A child born with a caul is a fortunate child indeed, according to legend. The ‘caul’ is most commonly formed from the membranes of the amniotic sac in which the baby develops during pregnancy; on rare occasions, babies are born with a part of this membrane covering the face and/or the head: they are ‘born with the caul‘. It shouldn’t be confused with a birth in which the baby emerges with its amniotic sac still fully intact around it(‘in the caul’); although this is also an uncommon occurrence, it is slightly different, as the membrane isn’t specifically enclosing the face or head.
Very few babies are born with the caul; the rarity of this phenomenon has contributed to its reputation as a good-luck charm.
After the birth, the caul would be carefully removed from the newborn, taking care to keep it as intact as possible. It would then be preserved and would be kept with the child as a protective talisman.
“A lass if born in June with a caul
Will wed, hev bairns & rear ‘em all.
But a lass if born with a caul in July,
Will loose her caul & young will die.
Every month beside luck comes with a caul
If safe put by,
If lost she may cry:
For ill luck on her will fall.
For man it’s luck – be born when he may –
It is safe be kept ye mind,
But if lost it be he’ll find
Ill-deed his lot for many a day” (Fairfax-Blakeborough, 1923) – From the Pitt Rivers Museum website
It was thought that children born with the caul would never die of drowning, and so made good sailors; in Victorian times it was not unheard of for cauls to fetch good prices at auction, purchased by anxious seafarers wishing to gain protection. It was also thought to be an indicator that a child would have ‘second sight’, or supernatural powers of premonition. The Caul-Bearers United website makes for interesting reading concerning the perceived characteristics of a person born with the caul.