As part of Northern River’s Autumn Equinox ritual, we had a baby saining ceremony for Bee. The rite was inspired by material gathered by Alexander Carmichael in Carmina Gadelica. In the highlands, Pagan ceremony blended with the Christian idea of baptism. Baptism was seen as a powerful force of order among those people. It was the first initiation into the community and the Christian faith (191). Baptism was valued so highly, and failure to receive one was such a frightening prospect that special cemeteries were set apart for the babies who died before receiving such a blessing. Sad little places, they were often rocky and hard to get to. “It was thought,” Carmichael explains, “that such a child had no soul; but it had a spirit, and this spirit, taran, entered into a rock and abode there, and became mac talla (son of rock), which is the Gaelic term for “echo” (190). To me, that language suggest a fear of ghosts and/or angry spirits.
Although sainings have some of the familiar acts of a Christian baptism, it is to be viewed as more a blessing and protective charm rather than any sort of dedication to a specific religion. The tradition seems to come from the midwives, or knee-women, who performed their own baptism prior to that given by the priests (189). This was likely done for fear of infant mortality and how seriously the community viewed baptism as demonstrated above. However, these midwife baptisms have language that suggests they’re carried over from earlier traditions. There’s protective language against fairies and gnomes, for example (192). Indeed, if you read my earlier post about childbirth traditions in Ireland and Scotland, you’ll know that a fear of changelings was also very real to our ancestors. To protect against otherworldly abduction, newborns were “handed to and fro across the fire three times, some words being addressed in an almost inaudible murmer to the fire-god. It was then carried three times sunwise around the fire, some words being murmered to the sun-god” (189).
For our purposes, Rev. Skip Ellison of Muin Mound Grove performed the saining. It was important to us that he do it because he married us a few years ago. He asked that the Three Kindreds protect Bee. He gave us an iron ring to keep near her to ward off malignant spirits. I carried a candle around her as she was held by my husband. She was then given splashes of water, “wavelets,” to symbolically bestow various qualities.
A waveflet for thy form,
A wavelet for thy voice,
A wavelet for thy sweet speech;
A wavelet for thy luck,
A wavelet for thy good,
A wavelet for thy health;
A wavelet for thy throat,
A wavelet for thy pluck,
A wavelet for thy graciousness;
Nine waves for thy graciousness” (Ellison, 147).
It was decided that I would carry my daughter from person to person in the circle to receive their blessing. Indeed, this is traditional. Carmichael wrote, “At this function and feast the child is handed from person to person around the company, going deiseil, in a sunwise direction. Every person who takes the child is required to express a wish for its welfare. The wish may be in prose or in verse, but preferbably in verse and original if possible” (191) because poetry has the tendancy to endure. Amazingly enough, Skip’s granddaughter, Dragyonfly, wrote an amazing song for Bee which she sang during this portion! We were given a copy of the lyrics as a gift. What a treasure!
It was important to me that I show my saining guests hospitality in the form of a favor. I made several felted acorn ornaments for people to bring home. They’re reminders of their witnessing her blessing and what it meant. The basket was with us during the whole Autumn Equinox and saining ceremony so they could soak up all that goodness. I gave them out after feasting.
Bee received several lovely gifts from people in addition to the song. Grovies gave her blankets and clothing. My mother gave her a cute fox coat and some money that we plan to use for a highchair. My sister and niece gave Bee a wonderful book about nature spirits and an original painting. My little family is truly blessed!