Superstitions Of Fishermen was first seen in the Washington D.C. Evening news in 1909.
Most of these superstitions (if not all) are long gone and not accepted today, especially the one about beating the wife to bring the schools of fish in. It is however, an interesting read. The article is in italics.
Play Audio Of Old Nautical Tunes –
Superstitions Of Fishermen
One of the commonest of superstitions among fishermen is the alleged ill luck caused by woman. In the Isle of Skye if a woman crosses the water in course of the fishing, the luck is doomed. At Flamborough, England, if a woman happens to enter a cottage when the men are preparing their lines, she is not allowed to depart until she has knelt down and repeated the Lord’s Prayer. In Lapland the fishermen avoid spreading their captured fish on that part of the shore frequented by women, as the next expedition would be a failure.
In many parts of the coast of England it is considered most unlucky for a woman to walk over the nets or any of the fishing-tackle, although they take an active part in collecting bait. Some of the English herring fishermen have an idea that by beating their wives they can draw the fish in. In the Hawaiian islands, after the fishermen have prepared the ian melometo (a billet of wood used as a decoy) with the proper incantations, care is taken that a women does not step over it or enter the canoe in which it is placed, as in that event the decoy would lose its power, and the kahuna (sorcerer) would have to go through the operation again.
Superstition Against the Clergy
The influence of the minister is hardly less adverse than that of women, and the practices noted as connected with the ill omen of feminine interference apply also to the clergy. The herring are said to have all left one part of the Irish coast because they heard the new parson say he was going to tithe the fishery; and in Lapland and on the coasts thereof fish are never looked for where a church is in sight. On the coast of Lancashire, England, the fishermen have a custom of setting sail on Sunday. A clergyman of the town once prayed against this breach of the Lord’s Day, as he called it; but to neutralize his prayers the fishermen made a small image of rags and piously burned the parson in effigy.
The avoidance of the neighborhood of churches referred to is accounted for by the fisherman’s belief in the great quickness of hearing of fishes. In Sweden, for instance, the church bells are not rung in the bream season, lest the fish should take fright, and where the pilchard are fished the people are no less careful of their sensitiveness to sound. The Romans believed that the serrated spine on the tail of the sting-ray was so venomous as to be capable of causing injury to even vegetable and mineral substances, trees losing their verdure, and even rocks being affected. They also considered it bad luck if a person with a love or lawsuit on hand met a remora (sucking-fish) when bathing. Albertus Magnus advised a suitor in a law case to place a perch under his arm, and the Judge would thereupon become his friend.
When they catch certain species of flat fish the Finns make the sign of the cross. The Irish will not eat the skate (sometimes called the maid) because it is supposed to bear a questionable resemblance to some of the grotesque medieval delineations of the Virgin Mary. The Dutch fishermen believe that they can discern the image of the Virgin in each scale of the drum, and the Swedish fishermen believe that the pike turns its head toward the shore on Saint Gregory’s Day (March 12).
The origin of certain species of fishes are to be accounted for in various ways. When the Brittany fishermen happened to catch the ” lotte” they threw them back into the water, as they were supposed to turn into eels. In parts of England eels are supposed to be bred from dew in the months of May and June, or in other sections from the hairs of horses or kine which drop into cart-ruts, or into drinking-troughs and springs, and there quicken after rain. This latter superstition is widely prevalent in this country. The ancients supposed that eels were engendered of mud, or that when tired of living they rubbed themselves against the rocks, and from the detritus issued a new breed, while still others believed they came from the carcasses of animals. Soles, according to the French fishermen, are bred from prawns. The English fishermen think that the pike is begotten by the west wind, while the gudgeon is believed to be generated from the brains of horses.
Burn the teeth of fish you catch, or your luck will be bad next day; pins found in church make good fish-hooks; in Scotland a quarrel on the beach, if blood is drawn, will drive the herring from the coast for the rest of the season; in Sweden, stolen tackle is lucky; in North Germany, herrings eaten on New Year’s Day bring luck all the year through; to witness the plunge of a pike before noon was considered an unlucky omen in Bohemia. In New England, if you catch a fish you don’t care to keep, don’t throw it back into the water until you have finished. If you throw it in before, it will tell all the other fish what you are doing and no more will bite.
The Hawaiian fishermen sometimes prepare a bait from the flesh of the octopus and the juice from the blossom of the ilima plant. An exact number of flowers is always used, as the fishermen believe that if an odd number were employed the bait would have no power. Many of the English fishermen will not put to sea if anyone mentions a pig while they are baiting their lines. Should they meet a hare on the way to their boats, they will give up fishing for the day. In Scotland the salmon is equally unmentionable and is alluded to only as So-and-So’s fish. Usually it receives for a pseudonym the name of the tax collector of the nearest village, as he is generally the one least liked.
The Value of Lucky Stones
The ear-bones or otoliths of the lake drum are often carried as amulets by the negro fishermen and others of the South, and are also prized by the boys of Wisconsin and elsewhere in the West, who call them “lucky stones,” perhaps in allusion to the fact that they are marked by a figure which resembles the letter L. The New England fishermen carry a lucky bone which they find in the head of the cod fish. It is shell-like and narrow, with a length of three-fourths of an inch; the edge is notched, while the color is a pearly white. Many of them consider it a good plan to carry two.bones, as that will make their luck doubly sure; but they both should be from the head of the same fish.
The ancients supposed that the seal enjoyed immunity from lightning, and among those who borrowed the protection of its skin was the Emperor Augustus, who always wore a belt of seal-fur. The idea arose from the fancy that the seal sleeps most profoundly in thunder-storms. The crab was believed by the ancients to grow only during the waxing of the moon, and this is still a current belief, the writer having found it in various parts of this country, particularly in Alaska. This seems to have more foundation than the belief that in thunder-storms lobsters cast. their large cutting-claws. The brain of the carp was supposed by the ancients to grow and diminish as the moon waxed and waned. Pearls were supposed to be sea-dew, which the oyster drank in and by some mystic chemistry transformed into gems, which were soft until the sun shone on them, and then they hardened. It was supposed that on cloudy nights the oyster secreted dark pearls, and on moon light nights clear white pearls.
The Japanese fishermen rarely if ever utilize the turtles taken in their nets, but, writing some characters on their backs, turn them loose. It is believed that a turtle so treated will guide the fisher man back to land should he ever be lost at sea.