Superstitions about Death and Dying

Fortune CookieDid you shiver when you saw the image at left? You may know, in your head, that the odds of dying on Tuesday are slim to none (we hope!), but superstitions are hard to shake sometimes. A superstition usually is a belief or notion that is not based upon reason or knowledge. Since death is the “great unknown,” death, dying and funerals became prime candidates for superstitious beliefs, even among educated people. Many superstitions, if believed across a wide range of population for a period of time, may become rituals.

The following superstitions, just a handful of hundreds of irrational beliefs about death and dying, have fallen by the wayside in many cases, but you might recognize a few that people still abide by today. For instance, do you know why you wear black to funerals? You’re simply following a tradition based upon an old superstition. Read on to learn more…

  • Pall bearers once wore gloves to handle caskets, as it was believed that the spirit of the deceased could enter the pall bearers’ bodies through their hands.
  • Some people grasp a button on their clothing when passing a hearse, as it is believed that the button will help that person stay “connected” to life rather than death.
  • The tradition of wearing black during a funeral began when it was firmly believed that the color black makes the living less visible to the spirit world.
  • On the other hand, if a person is buried in black, that person will return to haunt the family.
  • A bird that flies into the window of a house and dies is a horrible omen. This means some family member of that household soon will die. At one time, people believed that birds held human spirits.
  • Mirrors were thought to hold great power, so covering them with black crepe or velvet or turning the mirror toward the wall became habit for those who believed that the spirit of the deceased could enter the mirror and then enter the body of the next person to look into that mirror.
  • Family members and friends were encouraged to touch or kiss a corpse. It was (and still is) believed in many regions that touching the corpse prevents a person from dreaming or obsessing about the deceased. This touch often does help the living realize that a loved one is gone.
  • Many families would stop a clock in the house to indicate the passing of a loved one. After the funeral, the clock would be re-started to indicate a new phase in that family’s life.
  • Some people still hold their breath when passing a cemetery. The reason? To avoid breathing in the spirits of those buried at that cemetery.
  • Although the firing of guns at military funerals is seen as a sign of respect, this tradition may have its roots in the superstition that the ringing bells and shooting guns works to scare away other ghosts at the cemetery.

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