Demons and Spirits of the Land
Ancestral Lore and Practices
by Claude Lecouteux
Translated by Jon E. Graham
In Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices, Claude Lecouteux has written a fascinating and well-resourced exploration of pre-Christian Europe’s relationship with the spirits of the land. The writing is academic in nature, with many quotations from and cites to original sources deftly weaving centuries of cross-cultural traditions from Northern and Western European. Lecouteux describes the practices by which humans first respected the spirits of natural places, then colonized and “civilized” those places, changing their relationship with the local beings. With numerous references to literature of the Middle Ages, he details the ways in which pre-Christian humans recognized and acknowledged the forces which inhabited and animated specific places. Focusing on Northern and Western Europe, Lecouteux introduces us to giants, dwarves, elves, and other spirits of place and convinces us that it is not gods that humans worshiped in the form of trees, stones, rivers or lakes, but rather these in-dwelling spirits, the genius loci or protective beings. The book is full of folk traditions, medieval tales, and place names which detail human rituals for “claiming” land, building structures and making contracts with the land spirits for peaceful co-existence. Lecouteux further examines the demonization of these protective spirits by the Christian church when it was unable to stop the worship and ritual practice devoted to these beings. The final section of the book outlines the ability of these ancient spirits – perhaps forgotten but still with us – to morph as they were driven to wilder and lonelier locations and to also reclaim the original places that were their original homes.
I was completely drawn into Demon and Spirits of the Land. I loved the sourcing of historical practice and ritual for working with spirits and Lecouteux’ ability to make cross-cultural connections. In describing how people made claims to ownership of a particular piece of land, for example – the plowing of a furrow, “as much as can be plowed in a day and a night” – he provides us with research showing these traditions common to both Catalonia and Sweden, along with variations in Bohemia and elsewhere. Furrows were drawn around a house to protect it in Catalonia as late as the 19th century. I have taken away several ideas for ritual work based in tradition for working with the land beings in my place! And now I have a better understanding of some of rituals I have practiced for years, like leaving offerings at trees. The sense of a wild place feeling resentful of my presence or sacred is also now grounded in a historical perspective. I really appreciate the relevance of this book to Western culture’s loss of connection to the spirits of place today. We cut down trees without asking if “anyone is home” and give no thought to dredging – scourging – land to lay pipelines that will further disrupt the genius loci. Lecouteux mentions Iceland as an exception to this willful colonization, where roads are re-routed so they won’t cross elf-dwelling land. Demons and Spirits of the Land is an explanation of our culture’s current relationship with the spirits of Earth – the protective spirits of place have withdrawn their help because of humankind’s disrespect and breach of humankind’s contracts of co-existence with our-co-inhabitants. It is also a map of the road back to right relationship. Lecouteux reminds us:
“ In rediscovering the land spirits, we cannot help but notice their modernity. They guided our ancestors to respect their environment and to be careful because they knew they were not alone and had accounts to pay to those who were called – and still are called, here and there – the Invisible Folk and the Underground Folk…Has the disappearance of the land spirits not caused catastrophes and given free rein to modern [hu]man’s presumptuousness? It clearly seems that these spirits formed part of life’s regulatory elements and whatever they prove to be, they left us one essential law: [hu]mankind should live in harmony with the surrounding nature and treat it as a living being. In order to prosper, then, we must continue to honor the genius loci.”
Demons and Spirits of the Land is a worthy read!
Claude Lecouteux is a historian who has written a number of books examining the connection between pre-Christian and Christian-era popular beliefs about supernatural beings in Europe of the Middle Ages. He is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne).
About the Author:
Susan Rossi is a Practitioner and Teacher of Shamanic Arts. She is a long-time explorer of The Mysteries – the connections between mind, body, spirit and how to live in right relationship to all of the energies streaming through the cosmos. She works with clients as an astrologer, coach, ceremonialist and guide to the wisdom that each of us has the capacity to access. Her focus is on guiding clients to unblock and rediscover their inner wisdom. Art, exploration of the birth chart, ceremony, legacy writing, hypnotherapy, energetic healing practice and creation of sacred tools are integral pieces of her practice.
Susan trained in Soul Level Astrology with master astrologer Mark Borax. She delights in exploring with individuals the planetary pattern under which their soul choose to incarnate.
Open Channel Astrology www.openchannelastrology.com
Flying to the Heart www.flyingtotheheart.com