THE EXORCISM OF ANNELIESE MICHEL by Felicitas D. Goodman

THE EXORCISM OF ANNELIESE MICHEL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A cause celebre revisited--by a highly partisan but well-informed, competent, and careful observer. Goodman is an anthropologist with years of field work studying RASC (religious altered state of consciousness, e.g., glossolalia), so she was naturally drawn to the case of Anneliese Michel. Michel died in 1976, at age 23, from what seemed to be starvation and self-inflicted beatings. A year later the young Bavarian woman made headlines all over the world when two respected Catholic priests she had known were tried and convicted for criminal negligence in her death. For the last nine months of her life they had performed innumerable exorcisms over her--and respected her refusal to seek medical help (repeated tests and various anti-convulsant drugs had done nothing for her strange condition). And perhaps the only thing that all of Goodman's readers will agree on is that Michel's symptoms were strange: unaccountable fits and seizures, temporary paralysis, emission of overpowering noxious odors, uncanny screams, and above all the loss of self-control and invasion of the mind and body by--metaphorically speaking, anyhow--demons. Goodman argues that Michel wasn't crazy, and Frs. Renz and Alt weren't irresponsible, that diabolical possession (or at any rate aggression) is a real and wide-spread experience, and exorcism a perfectly valid therapy for it. The real culprit in Anneliese Michel's death wasn't medieval superstition but medical arrogance (and Michel's doctors certainly sound awful): she died of complications from bad drugs ignorantly prescribed and faithfully swallowed. Goodman makes sense in general, though skeptical readers will find her naively ready to accept the real, personal existence of devils (it's essential to learn their names, she notes). Still, only narrow-minded positivists would dismiss the Michel case a priori--it's too full of fascinating psychological and philosophical questions. Not the whole story, but an important fragment.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1981
ISBN: 1597524328
Publisher: Doubleday