Hollywood may have desensitized the masses to the concept of demonic possession - who now dismiss them as fiction - but there are true exorcism stories. In fact, quite a few real cases inspired many of those popular horror films in the first place: The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on the tragic case of Anneliese Michel, and The Exorcist was based on the successful case of Robbie Mannheim.
Many cultures and religions have their own beliefs on the best ways to cast out demons. According to Catholic doctrine, for example, the Lord’s Prayer can cast a demon from the possessed if said by a priest who is “of a blameless life, intelligent, courageous, and humble.” A priest of these qualifications then must perform special acts of devotion, such as fasting and prayer. In the case of Robbie Mannheim, apparently it worked.
Many assume possession cases are just symptoms of mental illness - and often that’s exactly what they are - but whether it’s the power of the mind or the power of persuading demons to take their asses back to hell, these real-life exorcists stepped in and save the day.
While Anna Eckland was raised Catholic, her father and aunt practiced witchcraft and it’s believed they were the source of her curse. It was 1912 when 14-year-old Iowan Anna began acting possessed, refusing to set foot in a church and acting genuinely terrified of holy objects. She had her first exorcism that year and it seemed to work, but multiple entities made their way back into her, quite a few of which claimed to be the same demons who also possessed Anneliese Michel.
Years and multiple exorcisms went by, but the girl remained a vessel for demons. She was put in a convent as a last-ditch effort to cure her. Anna continued speaking in tongues, demonstrating knowledge of things she couldn’t have known, and allegedly vomiting up strange herbs and tobacco. She reportedly levitated and clung to the walls of the convent while continuing to undergo multiple exorcism rituals until finally, at 30 years old, an exorcism finally cured Anna. She left the convent and never displayed any symptoms after 16 years of possession.
Clara Germana Cele
It was 1906 when 16-year-old Clara Germana Cele’s behavior at the St. Michael’s Mission in Natal, South Africa became unsettling. She was suddenly able to understand German, French, and Polish, although she hadn’t been exposed to those languages. She also began demonstrating clairvoyance: somehow she knew the intimate secrets and transgressions of people she didn’t even know. Unnerving behavior then grew into terrifying tendencies as Clara’s behavior became violent, especially in the presence of holy objects (and holy people). She allegedly beat and hurled nuns across the room of the convent.
At one point, Clara actually confessed to Father Hörner Erasmus that she made a pact with Satan which allowed him to take over her body. Erasmus wasn’t going to let that slide - he and another Catholic priest, Rev. Mansueti (Director of the St. Michael’s Mission), began performing exorcism rites on Clara immediately. Initially, Clara (or more accurately, the demon inside her) knocked the Holy Bible from the priest’s hands and tried to choke him to death. The exorcism went on for two days until the girl was finally healed.
A man named George Lukins claimed he was possessed by seven demons and that it would take seven priests to remove them. Lukins spent 18 years growling and howling at people while his body physically deteriorated. He often had seizures and kept insisting he was the devil, often using a voice that was not his own.
Lukins’s long-time friend Sarah Barber sent a letter begging a local priest to help. Finally, on June 13, 1778, seven priests gathered to perform an exorcism at the Temple Church in Bristol, England. As the priests sang hymns, Lukins lashed out violently. One of the entities barked and hissed at the priests, shouting that the torment would only get worse. Seven demonic personalities made their presence known to the priests, with the last one screaming that he was the devil himself. In the end, all seven of the demons were banished from their earthly host.
Ronald Doe, or Robbie Mannheim, was the real-life inspiration for the film The Exorcist. Robbie was 14 years old when he suffered from demonic possession that was believed to have been brought on by playing with a Ouija board. Sometime in the 1940s, Robbie’s aunt bought the Ouija board for him and after her death, he was attempting to contact her - but something else answered.
It began with a haunting inside the home: strange noises, footsteps, and any religious icons in the house were thrown around. Soon the attacks were directed at Ronald and scratches appeared all over his body. At some point, the creature gained access to Ronald’s body and fully possessed him. Ronald began levitating and speaking in languages he didn’t know. The Roman Catholic Church was contacted and a priest was granted permission to perform an exorcism - but one wasn’t enough. It took over 30 rituals and multiple priests to expel the demon from Robbie’s body, but it eventually worked for Father Bishop.
Allegedly, the boy cried out, "Satan! I am Saint Michael! I command you to leave this body now!" His violent spasms shook through his body and then he uttered, "He is gone!" Witnesses also reported a strong smell of sulfur permeating the air at the completion of the final ritual.
According to the diary of Father Bishop, Ronald grew up to be "a fine young man." He married, had children, and worked for the US government. He has never spoken about the possession case publicly.