The third book on my list of history reads is titled Witches, Werewolves & Fairies, Shapeshifters and astral doubles in the Middle Ages by Claude Lecouteux. I picked this up over the winter as a companion to my collection of factual medieval history. We can learn a lot about a culture through its myths and legends. Stories inform our view of a culture’s norms, beliefs and customs. Besides, who doesn’t like a good horror story or two?
Lecouteux’s title is very misleading. Reading the intro it becomes all too clear that this is a dissertation on his theory that we can find proof of the supernatural through “first hand accounts” of people who claim to have crossed the other side only to return to tell their tale. He claims the church ignores “true” accounts of the supernatural yet does not say why.
The first part of the book deals with stories of people (mostly monks) who fall ill, are presumed to be dead, yet left unburied, and “return” to the living claiming their spirit left their body. He lists names and dates, yet not one word on the story of their journey to the other side! Seriously, here is one account: Alberic of Settefratti, who entered the monastery of Mont-Cassin around 1211-1213 at the age of ten, had a vision while in a illness-induced coma for nine days and nine nights”. Wow, you can see why this is so convincing! It goes on like this for several pages.
I had to move on. Surely this gets better, right? Wrong. Next we tackle dreams and proof of spiritual visits. Here is another gem:
At the Trinity Monastery in Caen, a woman lived a cloistered life, concentrating on certain shameful sins, until she died. One of her companions, sleeping in the room where she had given up the ghost, saw in a dream the dead woman burning in hell and being tortured by evil spirits. A spark from hell’s fire hit her eye waking her up.” It was confirmed that what she had seen in her dream”, said Guibert of Nogent,” she had actually suffered physically; the real evidence of her wound came to confirmed the authenticity of her vision”
I’d bet she was really bitten by a spider. In fact several more “true” accounts talk of having dreams in which daemons throw hot stones, only to have the dreamer wake up with “burned” flesh. Have you ever seen the effects of a recluse spider bite? The flesh around the wound looks burned. I bet this is more in line with what is going on here.
I decided to put the book aside. This in no way is informing me of a past culture and isn’t even engaging to read. Cross this one off your list folks, it’s not worth your time or money.
So, at this rate, I may end up reading all of my history books in less than a year. This is book three. Remember, I promised myself at least two a month. So far, I am on a losing streak, but at least I am making some type of progress! Let’s hope June brings a better selection.