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The Chilling True Story of the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel

The possession of Anneliese Michel is one of the most well-documented and horrifying examples of an exorcism gone wrong.

At only 16 years old, Anneliese began to experience blackouts and full-body paralysis, followed by terrifying visions of demonic faces.

Photo of Anneliese Michel.

Her parents would take her to see an abundance of medical specialists, though none could confirm what exactly was medically wrong with her. Yet, as the months passed with no answers, her condition worsened. 

Anneliese would say that she felt like the devil was inside her. Two local priests claimed to communicate with six demon entities who were possessing her, providing them with enough evidence for approval from the Vatican to perform an exorcism.

Over the next several months, the priests performed the Right of Excorism over 67 times, as Anneliese spoke in tongues, attacked family members with incredible strength and drank her urine – all of which would be recorded on audio tapes. 

The terrifying events leading up to Anneliese Michel’s death would be documented on 42 publicly available cassette tapes, leading many to question whether this was a case of demonic possession or negligent homicide. 

A History Of Illness

Anneliese Michel was born in 1952 to a devout Catholic family in Bavaria, West Germany. Growing up, her parents Anna and Joseph were known to be overprotective because she was a medically fragile child who was susceptible to catching illnesses.

From an early age, she battled diseases such as mumps, measles, and scarlet fever. 

This didn’t stop Anneliese from having a fairly normal childhood. Her mother, Anna, would describe her as a quiet, happy and intelligent girl who loved life.

She attended mass every weekend with her family and spoke of growing up to become a teacher who preached the principles of the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, shortly after she turned 16 years old, everything in Anneliese’s life would change for the worse. One day while she was at school, she lost consciousness and fainted on the floor.

When she woke up, she was in a daze and would have no memory of the events of that day. By that evening, her body became numb and she lost control over bodily functions like her bladder and her tongue, making it impossible to speak.

The paralysis only lasted a short while and then she regained feeling, but it was a terrifying experience. 

Photograph of Anneliese Michel looking healthy.

As the months passed, Anneliese forgot about this mysterious illness just as quickly as it had onset. Until August 1969, almost a year later, when she suffered from yet another blackout incident followed by paralysis.

This time her parents took her to the doctors and she was referred to a specialist in neurology. 

After several tests were performed, Anneliese was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. Doctors believed that the blackouts and paralysis were caused by seizures. She was given medication to treat epilepsy and sent home to rest. 

Back at home, Anneliese continued to take her epilepsy medication, hoping that it would ease her pain – but it didn’t. In addition to the blackouts, she began to hear voices and have visions of demonic faces on the walls of her home.

She became depressed to the point of wanting to end her life and had to be institutionalized for a time. At the psychiatric hospital, she continued to take her medication but it didn’t stop her from having seizures or visions. 

Over the next several years, as doctors struggled to find anything physically wrong with Anneliese that they could medically treat, the delusions of demonic faces continued.

When she saw these visions, she would say that she felt empty and like the devil was inside of her. Along with the hallucinations, she reported smelling foul odors similar to those of burning feces.

There wasn’t anything further that the hospital could do, so she was sent home again. 

In 1973, Anneliese enrolled at university and had even met a boyfriend, named Peter. Despite the fact that she was still very sick, continuing to hear voices and see faces, she strived to live a normal life.

While balancing her classes and exams, she continued to go to endless medical appointments as doctors struggled to find a medical cause for her symptoms. 

Sadly, Anneliese continued to decline. She began to hear knocking sounds on her bedroom walls throughout the night when no one else was around. It was a knock that no one else seemed to hear.

There were voices, who she believed to be demons, whispering into her ear that she would rot in hell anytime she prayed. Anneliese began to believe she was being possessed by the devil himself.

She reached out to her local Catholic church for help but was mostly ignored as they referred her back to medical professionals. 

When her grandmother passed away and her sister moved far from home to find work, Anneliese became severely depressed and was at a very low point in her life. Her behavior had become extreme.

She was seemingly intolerant of religious symbols and objects, like holy water and the cross. According to her mother, on one occasion while standing in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, her pupils grew large and her eyes turned black. 

An Exorcist Is Called

Father Ernst Alt was the first priest to believe Anneliese when she came to him for help with her visions. He would later say that she didn’t look like an epileptic and that during his time with her, he never once saw her having a seizure.

He petitioned the local Bishop to have her case examined as a possible demonic possession requiring an exorcism. 

Josef Stangl in 1959.

Father Arnold Renz, who was qualified to perform exorcisms, was called in to carry out a test that would verify the claims that were being made.

If an exorcism was going to be sanctioned by the Vatican, there needed to be proof that it was indeed a demonic possession and not a medical condition or hoax.

During his first visit to Anneliese, Father Renz was shocked by what he witnessed. This frail girl appeared to be thrown from a standing position to the floor by some unseen force.

Every time she was pushed down, she would get back up on her knees to pray, only to be pushed back down to the floor. She was covered in gashes and bruises, as she was thrown around the room constantly.

Renz sat next to Anneliese and demanded the demons inside of her identify themselves. Immediately, Anneliese began to violently grab at her neck and rip off the rosary she had been wearing.

Detailed notes were scribbled down as Anneliese spoke in tongues, tore at her clothing and attempted to attack those in the room with more force than is natural for a girl her size.

The exorcism was approved by the Vatican, signalling the beginning of a series of 67 rites of exorcism over the next year and a half. 

Though the exorcisms were to happen in secret, everything would be well documented and recorded on audio cassette tape. Anneliese herself asked that the tapes eventually be made public so that there would be proof that the devil was real. 

During the first exorcism, six demons would reveal themselves through Anneliese. In a deep, guttural voice, she would claim to be possessed by Lucifer, Judas and Cain, among others.

Anneliese was also said to be possessed by Hitler himself, though not technically a demon. 

Anneliese would go through waves of possession, where she would speak in tongues, attack family members with incredible strength, drink her urine, eat spiders and bark like a dog.

At other times, she would return to her former normal self and even have visits with her boyfriend, Peter, where they would talk about their future together – getting married and building a home. 

Still, she was very sick. Though her family would continue to bring her large amounts of food and water that she would gorge on, Anneliese appeared to be emaciated.

She was frail, her face was sunken and a few of her bones were broken. Yet, she had to be held down and tied to a chair so that she didn’t hurt the people around her. 

In the end, 67 exorcisms would be performed with 42 of them recorded on tape – but Anneliese Michel did not get any better. She would die at the age of 23 years old from starvation, weighing only around 66 lbs at the time of her death.

The grave of Anneliese Michel. Image via Flickr.

While the Church believed this to be a tragic result of demonic possession and failed exorcism, the courts saw this as much more and charged both the priests involved and Anneliese’s parents with negligent homicide.

At trial, hours upon hours of audio recordings from the exorcism were played. However, the courts were not persuaded.

They did not believe this to be a case of demons, but a very sick young lady whose medical needs were ignored. All four were found guilty and ordered to serve a 6-month suspended prison sentence. 

Still to this day, the determination of whether Anneliese Michel was really possessed or simply sick is highly debated.

Some believe that this was a case of a young woman suffering from epilepsy and a mental disorder, whose death could have been prevented if only her family continued to seek out medical attention rather than turning to a religious solution.

Others believe that Anneliese should be a saint for sacrificing herself for the sins of the world and continue to visit her gravesite to lay flowers. 


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