Eyes of the Goddess
In the modern day, sailors are often depicted as profane and lawless. But in ancient times, they were the most religious of people. Greek and Roman sailors faced and honored the masthead, or palladium, of the ship with prayers every new day and lived in a world surrounded by rituals, omens, taboos and votive offerings. They were more like priests than pirates.
Long distance seafaring is older than most people realize, going back to Mesolithic times, and ships were always under the protection of the Mother Goddess, a sign perhaps that the Goddess religion held sway rather than patriarchal systems in humankind’s infancy. When the argonauts are cast away on the sands of North Africa, they turn to their ship as their “Mother” and carry its timbers with them to the next body of water (Apollonius of Rhodes, 4.1327ff.). Even today, ships around the world “are generally considered as feminine” (Hornell, Water Transport, 1970, p. 275).
No vessel sailed in classical times without a religious festival celebrated by the entire community, and no ship was without a protector goddess. The aphlaston was a curving stern symbolizing the watchful eyes of the bird-goddess near the poop deck. “Devices mounted at the stem and stern were intended to endow the ship with a life of its own.” Bird-headed images were attached to ships of all sorts not just for their beauty but also for their magical properties. The Sea Peoples favored migratory web-footed water-birds like ducks because of their own origins in southeastern Europe and amphibious, wandering nature.
 Shelley Wachsmann, Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant, foreword by George F. Bass (College Station: Texas A&M U P, 2018).
 Ibid., p. 196-97.