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Ghost Ships (and other curses)

I recently rewatched Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl while home for the holidays.  I was having dinner with my family when my mom brought up the detail about Captain Barbosa and the apple, which I had completely forgotten.  PotC is one of my favorites, so it was no hardship to refresh my memory, and the occasion inspired this collection of some of the myths and legends behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, here for your reading pleasure!

Please be advised, this post is a bit spoilery if you haven’t seen the movie!

  1. Ghost ship.  The most obvious legend that comes to mind after watching Curse of the Black Pearl is that of the ghost ship.  In terms of ghost ship legends, the Flying Dutchman is the most popular, but there are as many ghost ship legends as there are countries on the earth.  Here are a few of them:
  • Caleuche – Chiloé, Chile: a submarine boat, manned by sorcerers, cruising about Chiloé in the nighttime, – “an infernal pirate,” causing great terror. (Journal of American folklore v.23 1910.)

  • The Gosport Tragedy – America: William, the carpenter, makes love to Mary (or Molly, or Polly) and promises to marry her.  She gets pregnant and they meet, supposedly to arrange the wedding. He lures her to a lonely place and announces that he “was digging your grave the best part of last night” and that he will kill her.  Despite her pleas he stabs (or shoots) her and throws her body into the grave with only birds to mourn her. The carpenter then escapes to sea. The girl’s ghost, now with an infant in its arms, appears to one of the crew but disappears when he tries to embrace it, enchanted by her beauty.  The crewman reports the phenomenon to the captain, who demands to know the identity of the murderer on board, as the ship mysteriously won’t sail until the murderer is removed. The carpenter confesses and either dies of distraction by his murdered lover’s ghost, or throws himself overboard and is tortured by her ghost after death.

  • Ourang Medan – Netherlands: The S. S. Ourang Medan was a Dutch vessel proceeding through the Straits of Malacca in February of 1948.  The United States Coast Guard’s Proceedings of the Merchant Marine Council reports its eerie fate—its mysterious SOS and ultimate spontaneous combustion upon discovery.  In 1958 and 1959, C. H. Marck Jr. wrote to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) about the case of the Ourang Medan and other similar cases (including some that sound suspiciously like UFOs)—and was cooly rebuffed.  The mystery of the Ourang Medan remains unsolved to this day.
  1. Cursed Aztec gold.  The legend of cursed Aztec gold from when Cortes and the Spaniards invaded America is, in fact, a real legend, and people have gone searching for this gold for years (and years and years).  It is currently believed to be in Utah, and you can read about the ill-fated attempts to retrieve it here.

  2. Cursed to be tempted by food and drink, yet unable to consume it.  This is part of the curse of the Aztec gold (along with being a ghost who must live forever!) and the origin of Captain Barbosa’s obsession with the apple, of which I was reminded.  This part of the curse is reminiscent of the Greek myth of Tantalus. Tantalus was a king who was loved by the gods, who invited him to their feasts until in his hubris, he decided to trick them by cooking his son and feeding it to them.  Being gods, they knew what he had done. They punished him by sending him to Hades (the Greek underworld) where he was cursed to stand in a pool of water that retreated if he tried to drink from it, and in reach of a fruit tree (perhaps an apple tree?) that bobbed away if he tried to pluck its fruit.  His name is the source of the English word tantalize.

Review finished: 01.21.20
Review posted: 01.23.20

Published inFairy Tales

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