It has long been believed in Europe and the United States
that a seventh son is especially lucky or gifted with occult powers,
and that the seventh son of a seventh son has healing powers.
In Scotland, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter
was said to have the gift of second sight (prophetic vision). In
Ireland, the saliva of a seventh son was said to have healing
properties. However, in Romanian folklore, a seventh child was
believed to be fated to become a vampire.
As early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, the
Diary of Walter Yonge 16041628 (published by the Camden Society,
1847, edited by G. Roberts) had a negative reference to
the healing powers of a seventh son
In January, 16067, it is reported from London by credible
letters, that a child being the seventh son of his mother, and no
woman child born between, healeth deaf, blind, and lame; but
the parents of the child are popish, as so many say as are healed
by it. The Bishop of London, Doctor Vaughan, caused divers
[various people] to be brought to the child as aforesaid, who
said a short prayer as [he] imposed his hands upon, as tis said
he did unto others; but no miracle followeth any, so that it appeareth
to be a plain lie invented to win grace to the popish faction.
Thomas Lupton, in the second edition of his book A Thousand
Notable Things (1660), noted, It is manifest, by experience,
that the seventh male child, by just order (never a girl or
wench being born between) doth heal only with touching
(through a natural gift) the kings evil [scrofula], which is a special
gift of God, given to kings and queens, as daily experience
In France, there was also a tradition that a seventh son had
the power to cure the kings evil. He was called a Marcou and
branded with a fleur-de-lis. The Marcou breathed on the part
affected, or else the patient touched the Marcous fleur-de-lis.
Robert Chambers, in his Domestic Annals of Scotland from the
Reformation to the Revolution (1858), stated that in February
1682, a certain Hugh McGie, . . . gave in a bill to the Privy
Council, representing that, by the practice of other nations, any
tradesman having seven sons together, without the intervention
of a daughter, is declared free of all public burdens and
taxes, and has other encouragements bestowed on him, to enable
him to bring up the said children for the use and benefit
of the commonwealth; and claiming a similar privilege on the
strength of his having that qualification. The Council recommended
the magistrates [of Edinburgh] to take Hughs seven
sons into consideration when they laid their stents (trade
taxes) upon him.
A tradition in Donegal, Ireland, claimed that the healing
powers of a seventh son required a special ceremony at the moment
of the infants birth. The woman who received the child
in her arms should place in its hand whatever substance she decided
that he should use to heal in later life. This substance
could be metal (e.g., a silver coin) or a common substance like
salt, or even hair; when the child was old enough, it would rub
the substance and the patient would apply it to an afflicted part
for healing purposes. There was also an Irish tradition similar
to the Scottish belief that a seventh son of a seventh son possessed
prophetic as well as healing powers.
There was a general belief in Britain that the seventh son of
a seventh son was destined to be a physician and would have
an intuitive knowledge of the art of healing, often curing a patient
simply by touching an afflicted part. This belief also extended
to the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. A contributor
to Notes & Queries (June 12, 1852) observed In
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Seventh Son
Saltash Street, Plymouth [England], my friend copied, on the
10th December, 1851, the following inscription on a board, indicating
the profession and claims of the inhabitant A. Shepherd,
the third seventh daughter, Doctress.
The belief in the healing powers of a seventh son of a seventh
son has persisted into the twentieth century, and there are
two Irish healers of this kind Danny Gallagher and Finbarr
Nolan. Both are touch healers, although Gallagher additionally
blesses soil that is to be mixed with water and applied to
the afflicted area of the patient; both healers recommend a sequence
of two or three visits for maximum healing. They are
credited with remarkable cures. Gallagher is reported to have
restored the sight of a woman blind for twenty-two years, and
Nolan claims to have successfully healed injured race horses as
well as human beings.
Chambers, Robert. Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation
to the Revolution. 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1858.
Lupton, Thomas. A Thousand Notable Things. London, 1660.