In a recent post here on Kala’s Bohemian Blog, I shared a powerful recurring dream that introduced me to the work of author Claude Lecouteux. This has led me to connect with Professor Lecouteux in order to interview him about his esoteric research. My first interview with him and how this journey began can be read here in the article titled: Dreams about Magic Books.
This is my second interview with Professor Claude Lecouteux, about his book: Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages.
To give a brief introduction to this book, here is the description: Reveals the true nature of medieval belief in the Double of the Soul, Demonstrates the survival of a pagan belief that each individual owns three souls, including a double that can journey outside the physical body and Explains the nature of death and the Other World hidden beneath the monsters and superstitions in stories from the Middle Ages.
Monsters, werewolves, witches, and fairies remain a strong presence in our stories and dreams. But as Claude Lecouteux shows, their roots go far deeper than their appearance in medieval folklore; they are survivors of a much older belief system that predates Christianity and was widespread over Western Europe. Through his extensive analysis of Germano-Scandinavian legends, as well as those from other areas of Europe, Lecouteux has uncovered an almost forgotten religious concept: that every individual owns three souls and that one of these souls, the Double, can—in animal or human form—leave the physical body while in sleep or a trance, journey where it chooses, then reenter its physical body. While there were many who experienced this phenomenon involuntarily, there were others—those who attracted the unwelcome persecution of the Church—who were able to provoke it at will: witches.
In a thorough excavation of the medieval soul, Claude Lecouteux reveals the origin and significance of this belief in the Double, and follows its transforming features through the ages. He shows that far from being fantasy or vague superstition, fairies, witches, and werewolves all testify to a consistent ancient vision of our world and the world beyond.
Intrigued? I certainly was and enjoyed the book tremendously. Here are my questions for Claude Lecouteux about his book: Witches, Werewolves and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages.
Kala: In the Introduction of your book, you say…. “Even so, it is astounding to see that so many authors coming from so many different backgrounds so sternly assert that man is not limited to his body, and that so many writers create characters who have Doubles and whose alter egos are sometimes animals…. “ Ancient Egyptian religion speaks to us about the Ka, the Greeks speak to us of the daimon, the Romans teach us that every man has a genius and every woman an Iuno, Christianity gives us a a guardian angel….” Throughout your book you explain how many diverse cultures believe in the astral body and the spirit, which could leave the physical body and take other forms, and you explain that over a course of time Christianity attempted to eradicate this belief, but never fully succeeded. Perhaps at best, they were only able to demonize it or label it as evil in some form. What did your research find in this regard of demonizing these beliefs and how has it shaped the culture of today and the belief in astral doubles and spirit forms?
Claude Lecouteux: Forms of demonization are multiple and straightforward: everything that does not fit the norm is diabolical. In this way otherness, everything that cannot be explained is condemned. Fear of difference and incomprehension are the two engines of demonization. After several centuries of Christian influence, belief in the double was relegated to the rank of superstition until scientists began taking an interest in, first and foremost the psychiatrists, such as Doctor Philippe Wallon who heads a research team at INSERM, the institute for the study of paranormal phenomena in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany. But many people regard these subjects as folklore, which is hardly surprising given the number of charlatans who use their claim of the power to astral journey to make money. It so happens that those who possess a true gift do not ask for money in return for using it. I have been told by these individuals that this would incur the risk of losing their gift.
Kala: You cite many references in the book of reports of people seeing astral doubles as they appeared in other locations. Some of these people were known as mages, like the magi referred to as the wise men and others were known as shamans and magicians. Each time they astral traveled, it is reported that they went into a comatose like state where they dictated that their bodies could not be disturbed without causing grave harm. You also mention that there are some people who were given the gift of second sight who could astral travel with greater ease. What do you think is entailed with astral travel and how it works? Does the astral body leave at night and go other places? Are the old concerns, like yawning a problem for the astral self? Can people astral travel at will?
Claude Lecouteux: The double can leave the body day or night, the sole precondition is solitude. It can travel great distances, wherever its desires take it, or it can be summoned by someone’s call, for example that of a person in danger. There are numerous examples of this in the Icelandic sagas of the Middle Ages. Yawning has a double meaning: it can either indicate that you are under attack by someone else’s double or it can precede pressure from the alter ego seeking to escape. Mages, witches, or shamans mastered their doubles and were capable of “freeing” them at will. For others, it happens by chance, under certain circumstances.
Kala: You explore the concept of the ancient Scandinavians and Germanic people’s understanding of the soul as having three parts- the fylgja, the hamr, and the hugr. Can you define these aspects for us and how they differ and operate?
Claude Lecouteux: The fylgja is the spiritual double and a tutelary spirit that lives in the other world and accompanies the individual from birth to death. The hamr is the material double, and is the one from which revenants are produced after death. It can assume the shape of an animal. The hugr is a kind of active principle overlying the notions of animus and spiritus, and it enjoys a certain independence. It is also the faculty of thought. The fylgja generally reveals itself to someone on the verge of death to take its leave before moving on to another individual, often one in the same family. The hamr, animated by the hugr, leaves the body and does what the hugr wishes. The hamr’s actions are dictated by the hugr.
Kala: During the time of Christianity when manuals created during the Inquisition included The Witches Hammer and The Inquisitor’s Manual, the Church and its Inquisitors condemned witches as being evil, and set out to question seers who reported that fairies ran around at night bringing good fortune. This was based on pagan beliefs regarding nocturnal flights of witches in astral form, which was originally a ritual regarding fertility and prosperity. Why do you think that the Church was so intent on condemning all women and stripping them from any recognition or power? One can see that their practice of world domination included having to destroy all other beliefs in order to convince people to blindly follow their dogma, but why did women, especially wise woman and natural healers have to be demonized for this process to work?
Claude Lecouteux: For the Church, powers considered to be supernatural could only belong to God and his saints, and to demons. As healers and other magicians were not churchmen, the automatically fell into the domain of demon, which is also a manifestation of medieval misogyny. It was Eve who introduced sin and one etymology of her name says it is a combination of the Greek eu, “good” and the privative suffix a. Eve therefore means “without good = evil.” Moreover these people are competitors with churchmen who practiced a form of white magic in order to increase their revenues. But the Church was unable to eradicate the beliefs in the power of these women (for example look at the African or Caribbean world, today).
Kala: According to Germanic traditions you write, “Every man has his animal fylgia, a psychic Double that is in some ways the equivalent of the Greek daimon and the Latin genius and we all have at our disposal, a physical Double skilled at metamorphosis.” In Chapter 6, you explore this in regards to Werewolves. How did the origin of werewolves begin and are there werewolves today?
Claude Lecouteux: I put together a case file of 102 texts on this subject in my anthology on the werewolf published in Paris in 2008, and I will say this. There have always been werewolves in the past and in most civilizations, even if they are described as tiger-men or bear-men. The choice of the animal depends strictly on local culture. In Europe, the large predator being the wolf, it supplanted all the other animals whereas in the medieval texts we can still find were-bears and were-bulls. Fear is at the root of the belief in the werewolf and this fear was used by brotherhoods of masked men (see the African leopard-men of the years from 1930–1950).
Today the werewolf is a theme of cinema and novels. I published a study of it in 2005 for a Japanese magazine. The werewolf’s movie career began in 1913 with Henry McRae’s film, The Werewolf, and the subject returned in an astonishing cyclical manner, propagating the image of the human beast. In 1935, Stuart Walker and George Waggner each released a film, The Werewolf of London and The Wolf Man; in 1943, Roy William Neil filmed the meeting of Frankenstein and the wolfman, imitated in 1944 by Earle C. Kenton with The House of Frankenstein, which rekindled public interest and exploited this vein with The House of Dracula. Charles T. Barton produced a comedy, Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948) and nine years later Gene Fowler released I Was a Teenage Werewolf, in which a mad psychiatrist transforms a teenager into a wild beast with a drug. In 1960, Terence Fisher made The Curse of the Werewolf, an adaptation of Guy Endore’s novel Le Loup-garou de Paris [The Werewolf of Paris]. In this film the monster is born from the love affair of a servant with a beggar. It was 1980 when Joe Dante gave us The Howling, in which a pack of werewolves lives hidden inside a clinic; this film inspired three sequels created by Philippe Mora, John Dough, and Neal Sundstorm. In short, up to the 1994 film Wolf, whose lead role was played by Jack Nicholson, we can list no less than 166 films on this subject, such as Stuart Walker’s The Werewolf of London, George Waggner’s Wolf Man, Terence Fisher’s Curse of the Werewolf, and John Landis’s American Werewolf in London, all due to English speaking filmmakers! The werewolf has then become a staple of horror and fantasy films today where it a new mythology has developed based on psychological and psychoanalytical ingredients…
Kala: In Chapter 7, you mention that …”an undeniable link exists between second sight, clairvoyance and the psychic alter ego, which is often visible only to its possessor. According to the inquiries of twentieth-century ethnologists, date of birth plays an important role here: A seer may be born during the twelve days of Christmas, for example…” What did you find in your research that makes some days of the year like the twelve days of Christmas more powerful in creating seers than other days?
Claude Lecouteux: The most significant parts of the year are the period of Christmas, the equinoxes, and the solstices because the other world is open then or else the astral configuration releases certain fluids (theory of rays, of astral fertilization). The human beings born at these times can therefore receive a particular gift or talent.
Kala: How has western culture and Christianity removed people from the understanding of their astral body and spirit? Do you think that this knowledge of the old ways is returning, and if it is, how will it shape future generations? What can be learned from understanding the soul and the spirit?
Claude Lecouteux: Beliefs have regressed with the progress of scientific knowledge, mainly the old shamanic traditions that best illustrate the belief in an astral double. These powers are being discovered again today based on studies conducted with Korean and Siberian shamans, see for example Alexandre Guillermoz’s book on a Korean mudang (Paris: Imago, 2010). As these beliefs have always survived more or less hidden, they are emerging from the shadows today because the influence of the Church is no longer what it was and people are not at risk of being burned alive at the stake for practicing healings or journeying in spiritu! We have much to learn, mainly that materialism is not capable of fully supplying satisfying answers for humanity’s problems, and that mind is set above matter because man has a need for transcendence.
Kala: Have you seen the movie The Golden Compass? The basis of the book and movie is that an alternate world exists where a person’s soul is contained within an animal companion called a daemon. A unified religious power controls everyone in this world, denying them full access and understanding of their soul and animus. Is this art imitating life? Would love to hear your thoughts about this book and movie concept.
Claude Lecouteux: Yes, I’ve seen this film, but the concept is not new and is based on beliefs corresponding to those held by the ancient Scandinavians. We find again the totemic, tutelary animal, the one that follows and helps you, which corresponds to your character as well as your fate. To deny access to the soul amounts to depriving the individual of the ability to think and therefore to judge. This film criticizes a form of contemporary totalitarianism, that of a politically correct society in which everyone thinks alike. It is necessary to strip people of all critical thinking and the ability to form judgments, thus transforming them into zombies, to reducing them to a new form of slavery by rendering them brainless.
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I’ll also be reaching out to him to see if he is willing to answer questions about his other books, as his time permits. Special thanks for Inner Traditions Publishing for arranging these interviews and for the translations of our questions from English to French and back to English again!
Next up, I’m reading his book, The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes.
Also, a reminder, if you prefer to read this interview in another language, just use the Google Translate button here on the right side of the blog, which will translate this article into many other languages!