January 06, 2013

Bringing Up Baby - Magic for Your Infant

People are often critical of parents these days, saying they spend too much time and money trying to guarantee their children a good future with dance lessons, tutors, soccer practice, and forced community service. "Why oh why," these critics say, "can't we let children be children and raise them like they were in the past?"

Well, surprise surprise. Parents in past also wanted what was best for their children and did what they could to give them a good future. Sometimes they would even use a little magic. They probably wouldn't have used the word magic, but I think that's the modern category the following folk practices best fit into.

Folk painting by Sheldon Peck (1797 - 1868)
For example, to ensure that your newborn will grow up to be smart, be sure to take him/her up a flight of stairs before you ever bring him/her down a flight of stairs. Ideally you should bring your baby all the way up to the attic and bump his head (gently) against the ceiling.

This folklore is from the 19th century, when most women still give birth at home. The assumption is that if you gave birth on the ground floor you would bring your baby up to the second floor or even higher. If you gave birth on the second floor you could bring him up to the attic. The symbolism is obvious - you want your baby to rise in the world.

Of course there is the possibility that you might give birth in the attic or in a house that has only one floor. Does this mean that your baby is destined to a low-achieving dunderhead? No! Simply bring in a small stepladder and walk up it with your baby. You will have done the symbolic moving up in the world, and your baby can now be carried down a flight of stairs without concern for its future.

Conversely, within the first eleven months of your baby's life you want it to fall out of bed at least once. This is a sign that s/he is intelligent and will do well in life. I guess it is also a sign that carrying the baby up stairs to the attic really worked.

While these charms and omens seem kind of cute others are a little more serious. Infant mortality was quite high in the past and most families feared losing a child. Carrying the baby up the stepladder was supposed to ensure she lived through her first year. You should also leave at least one article of clothing unmade or unpurchased before a child is born to make sure it is healthy the first twelve months. To have a full wardrobe for an unborn child is tempting fate. You don't want to look too confident to those powers that control a baby's health.

As I mentioned in a post several years ago, you also shouldn't allow your baby to see its reflection before it is a year old. To do so indicates the child will die.

I don't want to end on a particularly dour note. After all, life is full of second chances. A mother who loses her baby should sell all the deceased child's clothing. It's said this will bring more children to her in the future.

I found this information in Fanny Bergen's Current Superstitions. Collected from the Oral Tradition of English Speaking Folk (1896).

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