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Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages Paperback – 26 Aug 2003

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Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages + Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind + Tradition Of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices
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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions Bear and Company; 1st U.S. Ed edition (26 Aug. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892810963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892810963
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 489,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Reveals the nature of medieval belief in the double of the soul and demonstrates the survival of a pagan belief that each individual owns three souls, including a double that can journey outside of the body. It expains the nature of death and the Other Worls hidden beneath the monsters and superstitions in stories from the Middle Ages.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By naomi skinner on 25 July 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An extremely well researched and written presentation.I tend to wariness with translated publications,but with this book,the author's stance on this engrossing subject is abjectively clear.
A fascinating subject,on which information is extremely rare,brings with it a startling(to some),long lost and hidden truth which is now indefinitely recovered and safe from further acculturation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A few more clarifications 10 Sept. 2006
By K. Brausch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Like sidoman, I picked up this book initially because I'm researching werewolves and werewolf trials in medieval Europe, and while it does have more to do with witches than it does werewolves, I still found it fascinating.

It's heavy reading; the translation is not the most effective and is halting and not always entirely clear. However, the book provides an interesting alternative explanation for the phenomena of fairies, witches, and werewolves in medieval Europe -- a very convincing explanation, but unlike sidoman, I didn't get the interpretation that Lecouteux truly believes in the existence of the paranormal beings he writes about.

If you're not of the scholarly bent, this book will be hard to get through, even if you're interested in the subject. As someone deep into the research of medieval paranormal beings, I found it utterly fascinating, as this was an interpretation of werewolves that I had not seen elsewhere.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An Academic Look at a Supernatural Topic 13 Mar. 2010
By Kenaz Filan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
American academia tends to be dogmatically materialistic and rationalistic. Any scholar who dares suggest that there might actually be something to old legends -- that they may actually be useful as something besides anthropological curiosities -- will soon be ostracized as a "crank" or an intellectual ligthweight. Thankfully, things seem to be different in France. Lecouteux, a professor at the Sorbonne, actually takes the old accounts at face value and suggests they hint at a deeper truth.

Lecouteux suggests that many of our "werewolf" and "witch" legends stem from the survival of shamanic practices into Christian Europe. He suggests that much "shapeshifting" was actually the astral projection of the Double, another soul which is possessed by all people. (While this may seem like an alien concept to those of us raised to believe in the Cartesian Body/Mind duality, it's quite common in shamanic traditions). The double can leave the body and walk about in the material world: it can also travel in the spiritual world to the places beneath the ground. (Remember how many legends describe the land of Faerie as "under hill?" Lecouteux suggests they may have been describing an actual place which could be visited in shamanic trance or involuntarily).

Other European scholars have also explored the connection between "the Witch cult" and pre-Christian European Shamanism: perhaps the best-known is Carlo Ginzburg, whose *Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath* is also highly recommended. This idea has received little serious attention in Anglophone academic circles. Thank the heavens (or the Folk Beneath the Ground, depending on your point of view) that these works are appearing in translation. Hopefully some English-speaking scholar will explore these survivals in Britannia.

This is not a popular "werewolf" book: if you're looking for Lycan fiction, this will be a great disappointment. Nor is it a "how to" book which will teach you how to cast spells. It is a serious (but quite readable) academic study of medieval and renaissance legends and an invaluable addition to the library of any practitioner who wants to learn more about the Olde Craft as it was really practiced.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Some clarifications 16 Feb. 2004
By C. Vermeers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
contrary to sidoman's review, it is very apparent that M. Lecouteux is not necessarily a believer in the paranormal, but is reporting the beliefs of various people from the past. further, his thesis is precisely that the theme of the Double is much further-reaching than the previously recognized ideas of the doppelganger and similar doubled existences, but extends to the beliefs of the powers of witchcraft, werewolves, and many others. the idea seems to be that the Double (and here i will oversimplify, as the purpose here is not to provide a summary, but only to correct the more blatant misunderstandings of the previous reviewer) is the pre-Christian conceptualization of the "soul", and that Christianity brought a very different idea of how the nonphysical aspect of a human interacted with the world.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Specialist topic, crummy translation 22 July 2013
By Rachel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An awful lot of readers appear to fail to understand this book. I am convinced that this is due to the quality of the translation. Readers are warned that the text will come across in a disorganized way and the arguments presented will not be altogether clear as a result.

The thesis is that certain pagan concepts regarding the soul are noticeable within the written records of the Medieval period, and that those concepts transformed over time, making their way into folklore, history and imaginative literature, thus remaining alive in the Western mindset.

For example, the chapter on werewolves explores the way older pagan notions of the Double were made acceptable to Christian sensibilities through the introduction of the idea of demonic possession, and thus the modern idea of the werewolf has some small relationship to an ancient concept.

The book does NOT make an argument that the described phenomena actually exist! It is dealing with the transmission of ideas from culture to culture. Whatever the author's beliefs may be, they are not implied by this text.

Outside of scholarly circles, this subject is of interest to Pagan Reconstructionists and Neopagans as another angle on the beliefs of the peoples of pre-Christian Europe. Possibly someone with a strong interest in folklore or fairy tales might also be interested. Otherwise, for the general reader who "digs werewolf fiction", I imagine this book would be almost completely uninteresting and opaque.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Good Read 4 Jan. 2007
By Richard Deveno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I discovered that the author taught at the Sorbonne, my first thought was "Wow, the educational system of France is truly in it's sunset years ..." but first thoughts are always a little hasty. If you're a "big werewolf fan" (as some of the other reviewers seem to be), you will be very disappointed by this work. The text is vaguely scholarly but not terribly so. Basically it's a survey of themes in mythology and folklore. About 70% of the work focusses on Northern Europe. The author attempts to loosely connect these themes to a concept he calls "the double" ... but he draws very little in the way of conclusions and at times his web of connections is a bit of a stretch. It's a bit like the work of H. R. Davidson but without the wisdom and deep insight. In the author's defense his citations are very interesting and well chosen. He focuses on topics that are fascinating, for instance he spends a great deal of time discussing the hamr and fylgja in Northern cultures. I found the book to be a very enjoyable read (finished over the course of a single night) even though at times it lacked a bit in substance.
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