‘The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind’, by Claude Lecouteux – review

The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan MindThe Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Salman Rushdie spoke of ghosts as the souls of the dead tending unfinished businesses on earth. Be it everlasting phantasmal whistling from the desolate fields of the buried or flickering of lights with sounds of footsteps in manmade abodes, but mind you that sometimes they come back. It is not about the fashionable New Age enlightenment advocating the veracity of paranormal activities involving ghost hunters, would-be, or self-proclaimed practitioners of occultic practice. It is academically certifiable, according to the eminent French Medieval Studies scholar Claude Lecouteux in his treaties on the formidable return of the souls departed.

The belief systems that the souls of the dead will and can come back to where they have left are universal in all cultures, including the dominant Christianity. Christianity, especially the Church of Rome, has drowned upon syncretism of pre-existing uniform pagan beliefs that paying due respect to the dead by offering food on their anniversary of death is an obligation and prevention of malice thrown upon the living. Lecouteux affirms in the discourse of the truth of revenants by the ecclesiastical records of Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustus. Even the ancient pagan luminaries, such as Ovid, Pliny the Elder, and the Younger, and Plato, corroborated the Wondering Souls’ existence roaming among the mortals. These great benefactors of humanity averred that sometimes, by the mysterious will of God, the dead are not entirely gone to the world beyond or occasionally permitted to manifest in reality. Therefore, it is worth giving such notions a preferential credit over the sensational testimony of ghost hunters, psychics, or gypsies.

Lecouteux illustrates peculiar funereal practices, especially of the Northern Europeans, such as putting the deceased’s head between the legs, sealing the roofs, windows, or any openings of a house of the dead lest the departed remain in the place of the living. After a breath of life leaves the corporeal temple, it ceases to exist and is, therefore, doesn’t belong in this world. Lecouteux’s treatise becomes a historical narrative of the deceased’s whys and wherefores in a confused state of spiritual anomy, refusing to cut a tie to the terrestrial world that they don’t belong any longer.

The book is my second read written by the French scholar following The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted, an excellent read in its multidisciplinary approach to validate the historical events of the fantastic phenomena in the narrative style conflated with Thucydidian objectivity and Herodotusian parataxis. Although this book retains the cracking narrative tradition of his, it is not as enthusiastically stimulating as the other book on the more popular noisy spirits for the sake of the subject itself. Perhaps, my being of the modern era accustomed to the sensory effects influenced by films and other visual aids may contribute to a rather unjust opinion on this book about revenants. Notwithstanding the preferential subject matters, this book will be a valuable textual source for historical, cultural, or social research about the universality of belief systems molded into a syncretism of the Church’s established religious doctrine. Or to put it simply, this book will pique anyone not easily succumbed to occult fad but equipped with a curious mind on the restless wandering souls, thus helping fortify his or her belief that sometimes they do come back.



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A Tale of a Cat in Tote

Finding a good vet is a challenging task

It may sound funny but finding a good veterinarian seems parallel to Perseus’s finding the Hesperides’ whereabouts, the nymphs holding the weapons for destroying Medusa, as instructed by goddess Athene. The half-god and half-human Perseus had divine help from the goddess to accomplish his terrific mission. Still, the whole human Me, left with my limited mortal device, had to embark alone on a daunting quest for a competently proficient veterinarian who could precisely ascertain the cause of my cat’s gastrointestinal malady with the utmost professionalism and most profound care for animals. So, I want to relate my journey to arrive at the mission accomplished to Hercules’s Twelve labors to fulfill his moral responsibility for the beloved he had slain.

Toro’s Arrival at the Hospital in Tote

No, not that I harmed my little sixteen-week old Toro. How despicable! But that he had been suffering from irregular bowel syndrome, aka constipation. Although well-potty trained, Toro had difficulty in releasing excrement completely with heartwrenching yowling, resulting in inappropriate elimination everywhere in my room. As his human caretaker/sister/mother, the onus of relieving him from the pain was naturally on me with an initial frustration of finding the panacea. In a new city with no acquaintance to recommend me an expert on cats, I looked up a list of veterinarians nearby on the Internet, mostly Yelps and Googles’ reviews. As a follower of Thuclyclides on hearsay’s integrity, not on the popularity of the subject from the masses, I eliminated the superfluously effusive complements of reviews suspected of blind bromides advertised by sponsored reviewers. I followed my instinct that led me to a particular veterinarian with less florid advertisements and more evidentiary results of curing cats, one of whom looked a lot like Toro. What can I say? It was more of my intuition, leading me to take Toro to the veterinarian of my choice.

Toro’s X-Ray reveals his inner world, including a microchip

The doctor listened to my plea for examining Toro thoroughly with his entire medical history obtained at his adoption from a shelter. He took Toro’s X-ray and explained that it was constipation and that he would inject enema to release due eliminations from his stomach. I was also given a bottle of lactulose solution to be administered to Toro orally three times a day. Besides, he gave me a bottle of Betagen topical spray for Toro’s infected buttocks due to the remnants of dried defecation, free of charge. It was certainly more than I expected of the care, now that the cause of the sickness had already been precisely diagnosed and adequately remedied.

What an adventure I had today!

Toro is now easily defecating in the letterbox. However, he seems to be a bit lethargic due to the oral solution that I have been injecting to him, which is a challenging task every time because of his apparent dislike. But Toro knows that he feels better now than before, so I guess he takes his medication as a daily ritual until the solution is finished. At the moment of writing, Toro is sleeping sweetly on the books shelved on my desk, and looking at him produces a phantasmagorical display of images of all things loving and caring and comforting I have seen from paintings and movies. Would this be the same kind of feeling when God sees his creatures made in love? It may be a bit of stretch, but I like the idea of it.

‘The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language’, by Steven Pinker – review

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates LanguageThe Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language by Steven Pinker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


People tend to judge who you are according to how you speak and write as an effortlessly conspicuous touchstone of your intelligence. The pesky lexical solecism in writing, funny way of talking with accents, and fumbling manner of delivering thoughts are the Three Capital Sins decreed by English Language Purists regarding English Undefiled. Since English is not my mother tongue, such derisive experience often forced me to conform to the notion that the language ability determines general cognitive ability, until I read Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct.

Pinker, who himself came from a French/English/Yiddish linguistic family background, asserts that the salient features of language should not be synonymous with the performer’s general reasoning ability. He expounds that the language is the instinct, a survival mechanism resulting from human evolution, universal in humankind, whether technologically primitive or advanced. It is a highly specialized mental module established through the passing of times by wonderfully flexible human faculty of learning by mutation, heritability, and isolation. The aptly fitting allusion to the biblical Tower of Babel illustrates the universality of language due to the innate universal human consciousness. Hence, different languages are the descendants of the proto-type language with its changeable nature according to the passing of times, calling for changes in social and cultural modes of life.

In this sense, idioms and other forms of English-based pidgins demonstrate divergent evolutionary traits of English, not the illiteracy of the speakers of such languages. Pinker remonstrates with famous critics, editors, and writers, who are bulwarks of the Pure English since language is the instinct, not the mind itself. Their judging people based on how they speak and write shows the ignorance of the truth, seeing what they want from their designated vantage point of arrogant grammarians. Come to think of it, didn’t William Shakespeare, a former maker of leather gloves with a limited education of grammar school, ruffle the feathers of his university-educated colleagues in his time? Leo Tolstoy, Emily Bronte, and Jane Austen were not perfect spellers, nor was Jack Kerouac, who often stumbled into existential lingual vertigo because English was not his mother tongue.

The book covers everything you want to know about language: how and when people started to speak the way they do now, where the origin of proto-type language took place, and why language is not a barometer of intelligence. There is no such thing as linguistic relativity, a principle claiming that how you speak affects how you think, which alternately means that you are not as intelligent as you like to believe because your English is imperfect. I could not believe why many people disagree with Pinker’s view of the language instinct. They pillory him for being something of a language eugenist when he is against those language mavens, one of whom publicly derided Pinker for defending his parents’ less than perfect English language ability. The depth and breadth of knowledge that Pinker shares with his reader become scintillating with his trenchant wit and feisty honesty, comparable to Samuel Johnson, author of A Dictionary of the English Language. This book addressed my soul-searching question of language and its relation to intelligence, and it prescribed to my wounded soul with a new perspective of language as the instinct. Whether or not you subscribe to Pinker’s theory of the language instinct is voluntary, but don’t forget that prejudice darkens the knowledge.



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