The truth about the exorcism of Anna Ecklund

Hollywood has an obsession with exorcisms. Society's idea of what American exorcisms look like, though, wasn't shaped purely by movies, but rather from real-life rituals — like the one performed on Anneliese Michel — and a particularly well-documented case of possession and exorcism befell a woman often given the pseudonym "Anna Ecklund," whose story inspired a 2016 film. 

Ecklund, whose real name might have been Emma Schmidt, was born in Marathon, Wisconsin in 1882, and claims of her being possessed first surfaced when she was 14, according to InfoBarrel. It is possible that Ecklund's father accused his daughter of possession because he was sexually abusing her, and she had fought back, and her case was further complicated because her aunt Mina — who may have also been her father's lover — was alleged to have been practicing black magic on her. Ecklund supposedly claimed that she felt uneasy when entering churches, according to Time, and had "unspeakable sexual thoughts." Her parents concluded she needed a priest. In 1912, the Capuchin priest Theophilus Riesinger performed an exorcism on her.

Following this, she seemed to recover, until 1928. Riesinger once again performed an exorcism on Ecklund, per his biography on the Capuchin Order website, and it was this exorcism that put Ecklund's case on the map.

The 23-day ordeal

Riesinger, his biography states, suggested Ecklund be brought to a secluded church in Iowa. She was strapped onto the bed while Riesinger prayed over her. At one point, writes Cult of Weird, she was alleged to have leapt from the bed and levitated to the ceiling. She vomited what looked like macaroni and tea leaves, definitely an odd food mix, even though she barely ate. While the whole liturgy was happening, Ecklund apparently spoke in a high pitched voice, claiming to be the spirits of Beezelbub, Judas, her father, and her aunt Mina.

Days went by, and Ecklund was not getting better. Riesinger's biography mentioned nearby townsfolk flocked to church, confused by the strange sounds and smells emanating from it, but Riesinger persisted. By the last day, he was exhausted, but then, Ecklund suddenly stood from the bed, proclaimed "they are gone," and collapsed. By this time, it had been 23 days.

Following this, it is said that Ecklund went on to live a quieter life — her true identity kept private — but Riesinger became famous for exorcisms. With so many movies about exorcisms, it is interesting that it took until 2016 for Ecklund's story to be filmed. While the real story sounds suitably horrific, the movie version though didn't fare that well. Maybe the movie itself, like so many other bad horror movies, needs to be exorcised from people's minds.