Canadian Legends – The Devil, Spirits of the Dead, More

The following article comes from The Islander, a newspaper from Washington (state) in August of 1894. Many of the legends and superstitions spoken of in the article are now common to us in the U.S. as well – particularly those legends related to the devil.


Satan Plays a Prominent Part in Many Canadian Legends the legendary lore of Canada the devil plays a prominent part. He does not appear as the strong angel who fell through pride, the enemy of God, but as the medieval devil of monkish legend the petty persecutor of man. In the rural district of Canada, Satan is supposed to be very active. His company may be looked for on all occasions. The accidental appearance of a little child in the room often betrays the presence of the evil spirit, as the poor innocent is sure to bewail itself vigorously. The prince of darkness may be met at a ball in the guise of a handsome young man, who excels all the rustic gallants in appearance. He wears gloves to conceal his claws and disregards the trammels of conventionality by keeping his hat on his head to hide his horns. He selects the prettiest girl in the room as his partner, but his choice is usually the village coquette, whose vanity or levity has exposed her to the evil influence. In the midst of the gayety a piercing cry is heard. A strong odor of brimstone becomes perceptible, and the attractive cavalier iswafted out of the window, carrying with him some useful domestic utensil – as, for instance, a stove or the frying pan. The girl may escape with a sharp scratch of a claw, particularly if she should happen to wear cross or a crucifix. Canadian rustics never answer “Entrez” when a knock is heard at the door; they invariably respond Ouvrez.” This is founded upon an old legend of a young woman who replied “Entrez” to such a summons, when the devil came in and carried her off.

When one is starting in a hurry to bring the priest to the sick, the devil is stimulated to the most lively activity, for then it is the question of the loss or gain of a soul. On such occasions an endless variety of the most unforseen accidents are sure to happen. The horses are found unharnessed, or the harness breaks without any reason, and strange lights flash before the horses’ eyes. Prudent sons guard against such contingencies by providing themselves with two vehicles. Then, if an accident happens to one, the other remains available.

The Legend of the Werewolf

The werewolf legend constitutes one of the most somber of the traditionary beliefs existing in French Canada. The story of a human being assuming a wolf’s shape is certainly one of the most generally diffused throughout the world, and the werewolf story comes down to us from old Roman times. The French Canadian believes that if a person does not partake of the sacrament for seven years he will turn into a loup garou – a shapeless animal without head or limbs. The loup garou might also assume the form of a wildcat, a hare, a fox, or even a black hen, but at night he was obliged to range through woods and desert places. At dead of night the loup garou steals from his bed. Climbing the highest tree in the neighborhood, he hides in its branches and is instantly transformed into bestial shape. He is endowed with supernatural speed and strength. A fierce creature, with appetites exaggerating those of the animal he resembles, his especial delight is in slaughtering and devouring little children. When he returns to human semblance, he may be recognized by his excessive leanness, wild eyes and haggard countenance. In order to regain his estate of humanity it is necessary that the blood of the monster should be shet. This kindly office being performed by a friend, a complete restoration results.

Lost Spirits in Canadian Superstitions

The souls of the lost or spirits in purgatory naturally occupied a prominent position in Canadian folklore. The dead frequently returned to the world. Among old fashioned persons there were few who had not held converse with a spirit or revenant. In punishment for sin the dead were often detained on the scene of their past misdeeds. One dead person could not help or relieve another. The wrong committed on earth could only be righted by the intervention of a living being. The evil spirits were unable to cross the blessed waters of the river St. Lawrence without the help of a Christian. These haunting spirits were numerous and of various descriptions.

The aurora borealis, called les marionettes, les eclairons, les lustrions, are supposed to be lost souls. It is a common practice among the country people to sing aloud to keep off evil spirits. They believe that the sound of an instrument or the human voice raised in song will cause the marionettes to dance. However, dire misfortune threatens the reckless being who adopts this method of amusing himself unless the precaution is taken of touching him in time with a palm that has been blessed. He gradually yields to a weird fascination, his eyes dilate, his voice grows feeble, and before morning dawns his body lies stiff and stark in death, while his soul has flown to join in the giddy whirl of les lustrions.

Fireflies are Lost Souls

Fireflies, known as fen-follets, called by country people fi-follets, are also considered to be lost souls, whose goblin lights lure the unwary to destruction – a sad prerogative possessed by fireflies, in common with other lights of the country, less brilliant perhaps, but whose seductions are quite as much to be dreaded. A simple charm will curb the malicious designs of these airy, glittering imps. If the object of their persecution can retain sufficient presence of mind to thrust either a needle or a sharp knife into the nearest fence, a fi-follet is obliged to stop short in his course. One of two things must then happen – either the fi-follet will impale himself upon the sharp instrument and thus find deliverance, or else he will exhaust himself in frantic efforts to pass through the eye of the needle, an attempt which proves quite as difficult to the fantastic spirit as the most substantial mortals. This gives the traveler time to seek the shelter of a dwelling.