Beware the Female Imagination

The other night, I learned the origin of this image that has appeared and changed over centuries in Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The hairy woman, and the black baby. Although originally having nothing to do with each other aside from illustrating the dangers of maternal imagination, they were together on a single woodcut on accident, and thus, have always stayed together until later editions when a black baby meant something very different in America than in Europe. The lady loses the hair eventually, too.

Maternal impression or imagination was the theory that a baby would, or could, look like something the mother imagines or sees. So, if the mother saw something traumatic or awful while pregnant, it would manifest itself onto the baby. This is why pregnant women were told not to go to executions and avoid unpleasant sights as a rule. The book actually tells you how to trick your husband if you are with a lover; just imagine your husband while you are having sex, and then, the baby will still look like your husband. Easy! Here are some babies where the mother had nightmares or saw something terrible….

Any inherited diseases or mutations always got blamed on the mother, of course. Or it was an act of God to punish the mother for some misdeed. Whatever the case, a woman’s imagination is a powerful and dangerous thing that has to be kept in check, otherwise, bad things happen. This book was still in publication until the 1930s and mostly unaltered. In fact, there is some evidence it was still being published into the late 1940s. This is what your grandmothers and every woman before her had to read in order to learn about reproduction and child care. I wonder how people will laugh at our current medical literature in the next few centuries?