The Superstitious Minds of Pirates

Song of the Day: Cue the Twilight Zone theme music.

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In my Romancing the Pirates series, I mention superstitions often. Superstitions fascinate me. The oddity of these beliefs, how they originated, and the stories linked to them. And because superstition was so prevalent with sailors and pirates, naturally I incorporated bits of maritime myths in my books.

Like all sea dogs worth their salt, most of my characters are highly superstitious. One recurring belief tale after tale was that women on board were bad luck. By the antics and trouble that befall the crew time and again, I tend to agree.

In A Kiss in the Wind (shameless plug: release date March 26th!), there are several events surrounding superstition that has the crew all skittish and affright. One such event involves seagulls flying overhead while our fearless pirate captain comes upon a ghost ship. Seagulls and albatross were believed to carry the souls of dead sailors. Killing one of these birds was considered very bad luck. Stand down animal lovers, no birds were harmed in the making of Kiss. But these birds did fly above the masts in groups of three—a sure omen of death.


Some of the superstitions I slipped into the story but said nothing of the beliefs surrounding them. Flowers are considered unlucky to have on board as they could be used for a funeral wreath. Therefore, many sailors believed flowers on a ship also meant someone would die on the voyage. In Blood and Treasure, I deliberately used flowers as a representation and foreshadowing symbolism.

Here are a few fun lesser known beliefs:

  • No whistling on board – stirs up the wind bringing storms.
  • Naked women on board were considered lucky – as they shamed the seas into being calm (think figureheads) I know, this is a direct conflict to not having women on board. Pfftth–men.
  • Don’t set sail on Fridays – Christ was crucified on that day.
  • A shark following a ship was a death omen. (Na-na-na-na-na-na-ahhhh! Jaws!)
  • A bell ringing by itself surely meant someone was about to die. (Sheesh, choppy waters must be a bitch)
  • Wine poured on the deck would bring good luck. (Just think of all the poor sailors’ tongues with splinters in them.)
  • Rats leaving a ship meant the ship is doomed.
  • Black cats were considered good luck.
  • A silver coin placed under the masthead would ensure a good voyage. (Kind of like a bribe, I’d say.)
  • Avoid redheads.
  • An anchor tattoo will keep a man fallen overboard from drifting away from the ship.
  • Gold earrings keep a sailor from drowning; it also ensured payment across the River Styx. (Boy, sailors sure are into bribery.)
  • A baby boy born on a ship was good luck; it is suggested that a boy born on the gun deck is referred to as a “son of a gun”.
  • Never say pig – it’s bad luck and brings strong winds; it’s also bad luck to mention say rabbit, hare, or fox (the captain’s name in Blood And Treasure is Fox – tee hee)

    Red skies at night, sailor's delight; red skies at morn, sailor be warned

  • Don’t disrespect the sea – never throw a stone overboard.
  • Bananas were bad luck, having bananas on board caused ship to disappear.
  • A stolen piece of wood linked into the keel will cause the ship to sail faster. (Because no one wants to be caught stealing.)

There are loads more mariner superstitions. Can you name another?

12 Responses to The Superstitious Minds of Pirates

  1. William says:

    Interesting additions to pirate lore, Jenn. And I can see all KINDS of potential plots in here for you…:)


    • jbrayweber says:

      Oh yes…I’ve got loads of ideas. And I sprinkle them in here and there. However, I have decided I will write another novella based around marooning. Not superstitious, but fun all the same. LOL!


  2. You have my banana one, but I heard that it would cause a ship to sink. A biggy is to never change the name of the ship. If you do there is a very formal ceremony one has to go through, involving a lot of rum, where you have to remove the old name from everything on the ship. If we ever meet, I’ll tell you a couple of stories.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Yep – renaming a ship was a biggie, Ella. And it seems, at least with pirates, there was always an occassion for more rum! LOL!

      A little more information about bananas. Bananas were considered bad luck was because ships carrying bananas would disappear or were found with the entire crew dead. The belief now is that bananas rot fairly quickly and cargoes of bananas would rot and ferment in the holds. The toxins released were deadly. Like wise, if the fruit was eaten. Fascinating, really. 🙂


  3. jeff salter says:

    Always wondered about the anchor tatoos.
    The one about having a baby boy born on board is vexing … if no women are allowed on-board. Hmm.
    I can definitely understand naked women on board being lucky. Ha.


  4. I loved seeing the quote again of red skies:) My son and I tossed that one around quite a bit when he was in the navy…along with the wishes of fair skies, and following seas:)

    I enjoyed this list of boog-a-boo’s, Jenn:) It’s always fun to discover reasons behind beliefs and superstitions:)



    • jbrayweber says:

      There’s a reason behind them all, Loretta. But some are not founded and are just plain crazy! 😉

      I love the line fair winds and following seas and have autographed many books with the expression.


  5. jdfaver says:

    Very interesting, Jenn. That explains the USMC tats with the anchor, globe and eagle. Gotta love ’em.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Did you know that rummage sales come from sailors, too, JD? There are so many cool things to learn from mariner lore.


  6. Very cool! These were great, Jenn! Can’t wait for your release date! 🙂


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