Anna Elisabeth Michel
21 September 1952
|Died||1 July 1976 (aged 23)|
Klingenberg am Main, Bavaria, West Germany
|Cause of death||Malnutrition|
|Resting place||Klingenberg am Main, Bavaria|
|Known for||Supposed demonic possession, death after exorcism|
Anna Elisabeth "Anneliese" Michel (21 September 1952 – 1 July 1976) was a German woman who underwent 67 Catholic exorcism rites during the year before her death. She died of malnutrition, for which her parents and priest were convicted of negligent homicide. She was diagnosed with epileptic psychosis (temporal lobe epilepsy) and had a history of psychiatric treatment, which was overall not effective.
When Michel was 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 by a psychiatric hospital. By the time she was 20, she had become intolerant of various religious objects and began to hear voices. Her condition worsened despite medication, and she became suicidal, also displaying other symptoms, for which she took medication as well. After taking psychiatric medications for five years failed to improve her symptoms, Michel and her family became convinced she was possessed by a demon. As a result, her family appealed to the Catholic Church for an exorcism. While rejected at first, after much hesitation, two priests got permission from the local bishop in 1975. The priests began conducting exorcism sessions and the parents stopped consulting doctors. Anneliese Michel stopped eating food and died due to malnourishment and dehydration after 67 exorcism sessions. Michel's parents and the two Roman Catholic priests were found guilty of negligent homicide and were sentenced to six months in jail (reduced to three years of probation), as well as a fine.
Born as Anna Elisabeth Michel on 21 September 1952 in Leiblfing, Bavaria, West Germany, to a Roman Catholic family, Michel was brought up along with three sisters by her parents, Josef and Anna. She was religious and went to Mass twice a week. When she was sixteen, she suffered a severe convulsion and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. In 1973, Michel graduated and joined the University of Würzburg. Her classmates later described her as "withdrawn and very religious".
In June 1970, Michel suffered a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital where she had been staying. She was prescribed anti-convulsion drugs for the first time, including Dilantin, which did not alleviate the problem. She began describing seeing "devil faces" at various times of the day. That same month, she was prescribed another drug, Aolept, which is similar to chlorpromazine and is used in the treatment of various psychoses including schizophrenia, disturbed behavior and delusions. By 1973, she suffered from depression and began hallucinating while praying, and complained about hearing voices telling her that she was "damned" and would "rot in hell". Michel's treatment in a psychiatric hospital did not improve her health and her depression worsened. Long-term treatment did not help either, and she grew increasingly frustrated with the medical intervention, taking pharmacological drugs for five years. Michel became intolerant of Christian sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix.
Michel went to San Damiano with a family friend who regularly organized Christian pilgrimages. Her escort concluded that she was suffering from demonic possession because she was unable to walk past a crucifix and refused to drink the water of a Christian holy spring:
Anneliese told me—and Frau Hein confirmed this—that she was unable to enter the shrine. She approached it with the greatest hesitation, then said that the soil burned like fire and she simply could not stand it. She then walked around the shrine in a wide arc and tried to approach it from the back. She looked at the people who were kneeling in the area surrounding the little garden, and it seemed to her that while praying they were gnashing their teeth. She got as far as the edge of the little garden, then she had to turn back. Coming from the front again, she had to avert her glance from the picture of Christ [in the chapel of the house]. She made it several times to the garden, but could not get past it. She also noted that she could no longer look at medals or pictures of saints; they sparkled so immensely that she could not stand it. —Father Alt
Michel and her family, as well as her community, became convinced and consulted several priests, asking for an exorcism. The priests declined, recommended the continuation of medical treatment, and informed the family that exorcisms required the bishop's permission. In the Catholic Church, official approval for an exorcism is given when the person strictly meets the set criteria, then they are considered to be suffering from possession (infestatio) and under demonic control. Intense dislike for religious objects and supernatural powers are some of the first indications. Michel worsened physically and displayed aggression, self-injury, drank her own urine and ate insects. In November 1973, Michel started her treatment with Tegretol, an anti-seizure drug and mood stabilizer. She was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs during the course of the religious rites and took them frequently until some time before her death. Despite taking these neuroleptic medications, Michel's symptoms worsened and she began to manifest "growling, seeing demons, throwing things."
The priest Ernst Alt, whom they met, on seeing her declared that "she didn't look like an epileptic" and that he did not see her having seizures. Alt believed she was suffering from demonic possession and urged the local bishop to allow an exorcism. In a letter to Alt in 1975, Michel wrote, "I am nothing; everything about me is vanity. What should I do? I have to improve. You pray for me" and also once told him, "I want to suffer for other people...but this is so cruel". In September of the same year, Bishop Josef Stangl granted the priest Arnold Renz permission to exorcise according to the Rituale Romanum of 1614, but ordered total secrecy.[note 1]
Renz performed the first session on 24 September. Michel began talking increasingly about "dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church", and she refused to eat towards the end. At this point, her parents stopped consulting doctors on her request and relied solely on the exorcism rites. 67 exorcism sessions; one or two each week, lasting up to four hours, were performed over about ten months in 1975–1976.
On 1 July 1976, Michel died in her home. The autopsy report stated the cause was malnutrition and dehydration due to being in a semi-starvation state for almost a year while the rites of exorcism were done. She weighed 30 kilograms (68 pounds), suffering broken knees due to continuous genuflections. She was unable to move without assistance, and was reported to have contracted pneumonia.
After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Michel's death could have been prevented even one week before she died.
In 1976, the state charged Michel's parents and priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz with negligent homicide. The parents were defended by Erich Schmidt-Leichner; their lawyers were sponsored by the Church. The state recommended that no involved parties be jailed; instead, the recommended sentence for the priests was a fine, while the prosecution concluded that the parents should be exempt from punishment as they had "suffered enough", which is a criterion in German penal law, cf. § 60 StGB.
The trial started on 30 March 1978 in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, doctors testified that Michel was not possessed, stating that this was a psychological effect because of her strict religious upbringing and her epilepsy, but the doctor Richard Roth, who was asked for medical help by Alt, allegedly told her during the exorcism, that "there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese". Schmidt-Leichner said that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs. The defense played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be "demons arguing", to assert their claim that Michel was possessed. Both priests said the demons identified themselves as Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Belial, Legion, Hitler and Nero among others; they further said that she was finally freed because of the exorcism just before her death.
The bishop said that he was not aware of her alarming health condition when he approved of the exorcism and did not testify. The accused were convicted of "negligent homicide" and were given suspended prison sentences in April 1978, and were "ordered to share the costs of the proceedings". The sentences have been described as "stiffer" than requested by the prosecutor, who had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished. The Church approving such an old fashioned exorcism rite drew public and media attention. According to John M. Duffey, the case was a misidentification of mental illness.
Exhumation and aftermath
After the trial, the parents asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. The official reason presented by the parents to authorities was that Michel had been buried in undue hurry in a cheap coffin. Almost two years after the burial, on 25 February 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak coffin lined with tin. The official reports state that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration. The accused exorcists were discouraged from seeing the remains of Michel. Arnold Renz later stated that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary. Her grave became and remains a pilgrimage site.
The number of officially sanctioned exorcisms decreased in Germany due to this case, in spite of Pope Benedict XVI's support for wider use of it compared to Pope John Paul II, who in 1999 made the rules stricter, involving only rare cases.
In popular culture
- Three films, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which focuses on both the court case and the exorcism), Requiem and Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes, are loosely based on Michel's story.
- First Issue, the debut album from John Lydon's post Sex Pistols band Public Image Ltd, contains the song "Annalisa," about the case.
- The case and the theories surrounding it were discussed in season 1, episode 4 of the BuzzFeed web series BuzzFeed Unsolved: Supernatural, entitled "The Chilling Exorcism of Anneliese Michel," released on 14 November 2016.
- The case and its history was also covered in Case 11: Anneliese Michel, a March 2016 episode of the Casefile True Crime Podcast.
- The exorcism was also covered in the podcast My Favorite Murder in episode 66, "The Devil's Number."
- The band Ice Nine Kills used audio clippings from Anneliese's exorcism in their song "Communion of the Cursed."
- The case was covered in the podcast A Little Bit Grim in episodes 26 and 27.
- The case was covered in the podcast "And That's Why We Drink" episode 39.
- The case was covered in the podcast "Ghost Town" episode 84.
- Richard Maclean Smith, in his book, Unexplained, describes the case in the context of biological limits on free will and the sense of self.
- Song "Anneliese" from band Hellripper
- People, Volume 64. TIME. 2005. p. 14.
Anneliese Michel (left) was a college student who was diagnosed with epilepsy after having seizures. Despite medication, her symptoms worsened— growling, seeing demons, throwing things.
- Goodman, Felicitas D. (22 May 1988). How about Demons?: Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World. Indiana University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780253014627.
When treatment by the family physician and various psychiatrists brought her no relief, the bishop of her diocese gave permission to two priests to carry out the ritual of exorcism.
- Ebert, Roger (5 February 2013). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 907. ISBN 9780740792199.
It involved a German girl named Anneliese Michel, who was treated for seizures and given drugs over a period of five years before the Church finally authorized an exorcism; its investigation indicated she was possessed by, among others, Lucifer, Judas, Nero, Cain, and Hitler.
- Forcen, Fernando Espi (14 October 2016). Monsters, Demons and Psychopaths: Psychiatry and Horror Film. Taylor & Francis. p. 132. ISBN 9781315353920.
After a few months, she stopped eating and died from malnourishment and dehydration.
- Wolff, Uwe (2006). Der Teufel ist in mir [The Devil Is in Me] (in German). Munich: Heyne. p. 56. ISBN 3-453-60038-X.
- Ney-Hellmuth, Petra (2014). Der Fall Anneliese Michel [The Case of Anneliese Michel] (in German). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. p. 20. ISBN 978-3-8260-5230-9.
- "IL MEGLIO DEL WEB. L'esorcismo di Anneliese Michel. Una storia terribile. VIDEO" (in Italian). Sicilia Informazioni. 16 January 2012. Archived from the original on 10 January 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
- Society for Neuroscience (2011). SfN 2010 - Nano, Theme H, Featured Lectures, Special Lectures, Symposia/Minisymposia, Workshops, Satellites, and Socials. Coe-Truman Technologies. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-61330-001-5.
- Paris, André (31 May 2003). "Unreiner Geist, weiche!" (in German). Taz.de. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
- Hansen, Eric T. (4 September 2005). "What in God's Name?!". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
- Dégh, Linda (2001). Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre. Indiana University Press. p. 20. ISBN 9780253339294.
Michel's deeply devout, conservative Catholic community was convinced that she was possessed by the devil after they had seen her hostile reaction to holy communion during pilgrimage to patron saint San Damiano in Italy.
- Interviews in "Satan lebt – Die Rückkehr des Exorzismus", 2006, wdr, Documentary by Helge Cramer.
- Goodman, Felicitas D. (1 November 2005). The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 34. ISBN 9781597524322.
- Eric Borsje (17 June 2013). "Duitslands beroemdste horrorhuis afgebrand" [Germany's most famous horror house burnt down] (in Dutch). HLN.BE. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- "Priests convinced woman was possessed". The Windsor Star. 4 April 1978. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
- Annelise Michel was supposedly possessed by Satan. Craig R. Whitney (8 August 1976, Aschaffenburg (W Ger)). The New York Times, Page 10, Column 3 (103 words). Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- "Religion: A Phenomenon of Fear". Time. 6 September 1976. Archived from the original on 17 May 2007. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
- "Bizarre exorcism draws suspended prison terms". The Press-Courier. 22 April 1978. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
...received suspended prison sentences Friday.They were convicted of negligent homicide. ... were convicted and ordered to share the costs of the proceedings. The sentences were stiffer than those sought by Chief Prosecutor Karl Stenger, who recommended fines for the priests,but asked that the parents be spared punishment after suffering the ordeal of losing their daughter.
- Michael Getler (21 April 1978). "Cries of a Woman Possessed; German Court Hears Tapes in Exorcism Death Trial". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
Nobody is expected to go to jail. The prosecutor yesterday asked that the priests be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished because they have already suffered enough.
- Duffey, John M. (13 July 2011). Lessons Learned: The Anneliese Michel Exorcism: The Implementation of a Safe and Thorough Examination, Determination, and Exorcism of Demonic Possession. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781621890218.
This is also mental misidentification of internal information as external information.
- Schwarz, Heike (March 2014). Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction. transcript Verlag. p. 269. ISBN 9783839424889.
- "Planned Polish Exorcism Center Sparks Interest in Germany". DW. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- "German Catholics bring back exorcism". The Local. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- SAT.1 Television (12 June 2013). "(Video & Text) Klingenberg-Exorzismus: Haben Satanisten dieses Haus angezündet?" (in German). SAT.1. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- Helmut Reister (16 June 2013). "Abgebrannt - Das Exorzisten-Haus" (in German). Abendzeitung. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
- Chris Brazier: "The Danceable Solution" (Melody Maker, 28 October 1978)
- "Case 11: Anneliese Michel - Casefile: True Crime Podcast". Casefile: True Crime Podcast. 19 March 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
- Compare video and exorcism}}
- Goodman, Felicitas D. (1988). How about Demons?: Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32856-X.
- Felicitas D. Goodman (1 November 2005). The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Resource Publications (OR). ISBN 978-1-59752-432-2.
- Getler, Micheal. "Cries of a Woman Possessed : German Court Hears Tapes in Exorcism Death Trial" in The Washington Post (21 April 1978)
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