Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Witchcraft: Tales, Beliefs and Superstitions by Clary Croft: Review
When I saw the Clary Croft had written a book called Witchcraft: Tales, Beliefs and Superstitions from the Maritimes, I knew I had to get it. The people at Nimbus Publishing were kind enough to send me a copy for review. Croft's mentor was the Canadian folklorist Helen Creighton, she had collected a large number of songs and stories in the earlier part of the 20th century. One of her collections is a favorite of mine: Bluenose Ghosts. Witchcraft reminded me of that book as it is written very similarly. Croft uses the research of other folklorists as well as his own, including documentary evidence in newspapers and court documents. Most of the stories in the book are 'eyewitness accounts,' though I found the section on named witches and traditional European stories (like fairy tales) fascinating.
According to Croft, Maritime witchcraft lore is a meld of Mi'kmaq, Acadian (French), German, Celtic, African and Anglo beliefs. Put all those people in a bucket stir it up and this is what you get. Many of the stories in the book are variants on the same theme: cow dries up, counter spell, witch revealed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Some of the counter spells are really bizarre. I can't imagine doing them if I thought someone had bewitched my cow. But I suppose if I had to rely on the animal to provide for my family, I'd try anything. It's interesting how the accused witch tended to be a person with a better cow. Jealous much?
I wouldn't have wanted to be the poor harassed person accused of being a witch. Most are just shunned or gossiped about (annoying enough) but one young man shot his uncle because he believed the man had bewitched him. Now we would say the young man was mentally ill for believing such a thing. I did like how one woman handled such accusations; she sent her accuser a cease and desist order. A thoroughly modern idea!
Then there are people who revelled in the title of witch. Some liked being feared, others used their powers to help. There must have been a fortune in the counter spell industry especially since most of them only involved a jar, some pins and pee. Yes. I said pee! So many people were running around boiling urine on their stoves to punish witches. Not sanitary, people.
Obviously, Croft did a tremendous amount of research for the book. I would like to know why people believed the things that they did though. Again, why urine? And pins? Where did that come from? More than likely the tale tellers wouldn't know. Croft's focus is on the old folk tales (the kind you hear from Grandpa after a few beers) not modern practices. I wonder how many people are left who believe these things or has the label of witchcraft changed to something else. Twenty years ago, when I was a teenager, there was a short fad where people I knew would go to the local 'fortune teller.' What went on there I don't know, sitting in a dark room with a creepy stranger wasn't what I did for kicks, but apparently he was very accurate (according to people who paid $10 to see him). Those stories will no doubt be told around the kitchen table to the grandkids someday.
Witchcraft should be read on a crisp fall night with a cup of tea. I learned a lot from this quick read and I have a new list from his bibliography that I want to check out. Just what I need, more books.
Clary Croft has a website. And he sings!
Thanks Nimbus Publishing for the review copy.