Whether it is women or bananas you’d be surprised what is black listed on a ship. Many superstitions about being at sea or on an ocean voyage seem nonsensical but interesting and half the time the explanation is twice as interesting, but much less non-sense. Below is a brief glimpse at the common superstitions at sea, for trivia, or safety, you deicide.
No women allowed.
One of the best known superstitions at sea is that women are bad luck on a boat. I can say many female sea captains would disagree, but where did this little gem come from?
Imagine a ship full of men on a long lonely voyage with very few to one woman. Can you say distraction? If you entire crew is distracted chances are trouble will arise, but rather than seeing this realistic reasoning sea captains claimed women angered the sea, well, of course unless they were naked on board.
Bring a cat instead.
Black cats are well known to be unlucky on land, but there a sailor’s best friend. The silly explanation here is that superstitions are reversed at sea, so since a black cat is bad on land its good at sea. Logically? I’d say the cats kept down the rats and other disease carrying vermin onboard resulting in less death, or good luck.
Speaking of black.
I can’t give you logical explanations for these few sea bound superstitions but…
You should never wear black or carry black bags on a ship.
Priests should stay home with the women.
In both cases it’s believed that because the color black is associated with death (priests wear black and perform funerals) they are bad luck on board. Things associated with death in general were considered bad luck such as flowers, starting a voyage on Friday (the day Christ was crucified and the day the Norse felt witches gathered), the first Monday of April (the day Cain slew Able) or August (the day Sondom and Gommrrah was destroyed), or December 31st (the day Judas hung himself), killing an Albatross or Gull (they carried the souls of the dead at sea), wearing the clothing of a dead sailor, and finally, a shark following the ship. (I’m sure you can see how sharks associate with death.)
No banana’s about it.
It was believed that having bananas, most notably as your cargo was bad luck.
This could be because of the spiders that tend to live in banana bushels are deadly, or because rotting bananas let off a gas that can be deadly if concentrated, or even because vessels carrying bananas had to travel quickly and the sailors had no time to fish for food, if they did the cargo spoiled and that meant death all the same. None the less, the sailors just thought they were bad luck over all.
Bad luck is a common theme.
Again this is just a list of things that are considered bad luck on a ship, most of which I couldn’t begin to rationalize.
-People with red hair or flat feet at the beginning of your voyage. (They are okay later)
Having “Good Luck” said to you without punching the well wisher in the nose to draw blood.
-Stepping on board with your left foot.
-Throwing stones over board or over the ship as it leaves port.
-Looking back at the port as you depart.
-Handing a flag through ladder rungs, or mending it on the quarter deck.
-Loosing a mop or bucket overboard.
-Cutting your hair and/or nails while at sea.
-Saying the word “drowned”.
-The rim of a glass or a bell ringing.
-A dog near your tackle.
On the other side a much shorter list of things that are good luck at sea:
-A stolen piece of wood attached to the keel. (Makes the ship go faster.)
-Dolphins following the ship.
-Pouring or spilling wine or alcohol on deck.
-Seeing swallows. (This could be a sign of land.)
-A silver coin under the mast.
This isn’t all of them either. In time when the sea was one of the quickest forms of transportation to excitement, adventure and riches beyond mention imaginations and facts ran wide to form a wide range of superstition, myth and wonder some of which have survived today.
For more on Superstitions click here.