- A belief repeatedly recorded from the 16th century to the present day is that when a baby is born with a caul covering the face (also called a 'mask', 'veil', or 'sillyhow'), it must be kept for luck; whoever has one will never drown. This is a case of like-cures-like: 'for as a caul is removed from the head of a newly born child to save it literally from being suffocated by moisture, it became regarded as a charm against drowning by any who carried one beneath their clothing' (Lovett, 1925: 52). Formerly, cauls were often advertised for sale, for once sold they protected the new owner. In 1799, as much as 30 guineas was being asked, but prices fell steadily during the 19th century, and by the early 20th century had dropped to a few shillings, though rising to three or four pounds during the First World War (Forbes, 1966: 106-7).Another belief is reported from Liphook (Hampshire):An old woman told my niece lately that her brother was so born, and so potent was the influence of the caul that when his mother tried to bathe him he sat upon the surface of the water, and if forced down, came up again like a cork. There seems no doubt that this was fully believed and related in all seriousness. The mother had kept the caul stretched over a sheet of note paper, and whenever her son was in danger it became wet and soft, but it remained dry and like a dried bladder so long as he was safe. It got destroyed somehow, and soon after that the brother, a sailor, was shipwrecked and drowned. (N&Q 9s:3 (1899), 26)It was very unlucky to lose or throw away a caul; in one case in early 20th-century Somerset a toddler drowned soon after his mother had been persuaded to throw away his caul, and 'almost everyone in the village' thought this was the reason (Hole, Folk-Lore 68 (1957), 412). It was also said that someone whose caul was lost would become a restless wanderer.■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 66-7; Forbes, 1966: 94-111. Most regional collections mention this belief, as do contributors to many issues of N&Q; letters in the Daily Mail on 26 Aug. 1996 showed it is still current.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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