The research of Victorian superstitions, paranormal, and the insane all have the same thing in common, death. In some cultures death is considered to be rebirth or a new beginning, one would be heralded from this life through death to a new life on the other side. So it is with death that I find my beginning…
In Victorian society superstition was abundant in daily life, not only impacting the way they thought and acted but also continuing on in our own modern culture. Many sayings and beliefs used today are culminated from that period of time.
When one passed on the clock was stopped on the precise time of death. Many cases all the clocks in the household were stopped as a sign of remembrance. The curtains were all drawn shut, in hopes of trapping the soul in the house so that it would not wonder from the body. Black Crape or veils were placed over all the mirrors, ensuring that the deceased’s soul would not be trapped in the looking glass. Wreaths made of laurel, yew, or boxwood were decorated with black ribbon or crepe then hung on the front doors, this was a beacon to all those whom passed that someone in the household had passed on. To ensure that the soul of the deceased did not possess any of the family members, all family photos were then turned facedown.
Whilst preparations for ceremony and burial were arranged, the body was placed in the parlour room. Candles were placed in the room to mask the odor of the decaying body; flowers were also placed in abundance in the room which leads to common day practice of sending flowers in condolences to the grieving family. Embalming ensures that the decaying process is delayed, so flowers and candles placed during funerals nowadays are merely symbolic in their decoration.
From the time of death until burial a “Waking” was held, this was the practice of assigning family members or friends of the family shifts to watch the body. It was commonly believed that the deceased may only be in a comma, so to ensure that this was not over looked they kept constant watch for any signs of life. This worry inspired coffin makers to design a “warning system” to relieve fears once the body was buried. A bell was placed by the grave marker, a rope or chain was run from that bell to inside the coffin. Should the buried wake from a comma, they then could pull the rope or chain which in turn would ring the bell. Notifying the grave keeper that someone was quite possibly buried alive, hence the term “Saved by the bell.”
Now it goes without saying, that this was only the tip of the superstitious beliefs pertaining to death. There were many omens or bad tidings that surely death would occur in one’s family or household. I leave you, dear reader, with a list of those omens. Take heed that none of the following should happen to you.
- If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers would bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, only weeds would grow.
- If several deaths occur in the same family, tie a black ribbon to everything left alive that enters the house, even dogs & chickens. This will protect them against deaths spreading further.
- Never wear anything new to a funeral, especially shoes.
- You should always cover your mouth while yawning so your spirit doesn’t leave you and the devil never enters your body.
- It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you see one approaching, turn around. It this is unavoidable, hold on to a button until the funeral cortege passes.
- Large drops of rain warn that there has been a death.
- Stop the clock in a death room or you will have bad luck.
- To lock the door of your home after a funeral procession has left the house is bad luck.
- If you hear a clap of thunder following a burial it indicates that the soul of the departed has reached heaven.
- If you hear 3 knocks and no one is there, it usually means someone close to you has died. (The superstitious call this the 3 knocks of death.)
- If you leave something that belongs to you to the deceased, that means to the person will come back to get you.
- If a firefly/lightening bug get into your house someone will die soon.
- If you smell roses when none are around someone is going to die.
- If you don’t hold your breath while going by a graveyard you will not be buried.
- If you see yourself in a dream, your death will follow.
- If you see an owl in the daytime, there will be death.
- If you dream about a birth, someone you know will die.
- If it rains in an open grave then someone in the family will die within the year.
- If a bird pecks on your window or crashes into one, there has been a death.
- If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the home will die.
- If a picture falls off a wall, there will be a death of someone you know.
- Never speak ill of the dead because they will come back to haunt you or you will suffer misfortune.
- Two deaths in the family mean that a third is to follow.
- The cry of a curlew or the hoot of an owl foretells death.
- A single snowdrop growing in the garden foretells a death.
- Having only red & white flowers together in a vase (especially in a hospital) means a death will soon follow.
- Dropping an umbrella on the floor or opening one in the house means that there will be a murder in the house.
- A diamond-shaped fold in clean linen portends death.
- A dog howling at night when someone in the house is sick is a bad omen. It can be reversed by reaching under the bed & turning over a shoe.