Mi'kmaw Shamans and Acadian Sorcerers: A Study in Cultural Transmissions, Transferences and Transformations
Date of Award
Level of Access Assigned by Author
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Scott W. See
Third Committee Member
Concerned with the preservation of Acadian traditional culture, Acadian folklorists of the later twentieth century undertook the task of interviewing the elder population. One folklorist, Sister Catherine Jolicoeur, collected and classified 20,000 Acadian legends from New Brunswick. Jolicoeur's collection includes over 400 variants of legends concerning the Mi'kmaq, and more than 350 of these variants associate the Mi'kmaq with sorcery. Acadian informants tell the story of Mi'kmaw sorcery that follows a similar pattern, whereby the magically empowered Mi'kmaq arrive at Acadian homes in search of charity or to sell their hand-made baskets and other wares. Many of these encounters occurred between Mi'kmaw women, called taoueilles, who were believed to be the more virulent form of sorcerer. It was advisable to never disappoint their Mi'kmaw visitors; for they would surely cast a malevolent spell in reprisal. Scholars point out that the Acadians imported from France an association of strangers with sorcery, therefore explaining the origins of their belief in Mi'kmaw sorcery. However, French documentary evidence reveals that accused witches in early modern France were more often well known neighbors, rather than strangers. An analysis of both Acadian and Mi'kmaw oral tradition and documentary evidence leads to the conclusion that the legend is the product of cultural transference; moreover the legend and its transference served the purpose of social regulation. The Acadians brought with them a European witchcraft tradition, which transitioned and transformed as a result of exposure to a Mi'kmaw cosmology. Conversely, the Mi'kmaq adopted European witchcraft beliefs into their shamanic traditions, whereby a puwowin, or shaman, adopted certain European attributes. Prior to contact, both the Acadian and Mi'kmaw cultures stressed the importance of interdependence, whereby social transgressions concerning notions of reciprocity invoked the power of a retaliatory act of sorcery or shamanic reprisal. The resulting fear of offense served the purpose of controlling social behavior and became the central theme in stories of Native sorcery within both communities during the post contact years.
Harmon, Susan Janet, "Mi'kmaw Shamans and Acadian Sorcerers: A Study in Cultural Transmissions, Transferences and Transformations" (2014). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2243.