God is not dead in Quebec. If the Portuguese, Spaniards or Panamanians ever abandon Him, He will find comfort and shelter on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. But the same goes for the devil, too.

“Religion is a personal thing. I told my children we weren’t given a choice growing up. It was rosaries and scapulars for everyone. You kids can do what you want, but don’t blame me if you all end up rubbing elbows with the devil. Because if that happens, then, damn it, we’ll know everything they told us is true.

My mother would talk to the priest often. She gave a quarter during collection and two dollars at parish visits. She also gave to the annual food drive, the Sainte-Enfance (Holy Childhood) Association and pretty much anyone else with their hand out. She was always giving someone money. And she refused to pray on an empty stomach because she said you couldn’t do it right if you were hungry. I don’t doubt there’s a God. The priests worked too hard to make us believe for it not to be true. I was a churchwarden in 1947.

I’m not a priest basher, but I saw the changes coming in our parish. Young people stopped going to Mass, then it was folks my age (we used to go so as not to scandalize the young ones). After a while, there were only a dozen or so elderly people attending formal Mass.

Fernande still says her prayers. I sometimes think about religion, but I don’t make myself sick over it. I try to stick to the Commandments as much as I can. I’m sure God exists.”

Joe is a mystical being and so are we all. In fact, Quebecers are so mystical that they were the leading exporters of Christian missionaries for many years, followed by the Irish and Irish American Catholics.

The chief of the Kuna Indians in the San Blas Islands that lie off the coast of Panama told us (I was with producer Jean Lebel at the time) that white French-speaking missionaries who knew the Indians in Canada had been to the Islands at the turn of the century...and were quickly turned away (like all the other white missionaries who’d been there since 1630) with death threats.

There isn’t a single place in the world where our people haven’t tried to convert locals – whether they had red, yellow or black skin – to Catholicism. And there isn’t a single schoolchild from the 1940s who hasn’t bought him- or herself a little Chinese brother through the Sainte-Enfance Association.

In 1900, the Quebec clergy had no choice but to teach religious beliefs through Le Catéchisme en images (The Illustrated Catechism) and present symbolic pious stories using pictures (a missionary practice still being used in South America and Africa) since 69% of the population was illiterate (the rate went down to 23% in the early 1960s).

The missionary work of Quebecers rooted in Heartstring 20 has found new life in international cooperation. Thanks to the Canadian International Development Agency, we are once again present around the world in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and even Asia. And we do a little bit of everything, including consulting, scientific collaboration, managing, public service and teaching. An official report states that, “Quebecers are in such high demand all over the world, they’re now considered one of Quebec’s new natural resources.”

While we’re off spreading the word at the other end of the world, the Americans – those marketing geniuses – have figured out there’s a void to fill in Quebec since God is not dead and thousands of us miss Him. Which is why there’s an ad in the papers reminding us not to miss The Hour of Decision with Billy Graham on Channel 10 at 3:30 pm. (Haiti gets the same message.)

American televangelists are quick to buy 60 minutes of airtime on networks across Quebec each week because they’re convinced it’ll make them money. Rex Humbard, whose voice is dubbed in French by one of our actors, spreads the good word to Trois-Rivières residents every Sunday on CKTM radio.

In 1976, the Baptist Church of Texas hired Dallas agency Bloom Inc. to help with a $1.5 million ad campaign. Did the investment pay off? It must have, because the Church is now thinking of upping its advertising budget and bringing its “Living Proof” theme to some 15 other states as well as Canada and Mexico. It pays to advertise!

In 1967, futurist Herman Khan predicted that Americans and Canadians (Quebecers in particular) would return to traditional values, religion and patriotism in the 1980s.

A very thorough sociologist like Robert Sévigny is about as far as you can get from a prophet like Khan, yet he made a similar prediction in his 1967 book L’expérience religieuse chez les jeunes (The Religious Experiences of Young People).

“The general trend will probably be for people to adopt a more independent attitude towards religion but we can still expect there to be several different types of religious experiences at play. This shift is almost certainly linked to our quest for autonomy and the wide variety of situations these experiences will be lived in. Young people want socialization agents (clergy, parents, and so on) to let them choose. In the end, they’re asking for the right to convert.”

Headlines confirm both predictions.

“According to various sources, Pentecostals seem to have several gifts, including the gift of languages as described by St. Paul.” – Télémédia news report, September 11, 1975

“Claiming they were roughed up by police on July 4, the Sisters of Infinite Love demand an investigation be undertaken.” – La Presse, July 30, 1977

Le Tier-Ordre now has 35,000 members in Quebec.” – La Presse, September 10, 1975

“Co-chairmen, the Honourable Mayor Jean Drapeau and Philippe de Gaspé-Beaubien, are pleased to invite you to attend the Déjeuner de la Prière pour les Chefs de file de Montréal (Prayer Breakfast for Montreal Leaders) on Friday, July 16, 1976 in the Ballroom of the Château Champlain.” – Personal invitation

“Occultism and esotericism: Jacques Languirand explains.” – Madame magazine, August 1976

“Paul Bouchard’s crazy business idea: launching a newspaper with only God’s help.” – La Presse, September 12, 1977

“Hervé Belzile, CA and Gaston Bertrand were appointed Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.” – L’Équipe, Banque Provinciale monthly newsletter, 1976

“The Church of Scientology offers courses at $53 an hour. Caisse pop managers received requests for $3000 and $4000 loans from people wanting to take the courses.” – Le Jour, June 22, 1976

“White Berets make pilgrimage to Bayside, New York to witness apparitions of Virgin Mary to prophetess Veronica.” – La Presse, February 22, 1975

“The mysterious but real praying plant.” – Perspectives, November 13, 1976

“Legal proceedings: an old woman leaves her possessions to the Apostles of Infinite Love.” – La Presse, January 7, 1977

“5500 Jehovah’s witnesses gathered for a meeting at Parc Richelieu.” – Le Devoir, July 29, 1977

“Pastor Claude A. Gagnon of the Temple du Réveil (Revival Temple) in Ste-Agathe: a great celebration of the word of God in country songs and multiplication of loaves and fishes.” – La Presse, July 12, 1976

“First International Symposium of Parapsychology in Montreal: growing interest in the occult and psychic experiences.” – La Presse, March 10, 1977

“Charismatic Renewal: twelve people cured by miracles part of prayer event in Olympic Stadium.” – Front page of Le Journal de Montréal, June 13, 1977

“Dowser Monique Peries cures illnesses using her green eye that gives off an invisible ray.” – La Presse, September 5, 1977

“There’s no need to be afraid. Freemasonry is not for bogeymen; it’s a private club for conservative dads.” – Perspectives, May 8, 1976

“Nicole Couture of St-Jean-d’Iberville becomes a Buddhist nun in Kopan, Nepal.” – Perspectives, June 26, 1966

“While churches everywhere are emptying out, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré attracts 1 million visitors a year, most of them Quebecers.” – Front page, La Presse, July 25, 1977

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In Croyances et pratiques populaires au Canada français (Popular Beliefs and Practices in French Canada), Pierre des Ruisseaux writes:

“It’s safe to assume that traditional mystical phenomena that lose their appeal will be replaced by others that are better suited to our current reality while essentially following the same train of thought and providing a similar experience that barely changes over time. Historically, both government and religious authorities in French Canada were strongly opposed to and downright hostile towards any manifestation of evil magic.”

But neither the criminal code nor the repeated instructions given by bishops will stop Quebec mystics from believing a bunch of superstitions:

• If the Habs score the first goal, they’ll win the game.

• If you miss your shot once, you’ll miss it three times.

• If a wife is older than her husband, they’ll never go hungry.

• If the first time a newborn cries is during prayers, he’ll become a priest.

• A birthmark resembling a fleur-de-lis brings good luck.

Des Ruisseaux also says that, “Whether you consider them utter nonsense or the remnants of forgotten lore, popular beliefs and practices are a part of our everyday lives.”

Quebecers are mystical and esoteric.

In Au Seuil du subconscient (At the Brink of the Subconscious), Bishop Édouard Jetté describes several phenomena involving transmissions of influence, visions, miracles and holy gifts he’s witnessed firsthand in Quebec and that we may have seen ourselves among family members or neighbours.

Flying canoes, will-o’-the-wisp, werewolves, bogeymen and sorcerers haunt our dreams. Essays on the occult, the supernatural, the esoteric and astrology co-exist on library shelves. Brother André, the ritualistic Knights of Columbus, the mysterious Order of Jacques-Cartier, White Berets, Grand Robert the Hypnotist, Brother John of the Holy Spirit and René Lévesque’s laryngitis that was miraculously cured as he was campaigning in the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré area in 1966 are just a few examples of what feeds Heartstring 20.

Ethnologist Robert-Lionel Séguin takes us beyond the traditional views of a religion-conforming Quebec.

“Devils and goblins are some of the favourite themes of our local poets. Our long winters and seemingly endless landscape create a mysterious atmosphere that inspires both songwriters and storytellers. Jugglers and sorcerers are given the tasks of promoting firearms, preventing disease and ensuring hunters meet their quotas. The charlatans who live in the woods are healers and clairvoyants by vocation.”

Quebecers consult with healers, bonesetters and quacks in the various tribes (Dragon in St-Denis, Desfossés and Maltais in Sherbrooke and Boily in Montreal) because these individuals have been blessed with the seventh sense. When our ills are more of the moral variety than the physical kind, we check in with fortunetellers and astrologists. “When women don’t feel good about themselves, they come see us. Back in the day they would’ve seen their priest, but today they come to us. We astrologers have great and very serious responsibilities,” says Lise Moreau.

Quebec and Canada were both born under the sign of Cancer. Make whatever deductions you will based on this information…or go ask Professor Henri Gazon.

We’re all mystics – there’s no doubt about that – which means Jesus the Healer could start making appearances all over Quebec. All you have to do is believe.

During the 1972 federal election, voters kept saying the Liberal Party’s anthem sounded familiar. It was. Their musical theme was a speeded-up version of the Adeste Fideles hymn.

Quebec is magic…and Quebecers are sorcerers.

© 2022 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.