Thursday, December 31, 2009

History: Superstitious To The End

I've said more than once that there is probably nothing on Earth more superstitious than a sailor. I'm pretty sure athletes run a close second in our current era but even now sailors take the prize. Since we're celebrating a New Year tonight, and there are a lot of superstitions that surround that as well, I thought I would offer some shipboard "do's and don'ts" for your enjoyment and edification.

Let's start off with the do's:
Bring only odd numbers of things on board (eg: barrels, sails, some even include shoes and bring three).
Invite children to sail with you (remembering that boys as young as seven or eight were frequently aboard ship).
Throw bread overboard in a storm (an obvious sacrifice to the Gods of the sea).
Place a coin under the heel of the mainmast (as above).
Put a naked woman on deck during a storm (ditto; the upshot of this one is that so many figureheads are half-naked women).
Step on board with your right foot first (probably a variation of the Celtic "first foot" tradition where one should step over the threshold of a new house - or a friend's home on New Years Day - with the right foot first).
Get underway on a Tuesday (very good luck!)
Name your ship after a place (eg: USS Philadelphia, Renato Beluche's La Popa, etc.)
Give your ship a woman's name or - even better - name it after a specific woman (to a lesser degree, after a specific man.)

And here are a few don'ts:
Carry an empty coffin on board (coffins were pariah to seaman, who generally wrapped their dead in hammocks and buried them at sea).
Say the word "pig" (if any of you all know why, leave me a comment).
Lose a water bucket overboard (this had to do with angering the sea Gods for mucking up their home with human detritus. Interestingly, they didn't seem to mind sailors using the head.)
Comb out and braid your hair at night (hair and the Devil have a long coexistence at sea so best be careful.)
Step on board with your left foot first.
Get underway on Friday (this is still considered "bad juju", as anyone who has watched Deadliest Catch - or Danger Crabs! as we call it around here - knows.)
Speak of a prize as yours before she's taken (this is the same as not counting your chickens, etc.)
Name your ship after a storm (either the storm itself - Typhoon - or, in the modern age, the storm name. Stay away from Katrina, mates.)

And finally, some simple ways to improve luck or turn aside bad luck:
Whistle when in a calm to call the wind.
Touch wood if you have said or done a "don't" (the wood absorbs the negativity of your thought or action).
Sneeze to the right (this somewhat minimizes the bad luck of the sneeze.)

Happy New Years Eve, Brethren. I hope that your evening is full of love and laughter and at least one little superstitious tradition that will bring you luck in 2010. Huzzah!


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Interesting lists. I think I usually sneeze to the left. I'll have to try sneezing to the right and see if that improves me luck... Thankee and Happy New Year to ye, me Pirate Queen and to all followers of yer blog!

Ozarklorian said...

Best wishes for the New Year!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It couldn't hurt, could it?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Ozarklorian! And to you as well!