237: Baby “Marks”

There’s an old folk belief in the Ozarks that when a woman is pregnant and she violates a taboo, or comes into contact with a bad omen, that action will manifest as a specific birthmark on her child. It can also manifest in the personality of the child as in the case of the woman who while pregnant killed a copperhead and her child was not only born with a large serpent-like birthmark but also a lifelong fear of snakes.

Here are some more examples of these “marks” from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“When a pregnant woman has a craving for some particular article of food, every effort is made to satisfy it, because otherwise the child is very likely to be ‘marked.’ I have seen birthmarks which were supposed to resemble strawberries, cherries, sweet potatoes, prunes, eels, and even hams all of which owed their existence to the mother’s unsatisfied craving for these things. Even if the child has no external marks, his mind is likely to be affected, and he is sure to be ‘a plumb glutton’ for the particular food that could not be obtained for his mother.”

“In another case, a large red mark on a baby’s cheek was caused by the mother seeing a man shot down at her side, when the discharge of the gun threw some of the blood and brains into her face.”

“I recall a young farmer who had been worsted in a drunken fight and appeared in the village all covered with blood and dirt. Instantly everybody sprang to prevent the injured man’s pregnant wife from seeing him, and one old man shrilled out: ‘Git Emmy away, folks she’ll mark that ‘ar young-un shore!’”

“The editor of a newspaper at Pineville, Missouri, told me that during the Civil War some bushwhackers killed a man near that place; they cut off one of his ears and threw it into his wife’s lap as she sat on her little front porch. The woman was pregnant at the time, and when her child was born one of his ears ‘warn’t nothin’ but a wart.’ The people in Pineville regarded this as a classic case of ‘marking’ a positive proof that prenatal influence is a fact.”

“Mr. J. A. Wasson, of Nixa, Missouri, in the Springfield News, Sept. 16, 1941, tells of Uncle Wesley McCullah, who was killed by a bullet which incidentally knocked out two of his front teeth. Shortly afterward McCullah’s widow gave birth to a baby girl, ‘born with two teeth the same as her father lost.’”

“A pregnant woman must not look at a dead body, since this is likely to mark the baby and might cause it to be born dead; women in the early months of pregnancy sometimes attend funerals but always take care not to look directly at the corpse, even if it is that of a near relative.”

“Otto Ernest Rayburn, of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, tells of a woman who was frightened by cattle during her pregnancy, and the child had a strange cowlike face, ‘with two small growths protruding from the head like horns.’ Not only that, but the creature ‘emitted low, rumbling sounds like the bellowing of a bull!’”

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