Maybe it’s my nature as a writer, but after I have certain experiences I have to learn I possibly can about whatever it was that I experienced. After I watch a movie I rush to IMDB to check out the trivia. After I visit someplace I find particularly intriguing, I scour the Internet and check out books and watch movies.
My point is, I was watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose the other day on DVD and got all caught up in researching the real story behind the movie. This, of course, lead to other stories of real-life exorcisms. I’m shocked at how… well… not commonplace exorcisms are, but how they’re not quite as unusual as you might think. The identities of people who have been exorcised are usually kept pretty quiet, but with just one priest claiming to have performed more than 50,000 exorcisms (granted, he is the senior exorcist of the Diocese of Rome), there are more out there than you might think. We’re going to look at a few.
Let’s start with the exorcism of Anneliese Michel, the girl Emily Rose was based on. Anneliese was a deeply religious German Catholic woman who said she was possessed by at least six demons, including Hitler, Nero and Cain. Father Ernst Alt, a local parish priest who also happened to be a specialist in exorcism, was the first to recognize that she may need an exorcism. When medication failed to control her symptoms (including contortions, multiple personalities and the use of multiple voices) the exorcism was approved by the bishop and carried out by Pastor Arnold Renz. She died on July 1, 1976 – the day that Anneliese predicted she would be freed from the demons. Those present say she was freed moments before her death, but her official cause of death was listed as malnutrition and dehydration (she weighed just 68 pounds) resulting from the treatment she was subjected to over the 11 months of exorcism rituals.
Robbie DoeThen there’s that other famous exorcism movie starring Linda Blair. That was based on a real incident too, one that took place in 1949. Robbie Doe has never been identified (at least as far as I could tell) but he was supposedly possessed after using a Ouija board. He was taken to the Georgetown Hospital where he started to receive an exorcism from Father Edward Hughes. Father Hughes was five minutes into the ritual when the boy somehow dislodged a spring from the bed and stabbed him with it. The gash required 100 stitches.
The family moved to St. Louis where the boy underwent another exorcism, this one lasting six weeks. Just like the movie, the bed would shake and objects flew across the room of their own accord. Marks would appear on Robbie’s body, including the word “Evil”. Finally, the exorcism succeeded and the boy was able to live a normal life, not remembering much about what happened.
Such a view seems contrary to the findings of the physician and psychiatrist who deemed the boy physically and mentally healthy while he was experiencing these troubles in Maryland.
Earling, Iowa, woman
Father Theophilus Riesinger brought a 40-year-old woman from a neighboring community to the Franciscan convent in Earling to undergo an exorcism. Despite being very religious, the woman said she was unable to enter a church or pray since she was 14. She also spoke in languages she didn’t know, was abnormally strong and couldn’t stand to be around Holy Water or anything that had been blessed.
The evening the woman arrived, a nun who prepared dinner sprinkled the meal with Holy Water to bless the food. When the woman was given her plate, she freaked out and demanded an unblessed plate.
When the exorcism started the next morning and continued for the next 23 days. According to the pamphlet that details the events of the exorcism, Begone Satan!:
“Outpourings that would fill a pitcher, yes, even a pail, full of the most obnoxious stench were most unnatural. These came in quantities that were, humanly speaking, impossible to lodge in a normal being. At that the poor creature had eaten scarcely anything for weeks, so that there had been reason to fear she would not survive. At one time the emission was a bowl full of matter resembling vomited macaroni. At another time an even greater measure, having the appearance of sliced and chewed tobacco leaves, was emitted. From ten to twenty times a day this wretched creature was forced to vomit though she had taken at the most only a teaspoonful of water or milk by way of food.”
She spoke in different languages and different voices and named sins that people in the room had committed. On the 23rd day of the ordeal, Father Theophilus sensed that the demons were weakening and blessed her. The woman started howling and screaming the names of the demons inside of her; when the last name was uttered the woman opened her eyes and was reportedly able to speak the name of Jesus again for the first time in years.
Teenager at the Vatican
Pope John Paul II reportedly performed an exorcism on a 19-year-old girl at the Vatican in 2000. Father Gabriele Amorth, the official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, had attempted to exorcise the girl the day before and failed. Her parents brought her to Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square in hopes that a Papal blessing would do her some good, but apparently it just incensed her even more. Italian newspapers wrote that the girl started screaming insults at the Pope in a “cavernous voice” and struggled with guards with superhuman strength. The Pope was informed about her and spent 30 minutes with her. When the Pope left, the girl said (in a voice apparently not belonging to her), “Not even the head of the church can send me away.”