Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Folklore of Nova Scotia

Folklore has been defined as the “traditional customs, tales, beliefs or sayings, especially of a superstitious or legendary nature preserved unreflectively among a people.” (i). The term is likewise applied to the science that investigates these legends and superstitions with a view to learning from them the thoughts and ideals of the people among whom they are found. Sir Lawrence Gomme defines the Science of Folklore as “an effort to study man as he primitively reached out for knowledge. "

To the student, then, folklore has a deep significance; for to him it is the sole available record of the unlettered childhood of the human race. In their myths and legends he can trace their customs, manners, modes of thought, ideas of God and the supernatural. For this study, folklorists have taken stories from the dictation of American Indians, South Sea Islanders, Lapps, Germans, Celts, Russians; missionaries have published tales from the savages of Africa; Chinese and Egyptian manuscripts have been laboriously deciphered. All possess common elements. The magic apple, for instance, figures in the tales of many diverse people. We have the Apple of Discord (ii.) in the classics; the apple that was priceless although not magical in the story “The Three Apples,” in the Arabian Nights (iii); “Iduna’s Apples,” in the Norse tale (iv), where Iduna feasted the Aesir on this fruit, and they grew young and beautiful again; the magic apples of the Celtic tale “The Three Soldiers” (v) in which the king’s daughter

(i) Standard Dictionary.

(ii) Gayley’s Classic Myths.

(iii) “History of the Three Apples,” Arabian Nights Entertainments.

(iv) “Iduna’s Apples,” Myths from Many Lands, arranged by Eva March Tappan.

(v) Popular Tales of the West Highlands, J. F. Campbell.

transports the soldier to a green island by means of a magic cloth, and there he finds apples that transform his head into a deer’s, and others that cure him. All these stories show that the apple must have been regarded with peculiar veneration by primitive peoples. In like manner the beliefs regarding giants, swords, horses, may be traced through the tales of different peoples. These similarities seem to point to one conclusion—that they exist not by chance, but because of a common origin in some remote past.

The Celtic richness of imagination has woven into the general myths a romantic element that makes them unique among the masses of folklore. Here we can follow the wanderings of the race from east to west through forests and wilds inhabited by savages and wild beasts; here again we find them on the battle field of Celt and Scandinavian— Erin and. Lochlann—with giants, fairies and enchanted princes in mortal combat, and the battle always won by the righteous. The White Sword of Light, a favorite magical instrument of these tales, carries one back to the ages when iron had been but lately discovered and weapons made from it were sufficiently rare to be invested with preternatural qualities. Horseshoes, hammers and guns, other favorite subjects, emphasize the magical properties ascribed to iron. That these superstitions die hard, can readily be seen even at the present time, when a horseshoe, particularly if found by chance, is invested with luck-bringing powers.

It is this Celtic strain that predominates in the folklore of Nova Scotia. The immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, especially from the Highlands, brought with them the inherited idealism of their race; their faith in God and the supernatural; exuberant imagination that peopled with preternatural life their homeland streams and forests, their hills and valleys, aye, even the very clouds and the foam of the sea. Their wealth of myth and legend they brought with them from the old land, and found in the new a ready grafting place for their legendary lore. The very contour of the land lent itself to the tales, for here they found old Scotia anew, less rugged, more fertile it is true, yet very like in the variety and grandeur of its scenery.

Around newly-kindled hearth fires the old sgeulachdan (tales) were related at the Gelidh (friendly visit) in the poetic language of the Gael. So faithfully were the old stories preserved that they scarcely differ from those that were contemporary in the Highlands. Gradually new tales were added—new tales with a local habitation and a name. The keen spiritual insight of the old Highlanders was not dulled by exile. Soon stretches of woods were peopled with spirits—terrifying ones they usually were; witches plied their fell trade in remote mountain districts; and here and there a man with “The Sight” saw visions and dreamed dreams.

These tales which have grown up on Nova Scotian soil, together with those of the Acadians, the descendants of the first French colonists of Canada, make an interesting field of study. But when they are put into the setting made ages ago by our Micmac Indians, who ascribe the presence of certain islands, rocks, mountains and caves to the creative power of a wonder-working giant named Glooscap, we have a folklore of which so young a country as Nova Scotia may well be proud.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.