Cauls in the Deep South September 5, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback
Beach has been obsessed the last couple of weeks with baby’s cauls. The caul for readers who don’t know (and Beach was vague previous to the obsession) is the amniotic sac which holds us in our mother’s belly. In some very few cases, a baby is born with a caul in place, in the same way that some very few babies are born with a tooth or with six fingers. Not surprisingly our ancestors made a great deal of this and it came to be believed that children born with the caul had special abilities, particularly occult abilities: they could see or hear ghosts/fairies/boggarts etc etc. It is absolutely predictable that different cultures around the world should give a value to a rare biological event. What is remarkable, and might, if you were in the right mood, give you the shivers, is that time and time again in cultures the same value is given. Here are these things that Joseph Campbell probably can’t be trusted to explain, but where most everyday empiricists simply avoid comment. Anyway, one part of the world where belief in the caul survived through the years was among Afro-American populations in the southern United States and we have several fascinating accounts from relatively recent times. All the quotations below come from 1976 (Rich). First, a description of what a midwife would actually see:
My cousin baby born with the veil over it. A veil white; it’s thin. It’s not meat. It look like tissue paper, but it’s thinner. And you can see the baby in it. As soon as that baby born, it start coming off, busting in places. And you just wipes it off. They handed me that baby, and I wanted that baby. She didn’t want that baby. It was an illegitimate baby. She didn’t want it, she didn’t want that baby. But that baby died. That’s the onliest child I ever seed with a veil. I just brush that veil off that baby face-prettiest baby you ever seed in your life. When it commenced to die, I laid that baby down. I seed something happening to it.
Not sure if the ‘seed something happening to it’ suggests an occult process or just the tremors of death. Anyway, the years pass and a caul child becomes a woman and begins to ‘dream dreams’.
I saw two mens-not in a dream this time. One of them was Louis Holley. He was standing down there at the railroad track. When I pass him and spoke and he looked round at me, I seen death in his eyes. He didn’t live many days. And then there was another one, Nick Lewis (we used to call him ‘Liquor’); he come out the post office as I was going in, and I turn round and look at him a long time, because I seen death in his eyes. That was Friday, and he died the next day, Saturday, at home. Oo-oo! And you remember Eva Lee Richard little boy, that one got shot? Well, him and W. Mason and another little boy was walking downtown and they met me right there. I never had seed a child dress like that in my life; it just hit me. He had on a pair of red, red pants and a snow white shirt, and I looked back and I could see something in it, but I didn’t know what it was. I just kept on watching him. You know, that little boy got shot before I got back home. And I saw that in town
See death? Beach used to have a girlfriend who could smell death. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, here is another trip to the twilight zone.
Even now Jewell say, ‘Oh Mama, I had a time,’ which she did. She see something but we couldn’t. I was working for Miss Hayes, and Jewell stay down at the house taking care of this little boy of mine. Some days she couldn’t stay there, come running down where I was. She say one day two birds in a room flying around. She see them, but he didn’t. And she always hear things. Every day round about eleven o’clock she hear something be beating in a bucket. It was a little creek running down below the house-we was living down in Mr. Reeves Jordan house-and she say it be there, every day at eleven o’clock, just beating in a bucket. And Uncle Gus Coplin, she seed him, and he was dead and buried. She nearly grown then. I come home one day and she say, ‘Mama, Uncle Gus Coplin come in here today.’ She was in the kitchen there, and she say somebody just come walking in. ‘Mama, I look around and saw Uncle Gus.’ I saw, ‘Aw Jewell, you know Uncle Gus dead.’ She say, ‘Yeah, but he been here.’ Even when she was a grown girl living here, we had to cut that tree down [pointing to a large stump]. She say something in that tree.
Interestingly the Night Walkers of Friuli (benandanti) were picked out from the population because of the caul. How much time and space between them and these deep south visionaries?
Other caul stories? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
11 Sept 2013: PP disagrees with ‘Anyway, one part of the world where belief in the caul survived through the years was > among Afro-American populations in the southern United States’ saying that this is not ‘precisely true. In the northeastern part of Texas I knew a girl who, as she told me, was born with a veil and could see things denied to others. This was in the early ’80s and she did not fit is your Afro-American bin.’ Thanks PP for the precision!