The phrase ‘born with the caul’ refers to a baby born with a part of the filmy-looking membrane of the amniotic sac covering the head or face. The amniotic sac is a fluid-filled sac in which a fetus grows and develops inside of the mother’s body. It is composed of thin but strong membrane that expands with the baby’s growth. As the baby’s head emerges from the mother’s body during the birth process, pieces of this membrane may adhere around the face. Although it is very rare, sometimes the entire head of the infant may be covered by a caul. Even more rare is when an infant is born with the amniotic sac totally intact. This is called being born ‘en caul’.
A caul is easily removed, but if not done correctly it can cause scars on the face of the infant.
Research reveals as few as 1 in 80,000 infants are born with a caul. This is largely due to the modern practice in hospitals of artificially rupturing the amniotic sac prior to birth. Also, a study of percentages show most of the babies born with a caul are female.
Myths and beliefs concerning cauls are plentiful throughout history. The appearance of a caul at birth was superstitiously regarded as a sign the infant would be blessed with some sort of special power. Known as 'Caulbearers’, these people were believed to be destined for extraordinary adventures, well beyond the scope of ordinary mortals. Besides bringing good fortune, being born with a caul also gave one the gifts of second sight, predicting the weather, communicating with the dead, angels, or animals, locating lost treasures, and the ability to heal by touch. A Caulbearer was believed to be somehow different and so talented in the occult arts as to be considered a witch. In Medieval times they were feared and burned at the stake by the Church of Rome.
After birth the caul was usually carefully preserved and kept. It would sometimes be sold for a large amount of money. Many believed possessing a caul would bring them great fortune or save them from the fate of drowning. Sailors especially, sought to buy cauls for this purpose.
It is interesting to note that many famous people were born with a caul. Alexander the Great, Liberace, Sigmund Freud, Lord Byron, and Kahlil Gibran were all born ‘behind the veil’, as it was also known. Tibetan Buddhists believe to be a Caulbearer must be a prerequisite to becoming a Dalai Lama.