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Mystery and History

Decoding The Truth Behind Bizarre Nautical Myths

Sailors have faced perilous and unpredictable seas throughout history, a reality that persists even today. To cope with their fears and find solace, sailors have relied on superstitions. Although many superstitions may seem peculiar, these beliefs have a captivating hold on those in the sailing world.

Decoding-The-Truth-Behind-Bizarre-Nautical-Myths
Image Credit: Wallpaper Flare

Sailors have faced perilous and unpredictable seas throughout history, a reality that persists even today. To cope with their fears and find solace, sailors have relied on superstitions. Although many superstitions may seem peculiar, these beliefs have a captivating hold on those in the sailing world. The inherent danger of their profession has only intensified the prevalence of superstitions among sailors. Even in the age of advanced technology, modern sailors continue to adhere to ancient nautical customs and myths for good luck.

Broken Eggshells 

Sailors held a strong aversion to the presence of women on their ships, but their fear of witches was even more prominent. Among the oldest and most enduring sailing superstitions is the intense effort to avoid witchcraft while at sea. This belief can be traced back to the first century AD, as noted by Pliny the Elder. During this era, sailors would break eggshells on board their ships to ward off witches. The ancient world was steeped in superstition, so the prevalence of this practice is not surprising. However, what is intriguing is how this custom persisted over time.

By the Middle Ages, it was believed that witches could navigate the high seas using hollowed-out eggshells as boats, albeit very small ones. Sailors and non-seafarers alike were horrified by the notion of witches freely traveling across the world’s waterways. To prevent witches from boarding their vessels and casting curses, sailors began breaking used eggshells into tiny fragments on board. The rationale was that without suitable eggshell pieces, witches would be unable to embark on their boats.

Interestingly, this custom endured well into the early 20th century. While contemporary sailors likely didn’t genuinely believe that witches sailed the oceans in eggshells, the tradition of breaking eggshells persisted. It served as a preventive measure, ensuring the absence of any lingering magical influence.

Don’t Dare Whistle!

Contrary to the common saying “whistle while you work,” whistling on a ship was believed to be a dangerous practice that could invite misfortune. Sailors held the superstition that whistling would alert the ocean’s deities, prompting them to stir up storms. Thus, anyone who dared to whistle while at sea was thought to be tempting fate and inviting strong winds and rain.

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Decoding The Truth Behind Bizarre Nautical Myths

Interestingly, there appears to be a practical reason behind this superstition as well. Throughout history, ships have been densely populated with crew members. Depending on the purpose of the voyage, sailors would sleep in shifts while others carried out duties on deck. Lookouts were stationed in the crow’s nest or other observation points, even during nighttime, while the rest of the crew rested below.

In the event of an emergency on deck or the sudden onset of a storm, it was crucial for the captain to be able to communicate quickly using whistles. The sharp sound of a whistle and a commanding shout would swiftly awaken drowsy sailors. Consequently, it was deemed important that crew members refrained from whistling while working, as it could potentially disrupt the captain’s ability to issue life-saving orders.

Got A Loaf? 

Interestingly, there are several maritime superstitions associated with bread. One such belief held by English sailors was related to the custom of considering bread baked on Good Friday as lucky. When Good Friday approached, sailors would flock to bakeries, eager to obtain a few loaves for their voyage. It was believed that consuming this bread would ensure a safe passage across the sea. Additionally, as a ship departed from the port, sailors would throw pieces of bread into the water, with the legend claiming that this ritual would guarantee favorable weather for the journey ahead. Seagulls in the port cities likely benefited from this superstition, happily feasting on the tossed bread.

Both the English and their French counterparts had a peculiar superstition involving upside-down bread on board ships. The origins of this legend can be traced back to land. During the Middle Ages in France, bakers were allegedly compelled to bake bread for executioners. Dissatisfied with this grim responsibility, the French bakers were said to imbue the bread they made for the executioners with “hatred.”

However, not every loaf produced by the bakers was meant for the executioners. Over time, this practice extended to the maritime domain. English sailors of the 16th century and beyond believed that having upside-down bread on board their ships would lead to shipwrecks and strandings

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Written By

Sensitive and insightful, Aishwari Pahwa is a passionate individual whose adulation for writing runs deep. She has an immense love for quiet environments and a desire for a rich inner life. With every word she pens, she aspires to touch hearts, provoke thought, and inspire positive change. Through her writing, she hopes to contribute to a world filled with empathy, growth, and deeper insights into the beauty and complexity of being human. Aishwari discovered the power of writing soon and shortly thereafter, it became her sanctuary - a space where she could make sense of her emotions, gain clarity, and find solace. Realizing the potential of her words to impact others, she felt her calling to share her insights and observations with the world.

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