#SuperstitionSat Highlights: Fishes, Fishing & Seafaring

Welcome back to another pick of some of the Highlights of our #SuperstitionSat Sessions on Twitter! This was our second week of superstitions related to old jobs and traditional crafts, in what we are calling our Crafts Month Special – taking place on Twitter as usual, as well as on our blog where we are posting weekly articles about Folklore objects housed in museum collections related to each of our weekly themes!

Yesterday (13/08/22), we had a look at superstitions of Fishes, Fishing & Seafaring, and we journeyed with you through the seven seas accompanied by this week’s museum object: “The Fisherman’s Lucky Stone” – which you can read about by clicking here or by going to the Folklore in Museums category on our blog here.

As for our Highlights, we left port with a tale shared by Katie-Ellen about the consequences of whistling on board when you are out at sea. As we preluded in our Weather Highlights a couple of weeks ago, seafarers used to be (and few, perhaps still are) some of the most superstitious folks on the planet due to the dangers of their occupation. Being confined aboard a vessel, floating in the midst of an endless panorama of sky and deep water is enough to put the fear into anyone – so imagine what it would have been like to be restricted to a minuscule space with little to no drinking water, spoiled food and sickness, as many sailors were in previous centuries. Alone with nothing but their dwindling hopes and growing terrors, superstitions would have been welcome companions for mariners who sought a rational explanation for what their generations once deemed irrational – such as weather patterns and natural disasters – at the time, so difficult to explain unless seen through a supernatural lens. Whistling on board was one such supernatural consternation, observed from “captain to cabin boy”. As author Fletcher S. Bassett explains in his 1885 book Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and of Sailors in All Lands and at All Times (which is available to read in full here), to whistle would have brought a ship’s crew incredible bad luck as only the wind was supposed to whistle – however, some fishermen would have indeed dared to do so to call for a breeze, although never ever during a storm. This unease of whistling onboard was truly quite popular, recorded by Fletcher in Yorkshire, Cornwall, Ireland – as well as Sweden, Germany, France and even Greenland!

Tweet says:

"No whistling on board when you go to sea. You might whistle up a storm. But there's an exception in the days of sail, in order to get a breeze going when becalmed, all one had to do was whistle loudly - 'whistle up the wind' and touch the backstay."

Includes GIF of ship in a stormy sea.
Tweet by Katie-Ellen.

Our second Highlight shows another one of these supernatural anxieties once shared by sailors. As shared by PrairieBones, there was a fastidious number of items (and persons) that were ill advised to be on board of a ship, under the danger of bringing about unlucky consequences. From women, to redheads, to cats, or bananas, umbrellas and anything green – sailors seemed to be afraid of almost everything, even flowers which, according to their superstitions, were associated with funerals and funereal wreaths – meaning that, to have a flower on board was thus the same as inviting Death itself onto the vessel.

Tweet says:

"Flowers were considered unlucky aboard ships because of their association with funerals. Even if given as a gift, they were promptly thrown into the sea."

Includes image of roses floating at the bottom of the sea.
Tweet by PrairieBones.

We move on from superstitions, to the plentiful tales of wonder about mysterious islands lost somewhere in the vast seas, observable only when the perpetual mists covering them lift just about enough to allow you a short glimpse. One such tale was shared by Priscilla Hernandez, regarding the fabled San Borondón – or Saint Brendan: a ninth island in the Canarian archipelago, said to disappear and reappear in the ocean fog near El Hierro, the most westerly of all the Canary Islands. Legend says that San Borondón got its name from Brendan of Clonfert: an Irish monastic saint who is believed to have sailed from Ireland with fourteen companions to look for the “Isle of the Blessed” or paradisium terrestre – a peaceful islet likened to heaven on earth and covered in trees, as recorded in the 9th century chronicle Vita Sancti Brandani Abbatis, Navigatio Sancti Brandani. According to European expansion period sea charters, namely the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas between Spain and Portugal, San Borondón was actually registered then as an existing location. But to this day, scholars disagree on exactly where it was once located. Some say that it was near the Canary Islands, while others claim it was closer to the Madeira archipelago, and others still, nearer to Ireland – with both locations sharing their own tales of mystical places. While Ireland is said to have been the best site to witness the emergence of the mythological Hy-Brasil from these magical mists; tales abound in Madeira about Arguim: an island to which the legendary Portuguese King Dom Sebastião is said to have fled after his tragic disappearence in the battle of Alcácer-Quibir. According to Madeiran tales, the island of Arguim can only be seen on St John’s Eve (or Midsummer’s Day) – and just like San Borondón, its existence will forever be speculated upon as ancient charters also claim that it once existed, for instance because Bishops of Madeira once used the honorific title of Bishop of Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Arguim. For more on San Borondón – if you can read Latin – the National Library of Portugal has digitised a fragment of the Vita Sancti Brandani Abbatis here.

Tweet says:

"I was born in the Canary Islands. For centuries there area legends of a hidden island in the archipelago looming out a mysterious mist, even registered in ancient maps: San Borondon (Saint Bertrand). My father, as many other fishermen swore he saw it once."

Includes images of two maps depicting the mentioned island.
Tweet by Priscilla Hernandez.

That is all for today! I hope you enjoyed this selection and that you will be able to join us again next week for more superstitions of old jobs and traditional crafts, this time about


As always, whether you’re old, new or just passing through, your presence is very much appreciated and I am glad to see you stop by. See you next Saturday!

Your lucky cat pal,
– Superstition Sam 🐾