[The Savior]: “You will pass all of your tests. But you will be called upon to undergo tests of a different kind. I will give you my grace. You will be faithful till death” (excerpt from Anneliese’s spiritual notes).
[Pater Ernst Alt, exorcist, Anneliese’s spiritual counselor under 1973-1975]: “The Klingenberg case was, for those who experienced it up close, a sign which stood as an immense warning in their lives and in these times. Its relevance will never pass”.
In the mid ‘70s of the last century, when the Flower Power generation was reaching its climax in both America and Europe, preaching (and practicing) love without boundaries, the rejection of all authority and use of hallucinogenic substances, a young and fervent Roman Catholic believer, fought hard between life and death with the demons that tortured her soul. The Drama was taking place in the small and – until then – peaceful Bavarian town, Klingenberg. The young lady was called Anneliese Michel.
The story of Anna and Josef Michel seemed to follow the normal rules of a provincial life. Owners of sawmill, a small (and prosperous) family business, the Michels could consider themselves happy. As practicing Catholics, they had provided a rigorous education for their five children (Martha, who died at the age of 8, Anneliese, Gertraud Maria, Barbara and Roswitha Christine). Although being fragile and prone to illness, Anneliese distinguished herself by wisdom, diligence, eagerness to teach, and not least, the most authentic religiosity. In a letter to her mother, she confessed: “To reach heaven, nothing is too much for me … I am willing to give my life for others, for the sake of God, and expect His reward rather than human reward”. Otherwise, Anneliese was a normal child: she liked to play (the piano, the accordion), to sing, to play tennis, to swim. She had a nice voice and a wonderful smile, as it is proven by the few pictures taken before the “illness” left its mark on her beautiful face.
In September 1968, before her 16th anniversary, Anneliese experienced a sudden loss of consciousness, followed (that same night) by a paralysis and the inability to cry for help. A feeling of terror overwhelmed her. It was like an unknown force mastered her body, and she felt a pressure in her stomach. Later, she would describe this experience as “a dread that makes you think that you are right there, in the middle of hell. You are totally, utterly deserted. You can call all you want for help, to the Mother of God maybe, but they are all deaf. Nobody hears you”.
The years that followed this first “attack” were marked by the gradual awareness of demonic possession. In 1969 a second crisis occurred with the same symptoms (during the day: loss of consciousness, during the night: paralysis). The Electroencephalogram (EEG), didn’t register any neurological disorders, although from the symptoms a form of epilepsy could be suspected. The next summer the third crisis took place. By that time, Anneliese contacted pleurisy and pneumonia, and she had to be treated in a special clinic. The analyses revealed cardiac and circulatory disorders. Doctors prescribed her pills for the convulsion crisis, but problems became more severe: the unbearable stinks (as of burning fecal matter) and the frightening faces of demons (Fratzen), telling her that she is cursed and that she will burn in hell, drove her into overwhelming depression and suicide thoughts were haunting her.
Later on, in 1973, during a pilgrimage in northern Italy (San Damiano, a city known for Virgin’s revelations), the family took into account the possibility that their daughter was molested by the devil. Anneliese couldn’t approach the shrine, because “the earth was burning under her feet”. She also couldn’t contemplate the holy objects and religious pictures. Her voice got throaty and low. The awful smell was felt by the other pilgrims. So, the situation got desperate: drugs proved to have no effect.
In October the same year, Anneliese enrolled at The Advanced Pedagogical Studies School from Würzburg. The subjects chosen for her specialization were: pedagogy, theology, and later on, music. Anneliese would have wanted to become a teacher. Unfortunately, her state of health got worse and worse: the latest analysis (EEG) showed a brain pathology (left temporal lobe). The five repeated Electroencephalograms, which have been taken since 1969 were in the normal parameters, but now they envisaged epilepsy. So, the doctors prescribed her a stronger medication (Tegretol), but still without results: in March 1974, demonic appearances were still terrifying. Anneliese had long periods of exhaustion and depression, when she couldn’t pray. Thus, in agreement with her family, she decided to ask for the help of the Church.
Since 1973, Pater Ernst Alt became Anneliese’s spiritual advisor, and he would monitor her closely until 1975. He also took the necessary steps for conducting an exorcism. To certify demonic possession (Infestatio), certain criteria needed to be fulfilled: aversion to sacred objects, the understanding of unknown languages, extraordinary physical strength etc. Only in August 1975, Bishop of Würzburg (Josef Stangl) will grant permission to carry out exorcism in the short form. A month before, Anneliese had had a vision of the Virgin Mary, asking to do penance for priests and for young people in Germany. Otherwise, many souls will be lost, warned the Virgin. Anneliese was given three days of reflection, to accept or refuse. She finally accepted, convinced that things will soon get worse for her.
By the time of the exorcism, Anneliese had gone out of control. She slept about an hour a night. Sometimes, she used to repeat: “Jesus, forgiveness and mercy, forgiveness and mercy …’’. She used to kneel and rise over and over again, causing herself severe ulcers. She was running in the room, and then she felt into a lethargy that lasted for several days. She no longer ate normally and she rarely drank liquids. Instead, she was caught eating flies, spiders, or drinking her own urine. She often hit her sisters and parents. Sometimes, she couldn’t breathe because of neck’s muscle cramps. The aversion to sacred objects reached its climax: religious paintings, rosaries, crucifixes, were torn and broken to pieces.
Later, in September 1975, priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz were finally allowed to make the complete exorcism, after the famous prayer book Rituale Romanum (1614). In addition to invocation prayers (to Jesus, Virgin Mary, Archangel Michael and other saints), the rite contains a veritable “interrogation” against demonic powers: Why demons have entered into that person? How did they get there (if someone sent them and why)? When are they planning to leave? What message is to be sent? And obviously the key question: Demon, what is your name? The principle justifying this “dialogue’’ is that only what is named may be exorcised. Once the demon is denounced, it may be ordered to leave, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael. So, more the exorcist “gets” out of the demon, the more he controls it.
From September 24, 1975 to June 30, 1976, Pater Ernst Alt and Pater Arnold Renz officiated about 67 regular exorcism sessions (twice a week). With Anneliese’s consent, most of the meetings were recorded (51 tapes), thing that made this case to be considered the most spectacular of those stored on magnetic tape. The reason Anneliese wanted records be made public was that the world would learn about the existence of the devil and get involved in the struggle for salvation.
The manifestations that occurred during the exorcism confirmed, if proof was needed, the possession (Infestatio) hypothesis: unusual physical strength, understanding of unfamiliar languages (such as Dutch or Chinese), and not least, direct responses of demons, who “enter the scene” as they betray/reveal their identity: Lucifer, Cain, Judas, Nero, Hitler and Fleischmann, a fallen priest (womanizer, drinker and brawler) who lived in the 16th century. Demons’ voices differentiated themselves by tone, volume and expressiveness, and by the content of messages. From the very beginning, “Judas” (or the demon with that name), said: “When I finish what I have to say, I quit”. Another demon (who presents itself as “Lucifer”) says: “I am bound to talk’’.
Some of these messages (published by Kaspar Bullinger in the book Anneliese Michel und die Aussagen der Dämonen, A. Ruhland, Altötting, 1981, reed. 1983) are worthy being mentioned, even to satisfy our curiosity. When asked why they entered into Anneliese, demons said they were sent by the curse of a woman who, at the time of Anneliese’s birth (September 21, 1952, Leiblfing, Bavaria), was a war refugee in the same town. It seems that the reason was the jealousy on Michel’s financial status. As says Pater Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist and founder of the International Organization of Exorcists, who has treated about Anneliese in the book An Exorcist tells his story (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999), the curse is the cause of over 90% of possession cases. Back to the demons “messages”, it’s curious that, although they didn’t agree with the position of being “hosted” in Anneliese’s body, they were horrified by the perspective that, finally, they will have to leave, to return to hell: “I don’t want to leave, the torment is too big in hell” says “Judas”. Or all of them: “We want to get out of hell”!
While demonic manifestations are haunting her, Anneliese receives encouragement and “inner locutions” from the angels, the Virgin Mary, and sometimes from the Savior Himself. When she was asked to explain the nature of these messages, Anneliese said she does not “hear” or “see” something in particular, but is being made only to understand. About the demons, she confessed that she felt like a spectator when they were using her voice to answer the priests’ questions. She also compared the exorcism experience to that of putting your hand “into a wasp’s nest”.
Towards the end of 1975, Anneliese enjoys short periods of silence, so she is able to prepare her exams. She chooses for the License thesis the topic “Overcoming anxiety – task of religious education”. By this time she also receives “Missio Canonica”, the Church’s blessing to teach religion. As compensation, the demons reveal the date on which – they say – will be forced to leave: October 31, 1975. Emotions are high. The exorcism session, entirely recorded, is crossed by the live drama: in terrible and inhuman screams and roars, the demons flock to leave, their last word testifying the power that removed them from Anneliese: ”Hail Mary, full of grace!“ Any honest listener can ask, finally, if it’s possible, humanly speaking, to survive such an experience, without loosing your mind. The demons’ voices seem to collapse one by one, into the abyss from which they came…
Unfortunately, at the end of the session, the denouement will be another: “Judas” returns, as in the evangelical parable, together with other spirits “more evil than him”, to the despair of the entire congregation, which had experienced a brief moment of euphoria. This time, the demons are particularly quiet, and so they will remain until the end. Only “Judas” will sometimes respond to exorcist’s questions.
Anneliese is in the hands of the hardest despair. In the only conversation with Father Arnold Renz which was preserved, she confessed: “I never thought it would be as cruel as this. I always thought I would want to suffer for others so they would not have to go to hell, but I did not realize it could be this bad and this cruel and terrible. People think suffering is an easy matter, but when things get really awful you don’t want to go on, you don’t want to take a single step further” (February 1, 1976). The photos dating from this period are disturbing. They bear witness to the horror of Anneliese‘s torments: the angelic figure of the past adolescent, is now bearing the infernal “seals” of suffering…
However, certain signs keep continue to show: on hands and feet some atypical ulcers can be distinguished, like stigmata – common occurrence in those who identified themselves with Christ in suffering. Unlike other wounds covering her body, they are proving more painful and more difficult to heal. Anneliese realizes that her destiny is to offer her suffering as atonement for the others’ sins, as she once confessed to her mother. Moreover, Barbara Weigand (1845-1943) and Theresa Neumann (1898-1962), were her models of holiness who also transformed suffering into a means of personal penance.
Because of the new demons’ stubborn silence, priests have found that taking demonic possession as atonement for the others’ sins (so called “penance possession”), is a way to martyrdom and a personal beatify. (In fact, there are Catholic saints who “asked” for demonic possession to save souls from hell!) The only demon who responds to questions, “Judas”, prophesies at a time: “In this century [XX] will be more saints than ever”.
In April 1976, Anneliese became aware that this experience will cost her life: “I now know what will happen, I know that this summer will be terrible and hard, and I know that I will not survive. Nobody can tell me something else. I will not survive” (confession recorded by Pater Ernst Alt). However, she is made to understand that in July, things will reach a solution. Now Anneliese’s last worry is that her family doesn’t leave her in the doctors’ hands, which most probably would send her to be institutionalized in the psychiatric clinic from Lohr. Thus, she asks her closest to promise her that, despite her worsening health condition, they will not seek medical advice.
The last exorcism session was held by Father Arnold Renz on June 30, 1976, in the presence of her family (parents and two sisters), and her friend, Peter. Anneliese, now weighing only 31 kilograms, had been caught a pneumonia and fever. After superhuman sufferings, she finally was reaching the end. On June 30 evening there were no incidents: since March already, the demons, including “Judas” were in a grave silence. The only words that they obsessively repeated before retiring the silence were: “We are cursed, cursed, cursed! We want out, out, out!” When asked: “But why not leave?” the answer was: “Because That One [Christ] does not allow us”.
However, Anneliese felt that on that night – the last of her life – the promised salvation will take place. After asking Pater Arnold Renz to offer her absolution at the end of the meeting, short after midnight (July 1, 1976), she addressed to her mother her last words: “Mother, please stay with me. I’m so afraid”. Over several hours, in complete discretion, she had to give her life in the hands of God, whom she loved so much, and with whom she identified herself in suffering.
Unfortunately, things didn’t stop there: her parents and the exorcist priests were involved in a trial, found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to six months imprisonment (suspended). Enjoying extensive media coverage, Anneliese’s story became well known, and her case (“Klingenberg Case”) awoke the liveliest discussions. It is said that, with the exception of the Nürnberg trial, no other process has generated so much controversy. In Germany, a visible result was the suspension of exorcism. Roman Catholic Church, placed in a delicate position, withdrew support for the two exorcists (although they acted with the superiors’ consent!). Thus, the priests-defendants were forced to listen to the pleas of “official theologians”, which strove to show that the Church doesn’t believe in the existence of the devil!
At the trial, the doctors had the final words. According to them, malnutrition was the main cause of the death. Physical and nervous exhaustion, heart and circulatory problems, and also the drug therapy (Tegretol), known for its adverse effects, favored this outcome. Internal organs, including brain (pathologists didn’t identify micro and macroscopic abnormalities, which could have fed epileptic seizures) were healthy. As mental health was concerned, psychiatrists have concluded that while drugs suppressed epileptic seizures (which is not entirely true!), “Epilepsy” degenerated into a form of psychosis (the faces of demons), which has become chronic when the exorcism had started. The specialized term “(self) induced psychosis” (Psychogenesis), implies that priests had “induced” to Anneliese the contents and the form of her psychotic behavior, by the simple performance of the exorcism itself. The doctors also stated that Anneliese’s psychosis had its germs “in a disturbed sexual development, repression of feelings of hatred against an authoritarian father, triggering uncontrolled aggression events”. This so called “explanation”, in common psychoanalytic key, of the demonic possession would be merely hilarious, if the case wasn’t so complex. When asked what should be done, in order to save Anneliese, the same “experts” replied serenely that they would firstly use a tranquilizer to calm her, then they would fed her by force, and, as a “final act”, they would apply on Anneliese an electroshock therapy! Obviously, all against her will…
Several books were written about Anneliese Michel, including the best one: The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel by Felicitas D. Goodman (Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1981, reed. 2005), which reveals the complexity of this case. Based on anthropological assumptions, Goodman believes that exorcism isn’t responsible for the aggravation of Anneliese‘s “psychotic behavior”, but rather the medication that was prescribed, and doctors’ incapacity to put the correct diagnosis. The fact is that possession experience has exceeded by its gravity and complexity, all those who had tried, in one way or another, to understand it…
”Klingenberg Case” was also a subject for the film industry. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson, United States/Canada, 2005) and Requiem (Hans Christian Schmid, Germany, 2006) have had a great impact in the United States and Europe. It is through these films that Anneliese’s story came to be known by the young people around the world, for whom she offered her suffering as a penance.
Today, Anneliese’s grave is a place of pilgrimage. Young people from all over Germany come here to pray for her and bring a tribute to the girl who turned demonic possession into an assumed martyrdom. This is the message we can clearly discern today, beyond the enigmas that continues to fascinate us about this case: only assumed suffering is redeeming, although it may seem absurd. Anneliese Michel’s story is at the same time, both a lesson and a warning.
My special thanks to Mr. Lawrence LeBlanc, for his generosity in offering me the documentary material (“Anneliese Michel: the true story of a case of demonic possession”) and archival photos, and also for his promptness in answering my questions.
Alexandru Valentin CRĂCIUN