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Vascular Birthmarks in Folklore, History, Art, and Literature 

Vascular Birthmarks in Folklore, History, Art, and Literature
Vascular Birthmarks in Folklore, History, Art, and Literature

John B. Mulliken

and Anthony E. Young

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date: 10 April 2020

Whenever an infant is born with a vascular birthmark, the mother is blamed and moreover, she feels guilty. The belief that a pregnant woman’s emotions can brand her hapless fetus can be traced to antiquity. It originated in folklore and later became a doctrine that was accepted by both lay people and learned physicians. Not until the end of the 19th century did belief in the power of maternal imprinting begin to wane. “Port-wine” stain, the most obvious of vascular anomalies, had an impact on the lives of several great leaders in history: a Scottish warrior king, head of the Russian Communist Central Committee, and the longest-serving President of Harvard University. This bright red blemish has been used as a character-marker by writers from Shakespeare to Hawthorne and modern short-story tellers. Even today, the bearer of a visible vascular anomaly often must suffer foolish stares.

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