Superstitions about death and dying

Posted: 23/05/2018

The way in which we deal with the topics of death, dying and funerals vary across the world, with some parts of the globe finding it easier, or even embracing the concept. The fact that we all deal with the idea of dying different may explain why so many cultures have different superstitions and traditions, perhaps as a way of helping to understand death more easily, and as a coping mechanism too. Here at Perfect Funeral Plans, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the most common superstitions about death and dying globally.

Covering the mirrors


It is Jewish custom to cover the mirrors in the property of those who are in mourning as a way of paying respects to the deceased.

This tradition is rooted primarily in the Jewish faith. The idea of covering mirrors in the house is a way of focusing purely on mourning the person who has died rather than being concerned about superficiality, such as your appearance.

Birds as an omen

Many superstitions across the world focus on the idea of birds as a bad omen. For example for some, seeing a bird sitting on a window ledge looking in, or flying into a home through a door or window, is considered to be a sign of death for someone in the house.

Pregnant women should avoid funerals

In a number of cultures, it is considered bad luck for a pregnant woman to attend a funeral. This folk belief stems from the idea that the spirit of the dead could lead to serious health implications for the woman carrying a child, with the fear it may lead to a miscarriage.

Another superstition related to this belief is that if a pregnant woman does go to a funeral, it is important that she does not look at the deceased for the same reasons as detailed above.

Thunder after funerals

Some believe that a thunderstorm after a funeral takes place means that the person who has died has now entered into heaven. In other cases, it is believed that if a thunderstorm takes place during a funeral, it doesn’t mean that it is bad luck but it in fact signals that the soul of the deceased will go onto warmer climates.

Salt over your left shoulder


Some believe that putting spilled salt over your left shoulder is a way of warding off evil.

The origin of this superstition is to do with the notion that we have a devil on our left shoulder, and an angel on our right, both telling us to do good or evil things. Therefore, by tossing spilt salt over your left shoulder (which originates from Judas who spilt salt during the Last Super) you are seen to be ‘blinding’ the devil and his ability to do make you do bad things.


This superstition is thought to originate from ancient Greece and Rome, where a coin would be placed inside the mouth of the dead as the deceased needed to pay the ferryman in order to be able to take them across the river into the afterlife.

Eyes closed

It isn’t just in terms of practicality that we slide the person who’s died eyelids shut, it is in fact based upon an old superstition. Some believed that if you made eye contact with the deceased, this would be a bad omen for both you and your family.

Holding your breath

Across the world, some people decide to hold their breath as they go past a graveyard as a way of preventing a restless spirit trying to enter your body, who may be trying to doom you into death. Others decide to whistle, as it is an old belief that it can prevent a spirit from also trying to enter the body.

Heading east

The position of a corpse for a funeral is also heaped in superstition in some cultures. Certain people believe that it can not only affect the afterlife of the person who has died but also impacts on those who are living. It is thought that if the feet of the deceased point in an easterly direction (towards the rising sun) it is good luck, as it means the deceased can get out of his or her grave and then head east towards Judgement day.

Flowers on the grave


You may think that it is simply custom to put flowers by the grave as a way of paying respects to loved ones who have passed away, but it is in fact rooted in superstition, as a means of warding away evil spirits.

Placing flowers on the grave may seem custom, but it is also a superstition. It was claimed that flowers placed on the grave could keep the deceased inside their grave where they belong, and prevent them wandering amongst the living. Others believed that the presence of flowers helped to appease evil spirits and so it was a way of protecting their deceased loved ones in the afterlife.

The rule of three

It is thought that the rule of three dates back to the Crimean war. The idea is that one single match should never be used to light three separate cigarettes as it will mean the death of the third person who used it. This was because a lit match during the war signalled to a sniper that an enemy was nearby, therefore using it for a second cigarette gave the sniper time to aim, and then by the time the third person has used the match the sniper is ready to shoot his aim.

Covering the clocks

Another old death tradition was to stop the clocks in the household (or at least cover them) after someone had died. The exact meaning behind this is unclear, and it is open to different interpretations. Some believed that covering the clocks was needed in order to let the soul of the dead move onto the afterlife, whilst others did so as a way of giving the mourners time to grieve without having to be aware of the time.