alias: Anne Lisner

[Some images may be considered disturbing]


Feeding a disturbed person’s delusions can be fatal. 

A hysterical, neurotic German girl’s struggle with her inner demons—which she perceived to be real, supernatural devils—led to one of the longest and most inhumanely conducted exorcisms recorded.  It also led to the miserably torturous decline and death of the once pretty and energetic Anneliese Michel in'Fire of Exorcism' (Für Anneliese)Credit: Vic Dillingerâ„¢, © 2012 1976.

Her story was fictionalized in the 2005 film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

Unadorned truth in Catholic Church revelations of its more controversial activities, such as exorcisms, is normally sacrificed.

Part of the reason for secrecy and misdirection is to protect the privacy of the participants.  Also, as with many professions, a tradition of privilege (keeping confidences between clergy and parishioners) is not only expected but has been upheld in courts of law.  When compelled to produce potentially controversial or sensitive information, though, the Church historically does so grudgingly.  Even then, the details are suspect.

In the 1928 case of Emma Schmidt (the first famous exorcism in America), a pseudonym was applied to her.  No information about her exorcism was released to the public until seven years after the fact.  Also, the details of what ailed her and specifics about her history (such as date and place of birth) are all covered in vagaries such as “she was born in the Midwest” and “she was in her 40s”.  A German priest, who had not attended any of the exorcism sessions for Emma, wrote a third-hand German-language account of her exorcism.  This little pamphlet saw few readers until 1935 when an American priest got permission from the Catholic Church to translate this oddment into English.  The Church approved the translation.  It gave its imprimatur to the result, indicating it was sanctioned, the Church’s official record of Emma Schmidt’s exorcism

The pamphlet, Begone Satan!, was very successful.  However, it is not a good account.  It is a badly written, subjective, and sensationally florid telling of Emma’s exorcism sessions.  All events as alleged (levitations, demonic voices speaking in tongues, objects hurling about from unseen forces, etc.) are taken at face value no matter how improbable or exaggerated, and are dutifully recorded as fact. 

Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Wisconsin priest who conducted Emma’s exorcism (over a total of 23 non-consecutive days from August 18, 1928, to December 22, 1928), was not a source of information for this document.  Because of this lack of journalistic objectivity and integrity, precious little is known today about Emma Schmidt and what really happened at her exorcism.  The information is so poor and scanty a complete history could probably never be compiled.  Emma Schmidt, a 46-year-old hysteric likely with a dissociative disorder, was never heard from again after her 1928 exorcism. 

Most people who have seen the movie or read the book The Exorcist (from the early 1970s) are perhaps unaware the events are based on a purported case of demonic possession from 1949.  However, recent investigative efforts have exposed this case for what it really was: a sham perpetrated by a spoiled child named Ronald Edwin Hunkeler.  He was never possessed by demons, although several exorcism rituals were performed on him in both his home town of Cottage City, Maryland, and later in St. Louis, Missouri.  Allegedly, he was exorcised successfully on April 18, 1949. 

However, no one had the complete wherewithal to investigate his case independently.  The Catholic Church published no record—all notes and session documentation were kept in-house.  Right away a factual error in a newspaper headline on August 20, 1949, incorrectly named the town where Ronald was from.  This error was not corrected, and the public believed for decades the mystery boy was from Mt. Rainier, Maryland.  Furthermore, a number of pseudonyms were applied to Hunkeler to protect his privacy (the best known and most commonly used one was “Robbie Mannheim”).  The priests involved refused to divulge his real name. 

The story would have died if not for the novel written by William Peter Blatty in 1971 based on this exorcism case.  The movie made from the book, The Exorcist, was a phenomenon.

From the time of the film’s release, however, details undermining the “truth” of Ronald’s possession surfaced.  The priests involved were particularly upset by the exaggerations portrayed on the screen.  They said his voice did not change dramatically when “speaking in tongues”, he never levitated (although his bed did shake, easily done with the shoddy bedsprings in old-style beds).  One attendant on the scene reported the spectral scratches, that allegedly formed words on his skin (such as “Hell”) and an image of Satan, not only “looked like lipstick”, but also were randomized scrawlings that could be interpreted as almost anything.  No one denied the boy was exorcised—they simply denied his behavior was as bad as on film.

Hunkeler himself went on to graduate from high school, and another later photo appears to be taken on a college campus.  In July 1964, he was shown in a picture working with potter’s clay in a newspaper feature.  He allegedly had at least one child, a son he named Michael (supposedly for the archangel Michael who finally freed him from his “demonic possession” in 1949).  Recent contact with him led only to a demand to never call him again.  The demonic possession of Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, although it took about 60 years to unravel satisfactorily, can be put to rest as a hoax.

Father Halloran, the last surviving clergy member who attended his exorcism, died at age 83 in 2005.  Hunkeler remains the only one (if still alive, he would be 79 in 2015) who could set the record of his “possession” straight. 

The outrageous events of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, in contrast to Hunkeler’s, are the most transparent of all recorded exorcisms.  That is because the principals (her parents and the two priests assigned) were charged with criminal negligence that led to her death.

The case carries a special weight as the most cleanly and factually documented of all exorcisms.  The exorcism of Anneliese Michel was not allowed to cloak itself in secrecy. In no other known instance of exorcism has the spotlight of exposure shone so brightly.  Because the case went to trial, was subjected to investigation and evidentiary sifting, and a court record was transcribed, there would be no hiding behind pseudonyms or couching the particulars in misdirection

Although she was assigned a pseudonym by the German bishop who approved her exorcism (“Anne Lisner”), the false name never got a chance to take hold.  The publicity surrounding her death saw to that.  Thus, the world has a good picture of what transpired during the last roughly ten months of this tormented girl’s life.

Life of Anneliese
In southeastern Germany, bordering Austria and the Czech Republic, is the mysterious and superstition-steeped region of Bavaria.  Deeper in the southeastern part of this fairy-tale land is the Bavarian Forest, once a primeval back-wood.

Map of Bavaria, GermanyCredit: American People's Encyclopedia map, 1963

In this culturally isolated corner of the country the Catholic Church was a powerful influence in people’s lives.  Anna Michel, Anneliese’s mother, gave birth to a daughter, out-of-wedlock, in 1948.  The guilt and shame of bearing an illegitimate child plagued Anna; when she later married a man named Josef Michel (unknown if he was this girl’s father), the religious guilt of this “sin” remained in the household.  Josef, however, accepted the child into his family life without reservation.

Anna and Josef were devoutly religious, almost fanatical in their adherence to Catholicism.  The Michel family’s strict Catholicism factored heavily in their lives.

Anneliese Michel was born in Leiblfing, in Bavaria, on September 12, 1952.  Anna’s first-born was four years old at the time.  The illegitimate girl died at age eight (cause unknown).  Anneliese was a toddler then and was witness to the grieving process.  Her mother felt the early death of this child was somehow a punishment for her “sin” of getting pregnant without being married. 

Other children followed, and Anneliese’s childhood was unremarkable.  The family moved literally to the other end of Bavaria, into the northwest corner on the Main River to the townAnneliese Michel (early teens) of Klingenberg am Main.  This is less than 50 miles (80 km) from the country’s capital of Frankfurt further to the northwest. 

Anneliese went through elementary school and entered a high school in Aschaffenburg.  She developed tuberculosis as a teen, however, and in 1968 she was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Mittelberg (when she was 16).  While there, she had her first violent convulsion.  A medical diagnosis of epilepsy was reached; however it is unclear if she was prescribed medication at this time. 

In treatment, Anneliese prayed often.  She decided to dedicate much of her time in the hospital in strengthening her faith.  While in Mittelberg, she began suffering from delusions; she hallucinated when she prayed.  Anneliese was successfully treated for her tuberculosis; she, however, attributed her cure to a religious miracle and not medical science. 

She was released from the hospital.  She returned to high school and graduated.

Then she began to have trouble speaking.  She developed another “possession” symptom: she found it difficult to walk (she described herself as being so heavy that gravity threatened to drag her down).  When crossing a room she held onto walls and furniture to keep from falling.  [This “heaviness” is known in exorcism accounts as “possession gravity”—a victim’s bed, for example, might allegedly sag under the sudden increase in the possessed person’s weight.] 

Anneliese managed to keep up a relatively regular life despite her setbacks.  She enrolled in a university to study teaching.  As time went on, however, she became increasingly depressed. 

She had invested herself heavily in her Catholic faith; for some reason, she labored under the notion that her suffering was because of demonic possession.  Moreover, her depression deepened, and she grew frustrated.  Like Emma Schmidt (the Earling, Iowa, exorcism case of 1928), Anneliese grew intolerant of sacred places and objects (rosaries, crucifixes, etc.).  She believed her demonic possession was creating this revulsion.

Her grip on reality slipped exponentially, and she was sent to a psychiatric facility.  Her mental state, however, in psychiatric care did not improve. 

In June 1970, Anneliese (while in the facility) suffered her third violent convulsion (these seizures were not common, but they were severe).  She was prescribed anti-convulsants for the first time.

The first drug she was prescribed is not known (in the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose it is given a fictional name).  Her seizures were under control but her hallucinations were not.  She claimed she saw “devil faces” at different times during the day.  The longer she was in the hospital the more she became convinced she was not being helped.  She adamantly believed she suffered from a crisis of her spirit, that she was possessed.

She was prescribed more drugs, one of which was used for treating schizophrenia.

Death of Anneliese
Her drugs were rotated, or their dosages altered, to keep her mentally on an even keel and to control her seizures.  Anneliese suffered increasingly darker bouts of depression, though, and her voices told her that she was “damned” and would “rot in hell”.

In November 1973, Anneliese (now 21 years old) was prescribed an anti-seizure medication that was also a mood stabilizer.  Although she still heard voices and felt tormented, these episodes were fewer and less severe.  Of all the medications she had been prescribed, this one—Tegretol (generic form: carbamazepine)—is the one she took most faithfully.  Other prescriptions she either let lapse or did not follow the required regimen, meaning her moods and mental state were subject to chemically-induced fluctuations.  Anneliese still labored under the delusion she was possessed by demons, however. 

By 1975, this delusion was a regular part of her everyday life.  She had a romantic relationship with a young man named Peter; he experienced firsthand some of her seizures.  The word “seizure” tends to describe the convulsive, spasmodic, and uncontrolled muscle movements of someone fully engaged in what used to be called a grand mal epileptic seizure (now called “tonic-clonic” seizures).

Anneliese’s seizures, however, were of a more extreme nature.  When she seized, her body twisted and stiffened into unnatural contortions and remained in these rigid positions, for hours sometime.  It was excruciating and fatiguing, and when the electrical storm in her brain passed, she was left drained, confused, and in pain.  This rigidity of musculature is called “dystonia”, and many things can cause it (hypoglycemia, epilepsy, among other things).  Peter was horrified when he first saw this manifest; he was completely helpless to unlock her rigidly contorted limbs.

Despite all these infirmities, she did keep up the semblance of a regular life while on the drug Tegretol, though she was still convinced she was possessed.  Her religiosity, heavily ingrained, led her to believe; since medical science and psychiatric treatments had failed her she had devils inside her.

Anneliese had petitioned dozens of priests for an exorcism ritual over the past few years.  None believed she was possessed.  The clergy she approached determined that she was medically and psychologically unsound, and they all recommended secular medical care.

A friend of the Michel family, a woman named Thea Hein, knew of Anneliese’s crisis of faith and her physical ailments (the dystonia, the seizures, etc.).  Hein routinely organized groups of tourists (or pilgrims) to take day trips to local religious sites, some of which were not properly sanctioned by the Catholic Church.  One of these places was San Damiano, a pilgrimage site not officially recognized as venerable, in Assisi, Italy. 

Anneliese’s negative reaction to religious iconography (physically unable to enter a church or walk near a relic) meant she could not approach the things at San Damiano that might have given her some spiritual relief.  Hein knew Anneliese was unable to walk past a crucifix.  She also refused to drink the water of a holy spring.  Hein concluded at this time that Anneliese was truly possessed of the devil. 

In the wake of this unsuccessful pilgrimage Anneliese and her family together finally concluded beyond doubt she was possessed.  She allegedly urinated and defecated on the floor often, also licking up her own urine.  She had been seen eating insects by one of her younger siblings.  She growled at religious icons, and sat under the kitchen table barking for two days. 

During one night at the dinner table, Anna Michel recalled that Anneliese’s hands appeared to be “enormous”.  She claimed the girl’s hands were almost twice their normal size (this “swelling” phenomenon was also reported in Emma Schmidt in 1928).  Anneliese apparently noticed her hands’ changed appearance and reportedly lamented, “I have black hands.  Savior, forgive me.”

Her family was afraid of her.  Thea Hein (her friend from the San Damiano pilgrimage) visited and reported that Anneliese smelled “hellishly bad”.  More priests were consulted, requesting an exorcism.  These, too, declined.  It was pointed out an exorcism needed a bishop’s consent, and that really Anneliese should just continue medical treatment. 

In a nearby town, the family ferreted out a vicar named Ernst Alt.  He agreed to see Anneliese and give a decision based upon his observations.  Unfortunately, this non-medical clergyman reported that she “didn’t look like an epileptic” (having been told of her medical history).  He based this upon not seeing her have seizures in his presence (she didn’t have the classic type, anyway; regardless she was medicated and her seizures were controlled). 

Alt concluded she must be possessed (Anneliese had dramatically snatched a rosary away from him, breaking it).  He took her case to his bishop, a man named Josef Stengl.

In September 1975, Bishop Stengl issued written approval for an exorcism of Anneliese Michel (it is in this document the bishop gave her the pseudonym “Anne Lisner”):

I authorize Father Arnold Renz to go through with the procedure involving Anne Lisner, according to paragraph 11.51.1.  My prayer will accompany this case the whole time. I pray God to help us.

Though brief, this memo was typed on the bishop’s officially letterhead.

Another priest, Father Arnold Renz, was assigned to perform the Rituale Romanum of 1614.  This was the Catholic Church’s exorcism protocol (later revised in 1999 after remaining unchanged for 385 years).  Bishop Stengl authorized the exorcism of Anneliese Michel under one caveat: total secrecy must be observed.

The first session began on September 24, 1975.  Anneliese’s body was subject to suddenly and violently throwing itself out of bed onto the stone floor of the family home.  She had given up trying to sleep in a bed, and was instead lying among blankets and cushions on the floor.  She also picked up small stones and felt an overwhelming compulsion to chew on them (chipping her teeth in the process).Anneliese Michel exorcism session (ca 1976, photo sequence)In a surprising move much of the sessions that followed over the next nine months were documented with photographs and audio cassette recordings (allegedly these tapes record Anneliese’s “demons” screaming, “arguing” with themselves and the priests, and speaking out).  Forty-two sessions were recorded (out of 67).

The total time, however, of “demonic” or “supernatural” speech on these tapes is about 100 minutes’ worth (average of almost 2½ minutes per tape).

The exorcism sessions were grueling.  Anneliese was subjected to its repetitions once or twice a week for up to four hours at a time.  In between sessions, she suffered.  Her body Anneliese Michel (agitated)Credit: photobucketwas thrown to the floor often, many times missing the quilts and pillows that had been scattered around to protect her.  She also began compulsively genuflecting, rising and dropping to her knees repeatedly.  This tore the cartilage in her knees, and her mother often supported her as she dropped into a kneeling or genuflection position.  Anneliese sometimes did this for hours.

In breaks from the exorcism sessions she behaved bizarrely.  Her boyfriend Peter sometimes dropped in to check on her progress.  In general, she railed at him and blasphemed.  However, he recalled one lucid moment when he was talking to her; she simply stared at him blankly and said, “I am of a stony heart.”  Other times she managed enough strength to be physically abusive to her sisters and Peter, violently throwing them to the floor.  Her father, Josef, had to restrain her during these violent outbursts.   

She became emaciated and frail.  Anneliese had mostly stopped eating and drinking enough liquids.  Sometimes, she might eat a banana, and while eating it would ask for someone to bring her something to eat (not aware she was eating).  Other times she screamed loudly for someone to please bring her food.

Most times, though, she could not be compelled to eat.  The priests watched her on occasion choke down food as quickly, and as much, as she could.  Another recollection was of her chugging two liters of juice at a sitting.  [Those involved later reported they believed it was these occasional binges that had kept her alive so long; it was not considered she might die of starvation.]  This sporadic food and drink intake was extremely dangerous.  However, because Anneliese was a legal adult, she pressed the need, instead, for the priests and her parents to continue the exorcism ritual and not take her to a hospital for medical treatment. 

She was described as having “stigmata markings” on her feet and legs.  Her mother said similar markings surfaced on her hands as well.  She claimed the wounds on Anneliese’s feet were severe, but the ones on her hands were not as severe.

From the flailing around on the stone floor and other physical accidents, Anneliese’s body and face were battered as badly as if she had been in a major accident.  The difference in her physical appearance from just a few short months before was appalling.  Her eyes were blackened with bruises, her teeth were chipped (from chewing on stones and from falling face first on the floor repeatedly).  Her lips were split and scabbed.  In the last photo taken of her, her nose was swollen, bruised, and disjointed—it is clearly broken. 

Anneliese was wasting away, and yet no emergency care was called for.  One doctor early in the case had been brought in to look at her; with the flippant remark, “There is no injection against the devil”, he unfortunately sealed her fate by feeding her delusion.

As the exorcism progressed into late June, she grew weaker.  Apparently, at no time did anyone consider having her declared incompetent and forcibly removed to a hospital.

The demons Anneliese allegedly possessed within her were a strange lot, comprising the usual suspects (Lucifer and Judas Iscariot) with Cain (from the Old Testament Genesis story), ancient Roman Emperor Nero, and Adolf Hitler.

A sixth demonic entrant was a defrocked priest, Valentin Fleischmann.  In about 1572 this debauched, drunken Frankish Catholic priest was ex-communicated by the Church.  The Franks were Germanic; Anneliese would have known of him from her religious studies.  The fallen priest, Valentin Fleischmann, is a perfect model for corruption in the priesthood.  The selection of Fleischmann as an internalized entity is telling—she felt she must atone for the human failings of priests she had met. 

She also became convinced her sufferings were to atone for the “wayward youth” of her day. Anneliese Michel (calm)On a religious observation day, Ascension Day, Peter arrived to visit Anneliese.  [This day is a floating one and can fall anywhere from May 23 to June 29—the June 29, 1976, date is the more likely one in this case, however.]  Peter recalled the day was a Sunday.  The night before, Anneliese had smashed her head through a window and window frame in her home.  However, she seemed lucid and calm the next day when Peter came.

Peter drove Anneliese (at her request) to a park they had frequented.  She wanted to get out and go for a walk.  His concern, of course, was that in her weakened condition she could not go far on foot.  According to him, though, she managed a few steps with his help.  Then, suddenly Anneliese reacted in a calm way and began walking on her own.  She later said the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to her and conversed with her.  Peter watched her walk; she engaged in a one-side conversation with someone though he saw no one near her.  He stood by as she kneeled and began praying.  Suddenly, she jumped upright and ran toward him, apparently without pain or fear of falling. 

At home the story of her Marian vision was repeated.  Her mother thought that first Anneliese had suffered a nervous breakdown.  Anneliese told her mother that Mary had asked her if she wanted to do penance “for priests, for young people, and for your country”.  Mary had also asked, “Would you like to do penance for these souls, so that all these people wouldn’t suffer in Hell?”

Anneliese claimed Mary had given her a three-day deadline to decide to accept penance on behalf of the named people.  She claimed she would have three days of peace and rest while she thought about this.  The exorcism rites continued, and on June 30, 1976, Anneliese was relieved of her demons (this “release” is preserved on audio cassette).

On July 1, 1976, Anneliese Michel died in her sleep.  She was 23.
The exorcists were not present when she died, and did not believe she was dead.  They sent a doctor to the Michel home to verify her demise (the same doctor who had made the callous “there is no injection against the devil” comment).  Anneliese’s cause of death was recognized by officials as starvation combined with dehydration.  She weighed only 68 pounds.  At autopsy, there was also suspicions about her broken body—the bruises, infected sores, etc..

The state charged Anneliese’s parents and the priests, Father Ernst Alt and Father Arnold Renz, with neglectful homicide.  At arraignment, the prosecution, in a surprise move, asked that Josef and Anna Michel be recused from punishment, if convicted, as they had  “suffered enough”.  The prosecution also asked that the priests, if convicted, receive no jail time but be fined, instead.

Anneliese’s body was exhumed before the trial began.  Nothing further was learned upon a second inspection of her remains.  She was re-interred in a slightly better quality oak casket with a tin lining on February 25, 1978.

The trial started on March 30, 1978.  The audio tapes were entered by the defense as evidence of demonic possession.  All they proved was that voices and noises were recorded on tape.  The audio of these sessions, however, is hair-raising: the screaming and unearthly, guttural intonations are disturbing. 

The exorcists were defended by lawyers retained by the Church.  The defense attorney for the Michels claimed Anneliese’s exorcism was legal; the German constitution protected unrestrictedErnst Alt & Arnold Renz (the exorcists) exercise of religion.

The audio tapes were played as proof that Anneliese was indeed possessed.  Both priests defended their positions as well by claiming each heartily believed she had been in the throes of demonic possession, and she was finally freed by exorcism before her death.

In the end, all four parties (the parents and the priests) were found guilty of manslaughter (resulting from negligence).  They were sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation (the jail time was later suspended).

The sentence was perceived as too light for the public; it was also greater than the prosecution had asked for at arraignment. 

The object of the trial was less a punitive action than it was meant as a cautionary action.  If no charges had been brought, some believed this absolved the Church of any responsibility, and it could, therefore, indiscriminately order exorcisms without fear of repercussions, even if those exorcisms ended badly.  The thinking, too, was that a guilty verdict (even without incarceration) might serve as a deterrent, requiring more discretion by clergy before proceeding with future exorcisms.

The trial was a major news event and a sensation.  Details of the exorcism were splashed in headlines around the world, giving names, dates, and specifics (unlike the fraudulent Hunkeler exorcism case of 1949).

Patient “A”
Psychosis and milder forms of mental disability or emotional trauma manifest differently in different subjects.  Anneliese Michel clearly had something organic wrong with her.

She reported that just before one of her hallucinations (of seeing demonic faces in a wall) she had smelled something burning.  Olfactory hallucinations have been reported many times by epileptics before they have seizures, and it is a good indicator that her early epilepsy diagnosis was correct.

Today, epilepsy is classified into two main categories: partial seizures (involving only a portion of the brain) and general seizures (in which the entire brain is involved).  Epilepsy, although all of its causes are unknown (head injury is one), can best be described as an electro-neurological hurricane in the sufferer's brain.  Partial seizures for some people may result in a simple 5- or 10-second “blank” period—the person may not even know he or she has had an episode.

It is the general seizure type that most nearly mirrors Anneliese’s case.  Epileptics with full brain involvement first stiffen into completely rigid musculature, and they fall, uncontrolled.  This Dystonia patientCredit: wiki commonsrigidity is called the “tonic” phase of the seizure.  It may last a few seconds or more.  The next stage is the classically conjured image of the jerking and flailing, and it is called the “clonic” phase.

However, there is a condition called “dystonia” which affects a small group of epileptics.  This condition effectively “locks” the person having a seizure into the “tonic” phase (the rigid musculature) of the first part of the attack.  This rigidity (distinct from catatonia) is painful and may last for hours (imagine awkwardly tensing a muscle group for even a few moments until pain sets in; then imagine doing that for two hours or more). 

For a person such as Anneliese Michel, falling to a stone floor, chipping her teeth, and then being horribly twisted into arabesques for hours, her suffering was unimaginable.  It is particularly more disturbing to consider if (although it is not known) she were completely conscious and cognizant during such an attack, but unable to move or communicate.

In the excellent courtroom drama/horror film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a psychologist was taken to task in the film for suggesting that epileptics might display symptoms similar to schizophrenia.  In the movie, he was belittled and his suggestion discredited.  However, in recent years, neurological mapping and testing have shown the validity of that claim.  Patients with what is now called “schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy” (SLPE) display the same affected brain functions as people diagnosed with true schizophrenia.  [Not all epileptics have SLPE—only those with the disorder show the same brain activity as schizophrenia.]

Finally, the mood altering drugs Anneliese did (or in some cases, did not) take could have contributed greatly to her mental distress.  The one drug she was reported as faithfully keeping up with was Tegretol.  This drug was generally prescribed for seizure disorders.  It had also been prescribed for psychiatric disorders (such as depression) and for psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia). TegretolCredit: The Pill Book (10th editon), 2002Tegretol carries some side effects, however.  Some of these are unsteadiness (Anneliese had trouble walking); hostility (manifest on many occasions); and confusion.  Other side effects include mood and behavioral changes, rashes, and affected speech (Anneliese could barely speak at times; laryngeal dystonia also causes this speech disruption).  Tegretol has other side effects, but the important ones are noted here.

She did not develop her “demon possession” symptoms overnight.  Most of her early olfactory and auditory hallucinations could be attributed to her general seizure epilepsy.  Tegretol usage (or abuse; it is unknown if she only generally took the recommended dosage) could explain the balance of her behavior, including the devilish visions, etc..

For Anneliese, religion was a crucial part of her life.  People who claim “near death experiences” (seeing their grandmothers or beloved pets surrounded by “The Light” as they walk toward Heaven) are simply supplying the imagery their oxygen-starved brain hallucinates for them in that time of crisis.  So, too, with Anneliese Michel (her brain chemistry altered by Tegretol): her hearing demonic voices and seeing devils’ faces in walls and clouds would be expected.  It is likely this girl suffered from SLPE with some dissociative tendencies combined with an otherwise undiscovered disease or disorder. Anneliese Michel (last photo before death, 1976)At trial, qualified medical personnel reported she could have been saved as late as a week before her death if she had been taken to a hospital.  There, she could have been pumped full of fluids, cleaned up, given antibiotics for her various infected stores, and she could have been fed in some manner. Her drug intake could have been tightly controlled.

The real mystery here is why no one could seem to rouse himself or herself to get her into intensive care immediately.  Her last photograph is heart-wrenching; if one did not already know she was the same dark-haired pretty girl with the beautiful smile, it could never be guessed from that photo.

St. Anneliese?
There is some agitation to consider her for sainthood.  The criteria for beatification are manifold.  First, though this rule has been broken, it is generally required for the candidate to be dead for at least 30 years before the candidacy is even suggested.  Anneliese Michel meets that requirement.  Secondly, a miracle either has to have been performed by her, on her, or on someone else from her intervention or by invoking her name.  Supporters claim her being cured of tuberculosis as a teenager was “miraculous”.  That is certainly stretching the definition.  She was not a martyr for her religion, so she fails that test.  Virgins also qualify for sainthood—it is unknown if she was a virgin (only her boyfriend Peter could confirm or deny that). 

Despite a strong desire by many today who wish to have Anneliese canonized as a saint, her body was not of the “Incorruptible” nature of saints such as Bernadette Soubirous.  When it was exhumed in early 1978 for a second look before the criminal trial, it displayed all the expected decay and decomposition of a corpse buried for almost two years.

The most suspect element of Anneliese’s story, however, is her vision of Mary in the park.  Such a vision almost instantly qualifies one for veneration if not sainthood.  But this story is probably apocryphal.  Considering her emaciated condition and mental state, it is extremely unlikely she went out for a walk with Peter (coincidentally on Ascension Day).

The story is too neat and trite—Anneliese reported she had three days according to Mary to make a major decision, and three days later she was dead.  That detail makes for a good yarn just by itself. Anneliese Michel (mid teens school photo & gravesite)Credit: shepherdsvoiceofmercyThe source of this story was not Peter, her boyfriend, but Anna Michel, her mother.  Anna Michel’s motives for spreading such a story could have had a profit motivation.  But, more than likely, she Anneliese Michel (young adult)was trying to deflect guilt from herself.  One can only imagine how tortured both she and Josef Michel must have felt having contributed to their daughter’s death.  A story of a “Mary vision” makes it more plausible that Anneliese was holy, and that she was predestined to die for her religion.

Anneliese’s grave has turned into something of a shrine and a pilgrimage destination.  She has become a religious cult figure to those who think she was a devout believer who experienced extreme sufferings to help souls in purgatory.

While it is certainly proper to remember (and grieve for) this sad young woman, Anneliese Michel was not a saint.  She was not a bad or evil person, either.  She was just young woman caught up in a horrific set of circumstances.  Her failure to emerge from this adversity was not her fault.  It is those charged with her care—her parents, her church—who are to blame.

It is they who failed her.


actual footage

The video here is not terribly dramatic, just some ghoulish laughter at the end, but it gives a sense of what was going on.

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