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Superstitions attached to whistling
Nov 04, 2011

 

“Standing in the prow watching the Welsh coast getting nearer, John whistled a cheerful tune — to the dismay of the crew. The captain, sharing their anxiety, tactfully suggested that king and bishop (go below and) enjoy a cup of good wine. In high good humour, John agreed, and the dangerous whistling stopped.”
This excerpt from Sylvain Hamilton’s, The Pendragon Banner, suggests that whistling is unlucky, and indeed it’s considered so even today by sailors and actors.
Fear of whistling aboard ship arises from the superstition that a whistle can call up a gale. Mariners who sailed under canvas didn’t need gales, but they did sometimes whistle to entice the wind if they were becalmed.
Whistling in a theatre is considered disastrous, so if you absentmindedly do whistle there, you must immediately curse loudly, then leave the room and knock to be re-admitted.
This superstition evidently arose because whistles were once used for such signals as lowering sets, as well as for scene changes and cues. An unrelated whistle could cause chaos, and even be dangerous.
Other superstitions are attached to whistling. It was used as a means of scaring away ghosts. That’s where “whistling past the cemetery” came from.
One explanation for this practice is that medieval English villages were about a day’s walk from one another and often a traveler approached a new village just at dusk. Since cemeteries were usually located at the edge of towns, and dusk is the time when ghosts and spirits of the dead come out, travelers would make noises to scare them away.
This explanation is probably false. Cambridge says “whistling past the graveyard” is of American origin. Americans had no European-style settlements, in fact, no U.S.A. in medieval times. As well, English cemeteries were established in churchyards built in the centres of towns.
Nevertheless, the idea of making loud sounds to keep spectres at bay is still viewed as a wise safeguard.
“To whistle in the dark” carries a similar message. If you’re nervous in the dark, you might whistle to keep your courage strong. This saying evolved from the fact that people actually do often whistle when they are walking alone in dark places.
More than one superstition admonishes women to abstain from whistling. An old English proverb states, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen, is neither fit for God nor men.”
Another old saying is, “A whistling woman never marries.”
And, when I was about 10 years old, a very sweet and pious nun told me that whenever a girl whistles, the Blessed Virgin weeps. I’m pretty sure she believed that.
If you whistle in a dream, you’re likely trying to cope with unjust criticism in real life. And, if you hear others whistling in your dream, you’re going to have to revise or delay a current plan or project.
Whistle is from the Old English  hwistlian (to whistle; to pipe). We took it from the Danish hvistle (to whistle), but it originated in the Old Icelandic hvisle (to whisper).