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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/537

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SUPERSTITIONS OF THE FRENCH CANADIANS.

was called an adocté—that is, one who had made a secret compact with a mahoumet. It is difficult to find the origin of this term, which the French colonists applied to the familiar spirits of the Indian wizards. A Canadian writer (Dr. J. C. Taché) offers the explanation that, considering the founder of Islamism the incarnation of all evil, the French applied his name, slightly altered, to these diabolical spirits. The mahoumet was a species of goblin, who devoted himself to the service of his votary on the condition that the latter should obey him in all things and should offer him frequent sacrifices. This mahoumet is described as a little man, about two feet high, having a skin gray and shining, like that of a lizard, and eyes that glowed like living coals. The adocté bound himself by a solemn oath, and it was only the sacraments of baptism, confession, and absolution that had power to break the compact. Treachery between the contracting parties was not rare, neither being deterred by any scrupulous delicacy from striving to outwit the other; but as the adocté was the slave of his tormentor, he usually got the worst of the bargain. The mahoumet counseled his adocté, and, when not restrained by the power of magic superior to his own, aided him in his difficulties. Feuds were frequent between these wizards; through the powers of their mahoumets they played each other many tricks. The conflicts between them might continue for a long time, but in the end one must perish. Unless a wizard abandoned his evil practices he never died a natural death.

The Canadian sailors and fisher folk have superstitions peculiar to themselves. A belief in mermaids is very general. There are certain fishes which the fisher folk never touch; for instance, a certain kind of haddock, commonly called "St. Peter's fish," which legend declares to have been the first fish taken out of the net by the apostle on the occasion of the miraculous draught of fishes. The back of the fish is said to bear in black marks the imprints of St. Peter's fingers.

The Abbé Ferland, a well-known Canadian writer, gives an account of flames which are said to be seen dancing upon the waters of the Bale des Châleurs, and which the fishermen declare are caused by the souls of sailors who have perished on that spot, and who send this weird appearance that the living may be reminded to pray for their souls. "According to the reports of those who have examined them," he observes, "they rise from the sea between Caraquet and Paspebiac. Sometimes no larger than a torch, then again like a vast conflagration, they advance, retire, rise, fall. As a boat approaches they disappear; then, as it retires the light acquires fresh brilliancy."

The sailors and fisher folk are also firmly persuaded that Admiral Walker, with his phantom fleet, appears occasionally in the