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This chapter considers beliefs related to the birth of a child and the periods of time immediately before and after it, that is, during a period that runs from the pregnancy to the time before or just after the baptism. Apart from the well-known cravings, there were a good number of ways to guess the sex of the foetus at a time when they did not have the technical means to do so.

Cravings. Influence on the child

An important group of beliefs are those related with the gestation. One of the most widespread were those related with the cravings that the mother experienced during that period. It was traditionally believed that if the desires and whims of a pregnant woman were not met, her child could be affected. According to the people surveyed in some location, if a child was stillborn or with defects, a mark would appear on the skin similar to what the mother had craved. Those marks, in turn, were known as cravings in some locations.

Guessing the sex of the child

The desire to know the sex of the child before their birth, when the necessary technical means did not exist to do so, was as widespread in past as today, given the numerous procedures to guess it.

Shape of the mother's belly

In Gatzaga (G), if the belly of the mother stuck out to the front, aurreruntz, she was going to have girl, while if it spread towards her ribs, atzeruntz, it would be a boy[1].

Signs in the face of the mother

Marks on the face or melasma of some pregnant women were also used in the past to guess the sex of the child. When there were many marks, known as manto in Pipaón (A), they were sure the unborn child would be a boy. In Gatzaga (G), if a woman’s face darkened and marks appeared on it, a boy was coming; on the other hand, if her face remained clear, it would be a girl[2].

Moon phase influence in conception

Procedures were also mentioned to determine the sex of the future child without needing to have to wait for a later stage of the pregnancy, simply by knowing when conception occurred.

It used to be believed that a woman who became pregnant under a waxing moon would have a boy, while the child conceived under a waning moon would be a girl (Abadiano-B; Zerain-G; Lezaun-N).

Choosing the sex

There are also references to practices to condition beforehand the sex of a future child. It has already been seen in an earlier section that the time of conception could be decisive. In Ezkio (G), it was said that the position of the moon and the conception had to be in the waning half if they wanted a boy and under the new moon if they wanted a girl.

Different beliefs about pregnancy and labour

This short section includes several different beliefs but all of them related to the pregnancy and labour.

In Caparrosa (N), the woman had to avoid spooling skeins during pregnancy because that made the umbilical cord wrap round the neck of the child and complicated the delivery[3].

Intercession of the saints for a safe labour

Different religious practices were also discovered that were carried out prior to the date of the delivery or during labour aimed at guaranteeing a safe outcome.

There are many related to the saints, particularly St. Raymond Nonnatus[4], to whom novenas were traditionally said during pregnancy and candles were lit while the woman was in labour, either in the chapels or churches where he was worshiped or before an image of the saint placed in the room of the pregnant woman or in another room of the house; they also drank “St. Raymond holy water”, masses were said or a medal with his image was worn.

Child saludador healer

The child saludador healers, salutadoreak[5], according to popular belief, were beings with extraordinary powers due to some unusual circumstances of their birth.

Azkue describes that the seventh son of the sons of a couple with no girl in between had a cross under the tongue and was said to cure diseases, mainly rabies. He was called the salutadorea or saludador healer.

Pre-baptismal precautions

In the past, children were baptised shortly after birth due to the fear that they would die without having received the sacrament. The reason was to avoid their soul going to Limbo. The baptism would be delayed if the child was healthy, but it usually took place within a week; if the child was weak, they would be baptized as soon as possible.

If the life of the new-born was in danger, one of the people present at the delivery could baptize the infant to ensure they did not go to Limbo if they died.

Not kissing the newborn

The main precaution that the people surveyed remembered taken with the child prior to the baptism was not to kiss it.


The means of protection were usually religious, even though the people surveyed remembers others that were not and possibly dated back even earlier in time.

The most widespread means were charms or kutunak, consisting of small bags holding different materials. They were attached to children’s clothes and were said to protect them from the evil eye.

Holy Water

The religious practices carried out before the baptism of the newborn included several related to Holy Water.

Religious charms

Religious protection against the evil eye were the most widespread, specifically those known as the gospels, small bags which contained a small piece of paper with fragments of the gospels. Their use was so widespread that in many Basque-speaking areas even their name, ebanjelioak, took over from kutuna. They were placed in the swaddling of babies, hung around the neck, put in the clothing, in the cradle or in the pram.

Curing the evil eye

The remedies described so far were to project babies against evil eye, but if that failed, different remedies were used to rid the children of that. The first were religious and consisted of visiting a place of worship with an image thought to rid people of the evil eye and spells.

  1. Pedro M' ARANEGUI. Gatzaga; una aproximación a la. vida de Salinas de Léniz a comienzos del siglo XX . San Sebastián, 1986, p. 44.
  2. Pedro M' ARANEGUI. Gatzaga; una aproximación a la. vida de Salinas de Léniz a comienzos del siglo XX . San Sebastián, 1986, p. 44.
  3. EAM, 1901 (ed. 1990) 1, 1, p. 100.
  4. The term nonnatus (not-born) refers to a child that has not been born naturally but rather removed from the mother’s womb or by caesarean. Tradition has it that this saint was nicknamed nonnatus as he was taken from the womb of his mother after her death. He is therefore considered the protector of women in labour, particularly by means of St. Raymond holy water and candle.
  5. The saludador healers were said to have some peculiar characteristics, such as a cross under the language, or on the floor of the mouth or on the soft palate; their saliva was thought to cure certain diseases, mainly rabies; and they were also able to withstand heat without burning. They could also put out fires with their breath and put their hands in boiling oil without suffering any harm. The main role of these healers was to cure rabies by sucking the wound caused by the dog and cauterise it with boiling oil that the healer had previously had in his mouth and then spat on the wound.