The Superstitious Minds of Pirates

March 14, 2012

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.

Squawk!

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?