It’s not just locales around the world that have superstitions. Trades and subcultures have them as well. Case in point, the numerous sailor superstitions. Why so many from the sea? Well, it’s already a scary place. Your senses are a bit off, so you can easily exaggerate a molehill into a mountain. You’re may be familiar with some of these, but you’ll definitely learn something new about mermaids, sirens and bananas you can drop at the next cocktail party or yacht soiree…
Jonah: You’re familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale, right? (Technically, it’s a “great fish,” but we’ll just go with “whale.”) So it’s not too surprising that sailors prefer not to be on a ship with a guy named “Jonah.” In fact, if someone on board is considered bad luck, the sailors just start calling him “Jonah.”
Friday: Friday is known as dies infaustus (unlucky day). There’s a sort of urban legend in the UK of the HMS Friday. The ship supposedly started construction on a Friday, launched on a Friday and set sail for the first time on Friday the 13th… then was never heard from again. Candlemas (Friday, February 2nd in 2018) is considered especially unlucky and is perhaps the root of the broader British superstition that all Christmas decorations should be removed by Candlemas.
Sirens: Dating back at least as far as Homer’s Odyssey, sirens are mythological creatures from ancient Greece whose song is so beautiful, it causes men to jump ship and drown or crash their ships on the rocks in search of it. This superstition had mostly died out by the Christian era, as Church authorities sought to discourage belief in anything pagan.
Bananas: Bananas are considered bad luck while at sea. While the superstition originated on fishing vessels, due to the belief that bananas repel fish, it has since spread to sailing ships and yachts. There’s even a special prayer of repentance for you to say if you accidentally brought bananas on board, to avoid the wrath of the sea.
Albatrosses: In and of themselves, albatrosses aren’t considered unlucky. Rather, it’s considered unlucky to kill an albatross while at sea. This is referenced in that salty sea epic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (and later a kickass Iron Maiden song). After a sailor kills an albatross, his fellow sailors force him to wear the bird’s corpse as a necklace.
Whistling: Whistling on a ship is considered a challenge to the very wind itself—and the wind doesn’t like that. The punishment for challenging the wind is a storm, likely one you won’t ever forget. Ship’s cooks, however, are exempt from the prohibition on whistling. It’s thought that as long as a cook is whistling, he or she isn’t stealing food.
Black Cats: Black cats are unlucky, right? Not if you’re at sea. Sailors consider black cats to be lucky, especially if they’re polydactyl and have extra toes. The underlying reason is the belief that cats with extra toes are better at catching rats, a serious pest on board any ship. They’re also believed to predict the weather. DNA evidence suggests this superstition goes back into ancient Egyptian times.
Sailor Collars: For reasons that aren’t terribly clear, it considered good fortune to touch the collar of a sailor suit. This one applies whether you’re at sea or not.
Mermaids: Here’s another shocker... In most cultures, mermaids are considered good luck. It’s only in British—and thus, American—culture where mermaids are considered a bad omen. Depending on whom you ask, they either cause the disaster or just tell you about it. Forget about Ariel. Some sailors describe mermaids being over 2,000 feet tall.
Kraken: Finally, there’s the kraken. The kraken might actually be more of a “tall tale” than a superstition. They’re probably based on sightings of giant squids, which, while considerably smaller than the boat-eating monster krakens, are big enough to be scary as hell when you’re at sea. Add to that the male tendency to exaggerate size (you know what we mean), and you’ve got the recipe for a legend.