Monday, September 20, 2010

Superstitions about sea faring folk.

Empathy with nature is very much part of the Irish myth and nowhere is this as true as when you put out to sea. Below are some of the superstitions surrounding the sea and fisher folk. Some you may know some you may not,

Superstitions at sea.

Almost any fisherman will tell you that having a woman on board the ship makes the seas angry and is an omen of bad luck for everyone aboard. It was traditionally believed that women were not as physically or emotionally capable as men. Therefore, they had no place at sea. It was also observed that when women were aboard, men were prone to distraction or other vices that may take away from their duties. This, among other things, would anger the seas and doom the ship. Interestingly enough, there is a way to counter this effect. While having a woman on board would anger the sea, having a “naked” woman on board would calm the sea. Imagine that. This is why many vessels have a figure of a woman on the bow of the ship, this figure almost always being bare-breasted. It was believed that a woman’s bare breasts would “shame” the stormy seas into calm. Crafty bunch them fishermen.

It is believed that Friday is the worst possible day to start a journey on a boat and no enterprise can succeed which commences on that day. The most well known reason for the dislike of Friday is because it is believed that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Therefore, this day must be observed and respected and will be unlucky for anyone who attempts to go about business as usual. Many fishermen state that various ships lost at sea disembarked on a Friday. While Friday is the worst day to begin your journey, Sunday is the best possible day to begin a voyage. This observation is due to Christ’s resurrection on a Sunday, a good omen. It has led to the adage, “Sunday sail, never fail”

Black travelling bags are bad luck for a seaman. Black is the colour of death and indicative of the depths of the sea. Modern day body bags??

Avoid people with red hair when going to the ship to begin a journey. Red heads bring bad luck to a ship, which can be averted if you speak to the red-head before they speak to you.

A silver coin placed under the masthead ensures a successful voyage.

Disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your Left Foot first.

Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long voyage. An offering to the gods.

Throwing stones into the sea will cause great waves and storms. A sign of disrespect to the sea, ensuring retaliation in the form of stormy seas.

A stone thrown over a vessel that is putting out to sea ensures she will never return. A sign of disrespect to the sea, dooming the ship and all aboard.

Flowers are unlucky onboard a ship. They could later be used to make a funeral wreath for the dead, therefore, becoming a symbol that someone could die on the voyage.

Priests are not lucky to have on a ship. They dress in black and perform funeral services. They are a symbol of possible death and anything that makes you think of death or dying is a bad omen.

Don’t look back once your ship has left port as this can bring bad luck. Looking back to port implies that you are not truly ready to brave the seas and complete your voyage, bringing about bad luck on yourself and the ship.

A dog seen near fishing tackle is bad luck.

Black cats are considered good luck and will bring a sailor home from the sea. While black is the colour of death, and black bags or clothing are harbingers of doom, black cats are considered lucky on the sea. Mostly this is believed to be the result of the opposite effect of land based superstition, where a black cat is unlucky.

Swallows seen at sea are a good sign. Swallows are a land based bird and seeing them at sea implies that land is near and your prospects are clear.

Sighting a curlew at sea is considered bad luck.

A cormorant sighted at sea is bad luck.

Dolphins swimming with the ship are a sign of good luck. Dolphins are considered a sacred friend of fishermen, they have the good fortunes of man in mind and their presence indicates that you are under their protection.

It is unlucky to kill an albatross. They host the soul of dead sailors and are considered to be an omen of bad luck at sea, especially if killed.

It is unlucky to kill a gull. They also contain the souls of sailors lost at sea.

Handing a flag through the rungs of a ladder is bad luck.

Cutting your hair or nails at sea is bad luck. These were used as offerings to Proserpina, and Neptune will become jealous if these offerings are made while in his kingdom.

Church Bells heard at sea mean someone on the ship will die.

St. Elmo’s fire around a sailors head means he will die within a day.

When the clothes of a dead sailor are worn by another sailor during the same voyage, misfortune will befall the entire ship.

Never say the word Drowned at sea.

The caul off the head of a new-born child is protection against drowning and will bring the owner good luck.

The feather of a wren slain on New Year’s Day will protect a sailor from dying by shipwreck.

A ships bell will always ring when it is wrecked.

A shark following the ship is a sign of inevitable death. Sharks were believed to be able to sense those near death.

A sailor who died from violence or being lost at sea was said to go to “Davy Jone’s Locker”.

A sailor with over 50 years of service was said to go to “Fiddler’s Green” when he died.

If a bride steers a boat on the day of her marriage, the winds and the waves have no power over it, be the tempest ever so fierce or the stream ever so rapid.

There are many more superstitions concerning the sea and fisher folk and at some stage in the future I will add those on another posting. Until then Keep your sails dry and the wind at your back better still stay ashore.

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