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Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind Paperback – 1 Sep 2009

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About the Author

Claude Lecouteux is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne. He is the author of numerous books on medieval and pagan afterlife beliefs. He lives in Paris.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Excellence 24 Sept. 2009
By James - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is excellent! Lack of formal academic books devoted solely to the dead in Paganism has rendered this work a one-of-a-kind. Sure, there are hundreds of books out there on spirits, the dead, and "crossing over", but all of them are presented from the position of washed-up neo-Spiritualism, usually mixed up with heretical Christianity.

"Ghost hunters", Sylvia Browne fans, and new agers will either be immediately turned off by this book or enlightened; I see no middle ground. Likewise, many neo-Pagans will share the same sentiment, as they discard traditional Pagan beliefs of the afterlife and dead for the quackery of Victorian Spiritualism.

Dr. Lecouteux's ground-breaking work in this field has produced a volume that cannot be excluded from serious Pagan "recommended reading" lists; and one that is sorely needed to purge the nonsense from the Pagan movement once in for all. The dead must be returned to their original, true forms in the minds of polytheists, no matter how frightening and ego-shattering that may be.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The Revenant Revealed. 18 April 2010
By UbiK - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered why a person condemned to execution wears a blindfold?
Or to what purpose could a debtor exhume and mutilate the body of someone who had failed to pay up before dying?
Or perhaps, why bodies were frequently bound before burial?

The answers will surprise you!

Gruesome topics for reading or discussion to be sure, but Claude Lecouteux's book will have you thinking a lot about the origins behind the rituals and beliefs regarding the deceased that underpins much of Western spirituality and superstition in the last millennia.

What really makes this book accessible in the manner in which it is written. Lecrouteux passes little judgement upon his sources by eschewing opinionated editorialising and specious theorising, instead presenting solid historical sources that explain the relationship between revenants (ghosts) and Europeans from Roman times to the Middle Ages (with some reference to the 20th Century). Whilst much of the book is devoted to Nordic/Scandinavian sources, Lecouteux spends time examining the beliefs and superstitions of many other Western European people. It is not a detailed study, and neither does it claim to be, but rather a easy reading survey of some fascinating beliefs which may, perhaps, frustrate serious historians for its brevity. Nonetheless, for the general reader it has much to offer and for those studying the topic, the book serves as a fine entry point.

Note, this is not a book for those who want to "communicate with the other side" or "contact the deceased" but a survey of the traditions of the past, which like a revenant itself, continue to haunt our present.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Access to non-English European traditions 20 Sept. 2012
By Forest Lady - Published on
Format: Paperback
I've just discovered Lecouteux--this book was my first--and have read two of his other works, as well: Phantom Armies of the Night, and Witches, Wolves and Fairies. He's phenomenal: a first-rate scholar, yet also one who has the eyes to see, feel and convey in words much of what the people of the time saw and felt. He reminds me a lot of the great Mircea Eliade. I thank Lecouteux for giving access to so much that has been unavailable to English-only speakers such as myself. Although he sometime seems unaware of both continental and UK Celtic traditions that echo and reinforce his discoveries, these medieval data from their cultural kin are invaluable.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
zombie apocalypse has nothing on medieval Europe revenant problem 12 Jan. 2014
By Garden Goddess - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this book- the author is a former Sarbonne Medieval Studies professor, and he goes into great deal about the now-forgotten undead problems going on during the Middle Ages. Who knew? We certainly wouldn't if not for this book because you need to understand Latin, Old Norse, Old English, etc and have access to old manuscripts to find this stuff. There is a lot of history and folklore, but the fascinating thing is how far and wide these beliefs have spread. Some of the customs are still in practice although most of us have forgotten why we do them, but you'll find out why in this book. You'll find out exactly how to answer if a monk or priest asks if you want to hold the keys to the cathedral.

This book covers the origins of funerary customs, sacrifices made during new building construction (still going on today, fortunately not human), and lots of tips on keeping the house spirits happy and how to keep the undead off of you if accosted outdoors & out of your house. There is so much of that advice that it makes you wonder what the heck WAS going on back then. Come to think of it, the world could still be full of old-school revenants and you'd never know it if you didn't know them personally. How creepy is that? At any rate, you'll have plenty of material to scare the living daylights out of everyone around the campfire.
Good if you like the old Icelandic sagas - a bit repetitious 10 Mar. 2015
By Randi A Samuelson-Brown - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very well reached but dry...good if you like the old Icelandic sagas. I looked at the other reviews posted, and must admit that I don't particularly understand them...

I ordered and read this book because I wanted to understand, or get a glimpse of "The Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind." The book is well-researched and the Author is a scholar...and there were some interesting points or explanations about old customers. The bottom line is that hundreds of years ago, people believed strongly in hauntings and ghosts. That's not really a huge surprise. But Lecouteux has done the research (obviously) and his sources are good. I just found it a bit repetitious.
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