Superstitions - Or the Caul of the Sea


It is a known fact, that superstition cannot be overcome by logic.

There is a tale, which sailors believe to be true, The Royal Navy decided to disprove the statement, that Friday is an unlucky day.

It was said that they laid the keel of a ship on a Friday. The captain’s name was Friday. She was launched on a Friday. The only problem was, she disappeared without trace on her maiden voyage. Now although this tale probably has no basis. This and hundreds of other superstitions are firmly believed by seamen all over the globe.


We may all deny that we fall into this category, and yet will go out of our way to avoid walking under a ladder. Below are just a few, some of which you may not be aware.


Spilt Salt. It was deemed unlucky, as it was a precious commodity in the Middle Ages, being the only way to preserve meat.


Never throw eggshells on the fire, as it may offend the hens and stop them laying.


Never stir a pot ‘widdershins’- that is against the suns course. (Not sure how this effects us in the Southern Hemisphere, as the sun travels in the opposite direction to the Northern Hemisphere!)


Never allow 13 people to eat at the same table.  This is associated with the Last Supper, as 13 were present, including Judas Iscariot.

It can also be unlucky if there are 13 guests, and only 12 Lamb chops!


Others include.

Crossed knives mean a quarrel.


Never open an umbrella indoors. (Don’t laugh, you wouldn’t do it!)


It appears that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder, as this represents the Holy Trinity, and to walk between the ladder and the wall, breaks the triangle

(After an association with the building trade for over thirty years, I gave this one away.)


When it comes to our feathered friends. Peacocks feathers are considered bad luck, as their feathers in full display, appear to show the evil eye.


We all knew there was death in the offing, if a Robin flew into our home.


And we all know it is unlucky to shoot an Albatross at sea.

If it isn’t, it sure ought to be!


Living amongst a close knit community of beachmen as a child, I was assured that all of our deceased male relatives who made a living from the sea, returned as seagulls. As there were hundreds of gulls on our area us children felt it was wise to be on our good behavior, whilst out on the quayside, just in case this eventually proved to be true!


Never let a vicar come aboard you fishing boat.


Never wet your nets at the start of the herring season on a Friday. Irrespective of how many fish were out there. 


In my case my Grandfather was born with a Caul.  A Caul is a membrane enclosing the foetus, a part of this is sometimes found on a child’s head at birth.  This was always considered a guarantee against drowning by seaman, and it was not uncommon to hear of sums of money amounting to several guineas offered in the nineteenth century, by seamen wishing to obtain a Caul. This was a large amount of money in those days.

My grandfather was born in 1859 and I still have his Caul in my possession. The only time I have been without it, was in the 1960’s when I loaned it to my nephew, He was seconded to H.M.S. Vidal for a couple of three-month stints in the Caribbean as a civilian adviser.

You may laugh if you like, but at one time I was invited to go for a night dive by my Kiwi neighbor, whilst living in Wellington N.Z. . That night it was a full moon with strong tides. We free dived to a depth of around 15 feet on the Pinnacles, an outcrop of rocks, and with a strong current running it was exciting. We had with us a rubber car tube with a net attached, in which to toss the mussels and Pua, or Abalone, which we were after. On my second dive my weight belt somehow became entangled in the Kelp weed beds on the rocks below slipped over my hips and became entangled with my flippers. I somehow managed to reach the surface. I yelled to my Kiwi mate several yards away who was tossing his shellfish into the tube. He was with me in seconds, but I was already going down again. Pushing me to the surface, he soon realized my plight and on diving beneath the surface, quickly released my weight belt from my flippers, whereupon I shot to the surface. Another time I was diving with scuba gear in the Cook Straits between the North and South Islands of N.Z. and had a close call.

But I am still O.K. Excuse the pun.  Just as long as I have the Caul close!

One last point I would like to make. In Australia it is definitely bad luck to be bitten by a Death Adder! So keep your fingers crossed.

Arthur. E. Bensley



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