Bluenose Magic

March 2, 2009

Bluenose Magic: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in Nova Scotia by Helen Creighton

The Ryerson Press, 1968


“Old Daddy Red Cap was supposed to have been a wizard. He put spells on people. One time he went to see a man and said he wanted to buy his cow. The man had no need to sell and said he wouldn’t part with her. Soon after, a snow-white bumblebee sat down on the cow and she didn’t give any more milk. [Allandale, English]”

— Creighton


I’ve always enjoyed reading folklore, and I’ve often wondered why I’ve met so many pagans and witches that avoided it like the plague. They might learn the lore of a country that they’ve never visited, or of a culture that they have no connection to, but would never consider researching local folk remedies or spells. It puzzles me. Perhaps they think that their area doesn’t have any ‘folklore.’


Luckily for me, my area has a long tradition of folklore and many dedicated folklorists who’ve traveled around gathering up songs, stories, and other useful bits of information. The lore of the many peoples who’ve settled here (Acadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, African Loyalists, Dutch, etc.) mixed together with the legends of the Mi’kmaq people, and became something else entirely.


The late Helen Creighton is the Nova Scotian folklorist par excellence, and any of her books are worth reading. This particular title covers faery lore, witchcraft, folk charms, healing and remedies, meanings of dreams, divination, lore about animals, crops, and the weather, superstitions about good and bad luck, and stories of ghosts, forerunners, and the devil. Of particular interest is the concept of the “witch masters,” such as Sammy B., who filled a role very similar (identical?) to the cunning folk of Britain. They found and could control the malignant witches of a community, and could break their spells as well as cast their own.


This is a great book, and one of my favourites. The information in the book is linked up to a Motif Index, so you can find overarching concepts and similarities. I recommend it to anyone living in Maritime Canada, or even if you don’t. Of course, finding yourself a book of folklore local to your area might be even more interesting.

5 Responses to “Bluenose Magic”

  1. pastelmoon Says:

    I wonder if the “red cap” mentioned in your quote is the same creature I have read about. A red cap, from what I’ve always known, is a man that guards or wonders around a specified location. Red caps get their name by using the blood from people they kill on their heads which makes it look like they are wearing a red cap.

    • hedgefolk Says:

      Hmmm… Are you referring to the faeries known as Red Caps? I don’t know if that bit of lore made its way to Nova Scotia, but now I’ll have to look for it. I think the Red Cap in the quote is just a nick-name for a local wizard; I didn’t find any reference to the type of faery, but the man could be nick-named after the type of faery, I dunno. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  2. pastelmoon Says:

    I first read about the “red caps” in a book called Monsters.

  3. I know I’m coming late to the party on this thread, but I really appreciate the recommendation. Have you read Mary Fraser’s Folklore of Nova Scotia as well? It’s also got a good bit of witchy information in it.

    I agree completely, by the way, about turning to lore as a way to unlock different components of magical practice.

    As a side note, I’ve also heard “Red Cap” used to refer to the amanita muscaria mushroom, which is sometimes eaten to produce visions (though it is toxic, so don’t eat it unless you know what you’re doing). Just two cents from me to you.

    All the best!


    • semjazan Says:

      Thanks for the comment! I have a copy of Mary Fraser’s book as well. Have you heard of a book called “Making Witches.” I forget the author, it’s on my shelf and I haven’t got around to reading it yet, but it discusses witchcraft in Newfoundland. 😀

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