Witches Werewolves and Fairies reiterates the proposition that belief in ghosts, shapeshifters and fairies stems from shamanic practices. Lecouteux supports this already visited idea by quoting heavily from folklore and medieval source documents. While the annotation is excellent, the presentation of the material leaves much to be desired, though admittedly much on the subject may be lost because this is a retranslation from French to English. Ultimately, this book offers a heavily documented support to the already established idea that much folklore and superstition stems from near-forgotten shamanism and archaic Pagan culture.

The book has three divisions: the first part focuses on superstitions about the doppelganger or astral double, particularly its associations with death; the second discusses shapeshifting and the third explores superstitions about otherworldly creatures. For each theme, the author pulls an anecdote from folklore or historical documents and then proceeds to offer common theories on the root of the beliefs and customs.  While each anecdote offers fascinating details, the dense writing and the lack of new material or a new angle on the theory the book seems to support, Witches, Werewolves and Fairies is an at -best second choice to other books available on the subject of European folklore and medieval culture.

This is a reprint of a work initially printed in 1992; perhaps at initial publishing this book had more relevance to the topic of medieval culture. As the book stands now, it demands substantial development of thought to merit a re-read. While all the snippets had interest in and of themselves, no clue lay in how the information was relevant to a modern reader. Some analysis or argument with the historical research of another scholar or a challenge to a widely accepted theory could have made the difficult read at least rewarding.

 

~review by Diana Rajchel

by Claude Lecouteux

Inner Traditions Int’l, 2003.

pp. 224, $16.95

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