If you missed the Spiritualism Faire at the Hunter House don’t fret! Below is a post from our intern, Megan, on some of the Victorian’s superstitions and death omens.
Victorians strongly believed in the mystical and subscribed to a variety of superstitions. The most common of these superstitions were related to death. There were specific procedures for dealing with corpses as well as funeral proceedings, and every action had to be perfectly executed to prevent spiritual possessions or additional deaths. Improper handling of a corpse or ignoring a death omen threatened imminent death or spiritual damnation for many Victorian believers.
Following the death of a loved one, all mirrors in the house were covered with a heavy black cloth. The covering was believed to prevent the deceased’s spirit becoming trapped within the glass while awaiting burial. It was warned that the next reflection seen in the mirror would be the next to die.
Spirits were also believed to have the ability to escape one’s body while living. Victorians thought that the mouth must be covered while yawning to avoid a person’s spirit from leaving his or her body or from becoming possessed by the devil. Corpses were removed from the home feet first to avoid the deceased from looking back and beckoning another family member. If two deaths occurred within a family, it was believed that a third would soon follow. When several deaths occurred within the same family, a black ribbon was tied to everything living that entered the home. The ribbons were thought to stop the spread of death to the other people and animals within the household. Similarly, stopping the clock at the moment of a loved one’s death prevented other untimely deaths.
Victorians believed in a variety of death omens. Some omens foretold imminent death, but others described ways to avoid it. When a member of the household was ill, Victorians believed that a dog’s howl signified impending death. This omen could be reversed by the turning of a shoe, upside-down, under the bed. The hoot of an owl or an owl sighting in the daytime portended death. If a bird pecked on or crashed into a window, death had already occurred. When a vase contained only red and white flowers together, or a person experienced an inexplicable smell of roses, it was believed that death was near.
After death, flowers were thought to only grow upon the graves of good men. Victorians also believed that a person must always turn around when coming into contact with a funeral procession. If turning around was not possible, it was believed that the danger could be quelled by holding tightly to a button.
Modern superstitions derived from Victorian beliefs. The idea that an umbrella opened indoors signified bad luck originated in the Victorian belief that an open umbrella, or one that had been dropped on the floor, forecasted murder within the home.
Large rain drops warned that the death had already occurred. It was also thought that three knocks at the door, followed by no visitor, indicated the death of an acquaintance or a loved one. This was also indicated by a picture falling from the wall.
Commonly characterized by their obsession with death, Victorians’ behavior was dictated by superstitions and omens. Many modern ideas of bad luck derived from the death omens that originated with the Victorians, but the supposed repercussions drastically diminished in severity. Seven years of bad luck could not be compared to Victorian’s fear of eternal damnation. But remember the Victorians’ warning: Do not speak ill of the dead, or they will come back for you.
Do you believe in any superstitions?
“Death Rituals and Superstitions.” History. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-death/death-rituals-and-superstitions
“Victorian Superstitions.” Last Modified July 31, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2016. https://classicbookreader.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/victorian-superstitions/
Corbella, Alexandra. “Superstitious Beliefs of Victorian Society.” Synonym: The Classroom. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/superstitious-beliefs-victorian-society-5443.html
Dziedzic, Shelley. “Victorian Customs and Superstitions.” Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery. Accessed October 10, 2016. https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/
Luckhurst, Robert. “The Victorian Supernatural.” British Library. Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-victorian-supernatural
Morgan, Rosa. “Superstitions.” The Victorian Times. Last modified October 17, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2016. http://thevictoriantimes.blogspot.com/2011/10/superstitions.html