Angels & Demons   ·   Cinema   ·   History

The Death of Anneliese Michel: A Demon Wrought Tragedy

Published by

Jonathan Helvoigt Website

Jonathan Helvoigt, writer of short-story blog 'Fat Bird', was the head-chef at a sushi restaurant for three days with no prior experience. Years prior, he started a riot in Chihuahua Mexico, which alerted the Mexican military. During his studies at Fort Lewis College as an English major, he hosted a radio show, wrote a sit-com pilot under the tutelage of an accomplished writer for CBS and Netflix, and started 'Fat Bird Carpentry' which now has hand-crafted drums in shops across the country. He and his wife, Ryan, currently reside in Louisville, KY, and plan to return soon to the more mountainous, less bourbonous land of Durango, CO after graduating with an MDiv from Southern Seminary. There they will apprentice with Gospel Church Durango, and write about strange things.

[We recommend reading The Horror first before proceeding with this article. —The Editors]

In 1972, demons possessed a 17 year old girl named Anneliese Michel. Six years later she died a dehydrated, malnourished, bruised, broken, terrified husk of the girl she once was.

This event sent shockwaves through the courts, the medical industry, the Catholic church, the country of Germany and the world at large. It cannot be understated how much of a victory this event was for the dark, spiritual forces in the heavenly places.

History

Anneliese’s mother, Anna, though deeply Catholic, was sleeping with her boyfriend. This resulted in an unexpected pregnancy which brought shame upon her and her family. Their daughter Martha was born in 1948, and Anna was forced to wear a black veil on her wedding day, symbolizing her lack of purity.1

Four years later Anneliese was born to a family riddled with guilt. She was asked at a young age to seek atonement for her mother’s sins through devotion to the catholic church and prayer.

Martha died at eight years old due to medical complications.

Now a deeply distraught Anneliese looked to Catholicism to help her and her family.

Throughout her childhood and young adult life she delved deep into the church, and was a perfect example of a devoted Catholic. Her desire for penance and atonement for those who needed it was apparent. “While other children in the 1960s were rebelling testing the limits of their freedom, Anneliese slept on a bare stone floor to atone for the sins of the drug addicts who slept rough at the local train station.”2

The Demons

At 17, Anneliese began to suffer convulsions. They grew worse over time. She was diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy, which causes seizures. These seizures that she was diagnosed with are called temporal lobe seizures.

“The features of seizures beginning in the temporal lobe can be extremely varied, but certain patterns are common… Hallucinations of voices, music, people, smells, or tastes may occur. These features are called “auras” or “warnings.” They may last for just a few seconds or may continue as long as a minute or two.” 3

This may seem to sum it up. But we must consider two things. First, just because we have seen something occurring in several people, and can identify the physical and mental causes, does not mean that there is no spiritual activity involved. God has made our souls and bodies in union with each other. One will affect the other. It’s easier for your soul to get angry when your body needs sleep or food. And when the soul leaves, the body dies.

Secondly, it must be noted that Anneliese was experiencing more than just a minute or two of symptoms. What began with seizures, led to horrific hallucinations while she prayed.

“She was suffering severe depression and considering suicide. Voices in her head told her she was damned… She crawled under a table, barking like a dog for two days. She ate spiders, coal and bit the head off a dead bird. She even licked her own urine off the floor and could be heard through the walls screaming for hours.” 4

This was no mere series of seizures.

Think of the demon-possessed people mentioned in the Bible. Mark describes a man possessed by many demons, whom Luke describes as naked. “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:3-5).

In Matthew 17, a man brings his son before Jesus asking Jesus to heal him of his seizures, because they are threatening the boy’s life, throwing him into fire and water. Jesus then knows immediately what to do and rebukes the demon possessing this child and it comes out of him.

This self-harm-inducing, screaming, convulsing, and erratic behavior is described as demonic in scripture. Jesus knew it. Maybe we should consider this here.

Anneliese also came to this conclusion along with her family and loved ones. She could hear the demons after all.

She plead for an exorcism and after denying her twice, the Bishop of Werzburg allowed Fr. Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt to perform a non-publicized exorcism.

She endured 67 exorcism ceremonies, all guided by the Rituale Romanum, an ancient Catholic ritual text. This involved a lot of ceremony, and a lot of smacking her knees against the ground (eventually rupturing her knee ligaments).5

During the exorcism ceremonies (many of which were recorded and later played in court) the demons identified themselves, claiming to be Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain and Adolf Hitler among others. Demons aren’t ghosts of dead people, but are their own entities. These could either be the demons assigned to these historical men, or the demons were lying. It makes sense that they would lie about this. Certainly these names in particular would cause hysteria and confusion about the nature of demons.

They spoke using her mouth in deep, growling voices. (You can find these recordings online. I have listened to some of them. I didn’t post links to them because they are disturbing and intriguing which can be a dangerous combination. They are easy to find.) The demons spoke of the pope, the virgin Mary, the rosary, and many things related to the church. They also spoke a lot about the unfaithfulness of the church. The priests continued to ask the demons about how the church is supposed to operate, using their authority as a tool to get true answers from them, which is strange and dangerous. The demons affirmed a lot of Catholic doctrine. More on this later.

You can find the Rituale Romanum Exorcism Rite here. It is long, and the ritual contains petitions to the saints, Michael the archangel and to Mary. Certainly praying to the dead (necromancy) would not be of any help, and almost certainly hampered the exorcism. God himself condemns this behavior as abominable (Deut 18:10-12). The use of empty religious ritual items such as holy water, crucifixes, and relics were also employed.

Outside of these, the liturgy is quite sound and steeped with scripture. Yet, the demons never left.

The disciples of Jesus also had trouble at times casting out demons. They came to him having failed once, and Jesus cast it out. It was a particularly distressing exorcism. “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:28-29). Perhaps this shines some light on the situation.

Anneliese Michel died, July 1st, 1976. She was 23 years old, and weighed 68 pounds. Her body wasted away through fasting, anguish, malnourishment, certainly illness and dehydration. Her skin was battered, gashed and bruised.

Court

After her death, the priests and her parents were taken to court. On the day of the final court hearing, the Washington Post printed this,

“The state prosecutor, after an investigation, said the women’s [sic] death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all four defendants with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor. A series of doctors who have testified at the trial have all basically told the court that the woman died of a combination of epilepsy, mental disorders and an extreme religious environment which, in the words of Professor Hans Sattes of Wuertzburg University, added up to “a spiritual sickness and heavy psychic disturbance.” 6

All four were found guilty of negligent homicide. They were sentenced to six months in prison, reduced to three years probation.

The Scheme

The aftermath of this event is vast. If you put all the pieces together, it reads much like the end of a movie as the villain’s extensive plan is exposed. You can then rewatch the whole thing and see how the scheme was unfolding throughout the film without you noticing.

Looking through the aftermath we can see, with a fair amount of confidence, what the plan was all along. The end is a great demonic victory that was noticeably plotted from the first seizure, if not before.

1. Against Exorcisms

Several years after the event the ancient rite of exorcism was adjusted.

The New York times reported,

“In a Latin text titled, ”De Exorcismis et Supplicationibus Quibusdam” (Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications), the Vatican cautioned that exorcists, ”first of all, must not consider people to be vexed by demons who are suffering above all from some psychic illness.” It cautioned against treating as possessed ”victims of imagination.” 7

As mentioned earlier, physical or psychic illnesses do not discount a demonic presence, yet this updated exorcism rite precludes priests from proceeding if illness is present.

We should in fact be on alert for illnesses. The brain can malfunction in bizarre ways. We shouldn’t burn a woman as a witch because she can pull a card out of a deck. Physical ailments are something we have learned a lot about throughout the years. God isn’t against physical remedies for physical maladies. Paul told Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). If having a doctor at an exorcism helps people see that those who believe the Bible also understand biology; that our bodies are complex, and often capable of being repaired by medicine and skill, then that can be a win. So long as the influence of the demonic realm is not ignored.

However, this was not the outcome even a little bit. No one believed that the church understood biology. And after Anneliese’s case, the threat of prison brought the practice of exorcisms to a halt. Priest Dieter Feineis is quoted saying, “The view of the Church is that it is possible to be possessed, but in Germany there are no more exorcisms.”8

So, the recognition of medicine was highly uplifted as the recognition of the supernatural was deeply suppressed.

A country attacked by demons collectively decided to stop fighting them.

The church ought to be on alert for demonic wolves among their flock, and act using their God given authority over the forces of darkness. Jesus called his disciples to cast out demons in his name, and this task continues to this day. This is evident in this tale as well as in 1 John 5:19 which says, “we know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

We must cast them out, not by human means, nor through necromancy or vain ritual, but by Jesus’ power and authority. This should be done through much prayer to God and God alone (Mark 9:29, Luke 10:17-20).

2. For Catholic Ritual

Through the demons’ words spoken by Anneliese, the Catholic Church, specifically in Germany, was even more convinced of the reign of the Pope, the power of the Rosary, and the importance of pleading to the Virgin Mary.  The priests believed the demons, and many Catholics felt confirmation in their belief in these pillars of Catholicism. Discussion of these pillars extends outside the breadth of this article. However, it should suffice to say that demons are not trustworthy sources of truth. John says of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Anything said by a liar should be called into question, especially doctrines that scripture refutes, such as necromancy and New Covenant human intercessors (Lev 20:27, Heb 7-8).

Instead of these pillars, we are given a high priest in the heavenly places whom we can approach personally for help in time of need (Heb 4:14-16). He created the world and has power over demons. Why would we settle for anything less?

3. Against the Cross of Christ

In every non-secular account of this event that I found, Anneliese died to atone for sins. One large account of the story quotes Mary in a vision to Anneliese saying, “It is a great suffering for my heart that so many souls are lost! It is necessary to do penance for priests, for the youth and for your country. Would you be willing to do penance for these souls, so that not so many are lost?”9

This is a deeply dangerous doctrine. It was perpetuated by her own mother who is quoted saying, “I give out a prayer to pilgrims who come to visit her grave. They are prayers to be said every day and they thank God for her giving her young life for other sinners so that we can be shown how to devote ourselves to the will of God.” Anna Michel believed that God called Anneliese to endure demonic oppression and die, so that penance would be made for sinful priests, for Anna’s fornication, and for other weary sinners in need of salvation. It seemed that Anneliese believed this too.

God did not call Anneliese to this.

God does not contradict himself, and he refutes Anna’s claim in scripture saying,

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin,” (Heb 10:12-18).

Anneliese’s death atoned for no one’s sin. Not the abusive and foolish priests of her day; not her sexually immoral mother; no one.

Only the death and resurrection of Jesus can atone for the sins of men. Thank God for this truth. Our hope is not in the ongoing demonic torment and murder of young women, but in the spotless lamb of God enduring God’s wrath on our behalf. Through this demons are disarmed, and we are freed from sin.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:13-15).

4. The Entirety

The tragic truth is that Anneliese died under the oppression of demons. She died under the oppression of intense ritualism, and failed exorcisms. Her death caused skeptics of Christianity to be more skeptical, saying,

“While she may be a source of inspiration for some religious people, the story of Anneliese Michel is not one of spirituality triumphing over science, but of people who should have known better than allowing a mentally-ill woman to die.” 10

It caused Catholics to be more convinced of false and dangerous doctrine. It caused exorcisms to be extinguished in Germany. It caused a precedent for condemning the supernatural in the German justice system. And during Anna’s lifetime, this story inspired a few movies, most notably ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, where we flocked to the theaters to eat popcorn while watching her daughter get tormented by demons. Most approached it more like they would ‘Paranormal Activity’ and less like they would ‘Schindler’s List’.

Anneliese’s last words were, “Mother, I’m afraid.”11

This is the true definition of a tragedy. Darkness extinguished light. As Christians we ought not dress up tragedy in fancy clothes and call it victory, lest the tragedy be all the greater. We must expose the villainy of the Devil. This is how we fight against him.

Based on the vastness of the ripples this event caused, I don’t doubt that Satan himself was present in this scheme.

The monster brutally tortured and killed a teenaged girl, resulting in nothing but terror, pain, skepticism, blasphemy, falsehood, demonic intrigue, and lowered defenses.

However, this monster will not have the last word.

“…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” (Rev 20:10).

Jesus has the ultimate victory.

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References:
  1. Day, Elizabeth. "'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'." The Telegraph, 27 Nov. 2005. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1504158/God-told-us-to-exorcise-my-daughters-demons.-I-dont-regret-her-death.html
  2. Ibid.
  3. "Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)." Epilepsy Foundation. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-epilepsy-syndromes/temporal-lobe-epilepsy-aka-tle
  4. Day, Elizabeth. "'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'." The Telegraph, 27 Nov. 2005. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1504158/God-told-us-to-exorcise-my-daughters-demons.-I-dont-regret-her-death.html
  5. Ibid.
  6. Getler, Michael. " Cries of a Woman Possessed." The Washington Post, 21 Apr. 1978. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/04/21/cries-of-a-woman-possessed/94bf2fd3-8e64-482d-869d-1f929851ca8f/?utm_term=.abcbfca8e565
  7. Tagliabue, John. "THE POPE'S VISIT: THE DOCTRINE; Vatican's Revised Exorcism Rite Affirms Existence of Devil." The New York Times, p. A00016, 27 Jan, 1999. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/27/us/pope-s-visit-doctrine-vatican-s-revised-exorcism-rite-affirms-existence-devil.html

  8. Day, Elizabeth. "'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'." The Telegraph, 27 Nov. 2005. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1504158/God-told-us-to-exorcise-my-daughters-demons.-I-dont-regret-her-death.html

  9. Dallaire, Glenn. "The Exorcism and death of Anneliese Michel--Why did she die? The true story." Mystics of the Church, 01 July, 2015. http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2015/06/anneliese-michel-unrecognized-and.html

  10. Paoletti, Gabe. "Anneliese Michel And The Shocking Images From The Exorcism Of The Real Emily Rose." All That's Interesting, 12 Oct, 2017. https://allthatsinteresting.com/anneliese-michel-exorcism
  11. Day, Elizabeth. "'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'." The Telegraph, 27 Nov. 2005. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1504158/God-told-us-to-exorcise-my-daughters-demons.-I-dont-regret-her-death.html

Published by

Jonathan Helvoigt Website

Jonathan Helvoigt, writer of short-story blog 'Fat Bird', was the head-chef at a sushi restaurant for three days with no prior experience. Years prior, he started a riot in Chihuahua Mexico, which alerted the Mexican military. During his studies at Fort Lewis College as an English major, he hosted a radio show, wrote a sit-com pilot under the tutelage of an accomplished writer for CBS and Netflix, and started 'Fat Bird Carpentry' which now has hand-crafted drums in shops across the country. He and his wife, Ryan, currently reside in Louisville, KY, and plan to return soon to the more mountainous, less bourbonous land of Durango, CO after graduating with an MDiv from Southern Seminary. There they will apprentice with Gospel Church Durango, and write about strange things.

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