Superstition is such a funny thing. What might seem trivial to one person is a supreme driving force for someone else. There are so many different things to keep up with when it comes to various superstitions. What is luck, anyway? Something that occurs outside of one’s control, whether good or bad, regardless of the intentions or desired result. It’s interesting to me, though, that if luck or chance is something that happens regardless of our intentions or desired result, why all the hubbub about good luck charms or bad omens? If it’s going to happen [good or bad] regardless of our desired outcome, why would we attempt to affect change? I suppose it makes us feel like we have some influence or input on the things that happen in our lives that we cannot control.
For instance, there’s things that will bring you bad luck: Don’t let a black cat cross your path; don’t walk under a ladder; don’t step on a crack [or you’ll break your mother’s back]; if you break a mirror, you’ll experience seven years of bad luck; don’t open an umbrella inside the house; there’s so many!
There’s also methods of purportedly bringing good luck to yourself: Find a four-leaf clover [good Irish luck!]; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; horseshoes are supposed to have good luck properties; finding a cricket inside your house means good luck.
All this thought of superstition is a result of various sailing/boating superstitions that I’ve run across in my research and readings. Obviously, since seafaring is probably one of the world’s oldest occupations and pastimes, there’s a ton of lore [both good and bad] out there. Here’s a few I’ve found that involve bad luck for sailors.
- Departing on a Friday? This is one of the most cited superstitions I’ve come across. Superstition has it that it’s extremely unlucky to begin a voyage on a Friday. I’ve found two different origins of this. One of them said not to set sail on Friday because that’s the day Jesus was crucified. Another is cited in William Henry Smyth’s, The Sailor’s Word-Book, in which he writes about Friday: “The dies infaustus, on which old seamen were desirous of not getting under weigh, as ill-omened.” There’s no other mention by Smyth in the book, but maybe he was referring to Jesus’ crucifixion also?
- It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. According to legend, boats develop a mind [life] of their own once they’re named and christened and it’s bad news to change the given name, unless you perform some sort of chant or prayer to the ruler of the deep after removing all named items from the vessel and then dissolving the old name, while imbibing champagne and pouring it into the sea.
- Cutting hair, trimming nails, shaving beards while at sea are no-no’s! The only reference I can find as to why this is supposed to bring bad luck says that doing these things is giving offerings to Proserpina, and Neptune will become jealous if these offerings are made while in his kingdom.
- No whistling on board. Mariners have a long history of believing that if you whistle on board, you’ll “whistle up a storm.”
- Tattoos are good luck. Seafarers would usually tattoo a nautical star on their bodies as the North Star represented a signal that they were nearing home.
- Naked women bring good luck. This almost needs no explanation..haha. Apparently, as mariner lore has it, women [clothed?] on a boat brings bad luck, but if the woman is naked, good luck is sure to follow. Hence the reason many ships have figureheads of a naked woman. Naked women were said to “calm the sea.”
- Earrings. Sailors believed that wearing gold hoop earrings brought good luck. Apparently the gold had healing powers and the hoops supposedly prevented sailors from drowning.
- Horseshoes. It is said that if you place a horseshoe on a ship’s mast, it will turn away a storm.
I’ve learned throughout my life that any ‘control’ we feel we have is really only perceived. There is no real control in our lives. And to be honest, I like it that way. It’s actually relieving to me to know that although I can try to steer things a certain way in my life for the good; that I can prepare for the bad things and try to cope with them the best I can. But ultimately, we’re all subject to chance, or luck if you will, because we cannot control everything in this world. Leave that up to God and just enjoy the path you’re on.
Even so, I’ll probably follow every one of these myths/superstitions related to sailing. Well…except for the hoop earrings.. Better safe than sorry, right!?