Weird History

The Caul: History's Strangest Protective Charm

Labor and delivery is already pretty horrifying, but for centuries mothers rejoiced if their baby was “born with a veil.” The caul, a piece of amniotic sac attached to a baby’s head at birth, was seen as a powerful sign dating back to the Romans. Historical superstitions about the caul claimed it could protect against drowning, provide good luck in court, and grant safety on the battlefield. But some caul superstitions were darker—a baby born with a caul might become a witch or have the power to see ghosts.  

What did people do with the amniotic sac? Midwives stole them to sell to lawyers, mothers had them baptized, and hundreds of people sewed them into pouches to carry at all times. Newspapers even advertised cauls for sale. The caul folklore is just one of many strange birth rituals from the past—and one of many historical uses for the amniotic sac.

Modern medical knowledge did not destroy the caul’s powers—well into the 20th century, people believed that the caul was valuable. During World War I, sailors snapped up cauls for protection in naval battles. Then again, people still carry rabbit’s feet and refuse to open umbrellas indoors—so maybe the superstitions about the caul aren’t so crazy.