Chronicles

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in Quebec
or Rubbing shoulders with the Supernatural

Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in QuebecIt’s always surprising to see to the extent to which the beliefs and superstitions that filled the everyday lives of our ancestors continue to live on. In 2006, even if few people give any credence to ghost stories, many would be unable to sleep in a cemetery! Likewise, at one point or another, we all touch wood, hang a rosary from a clothesline or avoid walking under a ladder...

In the case of our ancestors, the supernatural was frequently cited to account for mysterious phenomenon. In this way, for example, sea monsters and will-o’-the-wisps, which populate imaginary tales, were created. In daily life, the supernatural served to provide a grip on a future that was uncertain and harrowing. The superstitious actions taken to ward off misfortune, to attract happiness or to see the future are so numerous that entire dictionaries have been written about them.

Are you ready to run after the Bogeyman? Will you allow yourself to be tempted by the experience of turning tables? This new series of chronicles offers you a brief excursion into the marvelous and superstitious imaginary world of Quebecers.

Click on a title to access an episode or to close the tab.

First episode
Date with the Supernatural: The Tale
Date with the Supernatural: The Tale

Source: Notre mémoire en ligne, site Internet réalisé par Canadiana.org, ICMH # 26301.

It is very difficult to discover the origin of the traditional Quebec tales that are transmitted orally, from story-teller to story-teller. However, it is very plausible that behind each tale there is an original story-teller and perhaps even a few real facts! In the 19th century, several tales were given their final form in writing, such as La chasse-galerie (the bewitched canoe) by Honoré Beaugrand or the story of Rose Latulippe, popularized by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé Jr in L’influence d’un livre. Today we can learn about and study these writings. In the 20th century, tape recorders are used to store numerous tales. Collected by ethnologists such as Marius Barbeau, they are recorded from the very mouths of the story-tellers.

The Quebec repertory includes anecdotal tales, historical tales and supernatural tales, each as appreciated as the next. But beware, these are not harmless little fairy tales.

These are tales for adults, with a great deal of action and terrifying characters. In this respect, Quebec’s fantastic imaginary tales are very similar to those of France, with the exception that in Quebec they were better tolerated by the clergy. It should be noted that, instead of threatening the established order, most Quebec tales served to reinforce it. Characters that ended badly were generally sorry figures with questionable morals, while the parish priest was presented as a hero saving his parishioners from the grasp of the devil.

The guardians of the tales were the story-tellers, who were specialists in their art and virtually performers. Not just anyone can be a story-teller. While everyone can tell a good joke from time to time, taking on a long and complex narrative is quite another matter. The story-teller must prepare and rehearse for his performance, memorizing the tale and its dramatic moments. He must determine his rhythm, his silences and his gestures. By miming the action and occasionally singing, the story-teller hopes to provoke emotions, laughter or tears. He also tries to keep his audience on the edge of their seats. The story-teller has an impressive memory, capable of storing tales quickly and for long periods of time. In order to remain at the peak of his art, the story-teller must devote a great deal of time to his art, experiencing both the highs and the lows. A good story-teller can earn his living in this way.

An audience is essential for any story-teller since a story that is not re-told is easily forgotten. Since each story-tellers’ repertory is limited, the audience must be constantly renewed. As a result, several story-tellers travel from village to village. Logging camps were particularly good sites for tales. The camp story-teller was particularly appreciated since he provided healthy entertainment for the workers, taking away their desire to head back to their village. In families, during his evening performance, the story-teller always gathered a small crowd around himself. When dealing essentially with children, he shortens his tale, exaggerating certain features, insisting on certain details. At the end of the evening, the people thank the story-teller, offer him something to eat or drink, and head of to bed, their minds filled with his marvellous tales.

The devil, the incarnation of evil, is beyond a doubt the most popular character in tales. To learn more about the individual known as Satan or the Evil One, we invite you to come back on January 24, 2006.

Sources
  • BOIVIN, Aurélien. Le conte fantastique québécois au 19th century, Montréal, Fides, 1987, 440 p.
  • CARLE, Pierre. L’homme et l’hiver en Nouvelle-France: présentation par Pierre Carle et Jean-Louis Minel, Montréal, Hurtubise HMH, 1972, 206 p.
  • PROVENCHER, Jean. C’était l’hiver: la vie rurale traditionnelle dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent, Montréal, Boréal Express, 1986, 278 p.
  • ROY, Carmen. Littérature orale en Gaspésie, 2e éd. rev. et aug., Montréal, Leméac, 1981, 444 p.

Second episode
Speak of the Devil!

At the end of life, there are only two possible destinations for the faithful Roman Catholic: heaven or hell. The Little Catechism describes the second location as highly undesirable. Hell is peopled by the fallen angels, called demons, who suffer horrible torments in an eternal fire and who spend their time tormenting the damned souls. The activities of these demons even extend beyond the borders of hell since they come to Earth to tempt people and encourage them to sin. The most terrifying character in Quebec tales, the devil, comes directly from hell, as conceived in the Christian imagination.

In the tales, the devil roams about looking for souls that he can drag down with him. His preferred method is to conclude pacts with men, tantalizing them with a thousand and one beautiful things. Obviously, the most vulnerable are the poor, who “catch the devil by the tail” and young fools. But, beware; favours obtained from the devil are costly. You have to give him your soul. The devil can also take possession of people or objects. Beware all those who, carelessly or unconsciously, say “let the devil take it” or “let the devil handle it” because the devil may hear such words and come to haunt the person who uttered them. Finally, those who disobey the laws of God and the Church are easy prey for the devil. In Le rigodon du diable, a tale by Louvigny de Montigny, the devil throws all those who carelessly violate the prohibition about dancing after midnight on Ash Wednesday into a lake. Now, that’s one away to encourage parishioners to respect the rules of the Church!

In order to win over his prey, and particularly enterprising young girls such as Rose Latulippe, the devil disguises himself as a handsome young man. Distinguished, dressed all in black, he never takes off his gloves or his hat so that no one will see his claws or his horns. In certain tales, the devil takes on the appearance of a beautiful black horse. But, even when he is disguised, certain signs provide clues as to his real identity, such as the baby who cries every time the stranger approaches his cradle or the snow that melts around his horses. Unmasked, the devil appears frightening: eyes of fire, horns, hairy tail. When he leaves a house, he must break down a wall and leave noisily, since a cross or crucifix often hangs above the door.

Fortunately, the devil rarely wins. His pacts are undone, as in the case of the tale of the Québec city bridge. It is said that the devil offered to help build that bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. Now, the first to cross the bridge was... a cat! Men are also protected by the parish priest. Armed with a cross and a bottle of holy water, the priest unmasks the devil, confronts him and sends him fleeing. This representation of the parish priest in tales, placed on the same footing as that powerful angel, reinforces the image of the clergy and reassures the people. When the evening of story-telling comes to an end, there are superstitions to protect the household against the devil. Thus, when someone knocks at the door, people should say “open” and not “come in” since, if you see that it is the devil, it is still possible for you to chase him off by making the sign of the cross.

Although he may be the most popular, the devil is not the only evil fantastic creature in Quebec tales. To learn more about imps and will-o’-the-wisps, we invite you to come back on February 7, 2006.

Sources
  • BOIVIN, Aurélien. Le conte fantastique québécois au 19th century, Montréal, Fides, 1987, 440 p.
  • DESRUISSEAUX, Pierre. Dictionnaire des croyances et des superstitions, Montréal, Triptyque, 1989, 225 p.
  • DU BERGER, Jean. «Le Diable», dans Jean SIMARD, et autres, Un patrimoine méprisé: la religion populaire des québécois, LaSalle, Hurtubise HMH, 1979, 309 p.
  • LACOURSIÈRE, Jacques et Hélène-Andrée BIZIER. Nos racines: l’histoire vivante des Québécois, Saint-Laurent, Éditions Transmo, 1979, 144 fasc. (Chapitre 17: L’école et l’hôpital).
  • Le petit catéchisme de Québec: publié avec l’approbation et par l’ordre du premier concile provincial de Québec, Montréal, C. O. Beauchemin, [1852?], 84 p.
  • ROY, Carmen. Littérature orale en Gaspésie, 2e éd. rev. et aug., Montréal, Leméac, 1981, 444 p.

Third episode
An Entire Population of Marvellous Beings

In the time of our ancestors, numerous phenomena of daily life could be interpreted as manifestations of the supernatural in the world of men: unusual noises, strange behaviour on the part of animals, objects that disappeared, curiosities of nature... Today, you can learn about two of the marvellous beings that peopled the imaginary world of Quebecers.

Imps

Small creatures standing 18 inches tall, with one eye in the middle of their forehead, a nose like a knob, the mouth of a bull frog, running from ear to ear, and arms and legs like those of a toad, with bellies as round as tomatoes and large pointed hats that make them look like spring mushrooms.
Louis Fréchette, Les lutins

Imps are small beings that live with people, in their houses. Yet, few people can boast of having an imp because they never show their faces, unless they are embodied in dogs or cats. Several signs betray the presence of imps. The most common such sign was finding your horses worn out in the morning, with their tails and manes braided. In fact, imps like to ride horses and, since they are too small to reach the stirrups, they make their own using the horses’ manes.

The house imp can be good or bad, depending on how he is treated. The good imp protects the house while the bad one likes to place tricks on its owner. In return, it is possible to play a trick on an imp by hiding a pot of ashes or grain behind the door, which the imp will spill over as he comes in. Since imps like to put everything back in its place, they will spend the night cleaning and will not want to return to that house again.

Will-o’-the-wisps

The will-o’-the wisp is a soul in pain that wanders through the night. A soul is condemned to live in this form if its owner neglected to celebrate Easter fourteen years in a row or was in a state of sin at the time of his death. Will-o’-the-wisps look like tongues of red, green and blue flames that fly in the night. These creatures, which tend to be unpleasant, enjoying hampering travelers or making them lose their way.

It is possible to get rid of a will-o’-the wisp by placing a metal object such as scissors or a needle on a fence. This will attract the will-o’-the wisp, which will fly over and over the object, until it injures itself. This method was popular with hoodlums who would disguise themselves as will-o’-the-wisps with torches, hoping to collect valuable metal objects from frightened passers-by. You can also frighten a will-o’-the wisp away by placing your arms in the shape of a cross or asking it the date of Christmas “this year”, which it cannot know.

There is a scientific explanation for the will-o’-the-wisp. The tongues of fire that fly through the air are supposedly small fires resulting from the spontaneous combustion of the gases released following putrefaction. For this reason, will-o’-the-wisps are particularly numerous in cemeteries and swamps.

In the fantastic imaginary world of Quebecers, there are creatures that are more frightening and evil than imps and will-o’-the-wisps. To learn more about were-wolves, sea monsters and “spell casters”, we invite you to come back on February 21, 2006.

Sources
  • BOIVIN, Aurélien. Le conte fantastique québécois au 19th century, Montréal, Fides, 1987, 440 p.
  • PROVENCHER, Jean. C’était l’automne: la vie rurale traditionnelle dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent. Montréal, Boréal Express, 1984. 236 p.
  • ROY, Carmen. Littérature orale en Gaspésie, 2e éd. rev. et aug., Montréal, Leméac, 1981, 444 p.

Fourth episode
Evil Fauna

Werewolves

Since ancient times, werewolves have abounded in Europe. They may have been invented by the Greeks and the Romans, both agricultural societies that considered hunting peoples who wore animal skins inferior. The French word “loup-garou” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “garwal”, which means “wolf-man. In Quebec, a man who was identified as a were-wolf was someone whose behavior was reprehensible, who mocked the parish priest, did not tithe or, worse yet, did not celebrate Easter. For this reason, he could be condemned by the devil to wander at night, in the form of a dog, a bull or a bear, with long hair and fiery eyes. In 1767, the presence of a werewolf was reported in the Gazette de Québec.

To unmask werewolves, you have to keep a close eye on those who disappear at the same time every night. If you manage to injure an animal, the man will be injured in the same place the next morning. One way in which to release a werewolf from evil is to hit him on the forehead, his weak point, where he was touched by holy water during baptism. You must make the sign of the cross or draw blood. It is also possible to overcome a werewolf by using a gun loaded with holy palms, a rosary or bullets that have been dipped in holy water.

Sea monsters

Like the night, the sea provides food for the imagination and for many centuries people believed that it was inhabited by gods and monsters that either helped travelers or hampered them. When they took to the sea, the European explorers faced their fears of sea serpents and gigantic crabs, in addition to the real perils of the ocean. As Champlain learned when he arrived here, the watercourses in Quebec were no safer! The Amerindians told Champlain about the monster Gougou who lived on an island in Baie des Chaleurs. Gougou looked like a giant woman and made horrible noises. This monster liked to place men in a bag and then eat them. People were talking about this monster again in 1804 when it reappeared at the same site, this time looking like a pretty woman, with the tail of a fish.

Quebec sea monsters take several forms. Occasionally, they were mentioned in newspapers such as Le Vrai Canadien and the Le Spectateur, which described them as snakes measuring ten feet long that looked like rocks undulating in the water. In the St. Lawrence gulf there were also marine wolf-men, which approached canoes, as well as mermaids. The mermaids would charm fishermen the night before a store so that they would not think to return to land. According to certain Gaspesians, the mermaids do not live in our waters on a permanent basis but have lost their way when they come here.

Spell casters

An evil-doer, the spell caster was able to bewitch those upon whom he wanted to take his vengeance. Since they could run away easily, beggars were often suspected of being spell casters, particularly if they were unknown or of questionable appearance. People believed that if they did not give beggars alms, the beggars would cause bread to fail to rise or animals to die and would give lice to children and send rats into the attic. Nevertheless, not all beggars were feared since there were also the good beggars that people welcomed into their homes, those who traveled a regular circuit, told tales, and delivered mail.

In over to undo a spell, you must catch the spell caster and have him undo his bewitching. To do this, you must stick pins in red fabric which is boiled in water and vinegar. This causes the spell caster to suffer and he returns to ask what is wanted of him. You can also try an exorcism by burning a holy candle on your stomach or sacrificing a black hen. Finally, piety and virtue can have protective properties. In the 17th century, a spell caster failed when he tried to take on Sister Marguerite du Prévieux, of the Hôtel-Dieu in Quebec City. Every time he approached her, he was driven back by an invisible force.

Exorcisms against spell casters look a lot like witchcraft. In Quebec, occult practices existed to communicate with the spirits. To learn more about the manifestations of the dead in the world of the living, we invite you to return on March 7, 2006.

Sources
  • BLANCHET, Johanne et Jean PROVENCHER. C’était le printemps: la vie rurale traditionnelle dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent, Montréal, Boréal Express, 1980, 236 p.
  • BOIVIN, Aurélien. Le conte fantastique québécois au 19th century, Montréal, Fides, 1987, 440 p.
  • GOWETT, Larry. Les loups-garous dans la tradition religieuse québécoise, Montréal, Maîtrise (sciences religieuses), Université du Québec à Montréal, 1978, 127 p.
  • LACOURSIÈRE, Jacques et Hélène-Andrée BIZIER, Nos racines: l’histoire vivante des Québécois, Saint-Laurent, Éditions Transmo, 1979, 144 fasc. (Chapitre 2: La traversée; Chapitre 17: L’école et l’hôpital; Chapitre 52: La guerre de 1812).
  • ROY, Carmen. Littérature orale en Gaspésie, 2e éd. rev. et aug., Montréal, Leméac, 1981, 444 p.

Fifth episode
Manifestations from Beyond the Grave
Manifestations from Beyond the Grave

Henri Julien, La Criée, 1908, Huile sur toile, 53,6 x 40,7 cm
Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Photo: Patrick Altman (68.31)

In traditional Roman Catholic society, death is an event for which people spent their entire lives preparing. In order to go to heaven, people took care to stay away from sin and hoped to die in a state of grace, if possible with the assistance of a priest. So as not to be surprised by death, our ancestors were particularly attentive to the signs of impending death. A long white thread on a black suit, a fork and knife that were crossed, a portion of a field that was left unsown in the spring, and a bird landing on someone’s shoulder all announced an imminent death. Likewise, meeting someone in the street who resembled a friend was a harbinger of that individual’s death.

Since death was a time of great solidarity when the community accompanied the deceased through the funeral rituals, those close to someone who had just passed away would be on the look-out. In Quebec’s traditional imaginary world, relatives and friends of the deceased often received a sign at the time of their loved one’s passing: a chair would start rocking on its own, a door would open and then close again suddenly, or someone would wake with a start. At the moment of death, the clock would be stopped, to be started again only after the funeral.

In the popular imagination, there were many interactions between the world of the living and that of the dead. Through prayers and masses, the living continued to help the dead find rest. If they did not, the dead might come back to claim that assistance. They would appear in the shape of white lights or noises, leave money around the house, or undo children’s braids, stopping their harassment only when they were satisfied, namely when someone had paid for a mass or votive candle for them. Some of the dead showed themselves to the living in order to help them. They would reassure the living about their life in the beyond, pay back a debt, and advise them, for example by moving a boat to warn fishermen about the arrival of a storm. A dead person could also take fears and worries away with him. All the living had to do was touch the cadaver. Other dead people would return to Earth to expiate a failing, haunting houses or languishing in the moon.

There is particular time when the dead are expected, All Hallows Eve and the next day, the Day of the Dead. Originally, in keeping with the Celtic calendar, this day corresponded to the end of one year and the start of the next. Since these days of celebration did not belong to either of the two years, the world of the living and that of the dead could mingle. At the evening meal, a place setting would be reserved for the dead and people avoided going out, for fear that they would encounter a ghost. The next day, the bells would toll and an auction would be held with the profits to be used for masses for the dead. Then people would meet in the cemetery. On that day, the land was not worked since blood might flow from the furrows!

When the dead did not appear on their own, certain practices could be used to communicate with them. Oddly enough, it is largely through Episcopal letters denouncing such practices that we have been able to learn about such acts of necromancy. One of these practices caused a great deal of talk in Quebec in the 1850s. This was the turning tables. These tables could be caused to walk, turn and strike.... all in order to contact the spirits and obtain revelations from them about the past, the present and the future. Obviously, the bishops did not provide detailed instructions so as to prevent new believers in such practices. Instead, they recommended that the priests refuse to give the sacraments to those who took part. In about 1894, a study on spiritualism mentioned turning tables.

In Quebec, there are all sorts of superstitions. Most were relatively mundane. To know more about fortune telling and how to learn about the future, we invite you to return on March 21, 2008.

Sources
  • DESRUISSEAUX, Pierre. Dictionnaire des croyances et des superstitions, Montréal, Triptyque, 1989, 225 p.
  • FORTIER, Yvan. «La mort: le réel et l’imaginaire en Charlevoix» dans René BOUCHARD, et autres, La vie quotidienne au Québec: histoire, métiers, techniques et traditions, Sillery, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1983, pp. 135-158.
  • PROVENCHER, Jean. C’était l’automne: la vie rurale traditionnelle dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent. Montréal, Boréal Express, 1984. 236 p.
  • ROY, Carmen. Littérature orale en Gaspésie, 2e éd. rev. et aug., Montréal, Leméac, 1981, 444 p.

Sixth episode
What does the future hold for us?

As if she were caressing a crystal ball, the future mother caresses her belly. Will the child be a boy, the heir to the farm, or a girl to help her with her chores? Will they survive the birth? Will the child be healthy? Will he have a happy, prosperous life? What hopes and worries at the same time! In 2006, the ultrasound, the amniocentesis and the progress made by medicine reassure the future mother and reveal certain secrets such as the gender of the child or the presence of a health issue.

In the past, other signs, which were somewhat less accurate, were used to indicate if the mother could hope for a boy or a girl. Did the mother carry to the right? It would be a boy. If she carried to the left she would have a boy. But, whether she was expecting a girl or a boy, it was important that the future mother not see blood on the ground since that meant that she would suffer a great deal during the delivery. And it was good for the child to be born on a Friday since he would be healthy and happy in business and in love. Likewise, if the child was born with a good head of hair, he would be lucky in life.

In a traditional society that was very dependent on agriculture, the weather was often the topic of predictions. For example, it was often said that if the first day of December was mild, you had to wait to butcher your animals since Advent would be mild and the meat could not be conserved. If Advent was mild, the winter would be mild. According to a popular belief, it was possible to predict the weather for the 12 months of the years based on the temperature at Epiphany. It was also believed that the winter would be good, with little snow, if wasps’ nests were low or if strawberries bloomed in the fall. Pure superstition or empirical knowledge? Some would say that predictions that come true are easier to remember than those that are inaccurate.

There are all kinds of predictions. A white thread on a dress indicated a new lover and a dirty diaper left behind by a visitor meant there would be a birth in the house. A fireplace giving off a lot of smoke could mean a quarrel, as in the Quebec saying “Cheminée qui boucane, femme qui chicane, le diable dans la cabane” (a smoky fireplace, a querulous woman, the devil’s in the house). Even if signs did not come on their own, certain superstitious practices served to see the future. A young girl who wanted to know who her future husband would be could count forty white horses or eighteen black horses. The first young man to enter the house would bear the name of the future husband. She could also hide a mirror under her pillow or pass a little wedding cake through the bride’s ring, both actions that would make her dream about the man she was to marry.

Interpreting dreams in order to predict the future was very popular, even in religious communities. Frequently, they announced deaths or healings. Les annales de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec mention the case of Sister Jeanne Hazeur who had a dream in which an old man gave her a watch showing the time as midnight. The nun was convinced that she had little time left to live, twelve days or perhaps twelve weeks. She died twelve months later, on December 25, 1706, the day of the midnight mass. The church authorities were very tolerant when it came to interpreting dreams, particularly if there was an educational component. However, there were cases in which, claiming to have had a dream, certain individuals attempted to take part in activities that did not suit the authorities. In order to prevent this type of abuse, Monsignor de Saint-Vallier condemned the interpretation of dreams as a supposititious practice.

In order for your future to be favourable, you must have luck on your side. To learn more about what you should do to drive bad luck away and attract happiness, we invite you to return on April 4, 2006.

Sources
  • CARLE, Pierre. L’homme et l’hiver en Nouvelle-France: présentation par Pierre Carle et Jean-Louis Minel, Montréal, Hurtubise HMH, 1972, 246 p.
  • CLICHE, Marie-Aimée. Les pratiques de dévotion en Nouvelle-France: comportements populaires et encadrement ecclésial dans le gouvernement de Québec, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1988, 354 p.
  • DESRUISSEAUX, Pierre. Dictionnaire des croyances et des superstitions, Montréal, Triptyque, 1989, 225 p.
  • DUPONT, Jean-Claude. Coutumes et superstitions, 2e éd., Sainte-Foy, Éditions J.-C. Dupont, 1994, 63 p.

Seventh episode
Superstitions in Daily Life

Which of us has not, at one point or another, avoided walking under a ladder or kept a penny found in the street? Even today, there are many actions that we avoid or take in order to keep misfortune away and attract happiness. This chronicle will present several superstitions, many of which have been forgotten, that once filled the daily lives of Quebecers.

In a traditional society, a series of gestures, activities, celebrations, etc.... became the object of bad omens. Here are a few examples...

  • Rocking an empty cradle gives babies colic.
  • When you are walking with someone and let a tree, a post or another individual get between you, this is an omen of disappointment.
  • If you cut a maple tree down on Good Friday, drops of blood will flow from it.
  • When a death occurs, if the coffin strikes against the door of the deceased person’s house, another death will occur in the family.
  • When a woman is menstruating, milk or sauces will curdle, her bread or cakes will not rise, her preserves will turn sour or her hair will not curl.
  • Saying the Mass for the Dead for no good reason attracts death.
  • Weeping on your wedding day attracts misfortune.

Fortunately, there are several actions that bring good luck, such as carrying a rabbit’s foot or killing a spider with your left hand or foot. Placing the branches of the mountain ash tree in your house also brings happiness, because they protect you against thunder and beggars.

Certain supposititious gestures are intended to influence the future in a very specific manner. For instance, it was believed that if a wasp was preparing to sting, you could make it fly off by biting your tongue. Also, it was believed that people could stop hiccupping by thinking of the person they would marry. Likewise, if a pregnant woman wanted a boy rather than a girl, she had to place a wool blanket under her husband’s feet or eat even numbers of wheat kernels. To have a girl, she would have to place odd numbers of feathers under her husband’s pillow or eat odd numbers of wheat kernels.

The margin between superstition and sorcery was often thin. Certain practices were tolerated by the church while others were condemned. Moreover, this could vary from one period to another and in keeping with the bishop’s interpretation. Thus, praying to prevent dogs from barking was considered an inoffensive superstition by Monsignor de Pontbriand. However, eating meat on a Friday so that the weather would be good and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol to make it rain were considered bad superstitions. During the 1860s, the use of holy bread and scapulars to make the bodies of drowned people float was considered sorcery.

Occasionally, superstitions were founded in fact. For example, it was believed that there would be a hole in a pewter spoon if a needle was placed under the spoon maker’s chair or if a pointed object such as a knitting needle was used in the house while he was working. As soon as he saw a spoon with a hole, the spoon maker would look under his chair for the needle. In actual fact, it was normal for holes to appear in the first pieces made by the spoon maker since his mould would not be hot enough. Thus, when a prankster would place a needle under the chair, the trick would often succeed. Now, since human beings find it easier to remember facts that concern their affairs, certain superstitions can be perpetuated in this way.

This is the end of the series of chronicles on popular beliefs and superstitions in Quebec.

Sources
  • BERNARD, Louise, «Tour, superstition ou défaut dans la technique du moulage des cuillères d’étain», dans René BOUCHARD, et autres, La vie quotidienne au Québec: histoire, métiers, techniques et traditions, Sillery, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1983, pp. 265-262.
  • CLICHE, Marie-Aimée. Les pratiques de dévotion en Nouvelle-France: comportements populaires et encadrement ecclésial dans le gouvernement de Québec, Québec, Presses de l’Université Laval, 1988, 354 p.
  • DESRUISSEAUX, Pierre. Dictionnaire des croyances et des superstitions, Montréal, Triptyque, 1989, 225 p.
  • DUPONT, Jean-Claude. Coutumes et superstitions, 2e éd., Sainte-Foy, Éditions J.-C. Dupont, 1994, 63 p.

Back 

The Virgin’s Laundry
According to a popular belief, the sun always shines at least for a few seconds on Saturday. In fact, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, would wash her child’s diapers on Saturday so that they would be clean for Sunday. Mary needed a sunny day to dry the washing!
Auction
During the auction, items are auctioned off.
Headless Priest
Traditional Quebec tales are filled with ghost stories. In La messe du revenant, a tale by Louis Fréchette, a deceased priest, must come back each year during the night of the Day of the Dead, to say mass for having had bad thoughts during his lifetime, during his offices. His problem was that he had no servers to respond to the prayers for this mass. It was only after several centuries that this headless priest managed to convince someone to respond, which delivered him from the curse.
No need for a babysitter!
This testimony was taken in 1975 during an ethnological investigation in the Charlevoix region. In that region, there was a woman who did not bother to find someone to take care of her children when she went out. In fact, their deceased father watched over them, lighting the stove and rocking the children.
A heart-rending cry
In the Gaspé, a couple was shelling peas in the kitchen. It was 4:00 p.m. Suddenly, they heard someone cry out “Mother”. At the same time a dog howled. The man explored the vicinity without finding any source for the cry. The next day, the man and the woman received a letter informing them that their son had died by drowning the previous day at the exact time they had heard the cry.
Werewolf alert!
As published in the Gazette de Québec, December 10, 1767:
Kamouraska, December 2. We have learned that a certain Werewolf, who has been roaming the province for several years now and has caused a lot of damage in the Quebec City area, was attacked on several occasions last October, by various animals that had been set loose on the monster. In particular, on November 3, he was attacked so savagely by a small thin animal that it had been believed that we were entirely rid of the fatal animal, since he had remained hidden away for some time in his lair, much to the public’s satisfaction. But, we have just learned, by the most unfortunate of misfortunes, that the animal was not completely defeated and he has started to reappear, more furious than ever, leaving terrible carnage in his wake wherever he goes. Beware of the tricks of this evil Beast and take care not to fall into the grasp of his claws.
Celebrating Easter
For a long, long time, Roman Catholics were required to confess and take part in communion at least once a year, on Easter. In Quebec, this was referred to as “faire ses Pâques” or celebrating Easter.
The devil among us
In tales as in life, the apparitions of the devil are often noisy. This is the case of those related by Marie Morin. At the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal, the devil “ran along the floor like a young horse galloping” and “walked throughout the dormitory like a man wearing clogs”.
The Pact in La chasse-galerie
One of the best known tales in the Quebec repertory, La chasse-galerie (the bewitched canoe), is about a pact made with the devil. Here are the words with which the pact was sealed in the tale told by Honoré Beaugrand.

Satan! roi des enfers, nous te promettons de te livrer nos âmes, si d’ici à six heures nous prononçons le nom de ton maître et du nôtre, le bon Dieu, et si nous touchons une croix dans le voyage. À cette condition tu nous transporteras, à travers les airs, au lieu où nous voulons aller et tu nous ramèneras de même au chantier! Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! Fais nous voyager par dessus les montagnes!

Translation:
Satan, King of Hell, we promise to give you our souls if by six this coming morning, we say the name of your master and ours, the Lord and if we touch a cross during our trip. In return, you will carry us through the air to the place we want to go and you will return us to the same logging camp. Abracadabra! Carry us over the mountains!
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In the 19th century, stories and novels were frequently published as serials in newspapers. This method of publication made literature accessible to a larger number of readers when news was rare, particularly during the winter.