entirely different phenomenon. And yet, if we believe in God, doesn’t that mean we must believe in the devil and by extent, demons? I don’t have the answer. But I do know there have been fascinating cases of so-called possession. Here is one of them.

Anneliese Michel

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, starring Jennifer Carpenter, is based on Anneliese’s frightening story.

Born in Germany on September 21, 1952, Anneliese grew up in a devout Catholic family. Four years earlier, her mother had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, and this was a source of extreme shame for the family. The girl died when Anneliese was four, but many said Anneliese felt she had to repent for her mother’s sin and spent a good deal of time doing penance.

In 1968, at the age of sixteen, Anneliese started suffering convulsions. In 1969, a neurologist diagnosed her with Grand Mal epilepsy. Medication was prescribed, and Anneliese went on to finish high school and then to college to become a teacher. Her seizures grew worse over the years. They soon developed into hallucinations, and she began hearing voices. These voices told Anneliese she was damned.

Anneliese was first labeled possessed by an elderly woman who accompanied her on a pilgrimage. Claiming Anneliese smelled “hellishly bad,” the woman noted Anneliese avoided walking past an image of Christ, and said the girl also refused to drink from a holy spring. While one priest insisted Anneliese see a doctor, an exorcist concluded she was demonically possessed, and the right was eventually granted by the Bishop.

Anneliese became convinced of the diagnosis and soon stated she was possessed by several demons: Lucifer, Judas, Hitler, and Fleischman, a Frankish Priest who had fallen from grace in the sixteenth century.

During one of Anneliese's fifty-seven exorcisms.

Over the course of ten months, two priests performed sixty-seven exorcisms on the girl, every one approved by Anneliese. Ill from the seizures (or effect of the demons?), Anneliese performed hundreds of genuflections (the act of bending the knee or touching one knee to the floor or ground, as in worship), growing so weak her parents had to hold her up. Some claimed the demons caused her to speak several languages during the exorcism. Anneliese also stopped eating before she died, believing it would lessen evil’s control over her.

Other allegations include frequently urinating and defecating on the floor, licking her own urine, eating insects, sitting under the kitchen table and barking for two days, and growling at religious objects. Her family couldn’t get past their fears to help her.

On June 30th, 1976, Anneliese was emaciated, running a high fever, and suffering from pneumonia. Her last words to her mother were, “Mother, I’m afraid.” She died the next day. She weighed sixty-eight pounds.

Near death.

Her parents and the two priests were charged with negligent homicide, and the evidence of exorcism was a double-edged sword for the defense. Forty-two of the sessions were recorded, and the defense had pictures of an emaciated Anneliese. While the tapes are frightening, most concluded the only real knowledge that came from them was that Anneliese was terribly ill and needed help.

Psychiatrists testified that the priests provided Anneliese with the contents of her psychotic behavior and believed she accepted her behavior as demonic possession. They also felt her epilepsy had influenced her actions.

The defendants were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and sentenced to six months in jail and probation. In the years following her death medical experts stated Anneliese’s symptoms were consistent with schizophrenia, and that she could have been treated.

The truth will never be known. Her body has been exhumed on more than one occasion, as proponents of her exorcism believed it would show little or no deterioration. Official reports state the body showed consistent deterioration.

If you have the time, watch the video. Anneliese’s words are certainly chilling, and I wonder how any human being could make such noises. And yet, mental illness is hard to understand. There’s no telling what the human brain is capable of. The only thing I know for certain is that poor Anneliese should have never been left to the care of her priests and well-meaning but poorly equipped parents.

What do you think? Is this a real possession or a case of the mind being destroyed by outside influences?

21 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Exorcism. Do you believe?”

  1. Thanks. I’d never heard all the details either, until I started researching. It’s hard to believe it was all mental illness after hearing the video, but then again, it’s hard for me to accept the idea of demons, etc.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Such a sad story for such a pretty girl. Having known someone with schizophrenia, I can imagine what the family thought. While I am not sure of demons, etc. I do know that mental illness can be treated by qualified doctors and I am curious to know if any of the priests had trained as doctors. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Schizophrenia is a frightening disease. As far as I could tell, neither of the priests who performed the exorcism were trained doctors. When she first saw the church about it, on her pilgrimage, at least one of the priests there said she needed a doctor, but I don’t believe any were trained, either.

      Thank you for commenting and sharing.

  3. Well darn, I can’t get to the video from work (blocked by firewall). I’ll have to watch it later. My belief is that since we only utilize a fraction of our brain, there’s no telling what gateways are available to us. I believe that Anneliese believed she was possessed because she counted on those around her to guide her. They failed her and it saddens me. 🙁

    • Definitely watch it later. It’s chilling. I do agree about only utilizing a fraction of our brains, and that we are capable of much more. And I think Anneliese’s religious upbringing and her own personal issues with penance, etc. laid the foundation for what happened later.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Stacy, an eery and horrifying story – and you have to wonder if this poor girl lived today she may have gotten help and lived a near normal life. From experience thru friends, I have seen schizophrenia is an illness that devastates families — especially when it “comes out” in the 20s. I didnt listen to the audio but may!

    • Yes, you do. Even though schizophrenia is still hard to treat, there have been so many medical advancement she would have at least have a fighting chance. I’ve not had the sadness of witnessing it firsthand, but I know it’s awful.

      Thanks for stopping by:)

  5. That video is chilling. Her voice expresses such agony that it makes me shudder. I do wonder why the priests continued performing exorcisms when she obviously wasn’t getting better. It’s horrible to see the original picture of Anneliese and the photo before her death. I believe in demons theoretically, but it seems that severe mental illness was involved in this case. Some might say that such problems are a sort of demon themselves. Most people of faith accept medical solutions too. The author of one of the gospels, Luke, was a physician, so it seems like they should have done more for this poor young woman medically or psychiatrically. My two cents, plus a few dimes there. As usual, you keep me on the edge of my seat, Stacy.

    • Doesn’t it? I mean, my rational side says it’s mental illness, but her voice is just terrifying. And I know, I don’t know why the priests continued, and I suppose that was the basis of their convictions.

      Very good point that mental illnesses are demons themselves – that’s true. Those people suffer as though possessed. Thanks for your interesting comments, Julie!

  6. How very interesting. I had never heard of this case and am fascinated to learn of it. I think that it wasn’t so long ago that mental illness was often seen as demonic possession. That said, I do think demonic possession is possible. I am very saddened that nobody could help that girl. What a sad case.

    I wish the video had not had the music. I think it would have been scarier without it.

    Great post, Stacy. 😀

    • Wow, I actually found on you hadn’t heard of? Awesome;) That’s a good point, it wasn’t all that long ago that mental illness was seen as possession, and I’m sure Anneliese isn’t the only one who suffered.

      Glad you enjoyed it:)

  7. Eeekeee…creepy! I have always found the information around exorcism fasinating. True or mental illness. It’s hard to say. And then, it’s amazing the personal beliefs can have on a person’s physic. Great post!

    • Me, too. I’m the first to believe anything is possible, but I think many exorcisms are probably cases of extreme mental illness. Thanks, glad you enjoyed!

  8. I do believe but I think true possession is probably rare. The Catholic Church is usually extremely careful in any exorcism case. As I understand it, doctors are usually involved and all attempts are made to rule out physical or mental illness. There are tragedies, of course…just as there are tragedies with medical misdiagnosis. I think there’s so much more in the world than we understand. We can’t be so arrogant as to think that we know all there is to know. That doesn’t mean we have to be gullible but that we can’t entirely closed to the possibilities (totally my opinion though).

    • That’s what I thought as well. Perhaps the doctors are a more recent inclusion? I think Anneliese suffered from her own extreme beliefs and her parents. I do agree there is so much more in the world than we understand and more than we will ever understand.


  9. Hi , I know what you all saying , but we grew up beleiving that theres evil and good so why not exorcism please i need help on that one ….. my daugther is asking me for andswer for my grandson what should i say…. you know we where brain wash please help….. ty

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