Funeral superstitions vary by culture and by generation, and what one family believes wholeheartedly, another may consider folly. For example, the Victorians were notorious for their strictures on death and dying, with superstitions that ranged from covering mirrors and stopping clocks at the time of death to building specialty coffins with bells that could ring in case of a live burial. Today’s superstitions have a much more horror-movie feel to them, such as the idea that standing on the street corner when a hearse stops will signal your own impending death.
Not all superstitions are rooted in such steep myth, however. Wakes are themselves a kind of funeral superstition arising from the need to watch over the body day and night—something some people say is a measure of respect, and which others say has more to do with preventing the soul from returning to the body.
Many of the cultural and religious funeral superstitions that still exist today are the same, carrying ideas of both mysticism and practicality. Some of the less common funeral superstitions include the following:
- It is considered unlucky to attend more than three different wakes or funerals in one day.
- Rosaries placed in the hands of the deceased should be cut so that death won’t find its way within the “circle” of the family.
- When a member of a beekeeping family dies, it is important to inform the hive of the news to avoid the bees attacking at the funeral.
- Bodies buried directly in the ground must have both soil and salt placed on the chest to signify both the body (the soil) and the soul (the salt).
- Nothing new should be worn to a funeral, especially shoes.
- Kissing or touching the body of the deceased will prevent you from dreaming about them.
- It is considered unlucky (or even dangerous) to stop or interrupt a procession on its way to a burial. (Today, this one is considered more polite than anything else.)
- Pregnant women should avoid funerals to prevent the soul of the deceased from taking over the unborn child.
- You should never count the number of cars in a funeral procession.
- Burying someone with a metal cross (as opposed to a stone or wood one) will hold the spirit in place under the ground.
While most people today hold these funeral superstitions as amusing warnings rather than strict regulations, it is important to remember that every superstition has its reason for existing. Some help give mourners a feeling of control over death, while others may help with the decay process. Whatever the reason, few superstitions are actually harmful.