The Bizarre Life and Death of Anneliese Michel: A Woman Possessed

The gravestone of Anneliese Michel
The gravestone of Anneliese Michel
Anneliese Michel was born in Germany on September 21, 1952. She grew up in an arguably extremly Catholic family. Pictures of her taken in her childhood show a vibrant, pretty girl on her way to becoming a gorgeous, healthy woman. She had shining black hair, an open, honest face and a stunning smile. By the time she was 23-years-old, she was emaciated, heavily bruised, scarred and deranged. She was allegedly taken over by demons and fought for nearly eight years before finally losing her battle with evil. Later, her death was labeled negligent homicide, but was there anything anyone could have done for Anneliese Michel? Were those who were with Anneliese really fighting Satan or did her caretakers fail to treat a serious mental illness?

Four years before Anneliese was born, her mother, Anna Michel gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. This was a source of shame for the Catholic family. After she married and gave birth to Anneliese, she apparently harbored feelings of guilt about her first daughter. Unfortunately, Anneliese's older sister died at the age of eight, but Anneliese reportedly felt like she needed to repent for her mother's sin. It is said she spent much of her time doing penance for her mother, sinful youth and bad priests.

Anneliese's symptoms of possession or mental illness began in 1968. Anneliese was a 16-year-old high school student. The symptoms were convulsions and they were eventually diagnosed as epilepsy by a neurologist. Michel took medicine for her condition and continued her life to the best of her ability. She finished high school and went on to college, where she studied to become a teacher. Apparently, the medicine was not helping her much. Her problems only got worse.

Over time, Anneliese complained of seeing disturbing visions while saying her prayers. Later, evil voices giving her commands followed. Finally, Anneliese began showing an aversion to religious iconography. An older woman, a friend of the Michel family, noticed this while on a pilgrimage with Anneliese. She said that Anneliese smelled "hellishly bad" and took her to see some priests. Many of them said Anneliese needed a doctor. However, one said Anneliese needed an exorcism and that exorcism was eventually granted.

In 1975, Anneliese Michel and her parents stopped seeking medical advice and gave over Anneliese's fate to the Roman exorcism ritual. Anneliese, the priests and her parents truly believed she was possessed. Anneliese Michel herself said that Judas, Nero, Hitler, Cain, Lucifer and others were inside of her. Over the next ten months, Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt performed 67 exorcisms on the tormented girl. It is important to note that every action taken during these rituals was condoned by Anneliese. However, most would say her ailment was mental and that she could not have understood what was really happening.

Sometimes, the seriously ill Anneliese would perform hundreds of genuflections during these rituals. It is rumored that her parents held her up for them when she got too weak to do it herself. It is not hard to imagine this being necessary, given that Anneliese stopped eating altogether for some time before she died. She believed it would lessen the evil's control over her. There are claims that Anneliese spoke several different languages (or the demons and evil souls that possessed her did) during the exorcisms. The author of this article cannot verify such claims, as she does not speak the languages Anneliese supposedly spoke in the tapes.

It is certain that medicine was not saving Anneliese Michel from whatever tormented her, but there is no questioning that things got worse for her when she gave herself over to exorcism. In all likelihood, she needed a different kind of medical attention. She allegedly urinated and defecated on the floor frequently, also licking up her own urine. She ate insects, growled at religious icons and sat under her kitchen table barking for two days. Surely, her family was afraid of her, but a medical professional probably would not have left her under the table for two days or let her starve to death, which is eventually what she did.

Anneliese Michel died of dehydration and malnutrition on July 1, 1976. The 23-year-old woman weighed 68 pounds at the time of her death. Josef Michel (her father), Anna Michel and the two exorcists were eventually charged with negligent homicide. During the trial, evidence of the possession worked both for and against the defense. Forty-two of the exorcisms were audio-recorded and there were various pictures of a seriously ill-looking, bruised and sore-covered Anneliese. Anneliese is horrifying in these tapes which might have helped the defense, but is certainly not conclusive. If nothing else, the tapes made it clear that Anneliese was seriously ill and no one was making her eat. It is certain that possessed or not, Anneliese should have been cared for better.

There is no way to prove or disprove supernatural occurrences, such as possession. That makes it difficult to know what really happened to Ms. Michel. However, it is possible to prove that there is some evidence that epileptics are at an increased risk of displaying symptoms of schizophrenia and it is has been posited that Michel suffered from dissociative personality disorder and schizophrenia. That, combined with her religious background, could easily account for the events leading to her death.

Tape of Exorcisms of Anneliese Warning: This is very disturbing

Sources

Questioning the Story, retrieved 4/8/11, chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/emilyrose.php

Slater, Eliot & Beard A.W., The Schizophrenia-like Psychology of Epilepsy, retrieved 4/8/11, bjp.rcpsych.org