The Weird World of Death
Why do we fear death?
"The difficulty about all this dying, is that you can't tell a fellow anything about it, so where does the fun come in?" Alice James
It’s the ultimate ending for us all. We can't duck it. We can't shy away. We can't pretend it doesn't happen. We are of course talking about death.
Is it just physical? Is it a spiritual transition? Perhaps we will never know. Nevertheless as humans we strive to see deeper into this weird world of death - trying to grasp some meaning from its mysteries.
25 Most Popular Superstitions Around the World
The most common death superstitions
"It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens." - Woody Allen
Let's have a look at some of the most common superstitions that have arisen around the subject of death.
The tradition of covering a mirror with a black cloth when someone dies initially goes back to ancient times.
When a person had died – especially when it was a violent death - all the mirrors in the home would be covered immediately by cloth.
The reason for this was the belief that a returning spirit could use a looking glass as a portal.
In the case of a violent end, a cloth covering the mirror would ensure that the enraged spirit could not find a living person to possess in order to revenge his premature demise.
In later times, mirrors in the room of the dead person were covered – even if the death was not brutal - as it was believed a living person seeing their reflection would join the dead person soon.
It was also believed that a mirror falling and breaking of its own accord was a sign that a death in the family was due to take place.
Objects and Death
"Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it." Somerset Maugham
The following are traditional beliefs surrounding death and dying. Some may be familiar others might be new:
Ladders have always been associated with superstition even in the present day. As we all know walking under one is deemed to be unlucky.
However going back in time prisoners were sometimes hanged from the top of a ladder. It was believed that their spirit would then linger within the space created by the ladder and prop. Therefore it was unlucky to walk underneath as you would encounter the evil spirits of the executed prisoners.
Items In The Home
Many of these beliefs date back to the time when the majority of people died in their own homes.
The body would also be washed and prepared by the family. Finally the deceased member of the household would make their last journey to the cemetery from their home. It is not unusual then to discover many superstitions have grown up around common everyday items.
Candles are often used as a symbolism for the spirit and were used frequently in the past as part of celebrations for certain times of the year.
For example a very old tradition was to place a candle in the window on Halloween in order to guide the spirit of the ancestors back to the home. The family would also leave food and drink in their honour.
On November 1st people would often light candles to pay tribute to the dead. One candle would be lit for every person who had died in the home and it would be placed in the room where their death had occurred.
An umbrella put up in the house has for many years been frowned on as it attracts bad luck. However be wary about also dropping one in the home as this was seen as a sign that a murder was about to take place.
When someone in the house died it was customary to stop the clocks immediately. Not to do so would mean bad luck for everyone in the home.
It was also believed that a broken clock that suddenly begins to work is a sign that someone in the family will soon die.
Numerous people would not wind their clocks until the body had left the house.
Photographs, for obvious reasons, are a more recent superstition. It’s believed that if a photograph is taken of three people the middle person will die first.
Ladies in the past had to be very cautious about how many guests were invited to dinner. You could never invite thirteen. To do so would mean that one of them would die before the year was over.
Customs and superstitions
Where you live are there any specific customs or superstitions relating to death?
© 2011 Helen Murphy Howell