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Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.
Presented by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr. to the audience of Dragon-Con 2014
Nos tibi credere.
A Case History
On 26 December 1973, something happened which would potentially change the life of Anneliese forever. The movie The Exorcist was released upon a world where demonic possession was largely forgotten. While the release of the book in 1971 had already seen a marked upswing in “Possession fever,” the international success of the film suddenly cast a new light on Catholic priest.
For a priest with an already exaggerated belief in his abilities to find demons, the impact must have been profound. Fame and glory for dealing with demons. In fact a letter to the Bishop of Wurzburg, he claimed to have been sickened by letters from the Michels… has been attacked by swarms of flies and had seen shadowy creatures scurrying about.
It is also important to note that Anneliese on 9 September 1974 made the comment to Father Alt that she “cannot cope with reality.”
Over the next few months, Anneliese began to suffer a complete mental breakdown. Part of this breakdown saw the manifestation of many distinct personalities. She would rapidly and randomly shift between the different characters. She also no longer had the ability to differential between delusion and reality.
In addition to consulting Father Alt, Anneliese would visit Father Herrmann about 10 times from fall of 1973 until summer of 1975. During this time Herrmann not only provided counseling for Anneliese but evaluated her for demonic possession. They would discuss life issues and pray the rosary. While she did tell Herrmann that she felt like she was being controlled, Herrmann found no cause for possession. He additionally noted that Anneliese showed no violent behavior or aversions to any Christian symbols.
Throughout 1975, Alt and Father Arnold Renz visited Anneliese. Based mostly on Alt’s ability to detect demons, the priests decided that she was indeed possessed.
Perhaps taking a cue from what they had seen in the Exorcist, the priest decided that they should record their sessions with Anneliese.
On 15 May 1975, the death of her grandmother marked a sharp decline in Anneliese. It is also during this time that the first assertions emerged of possession by the spirits of:
From a medical perspectives, it can be asserted that the influences of Anna Michel and Father Alt could have contributed to the dissociative disorder (multiple personality).
Ignoring her medical history and her home life situation, on Sunday, 3 August 1975, the first test exorcism was performed. Allegedly with the oral consent of Bishop Josef Stangl, the test exorcism was a shortened form of the full rite and mostly was composed of prayers and blessings.
Based solely on Father Alt’s report, Bishop Josef Stangl issued a formal written authorization for an exorcism. On 24 September 1975, the first full exorcism was schedule.
Following that event Father Renz met with Anneliese and her parents. In that meeting he stated that he “did not see anything that indicated demonic possession.”
From September 1975 forward, Anneliese would endure frequent exorcisms.
The 1614 Exorcism Rite is composed of 11 prayers and 17 biblical text. It is designed to last 20-25 minutes. It is then repeated over and over. One session will last between 2- 12 hours. The sessions are then repeated over several weeks or month. After long sessions, short sessions are often used to retest the possessed to see if they are still possessed.
At some point during the many months lost interest in eating. This could be attributed to the entry in the Roman ritual requiring both the priest and victims of exorcisms to fast.
What is certain is that as Anneliese’s weight and health continued to drop, never once did the priest or the family seek medical help.
Anneliese died on 1 July 1976.
Her father immediately went to get a natural cause death certificate. The examining physician refused based on the emaciation of the body as well as multiple wounds and contusions. Anneliese’s teeth were fractured, both eyes blacked, and she was covered with bruises.
Alt tried to explain some of the injuries as stigmata but there was never any evidence of this.
In 1976, Michel's parents as well as Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz, were charged with negligent homicide. Michel's body was exhumed and reexamined. Tapes of the exorcisms spanning 11 months were played for the court.
The prosecution requested that if found guilty, no involved parties be jailed. Instead, the prosecution asked that the priest be fined and that the parents had "suffered enough,” which is allowed in German penal law, cf. § 60 StGB.
On 30 March 1978 the trial began in the district court.
All but one doctor questioned firmly asserted that Anneliese was not possessed. Their testimony asserted that she suffered the psychological illnesses because of her strict religious upbringing and her epilepsy.
The one dissenting doctor, Richard Roth, had been a participant in some of the exorcisms and allegedly had told Anneliese that "there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese".
The basis of the defense was that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs. Therefore, because the priests were acting in a sanctioned manner and the parents were relying on the priests in a professional capacity, they were immune from punishment. Arguing that exorcism was legal. In support of their allegations that Anneliese was indeed possessed, tapes of the exorcisms were played for the court.
A letter from Bishop Josef Stangl to the court stated while he had authorized the exorcism he was not made aware of any of the pre-existing medical or mental conditions that Anneliese was enduring. The Bishop was never called to testify before the court.
Evidence from the trial suggests that Alt wanted to complete an exorcism to allow him to write books and lecture. While the actual exorcisms were recorded on audio tape, no effort of any kind was made to record the preceding evidence.
During the trial it was confirmed that Fr. Arnold Renz did the required prayer, fasting and reviewed the case file on Anneliese as required by the Catholic Church. There was no evidence or assertions in the trial that Alt followed any of the guidelines.
The priest as well as the parents were found guilty of manslaughter. They were all sentenced to 6 months in jail and three years of probation. The priest/church was also subject to a small fine which was little more than the court fees. The jail time was then reduced to 3 months and finally it was suspended completely.
The accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to six months in jail (which was later suspended) and three years of probation.
Once the trial was over, the parents asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. The official reason for the petition was that Michel had been buried in a hurry laid to rest in cheap coffin but the real reason appears that Carmelite nun told the parents that she had a vision of their daughter's still-intact body would authenticated the supernatural character of the case. Two years after the burial, on 25 February 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak coffin lined with tin.
The re-interment reports asserts that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration
In 1984, the bishops made a petition to the Vatican regarding the exorcism rite and a commission passed on the decision that she was mentally ill, not possessed.
After a careful review of the available evidence of the case of Anneliese Michel, it seems that this is more a case of clergy caught up in possession fever than a true case of possession.
One of the foremost considerations of the Catholic standard for possession is “not to believe too readily that a person is possessed by an evil spirit but to ascertain the signs by which a person possessed can be distinguished from one who is suffering from melancholy or some other illness.”
As the evidence shows there were so many medical and mental issues being faced by Anneliese, even a non-doctor could have diagnosed them. It is also important to note that virtually every early major event was triggered by high stress or a change in environment.
While it is true that in 1970s, it was believed that psychosis was treatable with psychotherapy and that very little was known about brain chemistry, there still sufficient criteria at the time for a sound psychiatric diagnosis. It is hard to remember today that while Anti-psychotic or Anti-depressant drugs would have helped, most of these drugs did not exist at that time.
Clearly there was in the 1970s sufficient medical data to conclude that the black-outs, the uncontrolled urination, the physical seizures, auditory and visual hallucinations were related to her Anneliese’s epilepsy. The parallel doctors’ evaluations further supported that many of the delusion and rage were directly linked to mental issues.
Beyond the vast number of medical issues that explain Anneliese’s conditions, the actual case for possession fails.
When looking at the claim of the “demons” that were said to terrorize Anneliese, only one of the six was none human.
Satan was the only demonic entity. Granted this is an A-list demonic entity but this is the only demonic entity on the list.
Cain killed his brother. Granted Cain is the first murderer but nowhere in the scope of religious literature is he ever considered a demon.
Nero Persecuted the Christians. While Nero has a negative reputation, still he is not a demon.
Judas betray Christ. Demon? No.
Hitler killed millions of people AND because he send her father to war had stolen his affections. Even if he is Satan’s sex toy, still not a demon.
Fleischmann was a local womanizing priest from the 1500s that was also said to have killed a man. Alt admitted discussing with Anneliese’s parents. One week later he became a named demon possessing the girl.
If nothing else the list of possessors should have stopped the series of exorcism and prompted reconsideration.
Anna and Anneliese
Anna and Anneliese
Anneliese in 1975
Alt, Renz, Anne Micchel and Josef Michel during the Trial
Alt, Renz, Anne Micchel and Josef Michel during the Trial
Exhuming Anneliese’s grave
Exhuming Anneliese’s grave
Anneliese on death bed
|Ouija and Zozo|
|Christian Demon texts|
|Roman Rite 1614|
|Roman Rite 1998|