Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Birth and Baptism

First off, a quick note - my dear husband has (finally) fixed the header and the side bar on the site. I'd still like the font size to be bigger on each page but the last time I tried to do that, it's probably how the header broke in the first place...And a better side bar that isn't so unwieldy would be good, but I'm probably pushing my luck there...

Anyway, my I've been feeling in a writy mood lately, and following a discussion on Óenach I was inspired to re-write one of the articles that had been on the original site - mainly I wanted to flesh it out and reference it. So I've done that and it's up on the site now, called Birth and Baptism. There are some things I'd like to add at some point, when resources and time allows - especially on the subject of evidence for druid baptism and the practice of bestowing geasa (tabus) at birth or at important times of change in a person's life. But if I wait for that then like everything else I'll sit and tweak it here and there until it's perfect, and it never will be, so it will never get published.

But instead of wading through my waffle, I thought it might be a good idea to post some of the most pertinent excerpts that I've used to inform what I've written. So errr...why not wade through loads of other people's waffle, eh?

First off, Henderson has some good bits to say on it - a bit scattered, but that can be read around:

"The mother never sets about any work till she has been kirked. In the Church of Scotland there is no ceremony on the occasion; but the woman, attended by some of her neighbours, goes into the church, sometimes in service time, but oftener when it is empty; goes out again, surrounds it, refreshes herself at some public-house, and then returns home. Before this ceremony she is looked on as unclean, never is permitted to eat with the family; nor will any one eat of the victuals she has dressed" (Pennant's Tour). Within my own recollection the idea of 'uncleanness' before the 'kirking' was retained...

...In the Proceedings of the Synod of Cashel, A. D. 1172, Benedict of Peterborough mentions for Ireland the following curious facts, which show that the father, in accordance with old custom, could immerse the child thrice in water immediately after birth, or, in the case of a rich man's child, thrice in milk. Thus we could perhaps speak of a rite of milk-baptism: "In illo autem concilio statuerunt, et auctoritate summi pontificis praeceperunt, pueros in ecclesia baptizari, In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, et hoc a sacerdotibus fieri praeceperunt. Mos enim prius erat per diversa loca Hiberniae, quod statim cum puer nasceretur, pater ipsius vel quilibet alius eum ter mergeret in aqua. Et si divitis filius esset, ter mergeret in lacte."

The mention of the milk reminds of the rite after Christian baptism at Rome on Easter eve in the ninth century: "For the newly-baptised the chalice is filled, not with wine but with milk and honey, that they may understand . . . that they have entered already upon the promised land. And there was one more symbolical rite in that early Easter Sacrament, the mention of which is often suppressed,—a lamb was offered on the altar, afterwards cakes in the shape of a lamb. It was simply the ritual which we have seen in the mysteries." "

See more at: Henderson, Survivals in Belief Amongst the Celts - chapter 3, The Earthly Journey in particular.

Then there's Napier, who gives a wealth of information in his chapter about Birth, with plenty of personal anecdotes, too. Here's a good chunk, but really, it's good to read the whole thing:
"When writing of fairies I noticed,—but as it is connected with birth, I may here mention it again,—a practice common in some localities of placing in the bed where lay an expectant mother, a piece of cold iron to scare the fairies, and prevent them from spiriting away mother and child to elfland. An instance of this spiriting away at the time of child-bearing is said to have occurred in Arran within these fifty years. It is given by a correspondent in Long Ago:—"There was a woman near Pladda, newly delivered, who was carried away, and on a certain night her wraith stood before her husband telling him that the yearly riding was at hand, and that she, with all the rout, should ride by his house at such an hour, on such a night; that he must await her coming, and throw over her her wedding gown, and so she should be rescued from her tyrants. With that she vanished. And the time came, with the jingling of bridles and the tramping of horses outside the cottage; but this man, feeble-hearted, had summoned his neighbours to bear him company, who held him, and would not suffer him to go out. So there arose a bitter cry and a great clamour, and then all was still; but in the morning, roof and wall were dashed with blood, and the sorrowful wife was no more seen upon earth. This," says the writer, "is not a tale from an old ballad, it is the narrative of what was told not fifty years ago."

Immediately after birth, the newly-born child was bathed in salted water, and made to taste of it three times. This, by some, was considered a specific against the influence of the evil eye; but doctors differ, and so among other people and in other localities different specifics were employed. I quote the following from Ross' Helenore:—

"Gryte was the care and tut'ry that was ha'en,
Baith night and day about the bonny weeane:
The jizzen-bed, wi' rantry leaves was sain'd,
And sic like things as the auld grannies kend;
Jean's paps wi' saut and water washen clean,
Reed that her milk gat wrang, fan it was green;
Neist the first hippen to the green was flung,
And there at seelfu' words, baith said and sung:
A clear brunt coal wi' the het tangs was ta'en,
Frae out the ingle-mids fu' clear and clean,
And throu' the cosey-belly letten fa',
For fear the weeane should be ta'en awa'."

Before baptism the child was more liable to be influenced by the evil eye than after that ceremony had been performed, consequently before that rite had been administered the greatest precautions were taken, the baby during this time being kept as much as possible in the room in which it was born, and only when absolutely necessary, carried out of it, and then under the careful guardianship of a relative, or of the mid-wife, who was professionally skilled in all the requisites of safety. Baptism was therefore administered as early as possible after birth.

Another reason for the speedy administration of this rite was that, should the baby die before being baptised, its future was not doubtful. Often on calm nights, those who had ears to hear heard the wailing of the spirits of unchristened bairns among the trees and dells. I have known of an instance in which the baby was born on a Saturday, and carried two miles to church next day, rather than risk a week's delay.

...I have quite a vivid remembrance of being myself believed to be the unhappy victim of an evil eye. I had taken what was called a dwining which baffled all ordinary experience; and, therefore, it was surmised that I had got "a blink of an ill e'e." To remove this evil influence, I was subjected to the following operation, which was prescribed and superintended by a neighbour "skilly" in such matters:—A sixpence was borrowed from a neighbour, a good fire was kept burning in the grate, the door was locked, and I was placed upon a chair in front of the fire. The operator, an old woman, took a tablespoon and filled it with water. With the sixpence she then lifted as much salt as it could carry, and both were put into the water in the spoon. The water was then stirred with the forefinger till the salt was dissolved. Then the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands were bathed with this solution thrice, and after these bathings I was made to taste the solution three times. The operator then drew her wet forefinger across my brow,—called scoring aboon the breath. The remaining contents of the spoon she then cast right over the fire, into the hinder part of the fire, saying as she did so, "Guid preserve frae a' skaith." These were the first words permitted to be spoken during the operation. I was then put in bed, and, in attestation of the efficacy of the charm, recovered. To my knowledge this operation has been performed within these 40 years, and probably in many outlying country places it is still practised.

The origin of this superstition is probably to be found in ancient fire worship. The great blazing fire was evidently an important element in the transaction; nor was this a solitary instance in which regard was paid to fire. I remember being taught that it was unlucky to spit into the fire, some evil being likely shortly after to befall those who did so. Crumbs left upon the table after a meal were carefully gathered and put into the fire. The cuttings from the nails and hair were also put into the fire. These freaks certainly look like survivals of fire worship.

We must not, however, pursue this digression further, but return to our proper subject. It was not necessary that the person possessed of the evil eye, and desirous of inflicting evil upon a child, should see the child. All that was necessary was that the person with the evil eye should get possession of something which had belonged to the child, such as a fragment of clothing, a toy, hair, or nail parings. I may note here that it was not considered lucky to pare the nails of a child under one year old, and when the operation was performed the mother was careful to collect every scrap of the cutting, and burn them.

It was considered a great offence for any person, other than the mother or near relation, in whom every confidence could be placed, to cut a baby's nails; if some forward officious person should do this, and baby afterwards be taken ill, this would give rise to grave suspicions of evil influence being at work. The same remarks apply to the cutting of a baby's hair. I have seen the door locked during hair-cutting, and the floor swept afterwards, and the sweepings burned, lest perchance any hairs might remain, and be picked up by an enemy."
See: Napier, Folk Lore, Or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within This Century.

Or, concerning Bride in her role as midwife (traditionally, she was said to have helped Mary):

"When a woman is in labour, the midwife or the woman next her in importance goes to the door of the house, and standing on the 'fad-buinn,' sole-sod, doorstep, with her hands on the jambs, softly beseeches Bride to come:

'Bhride! Bhride! thig a steach,
Tha do bheatha deanta,
Tabhair cobhair dha na bhean,
’S tabh an gein dh’an Triana.'

Bride! Bride! come in,
Thy welcome is truly made,
Give thou relief to the woman,
And give the conception to the Trinity.

When things go well, it indicates that Bride is present and is friendly to the family; and when they go ill, that she is absent and offended. Following the action of Bride at the birth of Christ, the aid-woman dedicates the child to the Trinity by letting three drops of clear cold water fall on the tablet of his forehead.

(See page 114.)"

See: Carmina Gadelica Volume 1.

And for Scottish charms to aid childbirth:
The earliest reference I have been able to find of the use of these seeds as amulets in the West Highlands is in Johne Morisone’s "Deseription of Lewis," supposed to have been written between 1678 and 1688. His words are:-"The sea casteth on shore sometimes a sort of nutts growing upon tangles, round and flat, sad broun or black coullered, of the breadth of a doller, some more, some less; the kernal of it being taken out of the shell is an excellent remedie for the bloodie flux. They ordinarlie make use of the shell for keeping their snuff. Ane other sort of nutt is found in the same maner, of less syze, of a broun colour, flat and round, with a black circle, quhilk in old times women wore about their necks both for ornament and holding that it had the virtue to make fortunate in cattle, and upon this account they were at the pains to bind them in silver, brass, or tinn, according to their abilities. There are other lesser yet, of a whitish coulour and round, which they call Sant Marie’s Nutt, quhilk they did wear in the same maner, holding it to have the virtue to preserve women in childbearing."

In the Life of Sir Robert Christison there is an extract from his Journal of May 30th, 1866, in which Sir Robert records that Dr Macdonald of Lochmaddy had not been able to get him a specimen of because it is "so rare and is so prized as a charm during childbirth that the midwives wear the seeds set in silver for the women to hold in their hands while in labour; and a husband, who had two, refused twenty shillings for one of them, saying he would not part with it for love or money till his spouse be past childbearing."
See: Geo F Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets.

The main portion of information about baptism practises from the Carmina Gadelica is in Book Three, which is now available from the Internet Archive site (I'm linking to the main page for it so you can choose which version you want to look at or download). This excerpt I quote in full in the article, but aside from the fact I think it's beautiful, I think the symbolism and imagery it invokes of the nine waves is very in keeping with pre-Christian ideals:
“When a child was born the midwife would put three small drops of water upon the forehead of the little on in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Spirit, and she would say:

The little drop of the Father
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

The little drop of the Son
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

The little drop of the Spirit
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

To aid thee from the fays,
To guard thee from the host;

To aid thee from the gnome,
To shield thee from the spectre;

To keep thee for the Three,
To fill thee with the graces;

The little drop of the Three,
To lave thee with the graces.

Then the midwife would give the child to a nurse to wash it, and the nurse would put a small palmful of water on the poor little infant, and she would sing the sweetest music that ever ear heard on the earth, and she say in this wise:

A wavelet for thy form,
A wavelet for thy voice,
A wavelet for they sweet speech;

A wavelet for thy luck,
A wavelet for thy good,
A wavelet for thy health;

A wavelet for thy throat,
A wavelet for thy pluck,
A wavelet for thy graciousness;
Nine waves for thy graciousness.

The rune would be on the nurse's tongue till she was finished of bathing the little infant.”

Is that enough? Maybe not. How about some good stuff from Walter Gregor before I finish:

"On the birth of the child, the mother and offspring were sained, a ceremony which was done in the following manner:--A fir-candle was lighted and carried three times round the bed, if it was in a position to allow of this being done, and, if this could not be done, it was whirled three times round their heads; a Bible and bread and cheese, or a Bible and a biscuit, were placed under the pillow, and the words were repeated, "May the Almichty debar a’ ill fae this umman, an be aboot ir, an bliss ir an ir bairn." When the biscuit or the bread and cheese had served their purpose, they were distributed among the unmarried friends and acquaintances, to be placed under their pillows to evoke dreams.

Among some of the fishing population a fir-candle or a basket containing bread and cheese was placed on the bed to keep the fairies at a distance. A pair of trowsers hung at the foot of the bed had the same effect.

Strict watch was kept over both mother and child till the mother was churched and the child was baptised, and in the doing of both all convenient speed was used. For, besides exposure to the danger of being carried off by the fairies, the mother was under great restrictions till churched. She was not allowed to do any kind of work, at least any kind of work more than the most simple and necessary. Neither was she permitted to enter a neighbour's house, and, had she attempted to do so, some would have gone the length of offering a stout resistance, and for the reason that, if there chanced to be in the house a woman great with child, travail would prove difficult with her."

See: Folk-lore of the North-East of Scotland (chapters 1-3).