|Holy Trinity Church in Hull|
We do this more often than not without thinking, a natural response to a situation we are faced with and if you do these things, you are superstitious. Where do you get the habit from? Almost certainly as children from your parents.
I had a fascinating discussion with a friend's mother last night and as our common ancestors come from a fishing community in Hull called 'Hessle Road,' we started to exchange what we knew about fishermen's superstitions from the now defunct and once mighty trawler fleet.
Although superstitions include all manner of practises, rituals, cures, taboos, including working with charms, omens and signs, it touches virtually everyone today and yet some superstitions are many centuries if not millenia old.
Why do we have them, to ward off bad luck, or bring ourselves good luck? How often do you say "touch wood," or "crossed fingers" when you are making a decision or making a wish? We still laugh (some of us take it seriously) at Friday the thirteenth or putting up an umbrella in a house.
Local Yorkshire historian Dr. Alec Gill MBE has written extensively about fishermen's superstitions and many of those he writes about were subject of my discussions last night.
Some of the popular ones were than the men did not wash on the day of sailing lest he should be washed overboard, or wave him goodbye in case a wave should wash him overboard or how about this one: the fishermen's women must not whistle because this would whistle up a storm 'A whistling woman and a crowing hen brings the Devil out of his den.'
|Trawler memorial at a disused lock entrance in West Hull|
The trawler itself was always referred to as a 'she' (more of a tradition than a superstition perhaps) and a brush was never left on deck in case the ship would be swept away. Green was never worn at sea - green is followed by black - widow's weeds. The salt was never passed at the ship's meal table, 'pass the salt, pass sorrow,' and the tea pot was never emptied once the ship set sail, it was always on the go.
Fishermen never took money to sea. If they went to sea skint, they would have a good and successful trip. I can recall my grandfather, who was born on Hessle Road talking about kids scrambling for money when the sailors threw their loose change into the air for the expectant and waiting children prior to setting sail.
Of course the Church (of England) thought superstitions were the inventions of the devil or steeped in heathenism. It is interesting that in an attempt to bring pagans into the fold of the church in the early days, the symbols of paganism could be found on church decorations such as Green Men, holy and ivy, the god of wine Baccuss and other heathen regalia.
|A Green Man carving at the top of a column at Alkborough Church Lincolnshire Courtesy of Wikipedia and photographer SiGarb|
The list of superstitions is huge and endless including a whole raft around animals, but I would be interested if anyone has any modern superstitions that you use, for example, not shaving before playing a football match, or wearing a certain item of clothing as good luck?
What are your superstitions?
*Recommended reading: A Dictionary of Superstitions, Opie and Tatem by Oxford University Press; and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Ed. Evans, by Cassell.