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Monday, December 9, 2019

Decemystery (2019) 9: The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

A photo of Anneliese.
Let’s take a trip back in time and go across the Atlantic Ocean to West Germany. Specifically: Leiblfing, Bavaria. It’s here that we’ll meet a young woman by the name of Anneliese Michel. Described by her classmates as “withdrawn and very religious.”

Anneliese —who was in her early 20s at the time of this story taking place (22–23 to be exact)—was a woman that at first place may not have seemed to be anyone special. However, her life, and her story, has become known as the real life Exorcist. A young woman believed to be possessed by a demon, or even Satan himself, is something that’s likely to attract the attention of many people. Even decades after the fact as Anneliese’s story became the basis for the 2005 Scott Derrickson film The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Let’s set aside the publicity factor for a moment though. Exorcism’s are something that are highly controversial. There’s debate, both among those who are religious and those who aren’t, as to whether or not they actually work. Anneliese’s story is arguably the most recognizable as a result of this as she ended up dying during her exorcism. To some, she truly was possessed by a demon and it took her life in a final fit of rage. In the eyes of others, she was merely a mentally ill girl who died as a result of callous religious practises.

Today, we will attempt to discover the truth. Let’s dive in.

Deliver Us From Evil: The Mystery of the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Born to a Roman Catholic family on September 21, 1952, Anneliese Michel (born Anna Elisabeth Michel) was raised in a family with three sisters. She would attend Mass twice a week with her sisters and parents, Josef and Anna Michel.

At the age of sixteen, Anneliese had a severe convulsion—at least that’s what Wikipedia states. According to the website “All That’s Interesting”, she ended up blacking out at school and proceeded to walk around dazed. When Anneliese snapped out of her trance, she said that she couldn’t remember the even. Family and friends would later say that she was in a “trance-like state.”

The following year, Anneliese entered another trance. This time, it was in her bed, which she ended up wetting before her body started convulsing. It was after this that Anneliese visited a neurologist, who stated that Anneliese was suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy. This would be one of quite a few medical conditions that Anneliese would come to be diagnosed with and it would become the central focus of the argument that what you’re about to learn wasn’t caused by a demon. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

Despite Anneliese managing to graduate high school and going on to join the University of Würzburg in 1973, her psychological condition continued to decline. In June of 1970, she suffered from a third seizure while staying at a psychiatric hospital. It was after this that she was prescribed anticonvulsant medication, which included (according to Wikipedia) Dilantin. I decided to check what the side effects of Dilantin are to see if maybe that could’ve related to what we’re about to read. According to Webmd, the side effects are:

Headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, feeling of spinning, drowsiness, trouble sleeping, or nervousness may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, tell your doctor or pharmacist promptly. Phenytoin may cause swelling and bleeding of the gums.

Although it isn’t likely it helped contribute to what we’ll be covering, Dilantin/Phenytoin is used to treat people who suffer from epileptic seizures among other things. Nevertheless, I felt it was necessary to mention it.

Following the prescription to Dilantin, Anneliese’s condition didn’t improve one iota. She claimed that she was seeing the face of Satan. This correspond with any specific location she went and would instead be random. The face of the Devil wasn’t the only thing that began to torment Anneliese around this time though. She claimed that she would hear demons whispering into her ears, saying that she was “damned” and that she would “rot in Hell.” These whispers would only happen while she was praying. As a result of this, she came to the conclusion that she was possessed by Satan himself.

After these experiences, Anneliese was prescribed Aolept. Just like with Dilantin, I decided to do some research as to what the side effects of this specific drug were and I was surprised to learn that it isn’t approved for sale in the United States, but it is sold in China, Russia, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Not only that, but the list of side effects for it is gargantuan in nature. Let’s go over them!

Courtesy of, here are the “possible side effects” of Aolept:

Filed with the warning “Stop taking pericyazine and see a doctor or go to a hospital straight away if”, we have:

#1: You have swelling, pain or redness in your legs as this could be a sign of a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis).

#2: You have chest pain or difficulty in breathing as this could be a sign of a blood clot which has travelled through blood vessels to the lungs (pulmonary embolism)

#3: You have an allergic reaction. The signs may include: rash, itching, fever, difficulty in breathing or wheezing, chills, swelling

#4: You have yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice). These could be signs of liver damage
You have frequent infections such as fever, severe chills, sore throat or mouth ulcers. These could be signs of a blood problem called ‘leucopenia’ [sic]

#5: You may get infections more easily than usual. This could be because of a blood disorder (agranulocytosis)

#6: You have movements that you cannot control, mainly of the tongue, mouth, jaw, arms and legs

#7: You have a high temperature, sweating, stiff muscles, fast heartbeat, fast breathing and feel confused, drowsy or agitated. These could be signs of a serious but rare side effect called ‘neuroleptic malignant syndrome’

#8: You have a very fast, uneven or forceful heartbeat (palpitations). You may also have breathing problems such as wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and chest pain

#9: You have a long lasting, painful erection of the penis

Filed with the warning “Tell a pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following side effects”, we have:

#1: You are breathing more slowly or less deeply than normal
#2: Feeling restless and not being able to keep still (akathisia)

#3: Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint when you stand or sit up quickly (due to low blood pressure)

#4: Rigid or stiff muscles, trembling or shaking, difficulty moving

#5: Passing large amounts of urine, excessive thirst and having a dry mouth or skin. You may also be more likely to get infections, such as thrush. This could be due to too much sugar in your blood (hyperglycaemia).

Filed with the warning “Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side effects gets serious or lasts longer than a few days”, we have:

#1: Abnormal production of breast milk in men and women

#2: Breast enlargement in men

#3: Loss of menstrual periods

#4: Difficulty in getting or keeping an erection (impotence)

#5: Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

#6: Feeling agitated

#7:Dry mouth

#8: Being more sensitive to the sun than usual

#9: Stuffy nose

#10: Skin rashes

#11: Skin redness, swelling and itching (contact skin sensitization)

Ending things off, there is this warning:

As with other phenothiazine medicines, there have been very rare reports of sudden death with pericyazine. These are possibly caused by heart problems.

Now does this mean that this was the cause of her problems—or rather, the increased severity of them? No, of course not. However, these side effects are quite concerning in my eyes. Then again, medication these days isn’t that much different.

I digress. Aolept is used to treat an array of psychosis-related illnesses (such as schizophrenia). Despite this additional medication, Anneliese’s condition didn’t improve. Rather, she complained that she was having hallucinations as she prayed on top of hearing the various whispers from demons. On top of this, she’d become increasingly depressed. She grew angry at the repeated medical interventions, along with the countless additional medication that she was prescribed. She also became highly intolerant of any sacred Christian locations and objects. 

The hatred for Christian objects didn’t stop Anneliese from attending Christian pilgrimages however. She, accompanied by a family friend, went to San Damiano. However, her escort would later conclude that she was possessed as she was incapable of walking by a crucifix. She also refused to drink water from a Christian holy spring.

Around this time, Anneliese, her family, and even her community began to request an exorcism from local Priests. However, each time any of them requested one, they’d be told that she should instead continue to seek medical assistance (not to mention, they’d need the approval of a bishop to perform an exorcism). It was also around this time that her belief that she was possessed became so extreme, she ripped her clothes off and began to perform 400 squats a day. She crawled under a table and barked like a dog for two days, ate spiders and coal, bit a dead bird’s head off, and licked her urine off of the floor.

In November of 1973, Anneliese was prescribed Tegretol, which is a drug used to prevent seizures and bipolar disorder. As I did with the previous two medications, here are the side effects:

#1: Nausea

#2: Vomiting

#3: Dizziness

#4: Drowsiness

#5: Dry mouth

#6: Swollen tongue

#7: Loss of balance or coordination

#8: Unsteadiness

Accompanying Tegretol, Anneliese was also prescribed various antipsychotic drugs that she would frequently take until her death in 1976. These drugs wouldn’t help whatsoever however and she would instead begin to growl, claim to see demons, and would throw objects in rage-induced frenzies.

Through this all however, Anneliese and her mother continued to seek some form of assistance from the church. Eventually, they found someone: a priest by the name of Ernst Alt. It was Alt who believed that Anneliese was truly possessed by a demon. As he would later stated, Anneliese “didn’t look like an epileptic.” He also claimed to have never seen Anneliese suffer a seizure. In his own words:

“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.”

I grabbed that from Wikipedia—not unlike an Imp would grab your sandwich and run off with it.

Joking aside: Alt, fully convinced of Anneliese’s demonic possession, petitioned to the local bishop to allow him to carry out an exorcism. As he awaited a response, he exchanged letters with Anneliese. One letter, which was sent from her in 1975, read as follows:

“I am nothing; everything about me is vanity. What should I do? I have to improve. You pray for me. I want to suffer for other people...but this is so cruel”

In September of 1975, Bishop Josef Stangl granted a priest by the name of Arnold Renz permission to carry an exorcism. However, he did so with one request: the exorcism must be carried out in complete and total secrecy. On September 24t of 1975, the first session of the exorcism was carried out. It was during this that Anneliese began to talk more and more erratically. Here’s one quote from Wikipedia.

“Dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church.”

It was statements like these that Anneliese would go on and on about. A gibberish induced, almost rabid in nature speech pattern that would make no sense to anyone other than a like-minded individual suffering from the same unfortunate fate that Anneliese was enduring. Towards the end of the Exorcism sessions—which last roughly ten months between 1975 and 1976, would take place once or twice a week, and would last upwards of four hours, Anneliese had begun to refuse to eat. Her parents, either believing that this was a product of the supposed demonic possession or oblivious to their daughter’s condition, didn’t seek out any assistance from medical professionals. In fact, they’d outright stopped consulting them and instead relied entirely on the exorcism rites that were being carried out, which totaled 67 sessions.

These sessions came to an end on July 1, 1976. On this day, Anneliese Michel died in her home. An autopsy report attributed her death to malnutrition and dehydration, both of which were caused thanks to the semi-starvation state that Anneliese had been in for nearly the entire year that the exorcism rites were being performed. By the time she died, Anneliese weighed a mere 68 pounds (30 kilograms), had broken knees that were caused by the continuous genuflections, and wasn’t capable of moving without any assistance. Topping things off: it was claimed that had contracted pneumonia.

The death triggered a police investigation, which ultimately lead to the state charging priests Ernst Alt, Arnold Renz, and Anneliese’s parents with negligent homicide. The state prosecutor was quoted as saying that Anneliese’s death could have been prevented even a single week prior to her dying.

The lawyers for Anneliese’s parents were sponsored by the church; a request of exemption of punishment being under the statement that they had “suffered enough.” This is apparently a criterion under German penal law if Wikipedia is accurate. Specific, it falls under cf. § 60 StGB. The more you know!

As the case went on, Anneliese’s body was exhumed and tapes that were recorded during the exorcism—tapes that spanned eleven months—were played to the court. During the trial, which took place in the district court and drew a massive amount of interest from the public and media, a series of doctors testified. They stated that the notion of her being possessed wasn’t true and that it was rather a mixture of the psychological effect of her strict religious upbringing and epilepsy. One doctor however, Richard Roth, was someone who’d been contacted to provide medical assistance by Father Alt. Roth was supposedly quoted as stating the following:

“There is no injection against the devil, Anneliese.”

Schmidt-Leichner countered this by saying that the exorcism was “legal” and that the family, and priests, were protected under the German constitution. They also played some of the audio tapes, which they claimed featured “demons arguing.” Father Alt and Father Renz also stated that the demons identified themselves. These included Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Belial, Legion, and Nero among others that Wikipedia unfortunately doesn’t list.

Both priests stated that Anneliese was ultimately freed of the demons shortly before she died.

Bishop Stangl testified that he wasn’t aware of the condition that Anneliese was in prior to having approved the exorcism. As such, he didn’t testify.

Ultimately, those accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence. As such, they were sentenced to six months in jail (this was later suspended however0 and three years probation. This sentencing was significantly lighter than anyone had anticipated, but it was also more than what had been requested by the prosecution, who had requested that the priests only be given a fine and Anneliese’s parents be found guilty, but also be exempt from any punishment.

After the trial ended, Anneliese’s parents requested that their daughter be exhumed on account of Anneliese having been laid to rest in a hurry and as such, she was buried in a cheap coffin. As such, on February 25, 1978—nearly two years after her death—Anneliese was laid to rest again in a coffin made of oak that was lined with tin. According to official reports, Anneliese’s body had signs of consistent deterioration. As for Father Alt and Father Renz, both were discouraged from seeing the remains. Father Renz was later quoted as stating he was prevented from entering the mortuary.

Anneliese’s grave became—and remains to this very day—a pilgrimage site.

After the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, and the trial that followed, the number of exorcisms—ones officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church at least—decreased in Germany. This is in spite of Pope Benedict XVI’s support for the wider use of it (at least compared to Pope John Paul II having made it harder for an exorcism to be performed).

On one final note, the home that Anneliese’s lived in was the sight of a fire on June 6, 2013. Although local authorities stated that it was an act of arson, locals said that it was due to the exorcism that had taken place decades earlier.

Thus ends the story of Anneliese Michel’s exorcism. At least, officially. Her story has inspired a fair bit of entertainment media. Let’s take a quick gander at that.

Devilish Media

Wikipedia—which is where I copied most of this entry from (sorry, Wikipedia)—has a section dedicated to the media that’s been spawned from this case. I figured I’d list it off.

The first was the film I mentioned at the start of this entry: 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose. This film focuses on both the exorcism and the ensuing court case. It was directed by Scott Derrickson, who would go on to direct the 2012 film Sinister, 2014’s Deliver Us From Evil and 2016’s Doctor Strange (and its upcoming sequel, slated for release in 2021).

In 2006, a German film called Requiem was released. The film loosely based on the story.

2011, a film called Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes was released. It’s also known as Paranormal Entity 3: The Exorcist Tapes, The film is a mockbuster of the film Paranormal Activity 3. This film was also loosely based on Anneliese’s story.

Public Image: First Issue (also known as First Issue), the debut album of Public Image Ltd, which was formed John Lyndon after he left the infamous British punk band, Sex Pistols, contained a song named Annalisa. The song is about the case of Anneliese.

Season 1, Episode 4 of the web series BuzzFeed: Unsolved: Supernatural centered on Anneliese’s story. It was released on November 14, 2016.

The podcast series Casefile True Crime Podcast talked about the story in their eleventh episode. It was released in March of 2016.

Episode 66 of the podcast My Favorite Murder covered the story. The episode’s title was The Devil’s Number.

Last but not least, the band Ice Nine Kills used auto snippets from the exorcism in the song Communion of the Cursed.


1. Anneliese was possessed

Our first theory states that Anneliese was indeed possessed. Whether by Satan, a demon, an archdemon, or Nero is up for debate. Whatever the case may be, the evidence for the theory is that no amount of medication and medical treatment worked. That, coupled with Anneliese reacting with hostility to any Christian symbols and locations despite being a devout Roman Catholic leads some—generally those who are believers in either God or demonic possession—to suspect that there was a demonic presence within Anneliese’s body, or at least life.

Your mileage in regards to this theory will depend on how much you believe in the possibility of demonic possession.

2. Anneliese was suffering from a mental illness

The second theory is that Anneliese wasn’t possessed, but merely suffering from a mental illness—or mental illnesses. These range from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia to an array of other illnesses. Evidence for this is generally purported by people who either see Anneliese’s condition as mirroring one of those (generally Paranoid Schizophrenia) or those who don’t believe in demonic possession. Before someone says that’s me singling out people who hold such an opinion: I’m not. That’s merely my general observation. I hold no ill will towards anyone who holds such a position.

That said, I think this theory is probably the most likely to some degree. However, I’d be lying if I said I fully subscribed to it. I digress though, there’s one more theory and it’s one I wish I could discuss more.

3. Anneliese was possessed by aliens

Once upon a time, back when I had the foresight to bookmark sources, I came across a forum that proposed that Anneliese wasn’t possessed by demons, but rather by aliens.

Although I have to ask you to take my word for this, the idea is that aliens had targeted Anneliese and drove her mad via their telekinetic capabilities. For what reason, I don’t know, though if you’re big on alien lore, you can surmise that it was likely a species of mischievous aliens that were having a laugh at the expense of the poor woman.

There’s no evidence to back this theory up and given I can’t find the source, it’s likely that nobody else took it seriously.

My Take

Reading through this story, I must admit that I flip-flopped a lot on what I thought. Even now, as I type this, I can’t say for certain if I think it was merely the delusions of someone who was suffering from severe mental illness or if there was something more going on. I guess if I had to pick, I think there may have been something more going on. However, I’m extremely uncertain of such a thing.

Demonic possession is something that I find interesting to occasionally read about, but I don’t have a solidified stance on it. In this case, I think that it could’ve been a possession, but the overall result is something I wouldn’t expect from it. I think her parents refusing to seek out additional medical attention was horrendously callous and a really bad move on their part. Carrying out the exorcism in secret was also a really stupid move in my eyes.

Even if this was a case of demonic possession, this shouldn’t have been done in this way. This could’ve been prevented if this was treated more seriously. Having to type that is honestly a bit ironic given how seriously this was treated by the victim.

If Anneliese wasn’t possessed by a demon, I’d suspect she was suffering from Paranoid Schizophrenia and it got to the point that she lost her mind completely. That’s just me though.


The case of Anneliese Michel is a tragic one. The debate as to whether or not she was truly possessed is contested to this day. Whether or not she was is a mystery that will likely never be fully solved or laid to rest. I’m curious as to what you think, dear reader. Do you think she was truly possessed? Or was she suffering from extreme delusions?

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