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Local Superstitions

In days gone by, people living in coastal communities were deeply superstitious and a number of seafaring rules were adhered to. Many of the superstitions aimed at warding off bad luck or bringing good fortune started as tall tales or legends, and developed into tradition over time Sailors would observe many traditions that varied from pouring wine on the deck to steering clear of red-haired people.  This bizarre tradition started as it was believed that people with Red Hair would bring bad luck to a journey. However the bad luck could be avoided by speaking to the person before they had a chance to say anything. “So make sure you say ‘hello’ to any flame-haired visitors first!

“Many of the sea faring traditions were observed due to a fear of angering the seas. Sailors were warned to not throw stones into the sea as it would be seen as disrespectful and result in retaliation such as giant waves and storms. Women were also advised not to board any ships, as it was believed that women had no place at sea.  It was thought that the men on board would become distracted from their duties if a female was present and that this would anger the seas and cause bad luck for the ship. it was bad luck to mentioned the word ‘pig’ on a boat. These were referred to by other names, such as “himsel” for the pig

A large repertoire of taboos and superstitions were observed in the fishing communities. Some beliefs were local, but many were common to all European seafarers.  Some animals and their common names were taboo, in particular  the rabbit, the hare and the salmon, “red fish” for salmon and “langlugs” for the hare, and inadvertent use of the wrong word would provoke the response “cauld iron” and the touching of the nearest piece of ferrous metal.  Many of these superstitions can be traced back to belief in witchcraft, and a collective term for them in Scots – “freets” – is derived from the word fruit, meaning the good essence in an object that could be stolen by a Witch or Evil spirit. What is interesting is that these superstitions, which were once probably much more prevalent in society at large, survived longer in the fishing communities.  Things that fell to the floor always meant something special – a prewarning of the arrival of someone. Different kinds of objects could not be put on the table or used inside the house. When these taboos were inadvertently broken by children, my mothers always had to “touch wood”. Mother’s had special gifts in fortunetelling from tealeaves soon were widely spread outside our community.

Fish Wives never walk but in single file, and they have a superstitious dread of being counted, a fear of which the mischievous boys of Aberdeen availed themselves to annoy them by calling as they pass:- One, Two, Three - what a lot of Fisher Nannies I see.  A salutation equally dreaded by them is the cry 'Baud’s fit in yer creel,’  i.e. there's a hares foot is in your creel.  This saying derives its meaning from the circumstance that a hare was seen to run through their 'fish town’ on the evening preceding a day on which a great number of their people were lost at sea.

To point at their boats with the fore-finger is the surest way of offending them. 

“if tempted to gather up timber it was considered prudent to “borrow” such wood from them. A stolen piece of wood built into a ship is thought to make a vessel sail faster.” (thus evading the pursuers of their property)

Such superstitions would be upheld by regular definition on occurrences and would often become ritualistic in a family and compel members to observe them to extreme in their day to day living disciplines and thus create lifetime habits

Place a silver coin under the masthead of a boat as it is believed that this will
ensure a successful voyage
Black Cats are thought to bring good luck in bringing a sailor home from sea.
Pour some wine on the deck of the boat before you start your journey as an offering to the Gods. In the past sailors believed that this would bring good luck for a long voyage
A stolen piece of wood mortised into the keel of the ship is thought to make the vessel sail faster
Avoid people with red hair before you set sail as this can cause bad luck. If you do see a red headed person the bad luck can be reversed if you speak to them before they speak to you
Fishermen would fear impending doom if they saw a man of the cloth before setting sail, and wouldn’t even mention the word on the boat, instead referring to them as ‘sky pilots’. He would also be referred to as the man with the collar on back to front.
Turning your boat - always turn it clockwise in the way of the sun as to turn anticlockwise was said to bring bad luck. This rule should be followed on shore too – always stir your tea in a clockwise direction.

Say the word ‘pig’ on board a vessel. Pigs were held in great respect - the pig was the signature animal for the Great Earth Goddess who controlled the winds.  Instead refer to pigs as ‘curly-tail’ or ‘turf-rooter’. Mentioning the word "pig" will result in strong winds and actually killing a pig on board a ship will result in a full scale storm.
Step on board a ship with your left foot first as superstition claims that this may bring bad luck to your journey
Whistle while you are on board a vessel as the Captain is the only person who is allowed to whistle on a boat. It is believed that whistling on a vessel will cause the wind to blow; therefore the Captain would only whistle if he required a gust of wind
Bring any bananas on board. There are many stories about the danger of bringing bananas onto a vessel, including that of a lethal species of spider that hides in bananas. In the past crewmen have been known to suddenly die of spider bites after bananas have been taken on board and this would result in the cargo being tossed into the sea.
There are some other animals that are considered to be unlucky, and you shouldn’t mention these. Despite being the king of fish, you should never mention salmon – if you want to ask about salmon fishing or where you can buy some, simply call it the red fish.
You should call a rabbit an underground racehorse and whatever you do, never take a rabbit’s foot for luck.
Wear green. Many fishermen were superstitious about the colour and would refuse to tie up next to a green boat.

Bogles, Spirits and Goblins

Black Donald - the devil - who cannot disguise his cloven feet.

Boobrie - water-bird of the Scottish Highlands.

Brownie - good-natured, invisible brown elves or household goblins. The younger version of the "Girl Guides" in Britain at least, are called "Brownies" for that very reason!

Clootie - another Scottish name for the Devil. The name comes from cloot, meaning one division of a cleft hoof.

Fachan - one leg, one arm and one eye.

Fionn - Scottish/Pictish magician, warrior and poet.

Ghillie Dhu - a solitary Scottish elf.

Kelpie - a water devil.

Lothian - Lothian traditionally takes its name from King Lot and father of Mordred.

Monster of Loch Ness - mythical? Surely not.... First seen by St Columba in 565AD

Red Cap - lives on the Scottish Border in ancient ruins of castles.

Scotia - a goddess but frequently portrayed as an old hag!

Selkie - a marine creature in the shape of a seal.

Shellycoat - a Scottish bogeyman who haunts the rivers and streams. He is covered with shells, which rattle when he moves.

Sidhe the Gaelic name for fairies in both Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.

Nae Lucky
Walking under a ladder,  - a triangle forming holy trinity  
Cracking a mirror, - 7 years bad luck
Dropping a glove and picking it up yourself,
White cat crossing path,
Hearing the cuckoos before  5th April,
Robin hovering over your door - a policeman shall be paying you a  visit,
Looking back at your house when  leaving
Spilt salt must be thrown over  left shoulder
The number 13
Crossed knives on a table - a row will ensue
Shoes on a table
Never cut hair or bone on a Sunday - Sabbath observance
First footed by a red head or fair person       

Aye Lucky
Black cat crossing your path,
If a bird limes your 4 leaf clover,
A horse shoe is lucky,
Finding a penny in the street,
Touching wood,
Flock of birds,
Magpies - not so in England unless you see a pair
A loose eyelash,
Itchy palm means money
rub it on wood sure to be good – rub on brass sure to be cash
Itchy feet means travel,
Rabbit's foot
First-footed by a dark haired person.

Weather Lore  
Red sky at night is a shepherd's delight, (is his rivals house on fire)
Red sky in the morning  is a shepherd's warning, (his own house is on fire)
Cows lying down it will rain,
1st of the month in like a lamb out like a lion & vice versa,
Standing on a spider it will rain.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013