Victorian Superstitions : Why Death Was So Important

mourningA lot of closeted, uneducated and misguided youth refer to the Vioctorians as a rather sullen and droll crowd who would more likely search the Ouija board for their long lost loved ones rather than striking up philosophical conversations about hygiene and Parliamentary adultery.  I am here to tell you…well, you could be right.  I wasn’t alive back then and neither was anyone else on the planet!  But I can tell you they had many interests and many of them perverted and taboo.  However, in all respects, they were very…very…agreeably morbid.  But here is where the “uneducated” comes in.

370-zombie-grave-cageMany Victorians and 19th Century Americans had their odd moments.  Nowadays if you see someone spill salt…they most likely clean it up but a few still throw a pinch over their shoulder for luck.  Kind of, almost, sort of the same thing happened even back in the 19th century.  They had traditions for everything yet some of those traditions are deep seeded in superstitions in the hope that doing these acts will stop misfortune from befalling their demure dandy loving heads.  Some of the most common superstitions were carried over to the Americas and the most common of these was the rites and rituals after a death.  Some of them are even followed by people to this day…just not as extreme.

A great deal of thought, time and energy is put out after a loved one passes away, especially in Victorians times since Queen Victorian was the queen of the ongoing mourning period.  There were strict guidelines to follow to ensure that not only your pain and suffering for the loss of your loved one was expressed openly for the world to see so that everyone can relish in your misery but to also ensure that your loved one never comes back to haunt you…ever!

After the death of a loved one:

  • A wreath decorated in black tulle is ordered immediately to notify everyone in your neighborhood that a loss has occurred.
  • The family would then stop all the clocks in the house at the time of death to stop more tragedy from starting.
  • All the mirrors were covered to stop the deceased soul from entering and getting trapped within the mirror.  This was also done to avoid looking in the glass since you would be the next to go.
  • 9d8516c1d6a4434b50fec1f6ef45cc65A piece of place tulle and white ribbon or placed over the ringer so as not to disturb the dead in this delicate period.
  • If multiple deaths occur in one family, the remaining family would tie white ribbon over ANYTHING that left the house…including chickens.  This helped stop the spread of death.
  • Sitting up with the dead or “wakes” were to ensure that the deceased weren’t really in comas instead.  They funeralhad to be watched every moment before the funeral.
  • The dead were carried out of the house feet first to prevent the dead from beckoning another family member to follow them.
  • Pictures and photographs of the deceased were covered or turned over to stop them from being possessed by the dead.
  • Bodies are traditionally laid with their feet to the East since that is where the final Judgment shall come.
  • If you walk into a funeral procession head on, turn around quickly!  Or hold a button until it passes.
  • It is bad luck to lock your door after the funeral procession has left the house.  And since you let everyone in the neighborhood know you had a funeral…you will most likely be robbed.
  • Never wear anything new to a funeral.  Which is almost a Victorian contradiction.
  • Back to the mirror again!  If a mirror fell and broke on it’s own…well then, you would die.
  • A female mourner must wear a veil in public for two reasons.  1. To shield her crying eyes from the public. 2. If you were to look in the face of a mourner the deceased spirit could attach itself to the onlooker.
  • The curtains must be drawn in the home so the soul cannot leave before the funeral.
  • Do not go to a funeral if you are pregnant.  I’m guessing because it might turn into another Damien.
  • 002If rain falls on the body, he/she shall go to Heaven…I find this a rather odd one myself.
  • Coins would be placed on the eyes to pay Charon to cross the River Styx.
  • A Clap of thunder indicates that the soul made it to Heaven.
  • Pallbearers must wear gloves so the spirit doesn’t enter them through direct contact.
  • Don’t yawn…just don’t.
  • To avoid grave robbers and supposed vampire risings place an iron cage over the grave.

Many of these traditions and superstitions were done more out of ceremony than of fear.  Don’t get me wrong, they did fear death probably more than any other time period.  But it was the crazy Victorians who made death an art form. It was insanely important for people of the 19th century to follow these traditions and in American it was highly looked down on since at this time the Civil War was raging on (though you try telling a grieving widow not to mourn).  Death was an everyday thing and…to put it mildly, it was getting rather depressing.  The Victorians were urged on by the fashion of Queen Victoria and social decorum which spurned on the elaborate mourning periods.

Don’t let that miniscule list above fool you!  There were a lot more superstitions and beliefs that many people in the 19th century held on to.  Mostly on how there were so many things that either marked of predetermined your very demise known as death omens!  Here are a few of those that I found!

  • If you smell the scent of roses (when none are present) you will die soon.
  • If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the house will die.
  • Dropping or opening an umbrella in the house means there will be a
  • If you hear three knocks and no one is there it means someone close to you had died.
  • If you see yourself in a dream, you will die.
  • If you dream about a child being born, someone close to you will die.
  • If you see a firefly in your house you will die.
  • If rain falls in an open grave then someone will die which contradicts the rain of the corpse superstition!
  • Two deaths means a third is sure to follow.
  • Don’t hold your breathe in a graveyard just to make sure you’re not buried.
  • If you see in owl in daylight you will die.
  • Also having that owl hoot foretells death.
  • Back to the aforementioned salt.  Now it’s for luck, but it was once thought the devil sits on your left shoulder and salt would blind him of your misdeeds!  And if you didn’t toss it you would die.

inmemoriamWhat I myself find fascinating is that they go through all this trouble to make sure the dead don’t follow them and turn right around and try to contact them with a Ouija board!  The paranormal was an enormously fashionable pastime!

Now it wasn’t all grim readings and horrid feelings for our fellow man.  Many things about the 19th century were downright wonderful.  The Victorians just had a more…elaborate way of dealing with death and they are not the only ones!  Indeed not!  But they are the ones who took death for a little ride down the street of glamor and placed it on a pedestal for all to see.