Whether you are renaming an old boat or christening a new one, accomplishing the ritual properly helps ensure you receive the favor of the gods. The results of ignoring this warning have been cited as the contributing factor in many marine related accidents from boats sinking to spilling your drink.
You are probably asking, what is the proper way to perform the ceremony? Not so fast, to truly be a competent seafaring
Old Salt you need to be well versed in the history and lore involved in such a prestigious undertaking.
We will begin by providing a glimpse into the past and attempt to provide an understanding of how this process did or may have evolved. As with anything involving history, you reach a point where only assumptions can be made. In other words, you can base a theory off of factual knowledge, likely events and even lies. Of course as seasoned mariners we never tell lies, we only tell loosely wound Tales!
From the earliest points in history, travel by water is evidenced by remnants of dug out canoes and crude drawings of rafts or other water borne vessels on cave walls. We can only surmise how this beneficial form of travel was discovered. Did Grog the caveman discover this by accident? Picture this, in the early-morning hours Grog is going out for his morning ritual. He takes his usual route that crosses a swift moving river by walking an old log. As he begins to cross the log breaks sending both into the river. To Grog's dismay, he realizes he cannot swim and frantically grabs the floating log. Eureka, Grog becomes the first mariner!
The truth is the exact moment waterborne travel was discovered cannot be pinpointed; it could have started innocently enough. We do know the real catalyst that allowed this form of transportation to develop into what we see today was trade. It started with simple rafts and canoes eventually evolving into more advanced vessels that were capable of not only traveling rivers, but oceans as well. Thank goodness for that or we would never get our Nikes!
Until this point in time, man had existed solely on land and his knowledge of the sea was limited to what he could observe from the shore, so the sea was an unknown. One can only imagine the terror encountered during these initial voyages as the sailors pitted their crude craft against the mighty power of the sea. Even today with our vast knowledge a rough sea regularly makes folks religious or at least introduces them to the power of chumming.
Religion as well as superstition were important aspects in the daily lives of the earlier cultures. These beliefs were not lost on those that risked their lives traveling the seas. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were among the first cultures to call on their gods to protect their sailors and in some cases elaborate ceremonies were performed while asking for these blessings. Many believe the first example of a blessing or christening is described by the Assyrian Flood Tablets
. Part of the tablet XI deals with the building of the Ark and its dedication as described in this exerpt from the 1919 publication The Rudder, "The Why and Wherefore of the Christening of Ships"
by Robert G. Skerrett:
And on the ground I will make the ship which thou com mandest
On the fifth day two sides were raised
In its enclosure fourteen ribs
Also fourteen they number above I placed its roof and enclosed it
Sixthly I made it firm seventhly I divided its passages
Eighthly its interior I examined
Openings to the water I stopped
searched for cracks and the wanting parts I fixed
Three sari of bitumen I poured over the outside
Three sari of bitumen I poured over the interior
Three sari of men bearers who carried chests on their heads
I kept a saros of chests for my people to eat
Two sari of chests I divided among the boatmen
To the gods I caused oxen to be sacrificed
These early encounters of man versus the seas indicate that the ritual provided a sense of security and humble acknowledgement of a higher power. Excerpts from the logs of old ships indicate that as mariners became more enlightened the ritual changed as each culture saw fit to adapt it to their unique situation.
As the ritual evolved, sacrificing oxen shifted to sacrificing virgins and even this was replaced with sacrificing some form of liquid spirits as the ceremonies shifted from primarily a religious activity into more of a social event. Although the ritual has changed, religion and superstition still remain an important part of the today's ceremonies as priests or other clergy are often called upon to bestow a blessing upon the vessel.
Before we get into the finer details of the ritual, let's explore the background of the figures involved.
In Greek mythology, Poseidon was the Olympian God of the Mediterranean Sea. His palace was in the depths of the sea where he kept his horses with brazen hooves and golden manes. These horses would pull Poseidon across the sea in a chariot where he could gather clouds and call forth storms. For those he deemed worthy, he could calm the seas and grant a successful passage. Since the seas covered the majority of the Earth, Poseidon was considered the highest of all Gods.
In Roman mythology, Neptune is the counterpart to Poseidon. However, Neptune was initially associated with inland waters such as rivers and streams and only in later years was he recognized as the ruler of the seas. Neptune and Poseidon are regularly mistaken as the same character even though they have slightly different origins. Neptune is most often the entity referred to in the naming ceremonies and will be reflected here.
Aeolus (pronounced EE-oh-lus)
In Greek mythology, Aeolus was the ruler of all winds which he could control at will and was also known as the "storm god." As the ruler of all winds, Aeolus was in command of Boreas, god of the north wind, Eurus, god of the east wind, Notus, god of the south wind and finally Zephyrus, god of the west wind. The exact lineage and history of Aeolus is unclear even today with conflicting accounts. It is said that Aeolus provided favorable winds for those that he deemed worthy and called forth unsuitable winds for his foes.
It was a common superstition among sailors that renaming a boat would condemn her to an early visit to the deep. This was the equivalent of removing her soul. However, as times have changed it has been found acceptable to accomplish this task as long as a strict regimen was followed that would appease the Gods.
There are actually two ceremonies and they can be as formal as you desire. They commonly range from a few spoken words to something a bit more elaborate complete with costumes and props. For those that truly love boating it is not uncommon for the ceremony to become a more involved affair with family, friends and dock-mates participating. So above all make it a fun event that the family will remember.
You will find various examples of the renaming ritual on the internet each with its own flavor, however they all follow a common sequence of events.
1. Removal of Previous Identity.
2. De-naming Ceremony.
3. Re-naming Ceremony.
Removal of Identity
According to legend, every vessel is recorded in the Ledger of the Deep by Neptune. Should Neptune find a vessel plying the waters that is not properly listed in his ledger, they shall suffer his wrath, after all this is his home.
Therefore, this is perhaps the most critical step in the ritual to ensure you start off on good terms. All items bearing the old name must be removed from the vessel; this includes logbooks, paperwork, key-chains, and other items. It is easy to overlook something so take your time and garner the help of others to ensure this is done properly. This may require the use of white out or a black marker for the logbook if you plan on keeping the former one. Poseidon will not purge the old name from his records as long as any evidence of it remains so be diligent.
Furthermore, during this process do not mention the new name or place any items bearing the new name on the boat. This is considered very offensive and being presumptuous to assume Neptune will grant your request before you have even asked.
Once all evidence of the old name is removed, you will need to secure several bottles of wine and a small metal tag or ingot. The amount of wine will be determined by the amount of guests that will participate in the ceremony but at the very least you will need three bottles. One bottle will be sacrificed to the gods during the denaming ceremony and two for the renaming ceremony. On the small metal tag (ingot), you will write the boat's old name with a water-soluble pen. This tag (ingot) will be part of the denaming ceremony. Many people will substitute champagne for wine during the ceremony; however, wine is embedded much deeper in the history of vessels and the sea than champagne.
Now is the time to round up all of your guests to take part in this momentous occasion. It is a good idea to explain the importance of these ceremonies and ask that the guests remain quiet to show their respect and pay homage until both ceremonies are complete. Only your immediate family should be onboard and allowed to perform the ceremony, your guests should observe the proceedings from the dock or a nearby boat. The denaming ceremony's purpose is a plea to Neptune to remove all traces of the old vessel's name from the Ledger of the Deep.
Now with your ingot and bottle of wine proceed to the bow of the boat and you are ready to begin.
Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name (insert the old name of your vessel) which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea. (the metal tag is dropped from the bow of the boat into the sea.)
In grateful acknowledgment of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesties and your court. (open the wine and pour at least half the bottle into the sea beginning in the east and moving to the west, the remaining wine can be shared after the ceremony)
At this point, it is absolutely imperative that the boat's old name never be spoken again in the presence of the vessel. She is clean and nameless with homage paid to Neptune. In most cases, you should immediately proceed to the naming ceremony since your vessel is now unknown and unprotected.
Additionally, do not bring any items bearing the new name on board the vessel, nor mention the new name in the presence of the vessel until the naming ceremony is completed. If the new name must be applied to the transom prior to the ceremony, it must remain covered and hidden from view until the end of the ceremony.
The naming ceremony consists of two parts, first a plea to Neptune to record the new vessel name in the Ledger of the Deep, then the second part pays homage to the gods of the wind.
Now with a fresh bottle of wine proceed to the bow of the boat and prepare to begin.
Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as (new vessel name), guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.
In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation and in honor of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court. (open the bottle of wine, pour one glass for the Captain and one glass for the First Mate but don't drink yet, now pour the remainder of the bottle into the sea from West to East, then drink your wine.)
For this part you will need another bottle of wine and a small glass.
Oh mighty rulers of the winds, through whose power our frail vessels traverse the wild and faceless deep, we implore you to grant this worthy vessel (boat’s new name) the benefits and pleasures of your bounty, ensuring us of your gentle ministration according to our needs.
(Facing north, pour wine into the glass and fling to the North as you intone.)
Great Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.
(Facing west, repeat and fling to the West.)
Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.
(Facing east, repeat and fling to the East.)
Great Eurus, exalted ruler of the East Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your mighty breath.
(Facing south, repeat and fling to the South.)
Great Notus, exalted ruler of the South Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.
And to the greatest of all, mighty Aeolus guardian of all winds and all that blows before them, we ask your favor and kindness for fair winds and smooth seas in our endeavors as we humbly pass through your kingdom
If the new name has been affixed to the transom, it should be unveiled at this time. If it has not been affixed bring an object aboard bearing the new name to complete the ceremony. Of course at this point applause and cheers should abound as your vessel now has her new identity and everyone can join the celebration.
Be sure and take lots of photos and record the event along with all the details in the vessel's logbook. Now you can share a sigh of relief and rest assured that your vessel is assured a safe journeys.
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