Tag Archives: arts

‘The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations’ by Claude Lecouteux – review

The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern ManifestationsThe Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations by Claude Lecouteux

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.

View all my reviews

A reader lives a thousand lives

cropped-img_4046

Seraphina Rabbite, the habitual reader, believes in the power of reading. It generates pleasure peculiar to the literary medium of communication, the magical realm of make-believe reality, the alchemy of imaginativeness and sensuousness, all in the artistry of the literary cunning folk called writers, casting spells on the readers to pass over to the minds of the creators and of the characters. She believes that writer and reader engage in a magical ritual of connectedness through vicarious experience in the moments of empathy, the epiphany of the Eureka moments when the third-dimensional wall between the writer and the reader tumbles down. That is why Sally thinks that all writers, professional and amateur, are in one way or another possessed of certain supernatural feats of spurring their restless spirits on writing.

That said, Sally has scribed the effects of reading in a form of her self-professed credo as follows:

  1. Reading is both entertainment and stimulation of mind.
  2. It is in their appeal and in their power to bestow pleasure, self-satisfaction and the joy of mental growth to readers.
  3. It takes readers from the humdrum existence, the rut of life, to stimulate the minds to fresh endeavor, to give them a new viewpoint upon existential problems, to enable them to get a fresh hold upon themselves.
  4. It intends to show the progress of the human race within the historical times as depicted in books.
  5. It is an active force toward the sound mental equipment of reading people.
  6. It takes readers out of the rut of life in the town they live and makes them citizens of the world.
  7. Readers understand the minds of the writers by passing over to the inner world of the writers.

Shakespeare said of reading thus: “This is true; there’s magic in the web of it.” If writing is akin to a literary witchcraft, reading is a voluntary intoxication of the witchery elixir in expectation of crossing over to the liminal zones, the in-between zones of our reality and imaginary world. The best summation on books and its effects comes from our contemporary Stephen King: “Books are a uniquely portable magic. You experience magic every time you read without knowing its influence on you. Go for it.

Ancient and Modern on Amore Fati

Hope is not all sweet-minded and sweet-eyed as imagined by armchair intellectuals and best-selling writers when we stumble into moments of existential vertigo in real life situations. Shakespeare knew a thing about the nature of hope as an analgesic to numb the strains of daily life thus: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” So much so that his martyred predecessor Sir Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, had already said, “A drowning man will clutch at a straw.” Even before these two benefactors of humanity, the humble ancient Greek farmer/poet Hesiod affirmed hope as a psychosomatic pain relief in the story of Pandora’s Box in which only hope was left to console crestfallen Pandora deprived of all special gifts from gods.

The didactic gist of this famed myth in his ‘Works and Days’ is that a belief in predetermination that we have no control over our life without hope is a delusion, a corollary of fatalism. It is a biological determinism, which must be vanquished, because according to his practical wisdom as a farmer, “Hope could come to fruition, since life pairs good with ill.” This wisdom is viable, since Hesiod as a farmer was a witness to resilient human spirit against unremitting soul. In this regard, Hesiod’s view on hope as an antidote to a malady of heart, giving a flickering force of life its meaning and a sense of purpose that will rekindle reason to continue living in the dark night of the soul relates to Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy, based on an existential analysis focusing on will to meaning, meaning of life, with freedom of will. Frankl’s aphorism of “what is to give light must endure burning” must have struck the chords of Hesiod and even Thucydides, the Athenian political and military historian.

Thucydides saw hope as an illusory idea of vanity and flattery that weakened man’s will to combat the existential reality. He highlighted the way delusional aspects of hope that generate a kind of hubris with catastrophic aftercome. He saw desire and hope hunting together that led man to choose a divisory lot rather than a realistic approach to life in travail to right the ship in distress. To Thucydides, hope was nothing more than awareness of odds in our favor. That is, you don’t have to think about it,but can fight with every hope of winning. It’s a case of the less you think about, the more you achieve, which was also addressed by Frankl. We are destined to live purposefully and meaningfully as a result of responding genuinely to life’s challenges. And hope is a handmaid to a sense of purpose in life.

The ancient and modern are all united in Theory of Hope because it helps us look at our fate not at its face value but at its meaning. Hence the Latin phrase “Amore fati” chips in. We are challenged to change ourselves to continue living by choosing a right attitude toward life. Nietzsche sums it up brilliantly as thus: “Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.” And let us not forget what President Theodore Roosevelt advised us: “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”

In defense of Arthur Fleck adv. People

The movie ‘Joker’ has taken the world by storm. The citizens of the four cardinal directions of a compass all seem to flock to the screening of the movie and feel gobsmacked or spellbound even by the stellar performance of actor Joachim Phoenix in his soul-wrenching portrayal of Arthur Fleck before his rebirth as Joker. The aftercome of the movie is a great legion of tweets rhapsodizing about the character and the man behind, which is deemed meritorious, justifiable, and agreeable. However, most of the tweets about this outstanding movie disappoints me because of their opinions that seem to miss the gist of the movie, the logotheraphical nuance of the movie itself that director Todd Phillips tries to express on the screen. Is this movie about a clinically crazy man, a so-called “psychopath” who wallows in killing-sprees? Why do people suddenly seem to care about a man whose existence is constantly slighted and ignored when they unconsciously or consciously do the same to the ilk of Arthur Fleck in everyday life? Will the movie change their attitudes toward those struggling to make their presence amid constant ridicule and estrangement?

As I previously stated in my review of the movie, this is about a man whose efforts to preserve a sense of purpose in the world and a tenacious grip on recognition are ruthlessly vanquished. Everyone from all social strata, including those recognized as underprivileged underlings, not to mention the upper crust of society, indiscriminately ignores him. And the reason for such unanimously consented mistreatment of Arthur Fleck is not so much due to his low social class as due to his unlikeness that manifests itself, so visible that it makes onlookers regard him as a tacitly public domain of disdain and estrangement. He is a public whipping boy, a modern-day equivalent of a cunning man accused of witchcraft or dark magic, bestriding on the verge of madness as a result of concerted social alienation, which forces him to choose none other than being Joker. Hamlet’s existential question of “To be or not to be, that is the question.” seems too pat and gives a fillip to the loneliest, darkest, and saddest moment of Arthur Fleck when he feels pushed into the edge of his conscience. He surrenders himself to the death of his old, bullied, slighted self because it’s better that way than spends his life misunderstood and ignored to the end.

Alas, poor Arthur Fleck! I know him, my dear reader. For however fictional the character may be, an Arthur Fleck is here in our ordinary landscape of everyday life. Workplaces, schools, supermarkets, buses, trains, streets, hospitals, and houses that you go and live are where you see him but not regard him, hear him but not listen to him, speak to him but not talk to him. If you protest, then you are probably feeling guilty of doing the same thing that they did to Arthur Fleck whom writers call a misfit, employers an incompetent, social workers/psychiatrists a basket case, and a detective a psychopath. That whom we call him by any other names will remain the same as neglectful and insignificant.

In sum, those of you who rave about the movie in terms of the outburst of the suppressed shall regard it not as a liberal cause of partisan ideology or a demotic social manifesto but as a visual memoir of a very lonely man who cries inwardly every day for the wounds of his estranged soul. For what Arthur Fleck wanted was very human and basic as appreciated by American philosopher and psychologist William James many years ago: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Praising what is missing and ignored makes the remembrance dear. This is about one man’s struggle against finding a meaning of life, will to meaning, stumbling into a vertigo of his existential horrors of daily life. That is the message.