Louisiana Cajun folklore, superstitions, spells and legends are known around the world. Learn more about the unique Southern culture they come from.

You may have heard spooky Cajun legends around the campfire like the loup-garou (Cajun werewolf), or the père malfait (Cajun boogeyman). We’ve all tasted zesty Cajun cooking, or heard stomping Cajun music. But did you know Louisiana Cajun folklore is heavily French influenced, with a dash of African, Native American, Spanish and other cultures? Talk about a cultural gumbo!

Before we treat you to some Cajun superstitions, spells, legends and myths, you may be curious where Cajuns actually come from. So let’s find out!

What Does Cajun Mean?

Louisiana Cajuns are an ethnic group with French roots. They originated in the colony of Acadia in eastern Canada, in what is now the Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edwards Island). Acadia was part of the broader New France colony in North America, existing from the 16th-18th centuries.

But the Acadians were separate ethnically and geographically from the rest of New France, holding on to distinctive folklore that would eventually make its way to Louisiana.

Colony of Acadia By Mikmaq licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Acadians to Cajuns

When New France fought Great Britain during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the British Army deported thousands of Acadians as suspected French allies. This was known as the Great Expulsion (1755-1764). As a result, many Acadians died of disease or were forced into hard labor. While the British resettled others in the Thirteen American Colonies. Some Acadians eluded capture and remained in the colony – the reason why Acadian culture still exists in eastern Canada today.

The British deported other Acadians to Europe. Consequently, Spain recruited them to colonize their territory of Luisiana (present day Louisiana). Hence, Louisianans refer to the original Acadian settlers as “Cajun,” derived from the French term les Acadians. While these settlers’ descendants are known as “Creole.” Although “Creole” is often applied to those of mixed European, African and Native American descent.

Generally speaking, the geographical heart of Cajun culture are the farms and swamps of South Louisiana, though some Cajuns reside in New Orleans or other urban areas. The difference between Cajun and Creole can be very confusing to outsiders (not to mention Louisianans!). So to keep things simple, we will simply discuss “Cajun” folklore.

Louisiana Cajun Folklore

Louisiana Cajun folklore is a perfect example of how cultural traits can cross an ocean and transform. Indeed, what we identify as Cajun is often French in origin (and heavily Catholic), by way of Acadia. Many Cajuns speak in a regional French dialect known as Louisiana French, or Cajun French.

Cajun cuisine combines French, West African and Spanish influences. Cajun music combines Acadian fiddles with accordions, plus African or Native American rhythms (the Creole version is called zydeco.)

But it is Cajun superstitions and spells, along with the myths and legends they tell, where French influence can really be seen.

Cajun Superstitions and Spells

Here are some Cajun superstitions and good gris-gris (that’s “charms and spells” for you non-Cajuns). Famed Cajun storyteller J.J. Reneaux shared these with The Moonlit Road:

  • Beware of sleeping in the moonlight. It will make you go moon mad.
  • To protect against the devil: Hang a mirror on your porch by the door. M’su Diable is very vain. He is so attracted to his own image that he can’t move from the spot until the sun rises and he has to scat.
  • To protect against the Cajun loup-garou (werewolf) : Lay 13 small objects such as pennies, beans, or broom straws by your doors. The werewolf is not too bright. She cannot count higher than 12. When she comes to the 13th object, she gets so confused and has to start over. The poor thing will be there counting all night until the dawn when she must flee the sun.
  • For good fortune: Never eat both ends of a loaf of bread before you’ve eaten the middle – if you do, you’ll have trouble making ends meet. Also, be sure to eat cooked cabbage (and lots of it) on New Year’s Day for good fortune in the coming days. And, like many Southerners, Cajuns also eat black eyed peas on the first to have good health in the New Year.
  • If an alligator crawls under your house, be extra careful – it could be a warning of someone’s impending death.
  • To find a treasure: The fifolet is an eerie burning light that is seen often in the swamp, gently floating and beckoning all to follow. Some say it is swamp gas. Some say it is a spirit which may or may not be evil. Treasure hunters believe that a fifolet will lead you to treasure. Just hide and watch to see if it hovers over a certain place. Come back in the daylight with a shovel and you may find a treasure. But beware – many have tried to follow the fifolet, and few have returned.
  • Just for fun – a love potion: Mix a little orange flower water, rose water, three small bottles of honey together. Add nine lumps of sugar on which the man’s and woman’s initials have been scratched. Pour around the house of the intended love. Then, burn a pink candle for 9 days.
  • Finally, to ward off evil: Drill a hole in a dime and wear it about your neck under your clothing. You can also spit three times (this will ward off just about anybody!)
  • And – never, never, never, try to make bad gris-gris (a bad spell on somebody). Remember, what goes around, comes around. The best revenge is to live a good, happy and long life!

Cajun Myths and Legends

Tales of monsters, ghosts and other unexplained phenomena are common in Cajun folklore. To hear a couple of tales from J.J. Reneaux, try the creepy “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” For a Cajun devil story, try “Marie Jolie.”

But three Cajun legends are perhaps best known: The Loup-Garou, Père Malfait and Feu follet.

Loup Garou sketch by Robert and Talbot Trudeau.

Loup-Garou – Cajun Werewolf

The loup-garou, or rougarou, is a Cajun werewolf. According to legend, it has a human body with a wolf head, razor sharp teeth and glowing red eyes. The loup-garou is a shapeshifter, easily transforming from human to wolf, or perhaps another animal (especially in areas where wolves aren’t common).

The loup-garou lurks in Louisiana swamps and, naturally, howls at the moon. Sometimes a human becomes a loup-garou after a voodoo queen’s curse (often for 101 days!), or from looking into a loup-garou‘s eyes.

Rather than just scare people, the loup-garou antagonizes them to attack and draw blood. Thus turning the loup-garou back into a human so it can tell the attacker its real identity. But if the attacker shares the tale within a year and a day, the attacker becomes a loup-garou.

Loup-garou stories stretch back to 16th century France. Like witches, early French society blamed loup-garous for much that went wrong – bad crops, dead livestock, missing children, spiritual doubt. They put people suspected to be loup-garous on trial.

The Catholic Church (unofficially) used loup-garou stories to keep parishioners in line. Many believed if you didn’t observe Lent – either permanently or for 7 years straight, depending on the storyteller – you would become a loup-garou.

These stories eventually made their way to Louisiana, where some changed the creature’s name to rougarou. The Catholic warnings persisted, but adults also used loup-garou tales to scare children into obedience.

Today, the loup-garou seems more beloved than feared in Cajun country. There’s an annual Rougarou Festival in Houma, a Rougarou Exhibit at the Audubon Zoo – and in Ohio, a Rougarou roller coaster!

Père Malfait – Cajun Boogeyman

The pere malfait is another swamp creature. Its name translates to “father of mischief.” Though it’s also known as “Father of the Bad Leaves,” or Moss Man. Pere malfait is a large humanoid creature covered in Spanish moss, or other swamp foliage, with glowing eyes.

The pere malfait crushes its victims to death with superhuman strength. The only way to kill it is to drive a stake in its heart, made from a swamp gum tree. Sometimes the pere malfait vanishes after its spotted, leaving a pile of moss/foliage behind.

Like the loup-garou, the pere malfait originated in France. Parents told stories about the beast to keep their children in line.

The pere malfait is best known in popular culture from the 1970s TV show: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (a precursor to The X-Files). In its episode “The Spanish Moss Murders,” a sleep deprivation study subject creates the pere malfait from his subconscious mind.

A close cousin of the pere malfait is the Honey Island Swamp Monster, or Cajun Sasquatch. This giant, ape-like creature has webbed feet, matted gray hair and yellow eyes. Cajun storytellers claim it is the offspring of swamp alligators and chimpanzees from a wrecked circus train. It is more difficult to spot since it blends with its surroundings, and feeds on animals instead of humans.

Feu follet Image by Steve Baxter, public domain.

Feu follet – Will-o’-the-wisp

Finally there is the feu follet (also fifolet), or will-o’-the-wisp – mysterious lights seen in the swamp. Cajun folklore is filled with stories about dancing lights enticing doomed people into the swamp, where they become disoriented and drown.

Some believe the feu follet are a naturally occurring phenomena known as “swamp gas.” Others believe they are the souls of dead loved ones, trapped in purgatory. Still others think they imitate lantern light, again to tempt you.

Often the feu follet has no sinister purpose at all, but dances for a time along unsuspecting travelers, only to vanish.

Stories of the feu follet are certainly not limited to Louisiana. Europe is filled with folktales of such lights. The Scots-Irish portrayed the will-o’-the-wisp as fairies or elves. They would later bring these tales to Southern Appalachia to explain mysterious lights in the hills. The famed Brown Mountain Lights of North Carolina are thought to be will-o’-the-wisp, either swamp gas or spirits.

Conclusion

These Cajun superstitions, spells, myths and legends only scratch the surface of what you will hear, even today, in Louisiana. Much like the people themselves, Cajun folklore crossed continents and oceans on its way to Louisiana. Echoes of Ireland, Africa, France and other areas can be heard in Cajun folklore. But Louisiana’s beautiful yet sinister swamps have made many of these tales and superstitions positively Cajun.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Ezekiel johnson

    Email Coco1815420@gmail.com
    I took three photos out in the woods behind my house and there is two little Victorian girls skipping in a intersecting pattern .
    My previous lover said in a dream they came to her and said they were going to take me away from her!Anybody can help p uhhlesse do

  2. Rebecca

    While exploring the Chocteau Rd south of Chackbay, a Cajun friend and I saw an unusual creature. Tried to get her to stop that I might take a photo. She slowed to nearly a stop then as the creature was making its waddling way thru knee high grasses toward the road she took off…refused to stop…and took a long way back to Chackbay. Being an animal enthusiast I was somewhat upset.
    It was unknown to me. It was waddling with a wide back as an alligator but not as long…it had long fur of blonde color…it was back high to the grass never lifting its head. This was maybe 5 years ago and remains very curious in my memory.
    Any ideas as to what it may have been?

    Waiting for your response!!! with curious anticipation.

  3. Andre Fruge

    Please know, hoodoo and vodoo does in fact have the karma effect. Its 100% true that what you put out does come back 10 fold. “Vengence is mine”, saith the Lord; and anyone who tries to “control” or harm another person by using such means, will find out exactly what the Lord means. Many practitioners use many things to prevent the curse from coming back to them. Eventually, it all comes back.

  4. James S Emmons

    I’d like to learn more since I’m of Cajun decent

  5. dakotawolf801

    Hoodoo and voodoo do not have a doctrine of karma. Harmful spells will not work if the spirits see they are unjustified. Please make sure your information is correct before spreading it

  6. Pingback: American Culture Superstitions – Allinthewhole.com

  7. T Boquet

    The Fifolet

    With a legend as long as Jean LaFitte’s, it makes sense that tales of buried treasure would be prevalent in Louisiana. Legend states that before pirates would bury their treasure, they would kill a member of their own crew to throw into the hole along with it. This would bind the slain man’s spirit to the treasure, restlessly guarding the hoard until the end of time. The spirit would take on the form of a ball of light known as a fifolet. Usually light blue in color, the fifolet is often spotted moving through the trees in the dead of night.

    Tales of fifolet sightings are prevalent, including this one from http://www.hauntedshreveportbossier.com: Two men were working on the railroad along Lake Pontchartrain and one night they were awakened by a soft blue light moving through the trees. Having heard the legend from the local people, the men grabbed their shovels and ran after the spirit with their minds on the fabled treasure. Suddenly, the light stopped and sunk into the ground. The two men dug furiously and struck something hard. Using their hands, they brushed away the dirt to reveal a treasure chest. Greed overtook one the men and he struck his partner in the head with his shovel, knocking him out. As he began to pull on the chest, the ground around his feet began to sink. He tried pulling his legs free from the quicksand, but only sank deeper. The other man awoke to the screams of his friend as he watched both him and the treasure sink into the ground. Scared to suffer the same fate, he ran back to camp, crawled into his tent and waited until morning. He returned to the site once the sun came back up and the only thing he found from the previous night’s encounter were the two shovels he and his friend brought into the woods. The ground where he last saw his friend and the treasure were solid once more. As he left the swampy area he heard the sound of laughter in the wind.

  8. Michelle

    I have been having the worst luck lately, what would you recommend to turn it around?

  9. Donnell Jeansonne

    My great-grandma was Sicilian and told us it was a sin to eat the end of the bread (so she could have it! haha :D)

  10. Pingback: the FifoletSmart Books for Smart Kids

  11. D J Moreau

    My grandmother would tell us if we were behaving badly
    That “Bon nome a’ cheaux” was watching and he would come and get us if we
    Continued to misbehave.Translation was “Good man with tail” Never made sense to me.
    Has anyone else ever heard this?

  12. kahapolani

    This is an awesome story made me cry a little it so nices

  13. Steve

    Miki I think you are thinking of Peremalfait. His legend was expounded in an episode of the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV show from 1974. Check it out.

  14. Look for the person who really loves you and then you will have all the happiness and bliss in life.
    Between them, you’ll find a bombable piece of rock wall.

    Love spells that will work can easily be spotted while they are being cast and
    in many instances, these love spells have to be cast by only well experienced personal in magic making.

  15. kevin

    @ Miki the creole call it couchesmal

  16. kellie m

    I enjoy reading any sort of cajun folklore, cajuns always have great stories and superstitions, there is no where else in the world like Louisiana. ive lived just north of new orleans most of my life and some of the best stories for me tend to come from the beliefs of my african american friends such as, red brick dust across doorways keep out any one meaning to do you harm, or bury your boyfriend/husbands underwear in your front yard and he can never leave you. a screech owl outside your window 3 nights in a row or if a bird flies into your home is a sign of impending death of a loved one.

  17. Miki

    I heard a story from creole friends that was used to scare children into behaving. If a child misbehaved, a creature was said to perch on the child’s back while he slept and steal his breath/life. I can’t remember the name of this creature…does anyone know it?

  18. matthew menard

    The lune garu loves shiney objects anything shiney or sparkly works

  19. richard

    were is the cupracobra

  20. Kent Lasyone

    I am Cajun French but have lived in Tulsa all my life ,
    I would like to be able to read about myths legends monsters ECT
    Like peremalfait , loup garou and all kinds ok stories I never heard as a child
    So I can learn about the stories lousiana children know even ghost stories

    Thank you I don’t know who else to ask thank you kent Lasyone

  21. Pingback: The Loup-Garou | SpookyWeb

  22. Denise Dumars

    Really cool site. I am of Cajun ancestry and visit Louisiana at least once a year. I will be there in June. I am a writer and really want to know more about Cajun mystical and healing practices.

  23. Denise Dumars

    There is shockingly little info on Cajun magick and mysticism out there. I know that a lot of it is secretive, but as someone who is of Cajun ancestry and who has studied with various practitioners in New Orleans and is well-known as a student of the mantic arts, I would really like to know where i can find good sources for legends, folklore, and healing practices. Thank you.

  24. Tommy LeBoeuf

    heard these stories from mom and grangma , grew up in pointe-aux- chene’La..funny stuff

  25. Deborah Epperson

    Hello. Love your site and thanks for all the great information.
    I was hoping you could tell me exactly what kind of items would be found in a gris-gris bag made for protecting a person from the loup-garou. I am writing a story about a young woman being stalked by a loup-garou and a young man makes her a gris-gris bag for protection. Since I like to be historically correct, I am trying to find out what items exactly would be in such a bag for her protection.
    I am hoping you can tell me what sort of items would be in the bag. I know it has to be an odd number and no more than 13 items. I was thinking of putting maybe five or seven items in the bag. Can you help me? Thank you very much.

    1. themoonlitroad

      Hi Deborah, if only our good friend JJ Reneaux was still with us she could answer. But she passed several years ago. I really don’t know. I’m sure there are Cajun groups on the Web that might know, maybe a folklore program in Louisiana. Hope you find the info!

  26. aisha lights

    sleep in the moonlight 🙂 im gonna do that & put 13 pennies for the werewolf to count ;D