anchor of a ship symbolizes hope, patience, and steadfastness.
is believed that the soul of the ship is embodied in the ship's
bell. For this reason, the bells of shipwrecked vessels are preserved
whenever possible. Bells of sunken ships are supposed to ring
from beneath the seas where the wrecked craft lies.
Like the bell
of a church, the ship’s bell had the task of keeping away all
hostile influences such as storms and devils.
It is said
that a ship’s bell that rings without human aid is an omen of
boarding a ship, it is said to be unlucky to step forward with the
left foot first. However, it is much worse if you also sneeze to
the left while doing so.
are many superstitions about boat building, including:
- In Pomerania,
in Germany it was believed to be lucky to use stolen timbers
for the construction of a boat.
- In the
North of England, during the caulking of a wooden boat a shipwright
could claim a ‘caulking kiss’ from any passing girl. If she
refused him, she had to pay a shilling.
superstitions about boat building, see keel
seamen believe that it is unlucky to have a dead body aboard ship.
A corpse should be buried at sea as soon after death as possible,
but never parallel to the line joining the bow and stern of the
it is necessary to bring a dead body ashore, it must always be
taken off the ship before anyone else disembarks.
brought luck. If a ship's cat came to a sailor, it meant good luck.
If the cat approached the sailor and then went away, it was bad
luck. If a cat was thrown overboard, a storm and very bad luck would
to Joseph Campbell in Man, Myth, and Magic [page 2566],
the ship is
the Christian symbol for both Church and State.
Christians wore badges in the form of a ship to show their faith
in salvation. The badges were also thought to provide protection
against the temptations encountered by a traveler on life’s voyage.
used the same word, skop, for boat, cradle, and coffin.
Mediterranean ports had an eye painted on their bows to guide
the craft to its destination and protect it against the evil eye.
the figurehead on a sailing ship was in the form of a naked woman,
who was in reality an idol or divine figure. She protected the
ship from sinking.
divine figure required an offering.
The breaking of a bottle of champagne across the bow of a craft
at its launching ceremony is a modern version of the pagan libation
sometimes in the form of human blood.
have always regarded the naked body of a woman as a luck-bringer,
whether in reality or in the form of an effigy.
addition to the superstitions and symbols shared by all sailors,
fisherman have some of their own, including:
cod fishermen who sail in Newfoundland waters believe that it is unlucky
to sail too close to the mother ship. They also regard Greenland
as an area of bad luck.
Ireland a fisherman may refuse to give a
light from his pipe on a Monday, in case he should inadvertently
surrender his luck for the whole of the ensuing week.
- Irish fisherman do not want to be
the third boat to leave harbor, either, because it is said to
bring a poor catch.
- Some Irish fisherman will try to
borrow someone else's luck by rubbing the bow of their own boats
against those of more fortunate crafts.
comes from the Norse goddess, Frigga (Freya). She ruled the ship-shaped burial mounds.
ship in full sail symbolizes safe conduct.
|gender of a
vessel of death and rebirth was always feminine, which may be why
a ship is still referred to using the feminine pronoun, she.
and silver coins
was customary for shipwrights to put a gold coin somewhere in the
keel and a silver coin was put somewhere below the mast. The gold
coin was for good luck and the silver coin protected the ship and
the crew from storms.
ship that is cursed with bad luck is said to be jinxed. In the British
Isles, a small craft with a bad reputation may be burned to "kill
the death in her."
person who brings misfortune to his crew mates, as Jonah
did to the biblical mariners when he took the ship to Tarshish.
ship's keel is the foundation of the boat. The ritual of laying
a foundation stone for a building is analogous to "laying"
of the ship's keel. As Joseph Campbell reports in Man, Myth,
and Magic, the brethren of the sea shared many beliefs about
Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, the design of the fishing boat could
not be changed after the keel had been laid. To do so was to
invite bad luck to the sailors in the boat.
Scotland it was the custom for the builder of the boat to hide
a gold coin in somewhere in the keel. The purpose of the gold
coin was to bring good fortune. The hiding-place was known only
to the builder; never to the ship’s owner.
first nail pounded into the keel was sometimes tied with a red
ribbon to protect the craft against storms and other misadventures.
also called shipwrights, never cursed the keel. They could curse
anything else on board ship, but the keel was sacrosanct.
was forbidden to lay down the keel on a Friday. An old legend
tells of a shipwright who didn't believe the superstition. He
laid the keel on a Friday, named the ship Friday, gave
its command to a Captain Friday, and dispatched it on its maiden
voyage on a Friday. The ship was never seen again.
||It is customary
for shipbuilders to lay a silver coin beneath a ship’s mast. The
coin symbolizes the moon. It is supposed to preserve the ship and
crew from storms.
to any name ending in the letter a. The sinking of the
Lusitania in 1915 reinforced this superstition.
a ship’s name must never be changed or disaster will fall upon
craft and crew. Joseph Campbell in Man, Myth, and Magic,
mentions the story of a skipper who decided to rename his boat
after his new wife. Shortly thereafter, the boat sank.
navel, and naval
temples were laid out in the form of a ship, navis,
on which the nave or "belly" of a Christian church
was modeled. The words navel
and naval once referred to the burial shrine, which was
compared to a ship and to the mother’s womb.
rudder of a ship symbolizes truth, guidance, and wisdom.
fire is the discharge of static electricity from points on a ship,
such as masts and spars. But,
it is the subject of superstitions, too. According to some sea
stories, if one flame appears, it means bad weather is coming.
If two flames appear, it means the weather will be clear.
Fire was sacred to the moon goddess Helen and to Hermes, god of
magic. It was also known as Corposant, which comes from the Italian
phrase, corpo santo, Christ’s body. Other names for it
are St. Anne’s Light and even Saint Electricity.
claimed Saint Elmo was the same as St. Erasmus of Syria.
|ships and fate
word ship is descended from the Teutonic word, schiff.
Schiff is in turn descended from the Old Norse word skop,
which means fate.
to the left side while boarding a ship incorrectly - with the left
foot first - was bad luck.
are many superstitions about sounds:
- If a wine
glass made a sound of its own accord, it was a sign that a ship
and its crew will soon die.
on a ship was thought to bring bad winds, which could harm the
crew and the ship.
on a ship
ship was supposed to invoke an adverse wind, which could harm the
ship and crew.
Erasmus of Syria was alleged to have been martyred
by having his intestines wound out of his body onto a windlass.
As a result, his symbol in sacred art was a windlass and he became
a patron saint of sailors.
would sell the wind to sailors in the British Isles and Europe.
These wind-sellers sold magic hawsers tied with three
knots, said to bring the wind. By the end of the sixteenth century
wind selling had grown into an international trade.
According to the book, Women Pirates and the Politics of the
Jolly Roger by Ulrike Klausmann, Marion Meinzerin and Gabriel
Kuhn [Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1997], the last European wind-seller
was Bessy Miller, a resident of the Orkney Islands. Sea travelers
were still paying her tribute in the nineteenth century.
witches of Finland and Lapland had a reputation for being able
to call up winds from the most remote areas. They did a brisk
business selling their conjuring skills.
protect against psychic attack, boatmen in the past attached stones
with holes in them to the bows of their boats. The stones were
called holy flints. They were made of the same kind of
stone as that used to protect houses against witchcraft.