Our ancestors had plenty of superstitions surrounding death and dying. I've heard a few but had no idea there were so many. It has been said that one man's superstitions are another man's belief. I do remember Grandma Dillon telling me that if a bird flies inside a house (from outside), there has been a death. At the time, a bird actually flew inside the house but I don't recall whether or not there was a death.
Some of the superstitions regarding cemeteries:
- If it rains in an open grave, bad luck will come upon the family of the deceased.
- If it rains shortly after a burial, it means that person has found eternal rest and happiness.
- Thunder after a burial indicates the deceased has reached Heaven.
- Flowers and grass grow on the graves of those who have lived virtuous lives but mud and weeds will cover the grave of someone who was evil.
- If you whistle in a graveyard, you are summoning the devil.
- Never take anything from a cemetery because the dead may follow you to get it back.
- Dirt from a cemetery and placed under stairs you walk on is said to bring good fortune.
- Mazes were placed at cemetery entrances to prevent spirits from returning to the world. It was thought that ghosts could only travel in a straight line.
- Should you be the first to leave the cemetery after a funeral, you will have bad luck and you could die.
- It is considered bad luck to walk on graves.
- Witches should be buried face down to prevent supernatural spells from besetting the community. If that doesn't work, un-bury the witch, turn his or her clothes inside out and rebury the person face down once again.
- Being near or in an open grave cures all kinds of illness: toothaches, boils and incontinence are only a few of the maladies it will cure.
- If a pregnant woman walks on the grave at a funeral, her child will have club feet.
Regarding death and dying at home:
- If two people in a house are sick and one should die, the other will get well.
- If a person has a painful or prolonged death, he will haunt the survivors. Thus, all attempts are made to ensure the patient suffers as little as possible.
- The bed of the dying person should always be placed east and west, not north and south. This will speed the process of dying and reduce the suffering of the patient.
- The last person's name to be uttered by the dying person will be the next one to die.
- The clocks in the house of the dying were stopped on the death of the person to show that time was up for him or her.
- As soon as a person died, the mirrors in the room were covered or turned. It was considered bad luck if the corpse could be seen in the mirror and if you were to see your own reflection in the mirror before the body was taken from the home.
- Another superstition concerning mirrors was that if they were not covered, the mirror may not come clean again, and, if the mirror had not been covered, the reflection of the deceased may never leave the face of the mirror.
- Another regarding mirrors: If you were to look in the mirror before the body was removed, you may see the deceased person's reflection looking over your shoulder.
- Sweeping the floor before the body was removed ensured that the person sweeping would be the next to die.
- Walking out of the house in front of the coffin meant you would be the next to die.
- A corpse should leave the house or building feet first or else the deceased's body would be looking back and summoning or beckoning you to follow him or her in death.
Regarding funerals and funeral processions:
- It will bring bad luck if you point at a funeral procession.
- Don't count the number of cars in a funeral procession. If you do, you will be counting the number of days until you die.
- If a black cat crosses in front of a funeral procession, there will be a death in the family of the deceased within three days.
- Never wear anything new to a funeral, especially shoes. (I'm not sure why.)
- It is considered bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you do see one approaching, turn around. If it cannot be avoided, hold on to a button until it passes.
- To lock the door of your home after the funeral procession has left is bad luck.
- You will die if a dying person hits you or bites you. In order to prevent your own death, you must hit or bite them back in the same place.
- At the beginning of a year, if the first person to die in a community is elderly, the community will suffer from many of it's elderly passing.
- Regarding wakes: The body of a deceased person was watched over until the burial. It was done so as a safeguard from burying someone who was not really dead but in a coma. Wakes were held for 3 to 4 days to allow relatives from far away to arrive.
- Flowers and candles were used to help mask unpleasant odors before embalming became common.
- Cover your mouth when yawning lest your spirit leave you and the devil enter your body.
- If you hear 3 knocks and no one is there, it means someone close to you has died. The superstitious call this "the 3 knocks of death."
- If a firefly or lightning bug gets into your house someone will soon die.
- If you smell roses and none are around, someone is going to die.
- If you see an owl during the daytime, there will be a death.
- If an owl hoots outside your window 3 nights in a row, someone close to you will die.
- If a bird pecks on your window or crashes into a window, there has been a death.
- If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the home will die.
- When a dog howls at night and someone in the house is ill, it is a bad omen. It can be reversed by reaching under the bed and turning over a shoe.
- It was believed that wearing black made you appear as a shadow and not a body. The deceased person's spirit won't then enter your body.
- If your left eye twitches, there will soon be a death in the family.
- If there are shoes on a table, there will be sickness and possible death by hanging.
By no means is this a comprehensive list. Just those I found to be a most interesting bit of history.
Ta ta for now,