Are you ready for the spookiest night of the year? This Halloween we will keep you company with legends and stories coming directly from the sea.
The sea and the beyond
Sailors, travellers, and adventurers, have always passed on stories and legends related to their ocean adventures. During these crossings, which kept them away for months or years, the vast and indomitable sea became a theater of supernatural events: sea monsters, ghost ships, and treasures of all kinds.
In most of these stories the sea has a mixed nature: it is depicted as the source of life or as a real passage to the Afterlife.
For example, the Vikings, that used to sail in the Northern Europe, believed that their souls had to be transported to the Kingdom of Death by the waves. For this reason, after their death, their body was laid on a boat that was then left burning in flames and pushed to the horizon.
In some Northern European Countries, people still believe that in the nights of October 31st and November 1st, the souls of those who are drowned in the sea, being trapped in a middle condition, return to earth seeking help.
This legend find its origins among the Normans that, converted to Christianity, used to believe that on the night of All Saint’s Day a ghost vessel full of these souls used to appear near the coast. Even today, people reports that the ship is wrapped up by the screams of the sailors wrecked during the year.
In France, in Brittany, legend says that in the night between November 1st and 2nd, the specters of those who died in the waves visit the fishermen’s lodges. In each of these houses a special table is prepared even today, to welcome the souls and invite them to a rich banquet.
Another famous Breton story tells of a time when ghosts sought to prevent the construction of the Tévennec Lighthouse. The islanders did not listen to them and built it anyway. That was how twenty-three lighthouse guardians lost their lives and the lighthouse was renamed “Hell.” It is said that their souls are still captives among those dark rocks surrounded by waves.
Still in Brittany, in a bay known as Baie Des Trépassés, the night of Halloween seems to gather boats carrying the souls to the Island of Death. According to popular belief, those who walk in the proximity of the beach are able to hear the screams of the miserable passengers on the ships, ready to depart.
Ghost ships and sea monsters
The ghostly Flying Dutchmen, the old 16th century legend passed down hundreds of years by sea men, is just one of the most famous stories that see a ghost ship as the protagonist.
According to the Northern European Tradition, the Flying Dutchmen is a ghost vessel condemned to sail on the seas forever without a purpose, because an averse fate would prevent it from returning to the ground. The vessel is often seen from afar, wrapped in mist or emitting a ghostly light. Ship sailors are ghosts who sometimes try to communicate with people on the mainland.
There are various versions of this story whose origin is not clear. In one of these, the curse was launched as Dutch captain Bernarde Fokke, swore in the middle of a storm, asked the help of the Devil to overcome the Cape of Good Hope, even if he had been sentenced to sail forever.
According to another source, the ship departed from Amsterdam with a cargo and was directed to Giava, on behalf of the Indie Company. The Captain, approaching the Cape of Good Hope, and stumbling into a great storm, invoked the Devil by making the promise that if he could pass the Cape, the Devil could have taken his soul on the Day of Judgment.
From this point onwards, the story knows two versions. In one of them, the whole crew died with his captain, but Death refused the captain’s soul, who, alone, came to the helm of the wreckage, wrapped in the fog. In the other, the crew was condemned to sail forever on the ghost ship: the captain, the only one in flesh and bones until the Day of Judgment, while the others reduced to specters.
More real, is the story of Mary Celeste, a Canadian brigand born in Nova Scotia in 1861, named Amazon (the name Mary Celeste was adopted later in 1869).
It was found without anyone aboard, drifting towards the Strait of Gibraltar in 1872. What has happened to the crew is still debated today: piracy or a tsunami, an ammunition or an air trumpet. Certainly, Mary Celeste can be considered in all its aspects the archetype of the ghost ship, which then became the collective imaginary object of myths and legends around its mysterious fate.
However, legends on flying ghost vessels are numerous and spread all over the world.
A story similar to that of the Flying Dutchmen is part of the tradition of Chilean island of Chiloé: its protagonist is the Caleuche, a ghost ship sailing the night around the island.
Another ghost of the South Seas is Ladylips. This spectrum appears in the Pacific, with no lower jaw, generally in an area between the Magellan Strait, Cape Horn, and the Beagle Channel. It is only visible during violent storms, only at the helm of its sailboat, the “Ville de Paris” (vessel actually existed and lost in 1783).
Other boats, also sailing for centuries, are the “Headless Sailor” of the Norwegian brigand Squando, and “the murderous ghost” of the Scottish ship Llanstephan Castle, the weird ghosts of the three Nancy Hanks trees.
Another ghost ship is remembered in a widespread legend in northern Germany. A girl, waiting for her boyfriend on the beach saw him coming with a ghost ship. The guy, approaching the beach, took her away with him in the middle of a deceased crew, forever.
Finally, how to not mention the numerous sea monsters: the leviathan, the fierce whale/snake narrated in the Bible, the mythological Scilla and Cariddi, the giant Octopus and Piovra, and the giant Squid with sea demons living in their backs.
Tales of these monstrous creatures are found in almost all cultures that have come into contact with the sea and eyewitness accounts come from all over the world.
As far as truth is concerned, it is difficult to assert. What we know, however, is that this immense patrimony of fables and legends suspended between imagination and reality, has plunged the oceans for centuries. So, if you happen to meet a ghost ship or a scary creature during your night sailing, do not worry, it is just part of the adventure!