King Neptune

God of the Sea

King Neptune

King Neptune is the God of the Sea and is often depicted as an older human male, bare chested with long hair and a long beard, both white and flowing as the waves of the sea. Holding a trident, which forms a recognizable symbol. In some art forms he rides a dolphin in others he is a merman. Occasionally he wears a crown.

King Neptune's court

When ships cross the equator they have to report to King Neptune's Court and present any new members of the crew, who have never passed the equator before. To have those new sailors tested if they are worthy to sail the seven seas or not.
The visit usually starts with a letter to King Neptune from the Captain asking permission to pass the equator on a certain day, with the note that they have new crew on board, providing Neptune with a list of their names. The letter will be printed out and posted up on the message board. A day or two later a reply from King Neptune will be posted that he and his court will be visiting the ship to inspect the new sailors. This paper may shows sign of having been wet.
On the day of the passing of the equator, the new crew will be dragged out of their bunks in the early morning by the others who have already had their baptisment. They will be asked to wear their clothes backwards or wear only pants or something alike.
Then they will be represented to King Neptune's Court. One of the crew who already passed the rites will be dressed up as King Neptune, others may be dressed up as well to form a team. Usually it is a Sailor who is playing Neptune (and not an officer).
King Neptune will ask the presented new crew to answer some questions, about the ship and sailing in general, starting easy, but in the end making them impossible. For instance how many masts do we have, and ending with questions like, how many nuts does the Chief Officer have spare in store. They questions are set up so they will fail in the end.
To make up for the mistakes in answering the questions, a series of tasks has to be performed. Sometimes the new crew is locked in a pillory or made to sit in a tub filled with water during the whole questionaire.
The tasks are sometimes to be preformed while being blindfolded or with hands bound together, and range from eating something distasteful prepared by the Cook to jumping around on one foot, while singing a song.
Sometimes the hair of the people is shaved short, only doing half their head, so they have to do the other half later by themselves to look somewhat presentable. But this is a rareity.
Two items that are almost universal is the baptising, being doused in seawater. And walking the plank, the latter isn't overboard, but just on the middle of the deck, the crew member is blindfolded and lead around a course on deck untill they have lost their bearings, and then asked to jump off the plank. Letting them think it is sticking overboard. Before being blindfolded the sailor may have had a view of a plank being prepared sticking over board. Stepping off the plank will land you maybe not even an inch lower on deck. Safety is the most important part of this, usually the last, rite.
The day ends with a (barbeque) party, as the weather is usally nice around the equator. The newly passed and aproved crew members are presented with their Neptune-certificate. Declaring that they passed the equator on this ship on that date and that they have been found competent and worthy by King Neptune. All sailors who have such a certificate will make sure to bring it to every following ship, to proof that they've already passed, to make sure they don't have to do the whole thing again.
The sailors who passed the equators are called Shellback's and may have a tattoo of a shellback turtle. A golden turtle if they crossed the International Date Line at the same moment. There is no fixed spot for the tattoo, but it is often on the lower arm or hand.
Divine Classification
God (in the Roman pantheon)
Honorary & Occupational Titles

God of the Sea

Current Residence
King Neptune's court at the Equator
See also:
Sailors Tattoos
Tradition / Ritual | May 1, 2021

Sailors are famous for their tattoos, but what do they mean?

Cover image: by Johannes Plenio


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Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
7 Jul, 2021 14:17

Great article! That's a super interesting tradition! Did you went through it?

To see what I am up to:WE list of articles and goals.
7 Jul, 2021 14:20

thanks :) I do have my certificate yes, it's next to my sailing license in the folder :D