While reading The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere I got interested in the part of the albatross.

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends, that plague thee thus!-- Why look’st thou so?’--With my cross-bow I shot the ALBATROSS. And I had done an hellish thing, And it would work ’em woe: For all averred, I had killed the bird That made the breeze to blow.

Since I myself have been at sea multiple times for weeks I have heard the albatross story coming back still going strong.

An albatross flying around a ship in the middle of the ocean was an omen of storms, wind and bad weather to come.

It was also very unlucky to kill it because sailors thought that the souls of deceased sailors inhabited the albatross.

Now there are also articles on wikipedia and superstitions stating that this was a total fabrication of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and has only been a superstition since he made it into one?

Today, someone carrying a burden is said to have 'an albatross around their neck', which was the punishment given to the mariner in Coleridge's poem. Thanks to the poem, written in 1797, there is now a widespread belief that sailors actually believed this superstition, because albatrosses were thought to be the souls of departed sailors. But in truth sailors regularly killed and ate these birds, as related by Captain James Cook in the 1770s.

So my question is.

Did Coleridge use real nautical folklore about the albatross for his poem?

Was the albatross being bad luck real nautical mythology/folklore?

1 Answer 1


It could have a valid basis in actual early oceanic navigation. The albatros is the bird that can venture the farthest into the open ocean so it stands to reason they would be the first birds seafarere would actually see before reaching land.

As navigation maps & sextants became more accurate, seafarers no longer had to rely on bird spotting.

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