Seafarers are a mighty superstitious bunch – which is perhaps, unsurprising when you consider the dangers involved in catching our Cod.
So next time you set sail for a spot of sea fishing, keep in mind these superstitions, they may save your soul.
• Priests – as the conductors of funerals are never welcome aboard ships. Such was the seafarers fear of the man in black that should a fisherman or sailor pass a man of the cloth on the way to his boat, he’d simply turn around and go home again. Better to miss a day’s fishing than spend eternity at the bottom of the sea.
• Women – when it comes to the fairer sex, things get a little complicated. Females aboard a ship at sea were believed to conjure storms and gales. However, in harbour it was another matter, with wives and sweethearts frequently staying aboard ship.
No matter how unsafe the presence of a real woman at sea though, the effigy of a naked lady, usually in the form of a carved wooden figurehead was considered useful in the calming of storms – the shapely woman, helping to placate the Gods.
Foremost amongst the concerns of fishermen and sailors, is avoiding putting to sea on unlucky days.
• Fridays – going to sea on the day Christ was crucified, so the reasoning goes, will bring nothing but misfortune. Other days too, are regarded as being blighted by disaster.
• First Monday in April – is bad luck, it’s Cain’s birthday and the day that he murdered his brother Abel. Also the second Monday in August, brings nothing but disaster. On this date Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God and woe betide any mariner who puts to sea.
• December 31st – is another deadly day, as it’s the day that Judas Iscariot is supposed (although nobody actually knows) to have hanged himself.
So when should you don your sea boots and head out for a spot of sea fishing?
Wednesday or Woden’s day is considered to be best as the Norse God, was regarded as being particularly protective towards mariners.
You’d think, given the dangers of the seafarer’s life, that learning to swim would be a top priority, but this was far from the case. Being able to do the breaststroke or crawl would have been to tempt fate.
Better by far to own a caul – the membrane that surrounds a human fetus. This remarkable bit of redundant tissue was regarded until quite recent times, as a foolproof way to guard against drowning.
Anyone unfortunate enough to go over the side of his vessel could expect little help from his crewmates. They would consider the matter of your drowning, a regrettable but necessary sacrifice to keep the Gods of the sea content.
‘May God bless this ship and all who sail in her’. The words that, along with a splash of champagne, have launched thousands of ships – but what of the origins of this time honoured tradition?
Simply put – it’s all to do with blood sacrifice. The custom of sprinkling sparkling wine over the bow of a new vessel, is derived from the practise of swilling red wine, which in turn comes from spilling blood.
The Norse Vikings, in fact, had a delightful habit of tying live prisoners to the slipway. As the ship’s hull, squished the bodies of the unfortunate captives on its way into the sea, the Gods would be placated by the trickle of blood into the water.
Things never to do
• Never take an umbrella aboard ship – you’ll court bad weather.
• Never whistle, you’ll summon a gale.
• Never tap a glass aboard ship – the ringing, signals the untimely death of a mariner.
• Never wear a dead man’s clothes or you’ll die too.
• Never bring flowers onto a boat – they’re for funerals.
• Never bring a coffin onto a ship.
• Never repair a flag on deck.
• Never pass a flag between the rungs of a ladder.
• Never use a black bag.
• Never allow a rooster on board in case it crows.
• Never leave the bread cut side up.
• Never leave a hatch cover upside down.
• Never sew sails if the wind is blowing from the wrong direction.
• Never leave a line dangling – you’ll be hanged.
And never, whatever you do, refer to a deadly, long eared, fluffy animal with large front teeth, strong back legs and a cotton wool tail.