My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As someone who is keen on the stories of supernatural phenomena based on true events devoid of media-generated sensationalism, testimonies of mediums (or psychics), or narratives of parapsychologists, I was immediately hooked on this interesting book by Claude Lecouteux, a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. What distinguishes this book from other books of similar subject matters is its etymological, historical, and sociological explanations on poltergeist and other supernatural incidents as recorded in annals, newspapers, or folktales.
The word “Poltergeist” meaning a noisy spirit in German, first appeared in the dictionary by Erasmus Alberus in 1540, an era marked by turbulent religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants, including Reformation. In fact, Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, was an avid believer in devils’ manifestations in the form of poltergeist and availed it of a potent means of proselytism of his new religious founding. Also, from 1550 to around 1700, many books on spirits were written mainly by scholars, men of letters, and theologians, including King James I of England (1566-1625), who wrote Demonology in form of a Dialogue, a treaty on spirits of devilish nature.
As aforesaid, etymologically, the word “poltergeist” denotes a primarily acoustic phenomenon that has also been termed as “knocking spirits,” which Lecourteux uses as a neutral term without academic snobbery. He categorizes the activities of poltergeists as follows: (1) Casting stones/filth; (2) Vague noises; (3) Banging of windows; (4) Mischievous/Malicious acts; (5) Broken dishes; (6) Destruction of houses by fire; and/or (7) Attacks on specific individuals. He further illustrates the historical accounts of poltergeist incidents in the cases of a certain Greek philosopher named Athenodorous as narrated by Pliny the Younger (62-113) in his letter to his friend Sura in which a story of a specter of an old man who appeared to the philosopher to show him where he had been buried and a man named Gilles Bolacre who rented a haunted house in Tours that disturbed him every night with knocking sounds and went to court to have the lease successfully rescinded on the ground of the landowner’s violation of caveat emptor.
Lecourteux also proffers a reasonably plausible connection between some of the supernatural phenomena and human synchronicity, which includes telesthetic power. He provides the reader with the concept of “Place Memories,” a telesthetic phenomenon in which the cries of the victims and various noises accompanying the violent scenes are imprinted on the walls or at the places where acts of violence were committed as if upon a magnetic tape recording. He elucidates that inanimate objects could be endowed with human properties by means of the telestehtic faculties of the subconscious that have the ability to find and interpret such uncommon vibrations and emanations, just as mnemonic faculties have the ability to discern the latent vibrations of thought.
In light of the above, Lecourteux addresses our human nature that has hardly evolved at all in the domain of supernatural despite the dominant influence of Enlightenment rationality in the recent historical and social landscapes. That is, science has failed to deprecate ancient beliefs in spiritual entities variable in accordance with religious and cultural climates throughout our human civilizations. Also, the veritable records of supernatural incidents betoken different mental attitudes of the times. After all, our ancient predilection for anything supernatural have survived and will survive change of time and political, social ethos because it is linked to man’s fundamental questions about a realm inhibited by the dead and spirits.