A sea spout is a spectacular whirlwind that causes damage to vessels and along the shoreline. It appears suddenly on the surface of the sea and then mysteriously disappears within a few minutes.
This kind of phenomenon used to scare seafarers, who identified sea spouts with furious monsters, such as dragons. In the Strait of Messina, sea spouts are popularly known as “cudarrattu”, or mouse tail, because of their shape and dark grey colour.
Fishermen, or more often their wives, used to recite a special motto in church on Christmas Eve granting them a special magic power. On the beach or out at sea, the amateur sorcerer made a cross in the air with a knife, cutting the sea spout, which, as if by magic, fell to pieces.
The Museum of Palmi displays knives with long blades and white bone handles for cutting sea spouts. Among local sailors, walnuts with three kernels were thought to have the power to calm storms. Cattle horns were also kept on board as good luck charms, as well as disturbing or grotesque fetishes to ward off evil and bad luck.
Fishermen in the Strait of Messina still scrupulously follow certain propitiatory rites.
The huge jaws of sharks, for example, equipped with strong and very sharp teeth, are thought to ward off evil and are on a fishing boat at the entrance to a house. These fishing trophies bear witness to a life spent at sea.
Ethnoiatrics studies popular medicine, which sometimes employs rather curious remedies. According to the fishermen of Tropea, anyone who has passed through the Strait of Messina at least once can heal superficial skin infections with their own saliva.
Once, the “cocciulari” of Messina, who grew mussels in the lakes of Ganzirri and Faro, sold cowries in the markets on the Calabrian side of the Strait. These were sea-shells, much sought after as talismans, which were hung around children’s necks to protect them from the evil eye.