Fødsel og Daab
|The mother gets a drink|
The situation around the birth of a child was filled with dangers. "The mother to be" was assisted by a group of women who had to help her with everything possible, but their most important job was to watch that the newborn child became a * changeling - a a troll came and changed it with a troll-baby. Whatever the group of women were many or few, they all stayed in the same room at nightfall - the delivery room. In common or poor homes the assisting women were usually a group of wives, who also had to go home and take care of their own house and children, only two or three could stay all the time, but in the nobility the women were family and friends, often from far away. They were invited to witness the important family event and they stayed in the house for some time.
|the baby is being wrapped.|
First of all the room had to be continously illuminated. Poor people - who daily used some special sticks which could not be kept lit all night - had to keep the fire burning in the hearth day and night as long as a heathen child was in the house. This was still a custom around 1900 in some districts in Norway and Sweden. The prosperous and rich people in the Catholic period had consecrated lights. They also sprinkled the room with holy water, and smoked it with consecrated herbs. But after the reformation people just used common lights and crossed themselves and put a book of psalms upon the baby's chest. Still on the time of the writer Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) this custom was used. The lights had to be as oldfashioned as possible, the waxlights were not as effective as the old tallow candles. (Ludvig Holberg wrote a comedy Barselstuen (The Delivery Room)
|Trolls, fresco Voldby kirke|
|A son for the knight's wife.|
If none of those cures were good enough, it really seemed that the child in spite of the care of the women had been confused with a troll's child. The women had been overwhelmed with fatigue and the woman, who had to do the watch had unfortunately fallen a little asleep. But even though they were all awake the cunning troll might sneak into the room anyway, while the tallow lights burnt drowsily. The troll might sneak along the deep shadows, remove the book of psalms from the baby's chest and change the baby with his own troll-baby without anyone noticing it.
|A changeling is whipped.|
Many tricks were done to lure the troll-baby to reveal itself. A Jutland woman was brewing some beer and did it in a special odd way, and the baby suddenly said. "I have lived for many years and have never seen it done in this way!". Another woman used another trick. She promised to give the child some sausage but served roast pork and the baby said. "I have never seen such a sausage in all my life," And such the women tried to make the troll-child reveal its true nature.
It was more difficult if it was impossible to see if the baby was a changeling. But if suddenly there were two babies in the cradle then there was really panic among the women. Which one was a changeling? Such cases are told in both Scandinavia and Germany. There was an advice to find out which child was a changeling. A wild foal was fetched. The two babies were laid upon the ground, shrouded in a cloth and the foal sniffed to them. The foal sniffed to one child and wanted to lick it, but when it sniffed to the other child, it became quite wild and crazy and wanted to kick it. There was no doubt who was the changeling! But before anyone could do anything a tall woman came along, took the changeling and disappeared.
|Delivery room, 16th century.|
With all these terrible dangers it was no wonder that the parents wanted to baptize their baby as soon as possible, and it was usual at that time that a baptismal came soon after the birth. People considered the baptismal like a new life where the child was dressed in some kind of armour. The child was hardened they said. This expression was still used in the 19th century.
* changeling, Danish word: skifting.
Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16 århundrede, Troels fr. Troels-Lund, 1914-1915, Tema: Danish Literature, Middle Ages. .