Sunday, May 10, 2015

Maritime Superstitions, Part 1

Today’s technology allows for much safer sea travel, but these advancements in communications, navigation and weather forecasting are relatively new.

For centuries, maritime travel was hazardous, and the loss of ships and lives was common.

Sailors for hundreds of years had only a set of superstitious practices that they firmly believed would protect them from the sea’s deadly storms. They did not take these beliefs lightly, for they felt if adhered to faithfully they would up their chances of survival.

Today most of these superstitions have been set aside, but some are still practiced more out of tradition than belief. Here are just a few.

Storms at sea took lives, so practices that ensured they would not be stirred up were standard. Sailors never whistled while at sea--it was believed that this stirred the wind causing a storm to hit.

Sailors would never thrown stones into the water for this was considered disrespectful to the sea. It was believed this action would cause a storm.

It was believed cats onboard ships were useful in predicting the weather. Sailors thought that if a cat walked toward them, this meant good luck but if a cat approached them but then retreated it brought misfortune.

When a cat was seen licking its fur against the grain, this meant a hailstorm was imminent. If a cat sneezed rain was on its way, and if they were frisky, the wind would soon blow.

Some sailors even believed cats could incite storms with the magic in their tails. But opposite to most superstitions, black cats were considered good luck for a ship.

Clapping on board was said to bring the thunder. Umbrellas were never carried on board a ship--it was reported this tempted fate.

There were also many superstitious practices that were followed to avoid bringing bad luck or doom to a ship.

Crewmembers with red hair were believed to bring a voyage terrible luck. The only way to avoid this misfortune was for another crewmember to speak to the redhead first before they spoke. 

It was considered a double the bad luck, if a crewmember with red hair, whistled while at sea.

Many captains would not allow their crew to wear green sweaters while on board. For they believed this also brought bad luck. The color black was also considered bad luck. Sailors would not carry their belongings around in a black bag or wear black clothing.

Priests with their black robes were also considered bad luck.

A classic maritime superstition involves woman on board ships. This was considered very bad. For women tempted or distracted the crew from their duties--which could doom a vessel.

On the other hand, naked women were believed to calm the sea--thereby keeping storms at bay. This is why so many ships had a naked woman as their mastheads.

Birds could bring either good or bad luck to a ship. Swallows, when seen, were said to bring good luck, while curlews and cormorants were bad luck.

If a sailor was to kill a gull or an albatross, this was especially troubling for it was believed these two birds held the souls of dead sailors. This belief was also connected to dolphins.

If dolphins were seen swimming in front of a ship, this was said to bring good luck, if sharks were seen following a boat this was considered a harbinger of death.

In Part ll of MaritimeSuperstitions, more traditional beliefs are shared. 

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