In 1975, Anneliese Michel exhibited some undeniably bizarre and frightening behavior, and her mother was at her wits' end. Michel's mother contacted the Catholic Church to exorcise her daughter. Anneliese had been hearing voices and exhibiting violent reactions to religious objects – hallmarks of demonic possession – and her parents were convinced she was possessed. The tale of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel was the basis for the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the real story behind her behavior and her ultimate death is much more terrifying than anything Hollywood could have imagined.
Born in 1952, Anneliese Michel was brought up by Bavarian parents alongside her sisters. Anneliese's mother had a daughter prior to Anneliese's birth, but the child, Martha, died at the age of 8. The death of Martha prompted Anneliese's mother to put a lot of pressure on the young Anneliese, particularly when it came to prayer and religious devotion.
Anneliese was a good student, especially when it came to language study, and she was described as happy and playful, but was under the constant watch of her parents. The family attended Mass twice a week, and, according to doctors Anneliese met with later, she developed neuroses related to religious iconography as a result of punishments inflicted upon her as a young girl.
While at school one day in 1968, Anneliese blacked out for a few minutes, and was in a trance-like state according to her friends. Anneliese didn't remember the event and said she was fine afterwards, but the same night, she woke up to a heavy feeling on her body and then wet the bed. She was kept home from school the next day, but there were no recurrences, and the family thought she was fine.
More than a year later, in August 1969, Anneliese had an eerily similar episode and was taken to a doctor to determine what had happened. Her local doctor, Dr. Vogt, referred her to a neurologist, Dr. Siegfried Lüthy. After an examination and series of tests, the neurologist didn't find anything wrong with her brain function. After visiting him, she was hospitalized for tuberculosis in February 1970. She spent months in the hospital, and while there, she experienced a third event. She was already depressed and lonely, but things got worse as other patients mocked and excluded her after she made a scene and wet her bed.
Soon after this third experience, Anneliese said she saw colors, heard sounds, and experienced feelings of euphoria while saying a rosary. She was taken for more tests with another neurologist, Dr. von Haller, who diagnosed her with epilepsy and prescribed her medication.
Anneliese eventually returned to school in 1970, but she was depressed and withdrawn around her friends. She continued to have seizures, visit doctors, and experience frustration with her situation. She threw herself into Catholic research and her studies, graduated from high school, and started college to become a teacher. Despite these efforts and continued medication, her condition worsened.
By 1973, Anneliese experienced hallucinations while praying and believed she was damned. She was obsessed with the idea that the Devil was inside of her, and began to see a priest along with her doctors.
Anneliese's behavior became more extreme from 1973 onward. She allegedly licked her urine off the floor, chewed coal, ripped her clothes off, and even ate spiders and flies. She began to avoid religious items, like crucifixes and holy water, and she displayed symptoms of what the Church considered demonic possession.
Her family became desperate and asked several priests for an exorcism, but they declined and encouraged continued medical treatment. Eventually, the Church relented and granted Anneliese an exorcism to drive out any evil spirits within her.