The superstitious sailor

Some of the myths superstitious seafarers believed and still do, to survive the ocean and all its charms.

By Gabrielle Ahern

The ocean has inspired many myths and legends for thousands of years, such is its beauty and power. It is only natural people have developed an innate fear of the sea and look for reasons to explain the sudden changes that transform a gentle ocean swell into a raging, violent wall of water, that leaves no trace on its departure as quickly as it did on arrival.

One of the myths sailors believed or still do, was wearing gold hoop earrings and a tattoo with the North Star brought good luck and fortune. Gold is a luxury item and you always feel good wearing it, so no wonder this myth gained popularity, and tattoos are either a part of cultural tradition or a fashion statement for many people across the globe. I never need to worry about this myth. Getting a tattoo hurts and it leaves a hole in your pocket.

Apparently, sailors also believe(d) cutting your hair, nails or beard brought bad luck. I can’t imagine anyone attracting anybody or anything without looking after themselves. But depending on the circumstances at sea, this might prove to be lucky because there’s some hairy moments to be had!

Having a woman on board a boat was also thought to be bad luck, but bare breasted women were not! Hence the figurehead placed at the bow of a ship to placate the ocean. I think people must get drunk and make things up, so this is definitely a myth.

Never change the name of a boat. If you do, you have to perform a de-naming ceremony. I don’t have a boat, so I’m not worried about this myth.

People who were in debt were considered to be bad luck on board. But everyone in the world has a debt to pay off, so this is a myth. If it wasn’t, no-one would be allowed on board a boat ever again!

Taking bananas with you on board a boat is bad luck. I think this is a myth. Bananas are good for you. You might need a snack, especially if you don’t catch any fish. A bit of bad luck when that happens, I must say, but you can’t blame bananas!

Saying the words ‘goodbye’, ‘good luck’ or ‘drowned’ at sea are also bad luck. So, avoid saying those words, don’t even whistle, that’s bad luck too!

Historically, giving birth to a boy on board a ship is considered good luck and the child is forever referred to as a ‘son of a gun’ because the gun deck was the best place to give birth! Obviously, this happy event has happened many times before, and the honour can stay at sea for the next unlikely mother to look forward to.

Spotting an albatross at sea is lucky because they represent the souls of sailors who have died. But killing an albatross is bad luck. Those fishing boats using long line nets to catch fish must trawl up a lot of bad luck, so you can forget winning the lottery.

Thursday is named after Thor, and sailors used to associate that day with storms, while Friday represents the crucifixion of Jesus. So, these days are traditionally not the best days to head out to sea. But I can’t imagine anyone with a day off on a Thursday or a Friday avoiding a good days fishing.

You must be wondering why anyone would want to even venture out to sea with so much superstition. An experience that changed the direction of my career was a bout of sea sickness. The ocean didn’t destroy my chances that day. Instead, it initiated a set of circumstances that have led me to where I am now, and I am very grateful. Before and since that day, I have met some lovely people, experienced good fortune, mixed in with some forgettable events. But no matter what has happened, I remain the oceans greatest admirer.

As much as I don’t want to remember feeling, or ever be, seasick, again, I do recall the sympathetic words offered in comfort: What bad luck! Thankfully no-one whistled.

If you’re experiencing some bad luck, like I do on occasion, don’t worry. It’s not about you, who you are, what you look like, or the circumstances you’re in. The main thing is to be true to yourself, and good things will always follow. One of them might be a story.

If you need someone to help you communicate a message about what you do as a sole trader, a small business or organisation, contact me at Salty Wave. I specialise in creating content that tells a story to the global community.

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