Making Witches: Newfoundland Traditions of Spells and Counterspells.


208 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7735-3360-8
DDC 133.4'309718




Reviewed by R. Gordon Moyles

R. Gordon Moyles is professor emeritus of English at the University of
Alberta, co-author of Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British
Views of Canada, 1880–1914, and author of The Salvation Army and the


The word “Making” in Rieti’s title tells much about the nature of witchcraft in Newfoundland mythology. For, as her fascinating study of the subject shows, people reputed to be witches were more often than not “made” by social circumstances or were “created” out of a superstitious culture which tended to treat eccentrics and misfits as other-worldly creatures. Thus, if old Aunt Maggie found herself destitute (as many did in Newfoundland before confederation) and took to begging in rags; or, if she was somehow “different” from normal people (was somewhat of a clairvoyant or could read teacups) she might be branded a witch and, finding the appellation convenient, might cultivate the role to the extent that she and the community firmly believed she was one. Then the stories about her and her supposed “witchly” activities grew in number and power of invention as the years went by—verified by those who had experienced her power and remembered in a “could-be-true” kind of way by children and grandchildren. It became a rich folklore tradition, and Rieti explores that richness by assessing and recounting the many stories she has heard from her interviewees and has accessed at Memorial University’s folklore archives. She does so deftly in terms of scientific commentary, and engagingly in terms of presenting and classifying the stories themselves. That is, while this is certainly a worthwhile contribution to folklore studies, it is also one which will appeal favourably to the lay reader.



Rieti, Barbara., “Making Witches: Newfoundland Traditions of Spells and Counterspells.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,