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
(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
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.