- Religion and Philosophy
Superstitions About Ghosts
Foolishness? Or Respecting the Dead?
Superstitions are basically a primitive form of protection. There is a certain comforting and magical feeling when you observe a superstition. For the simple folks of bygone days, that comfort was probably most welcome when dealing with something as misunderstood as death.
As medical knowledge progressed and the causes of death became more clear, it took on a certain impersonal, clinical feeling. No doubt people clung to the old superstitions and rituals because it gave them a way to honor the dead as they deserved.
Even people who scoff at superstitions go through certain rituals at funerals or when dealing with a dying person. They might say they are doing it because that is they way it is supposed to be done. If you went back in time and asked the people who founded these superstitions, they would probably say the same thing.
Some Portents of Death
- A bird flying into the house and hovering over a table or bed.
- A person's photo falling from the wall. Especially bad if the frame breaks.
- Not removing a hat or respecting a funeral procession.
- A cat leaving the house and refusing to return.
When people passed away from life in their own homes, or those of a relative that cared for them, there were a great number of superstitions surrounding the event. There were signs foretelling the actual death, rituals to be observed to honor the dying person, and more rituals to help the departed spirit to move on.
A wake,for instance, was held in certain places. Most notably in the Ireland. Other cultures had their own versions of the wake, and whereas they aren't as common as once before they are still held for the same purpose--a ceremonial send-off to the afterlife, as well as a vigil during which the mourners hoped the deceased would come back to life. During and after death, there are certain customs meant to appease the spirits as well as ones to protect oneself:
- Carrying a coin, piece of bread or cake, or other token in one's pocket to appease any ghost they met.
- Wearing new clothes or a veil at the funeral or wake so the spirit could not recognize the living.
- Offering flowers to the dead to mollify their ghost.
- Burying them with personal items so that they would have them in the afterlife, or to keep them from returning for them.
Don't Tempt Fate
Doing these things is just asking for a death in the family:
- Rocking an empty chair.
- Walking under a hemp rope.
- Counting the cars of a passenger train.
- Not uncovering your head when meeting a funeral procession.
Here are some common superstitions and customs that people follow at the time of death or shortly following:
- When a person dies, all the clocks in the home should be stopped at the hour of their death and restarted after burial.
- The eyes of the deceased are closed, and coins are sometimes placed on the lids.
- Mirrors are covered to prevent the spirit from being trapped in the glass.
- If the person owned bees, the bees were told of their owner's death, and their hives were draped in black crepe. If this respect was not shown, the bees would leave.
- A dish of salt was placed in windows to prevent to ghost from entering a home and taking up residence.
- A candle was lit and placed in a window to light the spirit's way to the other side.
- The body was removed from the house feet-first.
Funerals and Burial
Many funeral superstitions and customs survive today and are considered normal, if not expected. Rituals such as throwing in a handful of dirt before the coffin is buried, wearing black, sending only certain flowers, and not wearing new shoes are just a few:
- Bury a woman in black and she will return to haunt you.
- Never wear something the deceased gave you to their funeral.
- Pregnant women should not attend funerals, or their babies will be marked.
- Funerals held on Friday guarantee another family death within the year.
- It is bad luck to count the cars in a funeral procession.
- Never step on a grave.
- It is bad luck to look into an empty grave.
Even though people took the proper care to appease the spirits, and provide them every opportunity to cross-over, a few stubborn ones remain.
Perhaps these poor souls came from families that didn't believe in all that "non-sense" and carelessly left the mirrors uncovered or wore old shoes to the funeral.
Whatever the reason for them missing their ride to the spirit world, these ghosts are usually polite enough to make their presence known. To those who observe the signs, it is pretty easy to tell when a ghost is looking over your shoulder.
- If a candle flame suddenly burns blue, a ghost is present.
- If a candle suddenly extinguishes when there is no draft or other cause, a ghost is near.
- If you suddenly smell a perfume or such pleasant smell (with no discernible source) that reminds you of the dead person, they are checking on you.
- If you look into a mirror belonging to a dead person, you might see their ghost. (especially if they looked in it right before dying.)
- If a rocking chair rocks by itself, it is a ghost.
- If dry kindling wood won't light, a ghost is blowing out the fire.
- If you smell fresh dirt or rotting wood (with no source) that's the smell of a ghost out of the grave.
- Gazing into a mirror by candlelight will show you ghosts.
What Attracts Ghosts?
Whether you are perpetually haunted, or just experience the occasional encounter when out and about, here are few things you may have done to attract the ghosts:
- Did you leave your shoes right side up last night? Ghosts may have walked in them.
- Did you say "Come in" when the door blew open?
- Did you say "Hello?" when you heard a noise down the hallway?
- Did you walk across the grave of a soldier?
Are You Superstitious?
Deterring the Ghosts
Of course there are superstitions that deal with repelling the ghosts once they make their presence known. Or they can even be used just as precaution before you travel anywhere a ghost might be residing:
- Burn a candle by your bed to keep the ghosts away.
- Turn your pockets out.
- Paint your front porch or your house blue.
- Bury small bones by your front step.
- Keep a bell close by and ring it occasionally to drive away spirits.
- Put salt around your house to keep out bad ghosts.
A Final Word
Naturally this doesn't cover every superstition from every culture. I highly recommend that you read into some of the fantastic lore of other countries. For instance, the Buddhists believe that using curved lines will confuse ghosts and keep them away. Isn't that interesting? I thought so too.
Remember that not all ghosts are "evil spirits", so you should really consider not throwing salt out or ringing the bell if you think it may just be the spirit of a departed loved one looking over you. They probably miss you as much as you miss them. Pull out the rocking chair for them and enjoy the company.