Medicine and Magic

Theo J. Cuthand

2020, 05:00 minutes, colour, English


I’ve been raised with stories of the medicine men in my family. A bundle that was used successfully to heal people. Stories of bear spirits that took care of us. I don’t know about my Scottish side as much, but I did know some of the last names of my ancestors over there. The Sinclairs and the Forsyths. I fell down a Google rabbit hole one day when the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft came out. There was one case with a last name and a location close to my Great Grandmother’s hometown that made me pause. It was a white magic case, protecting cattle, and talking with fairies. Relatively benign things. But she was executed for it.

Thinking about these two stories, they were really about colonization. Christianity brought to Scotland an end to widespread beliefs in folk magic, and persecution of the women practitioners. And in Canada, with my Great Great Grandfather, the things he was healed from and healing others were wounds from wars with the Canadian Government, and epidemics of smallpox and Spanish Flu that were threatening our family.

These two videos work together to try and bridge these two stories from my maternal Grandparents family histories. I’m interested in how medicine and magic operate across cultures. I’m sure there were pagan beliefs in my Scottish Grandmother’s roots, but her family was clearly Christian by the time she came into this world.
My Grandpa, Stan Cuthand, Misatimwas’ Grandson, was an Anglican Minister. And yet he was very proud of telling us about his Grandfather, about the struggles that he had in 1885, and about things he believed in that were not Christian at all. Near the end of his life he said he was not going to Heaven, he was going to where his ancestors were, he was going to the stars. That’s an old Plains Cree belief and I found it so interesting that after a lifetime of devotion to Jesus he still was going home to another place.
I feel like these videos unearth some of this history and my hope is that they lead people to draw their own conclusions about spiritual, magical, medicinal histories.

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Critical Writing

Thirza Cuthand: Medicine and Magic
by Ariel Smith et al. Toronto: V tape, 2020.