Have you been reading my fascinating interviews with Professor Claude Lecouteux? These interviews began from a dream I had about him, where I was guided to reach out to him and ask him about his books and his lifetime of work on exploring esoteric knowledge on a variety of subjects. Here’s my latest interview with him. If you haven’t read the other interviews, the best place to begin, well is to begin at the beginning. 🙂 Enjoy!
Questions for Phantom Armies of the Night:
Kala: Ghost soldiers marching through foggy battlefields on moonlit nights are reportedly seen around the world. What is about battles that leave such a lasting impression of ghosts?
Claude: The soldiers who fall on the battlefield fall into the category of those who have died prematurely (immaturi, aori); they are therefore automatically potential revenants. An additional mythological element has been added to this belief, that of the Eternal Battle: the warriors retire in the evening and return in the morning to resume fighting.
Kala: The Wild Hunt legend exists in many cultures, though the stories change over time. Do we long for this ancient ancestral ritual, which keeps the spirit and spirits alive as both the living and the dead engage in this activity?
Claude: I think everyone will have his or her own answer to that question. It is appealing to think of ways that the spirit and spirits can survive, as well as the relations that may be possible between the living and the dead, but I do not believe it involves a rite or ritual, rather it is the mental disposition of every individual. It is also a message of hope for all those who do not wish to believe that death means dissolution into nothingness.
Kala: How were three legged animals introduced into the legends of The Huntsman?
Claude: The three-legged animals are a signal, a marker indicating that they come from the other world. They merge with the theme of the guiding animal that lures the hunter into the other world.
Kala: Many ghost tales are horrific in their account, but in Chapter Eleven, we see an evolution of reports including The Blessed Ones, who act with friendship and charity. What do you account for the change in the reports of ghostly apparitions becoming helpful? Was it to do with the Reformation and changing beliefs on eternal damnation and Purgatory?
Claude: The Blessed Ones were undoubtedly introduced by Christianity who recuperated and transformed the archaic elements of the tradition into moralistic stories (exempla). With regard to the returning dead, the Reformation altered nothing and we can read astounding stories in Martin Luther’s Table Talk (Tischreden) on this subject (see my anthology: She Ate Her Shroud (Elle mangeait son linceul), Paris: José Corti, 2006, 133 ff., with my translation of one of these tales). In fact, the Reformation demonized revenants and insisted that they were no more than diabolical illusions (prestiges, illusiones), but this changed nothing in the ways people thought.
Kala: The dates of the Wild Hunt and the ongoing libations and feasts coincide with Carnival. Have you observed Carnival, such as is held before the season of Lent in New Orleans as it culminates in Mardi Gras before Ash Wednesday or other similar Carnival type events? If so, how similar are they to the ancient rituals they represent?
Claude: The Wild Hunt only coincides a couple of times with Carnival. The most frequent appearances occur between November and January 1. The wide variation in the dates can be explained by the use of different calendars: the Julian Calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, and the old Celtic Calendar (the feast of Samhain takes place on Halloween!). Originally, the Wild Hunt had no connection with Carnival. Moreover, the dead don’t put in an appearance at the celebration in New Orleans to the best of my knowledge. We should not forget that carnival also serves as a temporary emancipation from society’s constraints (rules, laws, etc.) and works like a safety valve.
Questions for The Secret History of Poltergeists:
Kala: Through your research, how would you define a poltergeist and how it differs from other supernatural phenomena and phantoms?
Claude: The poltergeist is a phenomenon that has been extensively studied by doctors and psychiatrists. The misreading of the reality in olden times inspired a variety of explanations: the phenomenon was the doing of the devil, witchcraft, or the dead whose language was the noise they made (cf. my paper “Les bruits de l’au-délà” [Noises of the Beyond], in Revue des Langues romanes 101, 1997, 113–24.
Kala: Are accounts of poltergeist activity increasing or decreasing? Do you think they increase during times of repression, when cultures become overly uptight with rules and people are unable to express their emotions?
Claude: Any troubled time (epidemics, wars, inexplicable death) will witness a fresh outbreak of paranormal phenomena. This then reactivates an old store of beliefs that are presumed to provide an explanation.
Kala: Did your research show a correlation like some paranormal studies have found, that pubescent teens are most likely to exhibit poltergeist behavior?
Claude: Yes, my studies have shed light on the correlation between adolescents entering puberty==especially girls—and the poltergeist. The sole difference between yesterday and today is the interpretation given to the phenomenon.
Questions for The Return of the Dead:
Kala: Through many of your books you explore the subject of ghosts and their appearance on the earthly plane. The three books we have discussed here cover this topic in depth in various forms. During your years of work on this topic, what have you found to be most true on the topic of ghosts and the afterlife?
Claude: What my studies have shown me is the refusal of nothingness by people who cannot accept the concept of death as a definitive end. They have therefore invented an afterlife, which has taken on different forms in accordance with eras, religions, and cultures. The ancient Germans believed in a family gathering in the other world and even in reincarnation of a family member in one of his or her descendants. In the religions originating in the Middle East, the other world is a terrifying place, looks at Sheol and the voyage of Ishtar, for example. For the Romans, we can look at the descent of Aeneas into the hells, which makes a distinction between the Elysian Fields (similar to the Christian paradise) limbo, and hell, and Virgil shows us dead individuals who are unable to cross the Styx, who are thus potential revenants.
Kala: Many cultures speak of the transparent veil between the earth plane and the spiritual planes and the ability for spirits to cross back over to the earth plane, especially during certain times of the year. Do you believe that spirits can travel between the earth plane and spiritual planes and do they come back and forth often, including are they aware of the days of the year when the veil is thinner and travel is easier?
Claude: I have never really encountered a veil separating the worlds. The ancient texts are mute in this regard. On the other hand, the other world opens on certain dates and allows passage to be made between here and the beyond. The Greek Anthesteria festivals and the Roman Lemuralia are evidence of this. This belief was responsible for a huge number of stories, both pagan and Christian. A variety of passages have also been imagines, such as the hollow mountain in the story of Gilgamesh, or a pit as in the Purgatory of Saint Patrick.
Kala: Have you found that the abilities of spirits have evolved over time? Are they able to manifest corporally in more detail or less? Do they appear to be bound by their beliefs from their life-time or do they appear to have kept up with the times and new cultural and religious beliefs?
Claude: I have only seen a slight evolution in the ability of spirits to manifest: the dead no longer show up as they appeared in their final hour: water-soaked if they drowned, covered in blood if they were murdered. We no longer have flesh and blood revenants who have the gift of speech and are capable of acting physically. While revenants scarcely evolved up to the nineteenth century, the twentieth century has been deadly to them: they only remain as mute ghosts—ectoplasms!
Kala: There is an ongoing cultural shift away from dogma and organized religion into more of philosophy and spirituality, with a huge interest in ghosts and the paranormal. How do you think this shift will affect future ghost stories and legends?
Claude: I do not think that this change affects everything touching on the dead for the beliefs reside beyond religions and dogmas. We are dealing with an extremely old anthropological traditions, which comes long before all religion. If people are now showing such interest in these matters, it is because they are no longer taboo and that even science has taken over in this domain as shown by the paranormal studies being conducted almost everywhere in today’s world.