Claude Lecouteux, author of Return of the Dead and Phantom Armies of the Night, here turns his attention to poltergeists, tracing their manifestation and perception from antiquity to modern times. In some ways this follows the pattern established by P G Maxwell-Stuart. but what sets it apart is that its sources are mainly continental; especially from his native France. These make a fascinating addition to the literature and are not at all well known in the English speaking world.
These stories often show the distinct Catholic flavour of the culture, poltergeist effects being interpreted either as demonic activity or the dead seeking proper burial or the saying of masses; themes which appeared in the Roman Catholic Ian Wilson’s ghost book in recent times.
Lecouteux in fact says four great explanatory pillars that merge and confuse over time; the poltergeist as the dead; the nature spirit or brownie; as due to demons; and to witchcraft. These are added to in more recent years by parapsychologists views about psychokinesis etc. This continues apace with new explanations based on science and pseudoscience, media derived notions of “portals”, “energies”, extraterrestrial, secret scientific projects, government harassment etc.
These stories show both common, consistent, features such as the throwing of stones, knocking sounds, the disturbance of furniture, along with the cultural glosses and explanations. He speculates that these might be accretions around an experiential core. While this is an interesting idea, such notions do have the tendency to equate the “experiential core” with how such experiences are reported and interpreted today, and the explanations of other times and cultures being seen as the accretions.
It should be pointed out that some of the comments on the blurb such as “the author shows how these unhappy spirits serve as confirmation of the supernatural beings that share the earth with us and of our relationship with the natural and unseen world, a relationship we must take care to keep in balance” do not reflect the views of the author, at least as revealed in this book, where he maintains a general spirit of folkloric detachment. As a folklorist he is studying beliefs, not promoting any of his own. -- Peter Rogerson