The Drowned Child

The story was first published in German National Newspaper 1796

They have lot many a tale to tell about water; also about the lakes, rivers and seas to which an innocent child has to be sacrificed each year. But the water-bodies did not turn any of those children into a corpse but threw them to the shore instantly, or a little late. True the bodies came out late at times, but even the last bone emerged floating after it sank till the innermost depth of the sea.

We have a story of a mother who had drowned her child in a lake. She kept on praying to the god and all the saints to return her at least the bones intact for the child’s funeral; and she waited in good faith in her pure heart.

The next storm brought the skull back to the shore and the following one, the body. After all the body parts reached the shore, the mother collected all the hands and feet and everything is a piece of cloth, tied them up and carried the bundle to the church. What a wonder! With her each stride, the bundle was becoming heavier.  

Finally as she reached the foot of the Alter, her child inside the pack began crying. She laid the bundle on the steps of the Alter; the child – safe and sound, showed up removing the cloth surprising everyone. Only one little finger of his tiny fingers was missing.

The mother went back to the shore later and searched carefully for the tiny finger-bone. Needless to say she found it there. The bone was preserved in the church among other relics.

The sailors and fishermen of Cüstin in the Neumark (Brandenburg) also spoke of an unknown force controlling the river Oder which claimed one innocent life every year as a sacrifice. Death came to the people for whom it was destined; rest came out of the turmoil alive. The city Halloren in Salle was especially afraid of Johannestag, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. Sacrifice of an innocent life was predictable on this day.

Luckenwalde in Brandenburg. Die Stadtkirche St. Johannis am Markt . Credti:Wikimedia commons

What is the story of Saint John the Baptist? He was born of elderly parents; hence is associated to growth, health and fertility. If we consider the season of his birth, it is around the day of summer solstice which is regarded significant by local farmers for their livestock and crops. Local belief adopted a small, star-shaped yellow flower that blooms during this period as St. John’s word. Following an ancient Pagan tradition, large bonfires are lighted in the villages on the previous night to ward off the evil spirits who are responsible for carrying contagious diseases. These bonfires are usually arranged at the highest peak of the hill in the village. Farmers spread the ash in their fields with a belief that it would enhance the fertility of the soil. We don’t have a record of human sacrifice during this occasion here but similar kind of sacrifice was prevalent in many ancient cultures.

The story of drowning child in the water-bodies makes me remember Mahabharata story where incarnated river-goddess Ganga drowns her seven new-born babies in the river to release them from the curse of living a mortal life. We also know of the medieval era tradition of drowning new-born babies in Gangasagar. Difficult to determine if people in medieval era learnt superstitious beliefs from each other or many of the communities followed similar practices independently.