Remembering Annaliese: A Demonic Exorcism Tragedy

Roman Catholic Rites of Exorcism Book
3d illustration of the exorcism book on wooden floor

Despite what you see on television, or the media in general, receiving relief from an invading supernatural force is not as simple as just calling your local archdiocese stating that you believe your house, your kid or your pet cat is possessed by demons. Chances are your report may be disregarded without a second thought.

The idea of demonic possession and exorcism is an issue that the church generally likes keeping quiet. However, if a legitimate report of spirit possession is believed to be taking place, the Church will begin an enquiry. They will conduct primary investigations and consult medical doctors to rule out a psychiatric or other condition that may appear as demonic possession to the untrained eye. And when all is said and done, when the logical is ruled out and only evidence of a diabolical influence remains, the bishop’s approval is required for an exorcism to commence. 

As I previously mentioned, the church is painstakingly careful when it comes to granting an exorcism, and for good reason. Over the years the Catholic Church has had some credibility issues regarding their role in demon fighting. People have been seriously hurt from being misdiagnosed by the Church as being under the influence of a diabolical invading force. The resulting treatment often leads to serious injury, and in a few cases, death. One of the latter is the famous case of a beautiful young German woman named Anneliese Michel.

By all accounts, Anneliese was a normal girl born into a devoutly religious Catholic family. She was known as being kind, funny, and of average intelligence. Anneliese was well liked by all that knew her. But then at the age of sixteen, Anneliese’s health took a major turn for the worse.

One afternoon her parents were shocked when they discovered their daughter going through convulsions. When the convulsion subsided, Anneliese was rushed to the Hospital where she was diagnosed as having temporal lobe epilepsy which is an unfortunate condition that affects millions. 

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All seemed well with Anneliese after that first convulsion. She was accepted at Wurzburg University where she would study to be a teacher and she was dating a friendly young man named Peter. All that changed in 1970 when Anneliese suffered another convulsion, presumably from her temporal lobe epilepsy. This time it wasn’t just her health that was being affected, it seemed that her mental health was at risk as well.

Shortly after suffering the seizure Anneliese told friends and family that she was hearing voices that told her she was worthless and evil, and that her soul would burn for all eternity. Anneliese also complained of witnessing horrific visions of what she described as ‘devil faces.’ Believing she was becoming schizophrenic, doctors prescribed Aolept, a drug similar to those that are used to treat schizophrenics. However, Anneliese, being a devoutly religious person, was afraid something other than her mental health was under assault. She believed her very soul was being attacked by something evil and otherworldly.

The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

At the invitation of a family friend, Anneliese took a pilgrimage to San Damiano Church in Italy. While there, her friend noticed bizarre behavior as Anneliese became intolerant of religious icons as well as having a terrible death like stench about her. Upon witnessing her declining hygiene and bizarre behavior, a priest suggested that Anneliese was possessed by demons and she required the ancient ritual of exorcism to release her from diabolical influence. This is when things went from bad to worse.

When Anneliese returned home, her parents stopped her from taking her medication and decided to take a more spiritual approach. Bishop Stangl was advised of a possible demonic possession in his archdiocese and assigned Fathers Arnold Renz and Ernst Alt to perform the ritual of exorcism on the girl. An exorcism that would be their last because it would result in the death of Anneliese Michel.

The audio of Anneliese Michel’s exorcisms

On July 1, 1976, twenty-three-year-old Anneliese Michel, after sixty-seven grueling exorcisms, was pronounced dead from malnutrition and dehydration. She had starved to death during the process of the priests attempting to drive out the demonic force that had taken up residence in her soul. Because of her death, the priests and her parents were arrested and charged with negligent homicide in the death of Anneliese. All four would stand trial.

During the trial testimony was given concerning her health as well as her mental well-being. Audio tapes were played of the exorcisms and photos of a malnourished and emaciated Anneliese Michel were shown as evidence in the trial. After a short deliberation, the priests were found guilty in regards to Anneliese’s death but were merely fined and given court supervision. Anneliese’s mother and father were excluded because, according to the judge, they had suffered enough. 

Looking back on this case of the possession and exorcism of Anneliese Michel, I cannot say with certainty whether Anneliese Michel suffered from a legitimate demonic possession, or a psychiatric condition. Either way, those who believed in her possession had little knowledge of the workings of the human mind. When you dig into her case, you’ll find that potential signs for both were there. I’m leaning towards the demons of the mind rather than the demons of hell.

A few years back the film, “The Exorcism Of Emily Rose” was released loosely based on the supposed possession and exorcism of Anneliese Michel. If it wasn’t for this film, the life and tragic death of Anneliese Michel may have been forgotten, being nothing more than a footnote in the annals of the paranormal.

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About Rick Hale 106 Articles
Rick Hale became interested in anomalous phenomenon at an early age after encountering an apparition in his grandparent's home. Rick is the author of "The Geek's Guide To The Strange and Unusual: Poltergeists, Ghost and Demons," and "Behold! Shocking True Tales Off Terror...And Some Other Spooky Stuff." Rick has been published in Haunted Times Magazine, Paranormal Underground Magazine, The Supernatural Magazine, and Legends Magazine. Rick appeared in Ghost Tapes 2 and Ghost Tapes: The Series found at

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