February 13, 2009

Sailing on Friday

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, is upon us. Oh woe! This is the day of the week when no sane sailor will go to sea. This is the day of the month when all sane people stay in bed.

It wasn’t always like this. You can blame the early Christians for it. In pre-Christian times Friday was actually regarded as a lucky day. It was especially lucky to get married on a Friday because the day was named after the Norse goddess Frigga. She was the goddess of love and fertility. She was the wife of Odin, the most powerful of the gods. And she was so popular with worshippers that the early Christians made few converts until they decided to make her the victim of a nasty smear campaign.

They branded dear old Frigga as a witch. They declared that her day, Friday, was an unlucky day. Any ship that started its voyage on a Friday would therefore be sure to meet disaster.
That must have been one of history’s most successful character assassinations, because, to this very day, sailors are wary of sailing on a Friday. This superstition takes up a chapter in my book How to Rename your Boat – and 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals and Curses. But the short version is that you can set sail on a Friday without attracting bad luck if you really, truly, have to.

The trick is to start your voyage on Wednesday or Thursday. You must cast off, or weigh anchor, and then proceed purposefully for a mile or two, as seems appropriate. Then you may return to your slip or anchorage to attend to some small problem that seems to have arisen. Perhaps you forgot the matches. Or maybe a turnbuckle has come slightly loose. You know the drill. The more inventive you are, the better.

Then, on Friday, you can set sail in earnest because you will be continuing your voyage, not deliberately starting a new one. Don’t imagine you’re fooling the gods, though. They well know what you’re up to, but they do have a soft spot for sailors who (a) acknowledge their power, and (b) demonstrate a little constructive cunning in averting their wrath.

Today’s Thought
Alas! You know the cause too well;
The salt is spilt, to me it fell;
Then to contribute to my loss,
My knife and fork were laid across:
On Friday, too! the day I dread!
Would I were safe at home in bed!
—John Gay, Fables.

Overheard in a menswear store:
“I’m looking for a tie that would be suitable for my husband – something not too bright.”


Chris Campbell said...

But-but-but - you just said that Friday isn't unlucky, it was just painted unlucky by humans who were promoting early Christianity at the expense of the older religions - and then you say that to avoid the bad luck (imposed by the gods) you need to trick them?

I personally think that leaving on a Friday is bringing in good luck, a la Frigga.

John Vigor said...

Yup, you're right Chris. When superstition rules, logic takes a back seat. It's like spilling the salt. I know it can't really bring harm, but I still have to throw some over my shoulder to appease somebody or something lurking out there somewhere.

It's why I invented the denaming ceremony, the one you use before you rename a boat. Logically I know no harm can come of a new name, but deep down inside something is telling me to play it safe and ask permission of the gods.

I can't explain it. It's something inherited that goes back to the beginning of time.


John V.