Today’s society might think of Victorians as staunch followers of etiquette and formalities, with a straight-laced attitude and overzealous attitude towards Christian religion. However, the Victorians are more dynamic than this modern day perception. The Victorians were surrounded by superstitions in their daily lives, adding an extra layer to an otherwise “stuffy” time period.
Most fascinatingly, many of these superstitions surround death. I’ve been heavily researching this theme of death and superstition for a new short story, one written in rapid succession after another (brilliant!) story involving murder and arsenic poisoning. I was searching around for ideas when I stumbled upon superstition and death. In this, I would like to share a little bit of what I have uncovered.
- During a wake, it was necessary to cover all mirrors with black cloths. This prevented the soul of the deceased persons from becoming trapped inside the mirror.
- Flowers would bloom on the grave of someone who had a good and prosperous life.
- Rain during a funeral procession meant the deceased would go to those pearly gates in the sky.
- A mirror falling off the wall and breaking meant someone was about to die.
- It was bad luck to run into a funeral procession. If you saw a funeral procession coming, it was wise to turn around and go in the opposite direction. The only way to be able to confront a funeral procession was to hold onto a button the entire way until you arrived at your destination–so hold onto that button!
- A clap of thunder after a burial meant the deceased’s soul had arrived at those pearly gates in the sky.
- Don’t wear anything new to a funeral. Just don’t.
- Do you like the smell of roses? Think again. Smelling roses meant someone was about to die.
- All clocks were stopped inside the home. Time essentially stood still to prevent anyone else in the family from dying and to show reverence to the dead. Clocks would be restarted once the body was buried.
- A bird crashing or pecking on a window meant death. Stupid birds!
- Spilling salt could mean death. Take a pinch and throw it over your shoulder as a preventative.
- If you’re pregnant, stay home. Do not go to that funeral, unless if you want your dead father to come back as your daughter or son.
- A single snowdrop in a garden signalled death.
- Victorians believed opening an umbrella indoors meant someone in the family was about to die. So stop and think next time you dare to open an umbrella.
- Seeing a sparrow land on a piano meant a death in the family was imminent.
- This one is interesting… A dog howling when someone was lying in bed ill meant a death was certain. But turning over a shoe under the bed would prevent said death.
- Rain in an open grave meant someone else in the family would die within the year.
- White ribbons would be tied onto anything leaving the house to prevent the spread of death. This totally included tying ribbons onto chickens, because those pesky little buggers are sure to kill you.
- It was bad luck to lock your doors after a funeral procession left the house…. Yeah, is anyone else feeling this one? This is just an open welcome for thieves. Might as well just leave the door wide open and say, “Hey, come and rob me!”
- Victorians placed iron cages over graves to prevent robbers…and vampires. Might as well just throw garlic into the grave.
The Victorians were a most interesting people. These are but a handful of their superstitions regarding death. There are many, many more–too many to list. Their superstitions extend beyond just death, reaching into all corners of life.
I chose death as a theme when I read about the superstitions regarding clocks. An idea just…popped right into my head…! A first draft is complete. It just needs to go through a few more before I send it to publishers. From there, we shall see! In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my post about superstitions and death.
“10 Fascinating Death Facts from the Victorian Era.” Listverse, Listverse, 18 June 2014, listverse.com/2013/02/07/10-fascinating-death-facts-from-the-victorian-era/.
Pennington, Jackie. “Victorian Superstitions : Why Death Was So Important.” The Pennington Edition, 12 June 2017, thepenningtonedition.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/victorian-superstitions-why-death-was-so-important/.
Rodgers, Garry. “13 Strange Superstitions About Death.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 Jan. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/garry-rodgers/thirteen-strange-supersti_b_8997856.html.
“Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions.” Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery, 1 Feb. 2011, friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/.
Yarde, Mary Anne. “33 Victorian Superstitions You Might Not Know by Kerry A Waight #Victorian #History @Storiesofthen.” The Lady of the Lake – Who Was She and What Does She Have to Do with King Arthur?, 1 Jan. 1970, maryanneyarde.blogspot.com/2018/07/33-victorian-superstitions-you-might.html.