30 October 2009


Claude Lecouteux. The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind. Inner Traditions, 2009.

Linda Godfrey. Hunting the American Werewolf. Trails Books, 2006.

Lecouteux argues that the 'ghosts' of mainly Norse and German antiquity are not the wispy, ectoplasmic and probably hallucinatory images of modern day ghost stories and psychical research, but very physical revenants. The dead return in, if not quite the "earthly flesh and blood" of the ballad 'The Wife of Usher's Well', then something close to it. A number of old Icelandic and Norse ghost stories are quoted to demonstrate this point.
Within these stories and traditions the dead continue to live on in the tomb in some sort of parallel life. These beliefs were challenged by the rise of Christianity which allotted the dead to either heaven or hell, though the idea of the dead coming back from purgatory is never entirely lost.
In the Christian times these revenants were transformed into giants, trolls, fairies, and so forth, to accommodate the new ideology, The folk traditions survive, and though Lecoutreux does not deal to any great extent with modern beliefs, they clearly live on in the folklore of phantom hitchhikers and the like, and in popular culture as the vampires, zombies and vengeful dead of screen and literary horror. We can go further and argue that the trooping dead which seized the living, were transformed into the fairy host such as the sluagh, are now transformed into the hollow, soulless abducting aliens from desolate worlds which are not far removed from the Norse Hel. -- Peter Rogerson

As a result of writing The Beast of Bray Road (among the books reviewed here:
http://mrobsr.blogspot.com/2009/08/cryptobeast-roundup.html )
Linda Godfrey received many more accounts of bipedal wolf-like animals, and other anomalous canids, not just from Wisconsin, but from all over the States. Many of these seem to come from the proverbial 'sane and sober witnesses' and range from accounts which read like encounters with some kind of paws-and-pelt animal, to others which have a much more apparitional character. These accounts really present in fairly extreme form, the dilemma of apparently credible people reporting what must surely be impossible things, for surely there cannot really be any flesh and blood, paws and pelt upright walking super doggies.

Faced with this dilemma Godfrey, who in her previous book had rather favoured a psychosocial approach, retreats rather into paranormal speculation, much of it based a variety of theologies. For those, like myself, who do not share these theological beliefs, and see little point in trying to interpret one mystery in terms of another, there is really no alternative to psychosocial approaches. For example we might argue that reading about particular alleged phenomena causes people's memories of ambiguous events to alter to include the newly encountered interpretations; or that things seen at night are reconstructed out from vague impressions and shadows, to say nothing of the symbolism of such stories. This of course means that other night visions need to be taken equally non literally. -- Peter Rogerson

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