Seagoing Superstitions

Seagoing Superstitions

By Garland Davis

Sailor superstitions at the time of the war of 1812:

When coming on deck, a sailor stepped with his left foot first.

When his ship was becalmed, he whistled for the wind.

When pointing to the horizon, he used his whole hand, all fingers extended, because a single pointed finger could act as a lightning rod for evil spirits.

The appearance of a petrel normally foretold a gale, unless the petrel was first seen during a gale, in which case the gale was on the verge of coming to an end.

Cats held significant powers—black cats, especially. It was good luck to have a single black cat on board, but two black cats on the same ship were considered bad luck (one should be thrown into the sea).

Every seabird was believed to carry the soul of a dead sailor. It was considered bad luck to kill one. To have one fly alongside the ship was generally lucky (except in the case of the aforementioned petrel prior to a gale). Above all, there was no creature luckier than an albatross and no ship luckier than one with an albatross flying alongside.

Some superstitions had the potential to cause harm:

Sailors believed that bathing caused the water to wash away one’s good luck. (I had a number of those work for me during my thirty year career.)

Blood spilled into the sea would cause a storm to abate.

Tattoos protected a man against venereal diseases. (How did that work out for you?)


2 thoughts on “Seagoing Superstitions

  1. Rick Emery says:

    A CWO I knew joined the Navy 1902 had that date tattooed on top of right foot and a picture of a pig on the left. Reason if you fell over board you wouldn’t drown.


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