People have always been fascinated with demonic possession. You only have to look at the sheer range of movies and books, from The Amityville Horror to the ever-popular The Exorcist, to see how much the topic of exorcism continues to fascinate and freak us out!
Is demonic possession really a thing? Or are these ‘real-life’ cases incidences of extreme mental health issues or an over-active imagination? We’ll probably never know for sure – but one thing’s for certain; these exorcisms are unsettling and on occasion, outright terrifying.
If you visit Roland Doe’s house on Roanoke Drive, you’d presume you were in a very nice neighbourhood indeed. With red-brick façade and white shutters at the windows, it’s about as unthreatening as it gets.
However, the events that took place there in the 1940s were so terrifying that they later inspired the making of The Exorcist. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. The family were relatively happy until the death of Roland’s aunt Harriet (who, it transpired, was into the occult and taught her nephew how to use a Ouija board). That’s when things started getting weird.
Poor Roland started hearing scratching noises in the walls of his bedroom, and even worse, his mattress started moving on its own. His parents, understandably alarmed by Roland’s claims, took him to a doctor, a psychiatrist, and even a Catholic priest.
The priest was concerned enough to perform an exorcism; during which Roland snapped off a spring from his mattress and slashed the man across the shoulder with it. After this, his parents noticed that Roland was getting red scratches all over his body, and that one spelt out ‘Louis’ – which they took as a message to get help from relatives they had in St Louis.
Fortunately, the relatives came through for them, arranging a further exorcism with two Jesuits. During the exorcism, eyewitnesses reported the bed shaking violently and scratches appearing on the boy’s body spontaneously. Objects in the room also started moving inexplicably, lifting into the air and flying across the room.
Things escalated. Roland urinated on the bed and shouted at the priests. His parents decided to take him to a local hospital, where he stayed for a period of time. One night, Roland started having another of his ‘episodes’ and claimed that Satan would always be with him. The priests working in the hospital placed every crucifix they could find upon his body, and a while later, Roland opened his eyes and calmly announced that the demon was gone.
If you looked at a photo of Anneliese Michel as a young girl, you’d never believe the horrors that awaited her later in life. Raised in Bavaria in West Germany, she was a devout Catholic who exhibited no signs of strange behaviour until she was 16, when she blacked out in school.
Afterwards, she had no recollection of what happened. It was written off as just "one of those things" until a similar occurrence happened a year later; this time at home. Anneliese woke up in a strange trance, lost control of her bladder, and started to convulse.
Her parents took her to a doctor, who claimed that she had epilepsy. She was prescribed some drugs to deal with the condition, but they didn’t help. Anneliese continued to worsen, and she started to see and hear what she called ‘the devil’.
While praying, she reportedly heard voices telling her that she would rot in hell, and that she was damned. She asked priests for help, but they told her to see a doctor instead. Things took a rapid turn for the worse. Anneliese repeatedly ripped her clothes off, ate bizarre items like coal and spiders, and once even bit the head off a bird.
Finally, things got severe enough for two exorcists to be called in. Over the next ten months, close to 70 exorcisms were carried out. By this point, Anneliese’s knees were broken after kneeling to pray so often, and she was severely malnourished. She died in 1976.
After her death, the priests and her parents were tried in court (with negligent homicide). The priests both got half a year in prison; the parents were let off the hook, as it was felt that they had suffered enough.
Anna Ecklund is widely regarded as the first case of recorded demonic possession in the US. The whole case was written down in Begone Satan – a pamphlet written by Father Carl Vogl (if you fancied reading it!).
The Wisconsin-born Anna was a relatively devout young girl to all accounts, though at eight-years-old, she started to display the classic signs of demonic possession; a deep-seated loathing of religious items, plus swearing, shouting and shocking sexual conduct.
Some suggested that her own father had cursed her, due to her not entering a sexual relationship with him. However, this has never been officially verified. Whatever the reason for her behaviour, her mother knew that something had to be done.
She visited several doctors, who all drew a blank at what the cause of her problem might be. Undeterred, her mother then took her to a priest for an exorcism. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful, and Anna’s symptoms worsened.
Strangely, her next recorded exorcism wasn’t until she was 46. Nobody really knew what had happened up to that point; whether she’d continued to act strangely or not. However, what is known is that things were about to get seriously freaky.
During her second exorcism, Anna stayed at a convent, where she exhibited terrifying behaviour. Eyewitnesses claimed that she was able to run up the walls, clinging to them with superhuman strength. She levitated from her bed and vomited continually. Parts of her body swelled so much that observers believed they would burst. She also seemed to have eerie knowledge of the secrets of many of the nuns that cared for her.
After over three weeks of this hellish experience, the priests finally expelled whatever it was that was haunting Anna from her body and she made a full recovery. What happened to her after that is not known. What we do know is that the nuns involved all had to be transferred to other convents afterwards as they were so deeply traumatised by the experience.