stephanie suh's Reviews > The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind

The Return of the Dead by Claude Lecouteux
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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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Reading Progress

October 15, 2020 – Started Reading
October 15, 2020 – Shelved
October 15, 2020 – Finished Reading

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