Monday, 14 May 2012

Killing the Serpent

I knew that the French rebaptizing ceremony involved some complex acrobatics such as turning the boat in circles or figure-eights, but couldn’t determine how or where this fit into a ceremony for appeasing Neptune.  Quite simply, the French ceremony has nothing whatsoever to do with Neptune, but is rather an elaborate ballet whose intent is to kill the magic serpent that lives in the boat’s wake and has been assigned to follow the boat where ever it goes.  Once killed, a new serpent can be assigned to follow the newly named boat.  Apparently having this serpent follow the boat is both a necessary and good thing.

Cutting the serpent.
The exact method for killing the serpent is the following:  after removing all traces of the former name as with the Anglo-Saxon version, you must kill the serpent by first anesthetizing him with (what else) champagne, and then you must cut him in half at least 3 times by cutting through your wake.  The preferred method is to have a friend in another boat follow you and to have them cut across your stern as close as they dare three times.  Three appears to be the minimum accepted number of crossings, and many sources suggest that this should be accompanied by firing a gun into the wake as it is crossed.  Firing blanks is in the same league with trying to substitute water for the blood sacrifice and should be avoided at all costs.  However, being the progressive and peace-loving people that they are, the French have decided (and apparently the gods of the sea serpent – whoever they are – have approved) that in lieu of three crossings with gunfire, one may safely substitute up to 7 crossings without having to employ fire power of any sort.  A variant of the crossings is available for those with no sea-faring friends, which involves sailing in figure-eights and thus cutting across your own wake.  Logic would dictate that these figures would have to be unrealistically quick and tight, but I think we can agree that any culture willing to believe in a magic sea serpent without even knowing what gods the serpents answer to are not going to be sticklers for logic at this or any other point in time.

That said, we are in France, and this bit of mythology cannot be so easily dismissed.  In the interests of Franco-American cooperation, we decided that we will include the snake cutting ceremony at the end of the REAL one.