Today, only 20% of Americans attend church regularly, a marked change from a century ago. Back in the early 1900s, church attendance was a part of the routine. Everything shut down on Sundays, creating a day where individuals spent time with their families and reflected on spiritual matters.
So, when someone acted out of character, people tended to reach out to their local pastor or priest. While spirit possession was discussed, most individuals did not bring it up jokingly.
The idea of being controlled by a spirit or demon was something to be feared. One woman suffered from alleged demon possession over several decades. The solution was an exorcism.
Anna Eckland, a pseudonym for Emma Schmidt, was a woman who allegedly was demon-possessed. She exhibited symptoms beginning at age 14 and continued throughout her life until age 46.
Since the details are unclear about Emma Schmidt, no one knows for sure when she died. It was a highly publicized case during the early part of the 20th century, although the facts of the accounts were not always consistent.
So, what happened to Anna?
The Possession of Anna Eckland
Published reports claim that Anna was born in 1882, although the location, month, and date are subject to speculation since accounts vary, so her birthplace could have been Wisconsin and Switzerland.
It seems that by the time she was 14, Anna was exhibiting signs of being demon-possessed. She would fly into rages, sometimes becoming violent, and was averse to any religious images, demonstrating revulsion for them.
Anna could not enter churches and engaged in “unspeakable sexual acts.”
Reports indicated that her father was having an affair with her aunt, and they had tried to get Anna to participate in their sexual relationship.
According to an account published in 1935, the source of Anna’s possession was her Aunt Mina, who was reputed to be a witch who placed spells on the herbs used to prepare food for various individuals. The exorcism of Anna Eckland ended up taking place over the years, as Anna was never freed from her struggles with spirit possession.
Anna’s first exorcism was held in 1912 and led by Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin priest. According to the Christian faith, as defined by Catholics, what happens during an exorcism?
What does an Exorcism Involve?
Normally, a person afflicted with demon possession wishes to be liberated from that influence, so they ask to be exorcized. But once a person enters the room, they may feel the spell’s influence more intensely.
The individual might appear nervous or uncomfortable, but in a more serious case, the person might fall into a trance and be dragged into the room because they are dead weight.
That is why a friend, family member, or pastor is with them to assist in bringing them into the room. The priest or pastor will ask the spirit its name during the rite.
If their name is biblical or one given in tradition, that is deemed a heavyweight, making them tougher to overcome. However, the spirit might lie or refuse to reveal its name. The fact that the spirit reveals its name weakens its power significantly.
Next, the priest will ask when the spirit entered the body, although this information might not be accurate. Depending on how violent the individual becomes during the ritual, they may need to be restrained to stop them from hurting themselves or others in the room.
Plenty of prayers are also involved. If objects or amulets are discovered, then those are destroyed to break the bond between the individual and the demon or spirit.
The location of the exorcism is usually a small chapel or another appropriate place, but only a few people are allowed to be present. For Catholics, a crucifix and image of the Blessed Virgin Mary should be prominently displayed.
The Results of the Exorcism of Anna Eckland
In Anna’s case, the initial exorcism was unsuccessful, so she was taken to a convent owned by the Franciscan Sisters in Earling, Iowa. Eckland was brought to the convent in August 1928.
Father Theophilus Riesinger, a Capuchin priest from Bavaria, Germany, was entrusted by Bishop Thomas Dunn. Resinger was a monk at St. Anthony’s in Marathon, Wisconsin.
Anna had reportedly been exhibiting numerous symptoms, including hissing like a cat and raging if her food was sprinkled with holy water.
The first round of the exorcism was violent, with Eckland levitating, howling, and hanging from the door frame. The second session occurred in September. The final session occurred in December and lasted for eight days.
The extensive exorcism resulted in Eckland’s body deteriorating because she refused to consume food while vomiting foul debris and what appeared to be tobacco leaves.
She supposedly spoke in multiple languages that she didn’t know. Her face, lips, and head also swelled. Eckland’s behavior became so violent that several nuns asked to be relocated to a different convent. She also spoke in a high falsetto voice, interpreted as belonging to her Aunt Mina.
She was believed to be possessed by Judas Iscariot and her father and Aunt Mina. It is believed that her father cursed her for refusing his incestuous advances.
Father Riesinger commanded the demons to depart to Hell on the final day of the exorcism. Eckland collapsed on the bed and began yelling or shrieking, “Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina,” followed by, “Hell! Hell! Hell!” Then she spoke in her voice, praising Jesus.
The exorcism was reported to be successful, although Eckland still exhibited mild possessions after that.
The 1928 exorcism was profiled in Time magazine in February 1936. It became an integral part of exemplifying what is known as American exorcism.
Other religions follow various rites to cast out demons or spirits, although Anna’s exorcism followed the Catholic ritual. In fact, aspects of her exorcism were followed in the 1940s during the exorcism of an anonymous boy named Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim.
This exorcism has also become a part of popular culture. A fictionalized account of Anna’s experience was made into a 2016 British film entitled The Exorcism of Anna Eckland. While some question if spirit possession is real and point out that many of her symptoms could also be attributed to a mental illness, exorcisms continue to happen to this day.