Unveiling the Truth: The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund Explored

anna eklund exorcism

The tale of the exorcism of Anna Ecklund is not merely a dark chapter in history but echoes the terrifying ordeal of Emma Schmidt, a woman besieged by forces deemed evil and demonic [9][13]. Revered and scrutinized by both the devout and the doubtful, her story has become a symbolic battleground between faith and skepticism, casting a long shadow over the discussions of demonic possession, exorcism, and the eternal skirmish between good and evil [3][7][8].

As this article unravels the true story of Anna Ecklund, it delves into the arcane practices of exorcism, shedding light on the profound impact of her case on cultural narratives and theological debates [12][14]. Through examining the intersections of religion, psychology, and the supernatural, it aims to provide a nuanced exploration of one of the most famous exorcisms in history [13][16].

The Life of Anna Ecklund

Early Life and Background

Anna Ecklund, often referred to by pseudonyms such as Emma Schmidt, was born in March 1882, in Wisconsin, amidst some ambiguity concerning her true identity. According to various sources, she was raised in a Catholic household by German immigrant parents. Her father, Jacob Schmidt, was noted for his opposition to the church and problematic behavior, including alcohol abuse and alleged sexual advances towards Anna [1][2][3][4][5][6]. Her mother’s identity and whereabouts remain largely unknown, adding to the mystery of Anna’s early family life [22][23].

Initial Signs of Possession

From a young age, Anna was deeply involved in Catholic practices, regularly attending church. However, around the age of 14, she began exhibiting disturbing behaviors. She expressed an aversion to holy objects, experienced severe issues with attending church, and started uttering thoughts of an explicit sexual nature. These signs were considered by some at the time to be manifestations of demonic possession. In 1908, her condition led to an intervention by Father Theophilus Riesinger, who performed an exorcism to address her afflictions [22][23][24].

Contradictions in Historical Accounts

The historical accounts of Anna Ecklund’s life and the events surrounding her exorcisms are fraught with inconsistencies. Records suggest various birthdates and conflicting information about her upbringing. Some sources claim she was born in Milwaukee and raised in Marathon, Wisconsin, while others suggest she might have originally come from the East Coast of the United States. These discrepancies have led to challenges in fully understanding her story and the true extent of her alleged demonic encounters [1][2][3][4][5][6].

The Exorcisms of 1912 and 1928

Initial Exorcism by Father Theophilus Riesinger

Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin priest originally from Bavaria, Germany, was entrusted by Bishop Thomas Dunn of Des Moines, Iowa, to perform an exorcism on Anna Ecklund on June 18, 1912. At that time, Riesinger was a monk at the community of St. Anthony’s in Marathon, Wisconsin. This initial exorcism was not well-documented, and little information is available about the immediate outcomes, leading to a period of over two decades before Ecklund sought further help [9][3][10][11].

The Extensive and Final Exorcism in Earling, Iowa

In the summer of 1928, Father Riesinger was again called upon to perform a second exorcism on Anna Ecklund. This time, the exorcism was suggested to be conducted at a convent owned by the Franciscan Sisters in Earling, Iowa. Anna was taken to the convent on August 17, 1928, and the exorcism began the following day. The sessions were notably violent, with Anna exhibiting extreme symptoms such as levitation, howling, and hanging from the doorway frame. The first session lasted until August 26, followed by a second session from September 13 to September 20, and a final session from December 15 to December 23, 1928 [3][12].

Reported Symptoms and Behaviors During the Exorcisms

During the exorcisms, Anna’s physical and mental state deteriorated significantly. She refused to consume food, vomited substances resembling tobacco leaves, and exhibited swelling in her head, lips, and face. Remarkably, she was also reported to speak in multiple languages previously unknown to her. The exorcism sessions were so intense that several nuns from the Franciscan order requested transfers to other convents. Anna was believed to be possessed by multiple entities, including Judas Iscariot and her own father, Jacob, who, along with his lover (Anna’s aunt Mina), had allegedly cursed her during her adolescence. Throughout the exorcisms, Anna spoke in a high falsetto voice, which Riesinger interpreted as the voice of her aunt Mina [9][12][13][14][15].

Cultural Impact and Theological Considerations

The Case’s Significance in Paranormal and Theological Studies

The exorcism of Anna Ecklund is widely regarded as one of the most thoroughly documented cases of demonic possession in the 20th century. Theologians and scholars of the paranormal have studied this case extensively, often citing it as a quintessential example of “American exorcism.” Carl Vogl, a theologian, chronicled the possession in the book Begone, Satan, under the pseudonym Anna Ecklund in 1935. This publication has significantly influenced the discourse on exorcisms within theological circles [19][20]. Furthermore, its inclusion in a 1936 issue of Time magazine underscores its importance and the broad interest it generated [21].

Media Portrayals and Public Fascination

The story of Anna Ecklund has not only been a subject of academic interest but has also captured the imagination of the wider public. In 2016, the British-produced film The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund took a fictionalized look at her story, bringing it to an even broader audience [18]. This portrayal is part of a long-standing fascination with her case, which includes earlier influences on popular media. Notably, the story inspired elements in William Peter Blatty’s book The Exorcist, which was later adapted into a highly successful horror film [54]. These adaptations and portrayals have played a pivotal role in shaping the public’s understanding of demonic possession and exorcism.

Comparative Analysis with Other Notable Exorcism Cases

Anna Ecklund’s case is often compared with other well-documented exorcisms, such as the exorcism of Roland Doe. Elements from Ecklund’s exorcism, like levitation and projectile vomiting, were used in the narrative of The Exorcist, highlighting the case’s influence on subsequent portrayals of exorcism in popular culture [58]. Such comparative analyses help to understand the cultural and theological nuances that differentiate various exorcism cases and their impact on both religious practices and popular media. The extensive documentation and continued interest in Ecklund’s story exemplify its unique position in the annals of paranormal studies and its enduring legacy in shaping perceptions of spiritual warfare [56][58].

Scientific and Skeptical Perspectives

Clinical explanations for Ecklund’s symptoms

Ecklund’s symptoms, often attributed to demonic possession, can be clinically explained through various psychological and neurological disorders. Historically, conditions like hysteria, mania, psychosis, Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia, or dissociative identity disorder have been misinterpreted as possession [65]. These disorders can manifest symptoms that mimic those described in exorcism narratives, such as convulsions or speaking in tongues. Notably, a condition known as demonopathy involves the belief of being possessed by demons, further complicating diagnoses [65].

The role of suggestion and belief in possession cases

The effectiveness of exorcisms may also be critically viewed through the lens of the placebo effect and the power of suggestion. This perspective suggests that the belief in the ritual’s power, rather than any supernatural intervention, brings about the observable changes in the afflicted individual [65]. This aligns with historical skepticism where treatments were more about the appearance of healing rather than actual medical intervention, as noted by Montaigne during the Renaissance [71]. Such placebo-controlled methodologies, as developed by figures like Franklin and Lavoisier, highlight the role of belief in perceived healing [71].

Critiques of exorcism practices

Critiques of exorcism often emphasize the potential harm in mistaking mental or physical illnesses for demonic possession. Performing exorcisms on individuals suffering from diagnosable conditions can exacerbate their symptoms and may constitute abuse [75]. The modern psychiatric understanding does not recognize demonic possession as a valid diagnosis, thus challenging the legitimacy of exorcism as a medical practice [65]. Furthermore, the incorporation of medical-psychiatric expertise in diagnosing possession sometimes paradoxically lends credibility to exorcisms, positioning them as a superior form of healing compared to conventional medical treatments [75]. This critique aligns with broader concerns about ethical boundaries and the exploitation of patients’ credulity, as historically noted by Montaigne [71].


Through the historical analysis and cultural exploration within this article, the story of Anna Ecklund not only illuminates the intersections of faith, psychology, and the supernatural but also underlines the complexities of understanding phenomena deemed beyond the ordinary. The significance of her case transcends mere academic interest, impacting broader theological debates and shaping public fascination with the realm of exorcisms. By examining both the deeply religious and the critical skeptical perspectives, we’ve endeavored to present a balanced overview that respects the nuances of belief and the importance of scientific inquiry.

In reflecting on the enduring legacy of Anna Ecklund, we recognize the need for further research and dialogue that bridges the gap between scientific skepticism and spiritual belief systems. The implications of this story reach far into discussions about mental health, religious practices, and media portrayal, suggesting an ongoing relevance to modern society. As we conclude, it’s clear that the saga of Anna Ecklund invites us to question our understanding of the seen and unseen, urging a thoughtful consideration of how we address the mysteries that remain at the edges of science and faith.


1. Which film is inspired by the story of Anna Ecklund?
The 2016 British horror film, “The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund,” written and directed by Andrew Jones, is based on the alleged true events of Anna Ecklund’s life.

2. What real-life event inspired the movie “The Exorcist”?
“The Exorcist” draws its inspiration from a real-life exorcism conducted in 1949 by Father William Bowdern on a 14-year-old boy. The film, however, presents a highly sensationalized version of demonic possession.

3. Is “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” based on actual events?
Yes, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is one of three films that are loosely based on the real-life story of Anneliese Michel’s exorcism. The other two films are “Requiem” and “Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes.” Additionally, the song “Annalisa” by Public Image Ltd also references Michel’s case.

4. Does “The Last Exorcism” reflect a true story?
No, “The Last Exorcism” is a fictional movie. Despite its documentary-style presentation, the 2010 supernatural horror film was crafted to appear real to enhance the viewing experience, but it does not depict actual events.


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