TRACES of the rites of the ancient Gauls, brought to New France by the ten thousand Normans and Bretons who crossed the Atlantic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, still linger on the banks of the St. Lawrence. On the sixth day of the moon nearest to the 10th of March, the Druidic New Year’s Day, the arch-Druid with a golden knife cut the mistletoe from the parent oak, and as it fell into the outspread robes of his attendants the people cried, Au Gui! l'An Neuf! and divided the plant amongst them. Two white bulls were slaughtered, and then a human sacrifice was offered, the victims being encased in cages of wicker-work. In later times this great Druidic ceremony dwindled into La Gnignolée (in Spain the Aguinaldo), a mumming festival, at which the lads of the parish, arrayed in fantastic dresses, marched from house to house, begging good cheer for themselves and alms for the poor. In Lower Canada, where, tlie custom is dying out, the Ignoleux assemble on New Year’s Eve, and, having armed themselves with staves, and secured a sack or a wagon for carrying the proceeds of their mission, send out an advance guard of little boys, who shout, “ Here comes the Guiguolée!” Thus forewarned, the villagers prepare supper for the visitors, and make ready a special gift of food, of which a pig’s chine is the pièce de resistance for distribution among the poor families. When the Ignoleux reach the house, the marshal strikes the door with his staff, the master and mistress open it and stand in the porch, and the merrymakers sing a ditty, varying in different sections of the country. The following is almost a literal translation of the most complete version : —
Has come round to us again;
O lady fair, we bid thee prepare,
To feast this merry train!
Nor silver, nor jewels rare;
But a ten-pound chine, O bit divine,
And, master, we breathe a prayer:
For thy dead ’neath the flagstone gray!
And God, of his grace, unveil his face
To us all at the judgment day!
Then alas for your daughter fair:
We ’ll burn her alive, bound with ivy gyve,
And cut off her yellow hair !
When the spring comes in with mirth,
And the little bird cries as the snow-drop dies,
On the breast of the weeping earth!
(Heaven send the next thou see!)
Give tis the chine, O bit divine,
For the feast of the Guignolée!
In some versions the Ignoleux threaten not to burn the girl alive, but merely to " warm her feet.” It is not unreasonable to suppose that the prominence of the pig’s chine is due to the sacred character which the Druids attached to the wild boar as the sacrificial animal at their minor rites. A wild boar’s head was the foremost dish at the Christmas board in England, in the old days, the guests rising as it was carried in, all decked with rosemary, and singing—
Reddens laudes Domino.
The Druidic festival on Midsummer’s Day, in honor of the god Belinus, alias Apollo, was transferred by the church to the 24th of June, St. John’s Day. But the pagan belief regarding the virtues of the fires then kindled survived for many centuries. As late as 1573 cats and foxes were burnt at the St. John’s Eve fires in Paris, and the peasantry believed that the burning of a wild animal banished evil spirits from the forests. At Quebec, in 1636, the Jesuit Le Jeune was taken aback on finding that the Indians who witnessed the celebration on St. John’s Eve looked upon it as a big medicine feast for driving away the evil manitou. “ Some of these days,” he adds, “ they will probably ask us to heal their sick by firing our cannon.” The good fathers, moreover, did not conceal their fear that the belief of the French colonists regarding the fires had much that was pagan and uncanny in it, and for some years sought to discredit the St. Joseph’s Eve (March 18th) as well as the St. John’s Eve fire by saying the prayers used on such occasions sans surplis. Finally, as Father Jérôme Lalemant says, they contrived to “ separate the spiritual from the material” at these feasts, and henceforth appeared en surplis. St. John’s Day gradually became the national festival. On the morning of the 23d of June the habitants flock into the village, which is gayly decorated with evergreens. In the afternoon, the priest, the doctor, the notary, and the postmaster invite their friends to dinner, while the young people, each José with his Josephte, dance and disport themselves as at a fair. In the evening a huge pile of fragrant cedar is built outside the door of the church, and the villagers gather about it. As darkness sets in the priest, clad in his vestments, appears, recites the prayers, blesses the wood, and then sets it on fire, the habitants cheering and firing their guns. In olden times signal fires burst forth on every hill and promontory along the North and South shores. If the habitant in the lower parishes on the North shore had to report to his neighbor on the South shore that all was well, he lighted a bright fire, and kept it burning steadily for some time ; if there was sickness in his family, the fire flickered and died out ; if there was death, it suddenly blazed up, and was as suddenly quenched. Next day mass is celebrated, and those who do not partake of the sacrament eat of the pain-bénit (the hallowed bread set apart for the Eucharist, which is baked by well-to-do villagers), saying reverently, —
Si je meurs subitement,
Sers-moi de sacrement!
After mass it was the custom in the Gulf parishes, in olden times, for the people to stand at the church door and sell fish “for the good of the poor souls;” that is, to provide masses for the souls in purgatory. Nowadays they sell the firstfruits of their fields, and distribute the proceeds in charity, or give them to the priest for a service of prayer and thanksgiving. On May Day the habitants erect a May pole, and fire volleys at the bush, or, as they say, the bouquet, on the top of it; and when they build a house, at a corvée or “ bee,” they place a bouquet on the gable end and fire at it. The Gauls celebrated May Day by sallying into the forest and driving out the evil spirits by shouting and beating the trees, and on building a hut they hung the mistletoe, a “specific against disease and sudden death, over the door, and invoked the favor of Hesus or Belinus by making a great din and tumult.
On Christmas Eve, in settlements remote from a church, the habitants gather in one house, and when a girl enters on the stroke of midnight they ask,—
Whence comest thou?
The following is a close translation of her reply, which she sings to a quaint and simple tune : —
The sacred fable
Fulfilled has been:
The Son of God
The earth has trod,
The miracle I've seen!
In that stable old,
Where the infant lay;
The star without
The heavens did flout,
Making night day!
And to Joseph creeps,
Blessed and full of grace;
The oxen low,
In prayer, I trow,
And gaze upon His face!
In the manger peep
At the King on high;
And with soft voice
They too rejoice,
Bleating a lullaby!
And an angel band,
All harp in hand,
Down upon earth bore;
Singing to His glory,
And telling men the story
Of peace forevermore !
Here in the forest hoar,
Come let us sing to the new-born King
And peace forevermore!
“ Whosoever,” reads section 67 of the Salic law, " shall call another a sorcerer, or accuse him of having carried the pot to the spot where the sorcerers meet, not being able to substantiate the same, shall be fined in the sum of 2500 deniers.” The inhabitants of the Isle of Orleans, just below Quebec, have been charged with sorcery from time immemorial, and as they have never sought to purge themselves of the accusation it is doubtless well founded. Satan of course presides at the sabbats, or orgies, assuming innumerable shapes and guises, He summons the motley company of sorcerers, damned souls, loups-garous, infidels, serpents, and feuxfollels by ringing a church-bell, stolen while it was yet unconsecrated ; and when he has marched round the island, at the head of this procession, he presides at the messe noire celebrated in his honor, and directs the incantations over the boiling caldron. The sorcerers on the mainland make desperate efforts to reach the island during this ceremony; but they cannot cross the St. Lawrence alone, for the river has been blessed and dedicated, and so they coax Christian habitants who happen to be out late to accompany them. The sorcerers of the Isle of Orleans direct their incantations chiefly to raising storms. This branch of the black art was once known to the witches of Cornwall and Devonshire. In 1634, sixty women were accused of raising a storm against the vessel that bore Charles I., on his passage from France. At St. Leven, in Cornwall, there is a cairn called Madge Figge’s chair, whereon a witch of that name used to sit, and by means of a miniature sail and a dried fish conjure up tempests and lightnings which sent many a gallant craft to the bottom. But no English witch can compare with Jean Pierre Lavallée, sorcerer, of St, François, Isle of Orleans. On the 30th of July, 1711, Sir Hovenden Walker, in command of a formidable armada, consisting of men-of-war and transports carrying troops, sailed from Nantasket Roads for Quebec, for the purpose of capturing that post, and avenging the repulse of Sir William Phipps in 1690. Paradis, master on a Rochelle gunboat which had been captured by the British frigate Chester, was put on board the flagship Edgar as pilot, for he knew the St. Lawrence well. A dense fog settled down upon the fleet after it left Gaspé Bay ; and at ten P. M., on August 22d, “ we found ourselves,” writes Admiral Walker, in his Journal (printed by D. Browne at the Black Swan, W. Mears at the Lamb without Temple Bar, and G. Strahan at the Golden Ball against the Exchange in Cornhill, 1720), “ upon the North Shore, amongst rocks and islands, at least fifteen leagues farther than the log gave, when the whole fleet had like to have been lost. But by God’s good providence all the menof-war, though with extreme hazard and difficulty, escaped. Eight transports were cast away, and almost nine hundred men lost.” The beach of Egg Island and the Labrador shore hard by were strewn with bodies. Two companics of Guards, who had fought under Marlborough in the Low Countries, were identified among the dead by their scarlet trappings. Mother Juchereau, of the Hôtel Dieu, records in her diary that a salvage expedition, fitted out at Quebec, found two thousand corpses on Egg Island. He that as it may, it was a wonderful deliverance for the colony. Some said the French pilot had willfully wrecked the fleet. The clergy held that it was the work of the Blessed Virgin, and the name of the church of Notre Dame de la Victoire in the Lower Town, where Phipps’s repulse was annually celebrated, was changed to Notre Dame des Victoires, to commemorate both occasions. But while the habitants doubted not the power or the beneficence of the Blessed Virgin, they ascribed the causation of the wreck to the incantations of Jean Pierre Lavallée of St. François. When it became known at Quebec that Queen Anne was fitting out the expedition, he bade the people be of good heart. He built a hut on the extreme easterly point of the island, near St. François, and began his midnight séances about the middle of August; and it is an article of habitant belief that the fog which enveloped the fleet to its destruction was the steam from his infernal pot. There could have been no mistake about this, for when the news of the disaster reached Quebec the sorcerer said that Sir Hovenden had not drained his cup of bitterness ; and sure enough, while the admiral was on his way to London to report the disaster, the Edgar, seventy guns, blew up at Portsmouth, and all on board, 470 souls, perished.
It is related of Charles II., Duke of Lorraine, that one night, when he was traveling incognito through his dominions, he came to a farm-house, the proprietor of which prepared two suppers, one for his guest and the other for the sorcerers, who, he said, were in the habit of holding sabbats in a neighboring wood. The duke sent secretly to the nearest town for a troop of soldiers, and went to the trysting-place of the sorcerers. Some were dressed as loupsgarous, and others had horns and claws. The strange company having gathered round the table, the duke signaled to the gendarmes, who arrested all hands ; and it turned out that the demons and sorcerers were brigands and robbers. The sabbats also became meetings of the Jacquerie. At the Isle of Orleans there is no doubt that habitants who have borne witness to the sabbats have been as grievously mistaken as that good farmer of Lorraine. The lights observed flashing on the beach at midnight were perhaps the torches of the eel-fishers, who used to ply a profitable trade there ; while the huge kettles swinging and steaming over roaring fires may have been, not witches’ caldrons, but the copper stills in which the thrifty islanders make their whisky, contrary to the statutes in such cases made and provided, and against the peace of their sovereign lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.
On nights when the sorcerers do not meet at Orleans, Satan travels abroad. He attends dancing-parties occasionally, dressed like a young city beau, and always seeks out the flirt of the company for his partner. In the midst of the danse ronde he suddenly utters a loud shriek, and vanishes through the window, carrying with him a burning log from the fire, and sometimes, indeed, the pot-oven, while the girl to her dying day bears the mark of his claws upon her wrist. What puts him to flight ? Usually the cry of a newly christened infant belonging to one of the good wives who are watching the dancers ; but if the dancers happen to arrange themselves in the form of a cross, that is quite as effective. Should he escape detection by these means, he is sure to be found out when the bon homme of the house, leaving the dancers to enjoy themselves, retires to the kitchen, and takes down his big Formulaire (Le Formulaire des Prières Chrétiennes à l’Usage des Religieuses Ursulines) to read a prayer before going to bed. But, to give the devil his due, he never tampers with souls on these occasions ; he appears to be bent on pleasure rather than on business. He leaves nothing undone, however, to destroy the souls of dying persons. Let us suppose that the habitant’s father, the bon homme of the household, is taken suddenly ill after reading his Formulaire. The habitant at once hurries to the stable, to prepare for a swift journey to the priest’s. But Satan has been there before him. The horses are covered with foam and utterly exhausted ; the harness is broken ; a wheel has been wrenched off the voiture ; and unless the habitant can borrow a neighbor’s team, the journey must be abandoned for the night, and the bon homme left to run the fearful risk of dying without the sacraments. Even if the vehicle is sound and the horses are in good condition, it is no easy matter to reach the priest’s. Feux-follets (the ignis fatuus) suddenly appear in front of the team, casting a blue, white, or red light upon the road. These are the spirits of criminals or of bad Catholics, which Satan employs to do his work. The unnatural light scares the horses, and they stand shivering on the road, until the poor bon homme is no more. The prudent habitant, however, provides against these satanic machinations. When his gloomy majesty enters a stable to “nobble” the horses, or tie the harness in a knot, it is a point of honor with him to disturb nothing else. The habitant therefore takes care to place a bag of bran behind the stable door, the mouth of the bag open, and the bag itself so arranged that when Satan opens the door the bran is scattered over the floor. On seeing the mischief he has done, his majesty, whose orderly habits are worthy of all praise, at once begins to put each separate and individual hull of bran in its original position in the bag, a task which occupies him so long that he has not time to dose the horses, or remove the linch-pin from the voiture. The feux - follets can generally begot rid of, if the habitant is a goodliving man, by offering a prayer for all lost souls. Some feux-follets, however, are past praying for, and a little strategy is necessary in their case. One method of driving them away is to make the sign of the cross, and ask them on which day of the week next Christmas falls. This puzzles them, and they go off to consult Satan on the subject. Another method is to make a cross with the whip, leaving it in the middle of the road ; and still another, to stick a needle in the fence, and escape while the feuxfollets are trying to creep through the eye. Once the priest’s house is reached, the habitant is safe, for his tormentors dare not show themselves on the return journey. As his reverence is being driven at a rattling pace along the road, Satan and the feux-follets betake themselves to the woods, and when the servant of God enters the chamber where the bon homme is lying, they howl in rage and despair.
Weird and unearthly lights haunt many a bay and headland in the Gulf. At Cape Despair (originally Cap d’Espoir), where some of Sir Hovenden Walker’s ships were lost, and where a wreck known as Le Naufrage Anglais was visible down to a recent period, a strange light appears on calm nights, the sea becomes angry, the waves run mountains high, and a phantom ship heaves in sight. It is crowded with soldiers wearing the uniform of the British army in Marlborough’s day. An officer, bearing in one arm a lady clad in white (many of the officers and men in that expedition had their wives with them, as they intended to settle in the colony), stands with his foot on the bowsprit, pointing with his right hand to the frowning cape. Suddenly, as the light grows dim, a wild shriek is heard, and the ship goes down in the darkness. In the Baie des Chaleurs there is a mysterious light which foretells a storm from the northwest. Eighty years ago, so the tradition runs, a trading craft was attacked by robbers, and all on board were murdered. Some time afterwards the murderers were drowned during a northwesterly gale, and the goods which they had taken from their victims were washed ashore and identified. M. Le Moine, of Quebec, who has compiled the chronicles of the St. Lawrence,1 and who is a high authority on all matters connected with Lower Canada, says he has it from an old Gulf navigator that the light which marks the scene of this crime appears even in winter time, blazing on the ice, like a bale of merchandise on fire. At the mouth of the river Magdeleine, on the Gaspé coast, Gulf sailors often hear a piercing cry above the storm. Some say it is the wail of a shipwrecked sailor, imploring the prayers of the faithful for the repose of his sold. Others declare it to be the cry of an infant that was refused baptism by a bad priest, who was reduced to a skeleton for his crime. The island of Miscou is inhabited by a strange creature called the gougou. Samuel de Champlain says in his Voyages that it is shaped like a woman, but is taller than a mast. It has a huge pouch, into which it drops human beings, and it utters sounds so dreadful that no man dare approach its abiding place.
But the most formidable creature in Lower Canada is the loup-garou, whose acquaintance we made at the Isle of Orleans. The loup-garou, or man-wolf, was known in ancient times both to theologians and to law-givers. A council which was called by the Emperor Sigismund decided that sorcerers often assumed the form of loups-garous, and strange tales are told by old French chroniclers of the deeds of these emissaries of Satan. At a village in Auvergne, in 1588, a hunter was attacked by a monstrous loup-garou; he cut off its paw, which a gentleman who had been watching the combat recognized by a ring as the hand of his wife. On entering the house he saw her sitting disconsolate by the lire, with one arm concealed under her robe. She confessed her guilt, and was publicly burnt. In Livonia, at the end of December, Satan, armed with a bar of red-hot iron, flew over the country and summoned the loups-garous to their annual convention, which lasted twelve days. When the gathering broke up, the delegates plunged into a river, and presto ! they were no longer loups-garous, but men and women. Boquet says that One hundred and fifty loups-garous were seen at one time in the streets of Constantinople. Beauvoys de Chauvincourt wrote a learned treatise upon the subject in 1590, De la Translation des Hommes en Loups. There are two species of loupgarou in Lower Canada: one that kills and eats children, and another that, like the feux-follets, seeks the destruction of souls. The former is never seen except by children, whose evidence is not worthy of credence, inasmuch as the loupgarou appears to wicked children only ; but the existence of the latter has been vouched for by thousands of good habitants. A habitant, deep in the backwoods of the St. Maurice or Lac St. Jean, has said his prayers, and is preparing to turn in for the night, when he hears a shout outside, and, going to the door, is told by a belated teamster bound for the shanties that his neighbor at the “clearing,” ten miles away, is lying at the point of death, and that there is no priest within fifty miles. The habitant harnesses his horses, and starts without delay, taking with him the bottle of holy water he brought from his native parish at Easter, his beads, and petit Albert, a collection of prayers. The wind is moaning in the forest, and the trees throw gaunt shadows upon the snow. Suddenly he hears the sound of rushing feet, and, looking over his shoulder as he plies his horses with the whip, discovers to his horror that he is being pursued by a loup-garou. The fiend resembles a huge wolf, but its cry is human, and its eyes are like the lights of the feux-follets. The habitant mutters a prayer, and drives furiously. It is a bard race through the woods and over the frozen streams, but, thanks to the good St. Anne, the patronne of Lower Canada and the kind protector of backwoodsmen and sea-faring men, the habitant reached the house first, and, placing the open prayer-book on the table, defies the loup-garou to cross the threshold. He is in time to sprinkle the dying man with holy water, receive his last words, and close his eyes. Then, fastening his beads upon the lintel, to preserve the widow and children from the loup-garou, he sets out to call the neighbors and fetch the priest, that the body may receive Christian burial. It is proper to add that in the good old times, when the habitant was blessed with abundant harvests from a virgin soil, and hard drinking was the rule, — Il est soûl comme dans les bonnes années is a proverb, — loups-garous were more numerous than they are now.
An eclipse of the sun or moon alarms the habitant, who has heard from the fathers and the old men before them of the signs and tokens that preceded the great earthquake of 1663. Father Hierosme Lalemant, in the Relation for that year, says that in the fall of 1662 fiery serpents were seen in the heavens, and a ball of fire rushed from the moon, and, with a noise like thunder, burst and fell behind Mount Royal. On January 7, 1663, three suns and a rainbow appeared, and on February 5th, at five P. M., the first shock was felt of the earthquake that shook Lower Canada for six months. The year 1785 is known as the year of great darkness, the earth on two Sundays, October 9th and October 16th. having been enveloped in a “fiery yellow atmosphere.” On April 11, 1782, tradition says darkness prevailed on the Saguenay River, the heavens mourning for the death of a Jesuit, Father Jean Baptiste Labrosse, who died at Tadousac on that day. The story of the miracles wrought when that good man died, as told by Dr. Taché in his Forestiers et Voyageurs, and by l’Abbé Casgrain in Un Pélerinage a la Ile-au-Coudres, is a characteristic Gulf legend. Father Labrosse was a native of Poitou, He arrived at Quebec in 1754, and for nearly thirty years preached the gospel to white men and Indians along the St. Lawrence and down in the wilds of Acadia. On the night of his death he was at the house of an officer of the trading-post at Tadousac, and, although nearly seventy years old. appeared to be as strong and hearty as a man of forty. He was tall and robust, and his long white hair and saintly face made him look every inch an apostle. At nine P. M. he rose, and in solemn tones told his friends that the hour of his death was at hand. At midnight he should die, and the church bell of Tadousac would announce the news to his Indian children, who were camped there for the spring trade in peltries, and to all the Gulf. He bade the company farewell, charging them, as he left the house, to go to Ile-auxCoudres and bring Father Compain, the curé, to give his body Christian sepulture. The party sat in silence, listening for the bells, which on the stroke of midnight began to toll. The village was aroused, and the people hurried to the chapel, and there, before the altar, lay the old Jesuit, dead. They watched by the corpse until daylight, when the post officer ordered four men to take a canoe and go to Ile-aux-Coudres. A fearful storm was raging in the Gulf, and ice floes almost choked the wide expanse of water. “ Fear not,” said the officer to the fishermen ; “ Father Labrosse will protect you.” They launched the canoe, and great was their surprise to find that, while the tempest howled and the waves and the ice seethed like a caldron on each side of them, a peaceful channel was formed by some invisible hand for their craft. They reached Ile-aux-Coudres - — over sixty miles, as the crow flies, from Tadousac— without accident. Father Cornpain was standing on the cliff, and, as they neared the shore, he cried out, “ Father Labrosse is dead, and you have come to take me to Tadousac to bury him ! ” How did he know this ? The night previous he was sitting alone in his house, reading his breviary, when suddenly the bell in the church (dedicated to St. Louis) began to toll. He ran down to the church, but the doors were locked, and when he opened them he found no one within, and still the passing bell was tolling. As he approached the altar, Father Compain heard a voice saying, “ Father Labrosse is dead. This bell announces his departure. To-morrow do thou stand at the lower end of the island and await the arrival of a canoe from Tadousac. Return with it, and give him burial.” And at all the mission posts where Father Labrosse had preached — Chicoutimi, l'Ile Verte, Trois-Pistoles, Rimouski, and along the Baie-des-Chaleurs — the bells, of their own accord, rang out the death of the old Jesuit at the same hour. And for many a year, whenever the Indians of the Saguenay visited Tadousac, they made a pilgrimage to his grave, and whispered to the dead within through a hole in the slab of the vault, believing that he would lay their peti tions before God.
Of the legends growing out of the religious fervor of the habitant, this is not the place to speak. One apparition of St. Anne is preserved in an old rhyme. The Carignan regiment, which was disbanded at Quebec, had served with other French troops on the side of the Emperor Leopold against the Turks, and had borne a conspicuous part in the decisive victory achieved over them by Montecuculi at St. Gothard, in Hungary. This legend is entitled The Soldier-Peasant’s Vision, and relates the appearance of St. Anne to one of the Carignan soldiers, many of whom took up land in the Isle of Orleans and other islands below Quebec. The original, of which the following is a close translation, was written, it will be observed, before the English conquest of Quebec : —
The Angelas was ringing from the bells of Ileau-Reaux;
The reaper leaned upon his scythe, the wild-bee ceased its hum,
The consecrated river hushed its waters and was dumb;
The oxen, as at Bethlehem, knelt of their own accord,
While the incense of the mid-day prayer was wafted to their Lord!
Cries the bareheaded reaper, while tears bedew his face,
“For sovereign, for seignior, for those in high command,
France, with her vines and olives, is in sooth a pleasant land;
But fairer than lily on her shield is this New World colony,
Where the weary serf may stand erect, unawed by tyranny!
Do thou ask the Blessed Virgin to bless our sire, the King,
To overthrow his enemies, bless him in everything;
To speed his royal banners, crown them with victory,
As when we fought the Paynim on the plains of Hungary !
But, O mother of all Bretons, by thy love for Mary’s Son,
By His agony and dolors, by His wounds on Calvary won,
Guard thou New France from tyrants, oh spare her virgin soil
From the heel of the oppressor, from tumult and turmoil! ”
Saint Anne had heard the veteran’s prayer, and
stood upon the tide,
An aureole about her brow, and angels by her
“Fear not, my son,” she sweetly said; “be New
France true to me. And she shall ever be the home of rugged lib-
erty ! ”
The vision passed, and the reaper bent to the
cutting of the grain :
The covenant is kept; he did not pray in
- We refer the reader to M. Le Moine’s singularly interesting Work entitled Picturesque Quebec: A Sequel to Quebec Past and Present, recently published by Dawson Brothers, Montreal.↩