24 January 2012

History's Mysteries: Anneliese and Exorcism

 By Jennifer Linforth

Her ordeal happened all in my lifetime, though I was a child and barely aware. Still, it has always fascinated me. Medical mysteries combined with a healthy imagination can cause any number of theories to pop into someone's head regarding Anneliese Michel. You know, the exorcised girl?

She was born in 1952 in Bavaria to a devote Catholic family. Their religion would be challenged come 1968/69 when at age 16 or 17 Anneliese started having seizures attributed to epilepsy. It was managed with medication but over time she complained of seeing visions, disturbing ones, while saying her daily prayers. Eventually it escalated to evil voices giving her commands and then to an aversion to religious iconography.

Come 1975 Anneliese's parent forewent medical advice and turned to a Roman exorcism. Believing she was truly possessed, for even Anneliese herself said that Judas, Nero, Cain, Lucifer and even Hitler were inside of her, she underwent 67 exorcisms. She had to repeat genuflections that, toward the end, were difficult for her to do on her own. During all this torment she stopped eating claiming the demons forbid her to do so. It is documented that she would drink her urine, eat spiders, bite, and self-mutilate. Claims exist that she also began speaking several different languages during the rituals and there are over 40 recordings of them saved for historic detail.

Annaliese eventually died of dehydration and malnutrition and her death was labeled as neglect homicide. The medical care she needed ended up secondary to the religious path of treatment chosen for her, but medical care could have played a factor in all her symptoms. Some evidence supports that she suffered from dissociative personality disorder (DPD) and schizophrenia combined with her epilepsy. She was subjected to powerful psychotropic drugs and anticonvulsants. One drug was known to deplete the brain of sodium which could cause mental lapses and forgetfulness as well as altering the thyroid function which controls metabolism. All these drugs are known now to also have side-effects of hallucinations both visual and auditory.

I tend to side with the idea that Annaliese had DPD and the drugs contributed greatly to her condition. If not regulated properly these powerful medications can have horrifying and frightening side-effects. That being said, they can also work brilliantly for the treatment of mental disorders I speak from experience having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

What do you think? Medical mystery perhaps not treated properly or religious possession treated too aggressively?

Jennifer Linforth expands the classics by continuing The Phantom of the Operaand her books are available now. Look for future books based on the classics, in addition to her unique historical romances. "Ms. Linforth's prose is phenomenally beautiful and hauntingly breathtaking." ~ Coffee Time Romance 


Jen B. said...

I have always thought this was a case of a serious medical problem being grossly mistreated. The scary thing is, this could still happen today.

J. R. Tomlin said...

A horror story of what religion can do at its worst. And it does still go on.

J.L. said...

This is obvously a situation that went horribly wrong. She should have been treated medically before and during any attempt at exorcism.

I'm Catholic, and I do believe in demon possesion. But I can tell you that here and in other societies where mental illness is recognized, they always pursue that path to the fullest first. An exorcism is considered an extreme last resort and never takes the place of medical treatment. Several members of the church heirarchy have to be consulted to even think about it.

It's also worth noting that, in the U.S., believing that a child is possessed is considered a solid risk for child abuse. She probably would have ended up in a foster home long before this point.

Ann Stephens said...

Poor Anneliese. I too suspect it was a matter of medical mistreatment. I do have to wonder if doctors would have been able to help her mental issues, though, simply because so much less was known about brain chemistry then. (And we still have a long way to go in that area!)

Anita Davison said...

A fascinating story, and as someone who doesn't subscribe to the 'demons' and 'possession' theory, I would always look for a more physical cause for her behaviour. I have experience of how devastating dehydration can be and it's hardly surprising it is sometimes mistaken for a mental illness.

With those around her focused on the spiritual, maybe she didn't receive the attention she deserved form a disinterested medical expert. Religious hysteria is too easy to perpetuate - until no one dare challenge what is apparently 'before their eyes'.

If Anneliese lived in the 1990's and not the 1960's, would her treatment have been different? Possibly.