Earling Possession
(1928)
   One of the best-documented demonic POSSESSION cases in the 20th century. The possession of Anna Ecklund also is unusual for the combination of demonic entities within one victim. Anna was born in the Midwest about 1882 and was raised a devout and pious Catholic. She first began showing the symptoms of possession—revulsion toward holy objects, inability to enter church, and disturbing thoughts about unspeakable sexual acts—at age 14, finally becoming totally possessed in 1908. In the account of Anna’s travails, Begone Satan!, written in German by the Reverend Carl Vogl and translated into English by the Reverend Celestine Kapsner, O.S.B., Anna’s aunt Mina, a reputed witch, caused her possession by placing spells on herbs used in Anna’s food. Father Theophilus Riesinger, a native Bavarian and a Capuchin monk from the community of St. Anthony at Marathon, Wisconsin, successfully exorcized her on June 18, 1912, only to have her fall prey to the Devil again after her father heaped CURSEs on her and wished her possessed. In 1928, when Anna was 46 years old, Father Theophilus tried again.
   Seeking a place where Anna was unknown, Father Theophilus approached his old friend, Father F. Joseph Steiger, parish priest in Earling, Iowa. With great reluctance, Father Steiger agreed that the exorcism could take place in the nearby convent of the Franciscan Sisters. Anna arrived in Earling on August 17, 1928. Trouble started immediately; sensing that someone had sprinkled holy water on her evening meal, Anna threw a fit, purring like a cat, and refused to eat until unblessed food could be served. After that, the devils within her always knew whether one of the nuns had tried to bless the food or drink, and they always complained.
   The ancient ritual began in earnest the next morning. Father Theophilus had several of the strongest nuns hold Anna on a mattress laid upon an iron bed, and her clothes were bound tightly around her to prevent her from stripping herself. With Father Theophilus’ first exhortations Anna’s mouth clamped shut and she fell unconscious, followed almost immediately by an extraordinary feat of levitation. Rising swiftly from the bed, she hung onto the wall above the door like a cat, and it took great effort to pull her down. Although Anna was unconscious and her mouth never moved throughout the sessions, voices issued from within her, accompanied by screams, howls, and unearthly animal noises. Earling citizens, alarmed by the outcries, gathered at the convent, ruining Father Theophilus’ hopes of keeping the exorcism secret. Totaling 23 days, the exorcisms covered three sessions: from August 18 to the 26, from September 13 to 20, and from December 15 to 23. Through it all, Anna’s physical state deteriorated to the point of death. She ate no food but only swallowed small amounts of milk or water. Nevertheless, she vomited enormous quantities of foul-smelling debris, often resembling tobacco leaves, and spit prodigiously. Her face became horribly disfigured and distorted, often suffusing with blood as her head swelled and elongated, her eyes bulged, and her lips grew, reportedly, to the size of hands. Her abdomen would swell to the point of bursting, only to retract and become so hard and heavy that the iron bedstead would bend under the enormous weight.
   In addition to the physical changes, Anna understood languages previously unknown to her, recoiled at holy words and objects, and revealed clairvoyant knowledge by exposing secret childhood sins of the other participants. The nuns and Father Steiger were so frightened and troubled that none of them could stay in Anna’s room throughout the entire exorcism but instead worked in shifts. Father Steiger, taunted by the devils for having agreed to the exorcism in his parish, was especially harassed and suffered an auto accident that the devils had predicted and apparently arranged. Only Father Theophilus, confident of his powers, remained steadfast.
   Hordes of lesser devils and avenging spirits, described as like “a swarm of mosquitoes,” possessed Anna, but her principal tormentors were BEELZEBUB, Judas Iscariot, and the spirits of her father, Jacob, and his mistress, Anna’s aunt Mina. Beelzebub revealed himself first, engaging Father Theophilus in sarcastic theological conversations and acknowledging that the curses of Jacob, Anna’s father, sent the devils into her at age 14. Father Theophilus tried to reach Jacob, only to be answered by a spirit identifying himself as Judas Iscariot, who admitted he was there to torment Anna to commit suicide and thereby go to HELL.
   Jacob eventually spoke and said that he had cursed Anna for not submitting to his incestuous advances, calling upon the devil to tempt her with every unspeakable sin against chastity. In Begone Satan! the author describes Jacob’s life as “coarse and brutal,” taking Anna’s aunt Mina as a mistress while he was still married and repeatedly trying to seduce Anna. At his death, a priest had administered extreme unction, but Jacob ridiculed him. The author continues: “In the judgment after death even all that was pardoned him, but (because) he had cursed his own daughter . . . that ultimately was the guilt of his eternal damnation. And so he was still scheming in hell how he could torture and molest his child. This Lucifer gladly permitted him to do.” Whether Anna’s virginity really remained intact, even at age 46, or whether she had repressed her sexual contact with her father is unknown. A high, falsetto voice, present from the beginning among the other voices, revealed itself as that of Mina. God had damned her for living with Jacob and for murdering four children. Begone Satan! suggests that the children were Mina’s own, but they may also have been multiple abortions. The author describes Mina as any devil’s equal for malice and hate, filled with spite and blaspheming the Blessed Sacrament.
   The author remarks that the truly amazing aspects of Anna’s possession were her basic virtue and pious disposition throughout her ordeal, because “the devil has no power over the free will of a human being.” Sensing his eventual triumph, Father Theophilus continued to exhort the devils to depart, and by the latter part of December 1928, they began to weaken and moan, rather than scream, against his efforts. Father Theophilus demanded that when they returned to hell, each should call out his name as a sign of his or her departure, and the devils agreed.
   On December 23, 1928, at about 9:00 P.M., Anna suddenly jerked up and stood erect in bed, looking as if she were about to rise to the ceiling. Father Steiger called for the nuns to pull her down, while Father Theophilus blessed her and roared, “Depart ye fiends of hell! Begone Satan, the Lion of Juda reigns!” Anna crumpled back onto the bed as a terrible shout of “Beelzebub, Judas, Jacob, Mina” followed by “Hell, hell, hell” filled the room, repeated several times until the sound seemed to fade into the distance. Anna opened her eyes and smiled, while tears of joy ran down her face and she cried, “My Jesus, Mercy! Praised be Jesus Christ!” Begone Satan! describes the end: “During the first thrills of joy they were not even aware of the terrible odor that filled the room. All the windows had to be opened, the stench was something unearthly, simply unbearable. It was the last souvenir of the infernal devils for those they had to abandon upon the Earth.”
   FURTHER READING:
   - Vogel, Rev. Carl. Begone, Satan! A Soul-Stirring Account of Diabolical Possession in Iowa. Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books and Publishers, 1973.

Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. . 2009.

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