The Phantoms of Pregnancy

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Owen Davies who writes on the associations between pregnancy and ghosts.

From the ancient world to the present, societies across the globe have been concerned that problems in childbirth were a potential source of malevolent ghosts. People who died prematurely or tragically were thought to leave restless spirits that could harass, torment or spread illnesses amongst the living. It is no surprise, then, that women who died during pregnancy or childbirth formed one such vengeful group. Known in ancient Mesopotamia as the lilitu, they preyed on pregnant women.[1] The cause of such childbirth complications was itself considered an act of divine supernatural vengeance. It was recorded of the hag-goddess Lamashtu that:

She touches the bellies of women in labour,

She yanks out the pregnant woman’s baby.[2]

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