Sailors and mariners have always made a dangerous living at sea. So it's no wonder they have many patrons and protectors. So who takes care of us at sea and helps us in need? You may know the European patrons, but do you know on which waters the seductive Mami Wata will protect you? Let us introduce them all to you today!
One of the best known patrons is Saint Brendan (in Irish Gaelic Bréanainn), also known as "The Voyager". Originally an Irish priest and one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland who, according to legend, discovered America ten centuries before Christopher Columbus himself. Reports of his expeditions would take the breath away of even the most hardened adventurers. He apparently discovered the Promised Land of the Saints, where he arrived after a 7-year voyage of adventure. So it is no wonder that he ended up becoming the patron saint of boatmen and mariners.
The patron saints of sailors best known are Saint Nicholas (Nikola, Niclaus, Mikuláš) and for freshwater shipowners in the Czech (and Slavic) lands, St. John of Nepomuk.
Often sailing the seas, God himself always protected him from danger. Saint Nicholas even turned the pirates who attacked him into believers. According to one legend, during a terrible storm at sea he saved his sailors through his prayers and according to another, he plugged a hole in the hull of the boat with carp and resurrected a sailor who had fallen from the highest mast.
St. Nicholas is not only a kind saint who gives sweets and gifts to children, but also has the savageness of Poseidon within him. When he gets angry, he is said to unleash storms and hurricanes and is thus master of the elements for good or for bad. In Bulgaria, for example, fishermen and sailors prefer to be ashore on Saint Nicholas Day (Nikulden in Bulgaria). But if this isn’t possible, to ensure safety it is recommended to anchor and not sail at all during the day. Every fishing family in Bulgaria has an image of St. Nicholas with a candle in front, which should burn whenever a fisherman is at sea.
And why does Nicholas (Santa Claus in the Anglo-Saxon world) actually hand out gifts? According to legend, in Nicholas’ hometown an impoverished nobleman wanted to sell his three daughters because he had no money for a dowry. So in the dark of the night Nicholas threw them a purse full of gold so they could get married. One version says that the purse fell into a stocking that was hung out to dry. Legends then merged with the Nordic tradition to create Santa Claus, who arrives on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Nicholas is called various names in different countries: Nicolas, Nikolaj, Niklas, Klaus, Claus, Klaes, Claes, Nils.
St. John of Nepomuk
St. John of Nepomuk is a Czech and Bavarian patron saint, but above all a patron of raftsmen, icemen and pilgrims, as well as a protector against floods. Many raftsmen, who sailed on the wild spring Vltava long before the Vltava cascade was formed, had faith in his protection.
The Midsummer currents were the most dangerous place on the rafting pilgrimage. The deep rocky valley created huge rapids in the powerful current of the Vltava River and long rafts became uncontrollable. Many captains had to paddle hard in the opposite direction, so that their raft did not smash against the rocks.
Originally the Pope, then a convict in Crimea who miraculously released a gushing stream of water and as a result converted large numbers to the faith. For this he was drowned with an anchor around his neck and the anchor became his symbol, a symbol of hope. He is the patron saint of mariners and also a guardian against gales and storms, which really comes in handy at sea. This patron saint is best known in Denmark.
Saint Christina from Tuscia in Italy is one of the few female patron saints of mariners and sailors. This martyr is often displayed with a boat. This originates from from her attempted execution in Lake Bolsen, the largest volcanic lake in Europe. She was to drown tied to a basalt slab but miraculously survived. Therefore she definitely has the right prerequisites to be a protector of mariners.
Rulers of all the seas to protect you outside Europe
In Europe, almost exclusively it is men who protects us on the seas, but the opposite is true in the rest of the world. It is female patrons who are there to protect you while cruising around Africa, Asia and South America. They are, of course, much more exotic than their European counterparts and are often associated with or identified as mermaids.
This goddess and protector is worshipped mainly in Africa and parts of the Caribbean. Mami Wata is usually portrayed as a seductive woman with almost superhuman beauty. She has bright eyes, unnaturally long hair and usually fair skin. Her hair can be wavy or curly, black or blonde, and loose or even combed back. Those who worship her can bring happiness and protection, but she can cause terrible misfortune to those who anger her.
In many parts of West and Central Africa, "Mami Wata" serves as a slang expression for an exceptional and beautiful woman.
In ancient texts, Mami Wata appears as a mermaid. The upper body is female and of course naked, with the lower part being that of a fish or even a snake. As a symbol of evil, a snake is often portrayed together with this exotic goddess.
Yemaya, ruler of the oceans
The beautiful Yemaya is always displayed in blue and white, often with pearls and shells. She wears a dress with seven skirts to represent the seven seas. She is also called “Mother whose children are the fish”, and because life was born in the ocean, Yamaya is considered the mother of all life and a symbol of birth.
That is why she is also a boat protector, ensuring their safe navigation and bringing fish to fishermen. But when she gets angry, she can be wild and destructive, just like a storm in the sea. Her anger manifests itself in huge tidal waves.
One legend believes her to actually be Mami Wata - she arrived to America with slaves from Africa, acquired a new name and began to write a new story. In some legends she is a mermaid and is often associated with mermaids. The popularity of this legend is greatest in Brazil.
Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea
This goddess of the sea, also called Mazu, is known mainly in China and Hong Kong. She is worshipped by sailors and fishermen alike, who ask for protection in the many temples dedicated to her. Everybody who has experienced an accident at sea or escaped difficult conditions comes to thank her. They light incense sticks and bring gifts and sacrifices - most often baked pork, vegetables and fruits.
And why is Tin Hau the protector? According to legend, this girl lived in the 10th century and could predict storms. She died trying to rescue her brother and father at sea. After her death, her spirit was reportedly often observed on ships in danger and sinking.
There are even more even more patrons and protectors than we have mentioned above. St. Christopher, one of the Fourteen_Holy_Helpers, helps us at sea as does the Archangel Michael himself. And there are others: the Blessed Petr González Telmi, Saint Erasmus, Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Andrew.
Until now, you might have only relied on the ancient Greek god of the seas, Neptune (Poseidon or Njörd in the north) at sea. After today, pause for thought and make a toast to all the other saints and helpers.
So where are you going next year, with all this extra support? We have enough boats to cover all corners of the globe!
Want to know more? Dive into the mysterious world of sailing customs and superstitions..
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