some slavic magical beliefs and prohibitions: pregnancy, birth, children
as we know, one of the most impactful and faithfully followed aspects of slavic folk magic (and many other folk magical beliefs across the world) is the active effect enacted on one thing by another: in short, the effect one thing can have on another by a certain action performed, such as rubbing one thing on another, rolling it over it, dragging it under it, wrapping, throwing, stabbing, all those fun things.
for example, rolling an egg on your cow before letting it our to graze for the first time in spring will ensure it gets nicely fat and round like that egg. you can bathe your newborn child in a bath with some eggs in it, too, so it grows nicely fat and round as well.
of course, such magical actions can be performed in good faith - or the absolute opposite, causing harm and suffering. but! they can also happen… accidentally.
from this stems the overwhelming plethora of magical prohibitions and warnings: things you should look out for because if you do this, accidentally, it will have terrible consequences. we’ve talked here about magical beliefs and prohibitions when it comes to death and the dead (part two coming, someone hit me with a stick so I post it sooner) but I’d like to give you some other examples, tied more to the living (still).
the theme for today will be pregnancy, birth, and newborn children (tagged appropriately if you find the subject of pregnancy and birth upsetting)
- a pregnant woman should not eat rabbit meat, or her child will be born cowardly and nervous as the hare, and with wild bulging eyes.
- she should not eat meat from animals killed by a wolf, either, or the child will be born with terrible, red, wound-like marks on the body.
- she should not eat anything made from seeds kept in the same bag used to feed horses, or her pregnancy will… last 12 months, as long as that of a horse, and the babe will not want to come out earlier.
- she should be careful not to step over a cat, or the child will be born hairy like a kitten. she should not step over her chickens or geese, either, or the child will be born with feathers.
- she should never step over a threshold that is cracked or has a deep mark from an axe on it, as the child will be born with a cleft lip.
- she should always carry a needle with her: the iron will protect her and the baby, and the babe will be born healthy and free of colic or convulsions. if not a needle, she must carry a knife - and then make sure that once the baby is born, the knife always lies beneath the cradle.
- if the birth is difficult, everything in the woman’s vicinity should be untied: her braid should be undone, and so should be all the ribbons and belts on clothing. buttons should be undone, too. all knots untangled.
- if that does not help, things should be open: windows, doors, chests, jars. whatever can be opened or undone, do it, and the babe will come more easily.
- to cheat evil powers that would want to meddle with the woman or the babe, the midwife should wear the clothing of a man: the demons will assume the birth is not yet happening, if a man is there.
- another way to cheat evil is powers is: after a woman gives birth, the oldest woman in the household (preferably a great-grandmother at least) should go out of the house, stand in front of it and shout so loud that everyone in the village hears:
“so that everyone knows and so that a child is healthy! a she-wolf bore a wolf pup!“
demons won’t steal a wolf baby, or even come near it. (perhaps the root for the naming of children “wolf” in some traditions)
- the third night after birth is often seen as the night when the child’s fate is decided: to cheat evil powers, a woman should take the babe from the cradle and hide it, or give it to the neighbours. in the little’s one place some rags should be put, or a ball from her makitra.
- to the newborn’s bath, one should add an egg (so the child is round and plump, and healthy) or a silver coin (so it is healthy and free from evil)
- be wary of what you put in the little one’s cradle, or next to it: a book will make your child smart, a goshawk’s feather will make them swift, but a mirror will make them vain.
- do not utter certain words in the vicinity of the newborn child, or the child will become alike to that word: do not say frog, or hare, or worm. do not talk of devils, demons, nightmares - and do not talk about the dead.
- ensure your household is safe from evil that would want to steal or hurt the babe by putting thorns on the threshold, on the windowsill, above the door. use dog rose, thistle, or stinging nettle, or hawthorn, or blackthorn. even if you throw them away later, the borders of your house will sting and hurt whatever tries to sneak in. (including witches)
- put some harrow teeth underneath the cradle, and your child will be brave - and safe from evil.
- to ensure the baby is safe from evil: when a beggar knocks on your door or stops you on your way, offer them the child as alms. let them hold the baby and only then take it, and give them money or food. the demons will be fooled into believing you… have no baby anymore and there’s nothing to steal.
- a similar way of ensuring the demons won’t want to steal your baby is to pretend you found it. just do it, just pretend, over the cradle: “o! what is this! is this some kind of baby? I might take it, even though it is not mine.” openly calling your little one “not-mine” or “no-one’s” or “found” will work as well.
do add some examples from your regions, if you have any - I’d love to learn more, and I think the subject is especially rich in beliefs and superstitions*.
[examples come from Kultura Duchowa Słowian by Kazimierz Moszyński (volume I and II, 1934) and appear in the practices of many slavic peoples, especially from (historical and geographical) regions: Lesser Poland, Red Ruthenia, Belarus, Polesie, Great Rus, Moravia, Bulgaria, Little Rus and Ukraine]