The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets: Tradition and Craft, by Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 264 pp. (incl. appendices, notes, bibliography, and index), 2014
The first part of The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets goes into the traditions related to amulets and the natural magic thereof, and also examines the tension between established Christianity and the long-standing tradition of magick, especially of the apotropaic (evil averting) sort. One is strongly reminded of the generations of priestly execrations of goddess worship in the Bible, which similarly told us how long the practices persisted, and some details of them which we would not otherwise have had.
The priests inveighing against these charms were particularly intent on discouraging the use of magical characters (alphabetic or sigilic writing that conveys spiritual power). They sometimes waxed poetic: “The demon slithers in the characters like the serpent beneath the flowers.” This ties nicely into his statement that “the unknown always inspires the Church with fear.”
Lecouteux summarizes part of this history thus: “Implicit in the background are notions of natural, licit magic and illicit black magic,” ((p. 30)) after giving one of many examples of a churchman condemning the talismanic art as being an implicit pact with a demon, a pattern which, as he points out, is “commonly repeated throughout the sixteenth century.” What this means to me is that the Faustian current which arose in early modern magick didn’t just appear without help. Apparently, it is as possible to call an egregore into being by constant execration as by constant evocation! Continue reading
The Book of Grimoires: The Secret Grammar of Magic, by Claude Lecouteux
Inner Traditions, 9781620551875, 264 pp., 2002, 2013 (English translation)
To understand a book it’s important to know the purpose for which it was written. Lecouteux states that his aim is to provide a historical account of the use of grimoires, and to synthesize a “universal grimoire” from numerous source texts, but I find this proposal problematic. I’ve read several academic books on grimoires and medieval magick as part of my degree, including collections of original articles or reproductions of sections from various texts. Lecouteux says the book “takes the approach of a guided tour,” and that the material is obscure and complex, so he will explain the material throughout the book in order to make sense of what is provided, and this, I feel, is where things falls apart. Continue reading
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices, by Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E. Graham
Inner Traditions, 1620551055, 227 pp. (incl. index and eight pages of colour plates), 2013
Ever since his first book, Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages in 1992, I’ve quite enjoyed Claude Lecouteux’s work.
Claude Lecouteux is a French historian specialising in the Middle Ages and its understanding of the spiritual world, the chair of German civilization and Literature of the Middle Ages, and a professor emeritus, at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices was initially published in French in 2000 as La Maison et ses Génies: Croyances d’Hier et d’Aujourd’hui. Personally, I find the French title more apt, since it more clearly describes the content, but that’s a fairly minor quibble on my part. In the original French, this was Lecouteux’s fifth book published. However the English translation are being published in a different order, and this is the seventh book released in English.
The first part of the book begins with the actual house, while the second part of the book turns to the spirits themselves. This is followed by a brief exploration of the notion of haunted houses, and a few appendixes about proverbs associated with household spirits and a few other odds and ends. Continue reading
The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations, by Claude Lecouteux
Editions Imago, Inner Traditions, 9781594774652, 246 pp., 2007, 2012
Claude Lecouteux offers an exhaustively researched history of poltergeist activity and hauntings from the middle ages to today. Packed full of case histories and general information, The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses is an essential addition to the library of any serious ghost hunter or paranormal enthusiast. Lecouteux maintains an evidential viewpoint, balancing skepticism with the inevitable conclusion that, like it or not, poltergeist phenomenon is real.
One particular gem is a chart that compares the views of different eras regarding “Poltergeists due to the presence of living beings.” In the Pagan Middle Ages, this activity was mostly attributed to the dead, genies, and spirits. During the Christian Middle Ages, attribution was given to the devil, demons, and the dead. In post-Medieval times (16th-17th centuries), witchcraft and hoaxes were usually to blame, and of late, paranormal researchers attribute the phenomena to the dead or people with psychic abilities. With regard to the difference between spirits and the ghosts, Lecouteux writes: Continue reading
The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind, by Claude Lecouteux, translated by Jon E Graham, afterward by Regis Boyer
Inner Traditions, 9781594773181, 273 pp. (incl. notes and index), 1996, 2009
A former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne, this is Claude Lecouteux’s second book to be translated into English, the first being Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages, published in 2003 also by Inner Traditions.
The Return of the Dead is a scholarly survey of pre-Christian beliefs, focusing in particular on legends of revenants in Germanic and Scandinavian folklore. Continue reading