I decided it's time to blog about folklore and traditions relating to pregnancy, partially because I haven't had much luck finding any info online myself and I think it should be out there and partially because its an interesting topic. There is a plethora of available material on birth but pregnancy itself seems to be less often discussed. So I am going to do a series of posts on this, first Irish then Norse/Germanic, and then modern American.
Pregnancy was strongly emphasized in old Irish culture with a trial marriage only becoming permanent if a child was produced, and several of the Brehon laws addressing conception. For example there were laws that allowed either partner to sue for divorce due to the infertility of the other partner, or in the same situation for a temporary seperation of the couple in order for the fertile partner to have a child with another person (Bital, 1996). Nonetheless I could find very little information relating to pregnancy folklore or folk practices besides those relating to conception and birth. The actual pregnancy itself is rarely discussed in sources.
What I did find out was that there are a small selection of Irish superstitions relating to pregnancy. It was thought that if a pregnant woman had a hare run across her path her child would be born with a cleft lip unless she ripped the hem of her dress or skirt (O hOgain, 1995; O Suilleabhain, 1967). Similarly if a pregnant woman twisted her foot in a graveyard her child would be born with a twisted foot (O Suilleabhain, 1967). A pregnant woman should never help prepare a corpse or attend a wake, for fear of a similar fate befalling her unborn child (O hOgain, 1995; O Suilleabhain, 1967). Nor should an expectant mother attend a bride, although a pregnant woman was thought to be especially lucky for a blacksmith's forge and might be asked to grant that luck to the smith by pumping the bellows (O Suilleabhain, 1967). Generally it seems that the belief was that an unborn baby was easily influenced by outside circumstances and powers and so needed special protections from interference.
In contrast there are a multitude of beliefs and practices relating to the birth itself, which I may cover in a later blog. This at least forms a very basic idea of some of the popular beliefs about pregnancy in Ireland. As a modern polytheist I might make use of this information by using extra protections and prayers for my child's health and safety. I have also personally avoided any indepth spiritual journey work or any other intense spiritual work during pregnancy.
O hOgain, D (1995) Irish Superstitions
O Suilleabhain, S., (1967) Nosanna agus Piseoga ne nGeal
Bitel, L., (1996). Land of Women