Nautical Myths & Superstitions

Of nautical and maritime superstitions, there are many. While many have no discernible origin (other than "believed to bring back luck"), there are many more used to ward off the unfortunate fates suffered by so many before. As with any superstition, the beholder wishes to have some kind of control over an uncontrollable situation; but sailors' myths add an underlying theme of, if not pleasing a surly and vengeful nautical deity, at least passing by unnoticed.

Figureheads are one of the most recognizable and important aspects of a ship's fate. While women aboard a ship were considered bad luck, as they so wantonly distracted the sailors' from their duties, naked women - like those so commonly used for figureheads - were believed to calm the seas.  

Bananas were also forbidden from being brought aboard. This was believed to have originated from the many ships that sank after setting sail from the Caribbean, laden with the fruit. After a shipwreck, bananas were commonly found floating amongst the wreckage.  

Finally, the tattoos and gold earrings that sailors were known for weren't just window dressing!  Sailors' tattoos often included navigational symbolism, like the north star or compasses, and land animals like roosters and pigs. As many sailors could not swim, they hoped that, should they ever be thrown overboard, the sea would take notice of their tattoos and have enough mercy to return them to their ship. Gold hoops were thought to be a cure-all, from seasickness to vision and hearing loss. They also had more practical purposes such as providing the funds for a proper funeral should their body wash ashore.

There was hardly a more superstitious lot than seamen. Between going months without any communication with the outside world, subpar medical care, and the unpredictability of the sea, it's little wonder that ritual and superstition were so readily adopted. Whether or not they were effective, they at least provided some measure of comfort to the sailors that employed them. 


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