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Corbie's Aunt

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Frederick The Monk
16437.  Wed Mar 23, 2005 6:43 am Reply with quote

...or Corposanto as it is more correctly known. See also Castor (and Pollux) thread.

Italian mariners of the 15th and 16th centuries believed St. Elmo’s Fire emanated from the body of Christ, hence the name. It became corrupted in English as Corbie’s Aunt.

Generally the appearance of the fire was seen as a good omen, foretelling the arrival of better weather but it was believed that if the light fell on the face of an individual on board then they would die within 24 hours.

This latter myth may derive from the legend of the Flying Dutchman. The story goes that a Dutch skipper, Captain Vanderdecken, whilst on the voyage home from Batavia met with a great storm. Fearing for his ship he swore by Donner and Blitzen (two famous reindeer) that he would reach the shelter of Table Bay but as the words left his lips his ship foundered. He and his ship became ghosts, condemned forever to seek but never reach Table Bay. Anyone seeing this spectral ship as they pass the Cape of Good Hope will, it is said, die in a shipwreck.

A German version of the myth has Herr von Falkenberg condemned to sail forever around the North Sea without helm or helmsman whilst playing dice with the devil for his soul. Still, at least it wasn’t Kerplunk.

Both myths may ultimately derive from the Norse saga in which Stöte steals a ring from the Gods and is later found as a skeleton draped in a robe of fire aboard a black ghost ship.

s: Kemp, P.(ed.) The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. OUP 1976

96165.  Sun Sep 24, 2006 5:17 pm Reply with quote



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