Sailors Superstitions – Part II

sailors superstitions

Continuing from the previous post… Sailors superstitions are unique beliefs held by sailors or mariners, traditionally widespread globally…

More sailors superstitions…..

Never Rename a Ship

Probably the most feared one of all sailors superstitions…. After a ship is named and christened, changing the name of the ship is considered bad luck. According to legend, each ship’s name was recorded in the sea gods’ “Leger of the Deep,” so changing the name without notifying Poseidon, (the God of the Sea) and Aelous (the God of the wind) would incur their wrath. Another explanation is that renaming a ship meant the gods of the sea were looking after your boat until you renamed her. Once the boat is renamed without notifying the gods, they lose track of the vessel and they cannot protect her anymore.

The practical explanation for not renaming a ship was that early trading ships developed reputations at ports based on their names. Changing the name of a ship could cause problems for the captain and crew while traveling and trading.

If a ship must be renamed, a de-naming ceremony is necessary before christening the boat again, according to superstition. This ceremony typically involves writing the original name of the ship on a piece of paper, folding it, and placing it into a box. The box should then be burned and the ashes should be thrown into the sea when the tide is going out. If the ceremony is performed away from the shore, the ashes can be thrown in a river to float downstream or in a lake at night during a full moon.

A ship de-naming ceremony could also include removing all traces of the old name of the boat, including the logbook, paperwork, and even the writing on the hull. After the official de-naming ceremony, the boat can be christened again with its new name. This is a fascinating topic and read “How to rename a boat” at this link.

No Women on Board

And, this one is probably the most questioned of the sailors superstitions, that bringing a woman on board, triggers bad luck.

According to the lore, the origin of this belief is linked to the ship christening ritual. Legend says the boat christening in ancient times was involved with a virgin female sacrifice. They used to believe that the soul of the sacrificed virgin girl found the body on the ship. Because the female spirit of the ship may get jealous of the female passengers onboard and act strangely, having women on board brings bad luck.

A practical explanation of this superstition is, that women were said to distract sailors from their duties by arousing their passions or causing jealousy among crew members. When the crew is distracted and/or conflicted, they start to fail eventually and it will lead to a disaster.

Luckily, this sailors superstition has been put to rest. There are many cruising and or racing women around the world nowadays and women can now serve in the Navy and on fishing vessels without any concern of bad luck.

Pierce your ears

The image of the pirates is always associated with gold earrings in their ears. Pirates (and sailors) believed that if you pierced an ear, your sight in the opposite eye would improve. Many sailors had their ears pierced to improve their ability to keep watch and to spot whales or other ships and even today some sailors will have their ears pierced for this very reason. Sailors who wear earrings or have tattoos won’t drown.

Get Some Tattoos

Because early sailors believed strongly in the power of symbols and omens, they often tattooed specific images on their bodies to bring good luck or to repel misfortune. Seafarers often had a tattoo of a nautical star or compass rose that was believed to help guide them home.

Sailors also tattooed pictures of roosters or pigs on their feet to protect them from drowning. Many early sailors could not swim, and they believed that the gods would have mercy on them during a shipwreck if they saw the images of animals on their bodies. The gods would see the roosters or pigs and scoop the sailors from the water to place them safely back on land.

This superstition may have developed because after a shipwreck lighter livestock like roosters and hens would often survive because their crates would float in the ocean.

Always break the Eggshells

A sailor should break eggshells into tiny pieces. Because if you don’t, a witch would take the shell and use it as a sailboat, She would then sail out to the sea and cast spells for storms that would sink ships.

In the 19th century, Irish immigrants would break eggshells to keep the Irish Fairies who accompanied them to America from going home by eggshell boat.

Animal Omens

Of course, if we are talking about the sailors superstitions we have to cover the Omens. Good and bad…

The belief in animal omens and signs dates back to ancient sailors. Because of their connection with nature, certain animals meant good or bad fortune. While it might be seen as pure superstition, in most cases practical situations can explain such as sea birds flying closer to the land, etc. The most common animal omens at sea are…

Sharks are signs of death: Howlwood’s favourite of the sailors superstitions. A shark following the ship was perceived as a sign of inevitable death. However, the real reason that sharks followed ships was likely to eat any fish or food remnants that were accidentally dropped overboard. On the contrary, Dolphins swimming with the ship are a sign of good luck. And of course, killing a dolphin triggers very very bad luck.

Seabirds were thought to carry the souls of deceased sailors and it was a good omen to see one, but very unlucky to kill one. Seeing seabirds such as swallow, albatross or gull is always a sign of good luck. Cormorants, in some Scandinavian areas, are considered a good omen; in particular, in Norwegian tradition spirits of those lost at sea come to visit their loved ones disguised as cormorants.

Rabbits are bad omens: At sea, even the use of the word “Rabbit” is prohibited, and having such an animal on board is prohibited. Just saying the name could be a bad omen, so sailors refer to them as “the big-eared animal”. If sailors found a rabbit on their boat, they would often skip sailing for the day and stay home instead.

Some other sailors’ superstitions.

  • Having salmon on board brings bad luck.
  • A sick man cannot die until the ebbtide begins to run.
  • Touching the collar brings good luck.
  • Clergy are not welcome on board.
  • Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.

And the last one…. Adopting a “ship’s cat” would bring good luck. (This is another great topic and I will cover “Boat cats” in this blog in the near future).


3 thoughts on “Sailors Superstitions – Part II”

  1. Always love to read sailor’s superstitions.. My understanding of Sailor’s pierced left ear with a gold earring was that if the sailor drowned at sea (shipwrecked or overboard) and his body washed ashore, the gold in his earring would pay for a Christian funeral and thereby save his soul.

    1. It is also another part of the story. And the roots go back to the ancient Greek/Roman era. That piece of gold is the deceased travel fare for the Boatman across the Styx River.

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