Victorian Era Superstitions

Morning, morning, morning!  It’s a cold January morning here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia and I have misspent the last two days reading all sorts of crazy stuff online.  Sometimes you just gotta archive binge, you know what I mean?  Of course, since one of the archives I was binging was Pulp Fiction Reviews, the binges mean I have a whole stack of new books on my To Be Read Mountain.  Jeez, one day I’ve got to dig into that publication Everest and get organized.

In the meantime, I still owe you a blog post.  One of the page I stumbled across yesterday was talking about Victorian customs and superstitions about death and funerals.  I thought I would share.  Okay, it’s not precisely about Steampunk (or Dieselpunk or Pulp), but the time frame is right, and, as a writer, I find this stuff endlessly fascinating. So here goes!

Superstitions:

  • It was considered very bad luck to meet a funeral procession on the street.  If you met one coming your direction, you were supposed to turn back and go another route.  If it wasn’t possible to change your path, you could grab a button on your clothes and hold onto that until the funeral procession had passed you by.
  • When a person died (and this mostly happened at home), you were supposed to stop all the clocks in the house.  You were also supposed to cover all the mirrors with black cloth.  I’ve seen various explanations, both superstitious (preventing the bad luck from spreading) and mundane (simply showing respect), for why the clocks were stopped, but the sources I’ve looked all agreed that the mirrors were covered to keep the spirit from being trapped (this is not an unusual belief; the Jews have a similar custom).  The clocks would traditionally be restarted, and the mirrors uncovered, after the burial.
  • you also close all the curtains in the house. This was to stop the soul leaving before the funeral.
  • When the body was removed from the house, it was carried out feet first. This was to keep the spirit from luring away the souls of other family members.
  • Images and photos of the family were often turned face down so that the ghost of the dead couldn’t possess one of the living members.  How the photo made that possible is not explained.
  • Burials were oriented so that the feet of the deceased were to the East and the head was to the West.  This is still a practice today in many Christian countries.  As it was explained to me when I was a child, “That way, on Judgement Day, when God calls your body to rise, you’ll rise up facing the Eastern Sky.”  Then again, pre-Christian pagan burials also had eastern facing orientations, so take the Christian explanation for what it is :  one version of thing.
  • It was a (rather fairy-tale-esque) believe that, if the dead had been a good person in life, flowers would bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, thorns or weeds would grow.
  • if there have been more than one death in the family (and they, like many today, believed that such things often happened in threes), tying black ribbons to everything, even the family pets, would stop the bad luck streak.
  • Do not wear new shoes to a funeral. Don’t wear anything new to a funeral, but especially shoes.
  • Do not lock the house after a body is removed from your house; it’s bad luck.
  • if it rains on a funeral procession (or you hear thunder), the dead has gone to heaven.
  • Women mourners were expected to wear a veil.  This served a mundane purpose of hiding the blotchy complexion and red eyes of a crying woman.  But it was also believed to protect the woman from the dead’s ghost, which might try to attach itself to her. Why women needed this protection and not men is not explained.  Another one not explained by the sources I read said that pregnant women were not supposed to attend funerals.
  • On the other hand, pallbearers, men all, wore gloves to protect them from touching anything that might have come into contact with the ghost.

Omens
These aren’t superstitions to prevent something.  These were supposed to give you warning of the future.

  • Large drops of rain warn that there has just been a death
  • If you hear knocking (generally three of them) when there’s nobody at the door, someone close to you has died.
  • If a bird pecks on your window or crashes into it, there has been a death.  Also the call of a mourning dove or the hooting of an owl can foretell death.
  • Smelling roses when none are around means someone is going to die.
  • Seeing an owl in the daytime foretells a death.
  • Seeing yourself in a dream means you will die
  • Dropping an umbrella or opening it in the house means not only a death, but a murder!
  • If a mirror falls and breaks on its own, that’s a sign you will die soon.
  • when somebody is already ill, hearing a dog howl is a harbinger of death.  Supposedly you can stop the bad luck by turning a shoe upside down.

Okay that’s what I got for today.  I know it’s kind of lightweight, but I found it very interesting.  Up next from me, Fun Friday!  First one in a while, and I’ve already got a huge pile of goodies!  For y’all, you remember the drill:  share, tweet, comment.  PLEASE comment, your feedback is the only pay I get for this.  You can also write me at the email addy listed on my About Page (you can find a tab for the About Page at the top of this page).  If you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, send it along!

That’s all until Friday.  Be good, guys, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

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Categories: History, Horror, Steampunk | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Victorian Era Superstitions

  1. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Erwin Blackthorn

    Glad to see you back, AJ! I thought this was a very good post since it involves something not many people know about, as well as good beleifs that are good to put in works of steampunk.

    I always wondered what the knocking at the door was about in The Raven, and now I think it is because of the beleif of a knock at the door means someone is dead. Haha So this actually taught me something good. 🙂

  3. E.F.B.

    Interesting! Sometimes I wonder what the origins of certain superstitions are because some of them, like the one about grabbing a button on your clothes until a funeral procession passes by, seem oddly specific. How, exactly, was a button going to protect you from bad luck?

    Re the superstition about pregnant women not attending funerals: I wonder if that might have had something to do with not wanting anything related to new life to be intermingled with things relating to death.

    Also, the “fairy-tale-esque” superstition about flowers growing on good people’s graves tickles the geeky part of me because it reminds me of how Tolkien wrote that Simbelmyne, a type of flower, would grow on all the graves and tombs of the Kings of Rohan. I believe he also wrote about flowers growing on other good people’s graves too, like how golden flowers grew on the grave of Glorfindel the elf after he died fighting a Balrog to protect the people escaping the downfall of Gondolin.

    Thanks for posting! 🙂

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