No place holds quite as much fear and mystery as a graveyard. Whether it is an historic old burial site no longer in use, or a modern cemetery with sleek marble slabs in place of traditional headstones, people have a way of getting nervous anywhere there are bodies buried in the ground. It is a fear that’s existed for thousands of years, which means there’s been plenty of time for superstitions to build up.
Here are a few of the more common (and unusual) myths surrounding graveyards.
- Holding your breath as you pass by a cemetery will keep you safe from wandering spirits. Breath and breathing have always been linked with the essence of human life, so it makes sense that this would be an avenue for spirits to come and go.
- Wildflowers growing naturally over a grave is a sign of someone who lived a good life. I iss also sometimes said that the opposite (weeds on a grave signaling someone who lived a bad life) is also true. Because funeral flowers have long been a part of the mourning process, this myth likely arose as a result.
- Standing near an open grave can cure minor aches and pains (like toothaches). In an age when the origins of disease and sickness were more mystery than science, it was common for superstition to take the place of medical care. No one was sure why a grave will cure a toothache, but in the absence of modern dental care, it certainly could not have hurt.
- Whistling in a cemetery is a way of summoning evil spirits. Anywhere there are lingering souls, there are likely to be bad spirits hoping to lure them, and whistling is a common way of calling to someone. This superstition is not a terrible one, though, if it keeps cemeteries quiet and respectful.
- A maze at the entrance to a cemetery is a good way to confuse any wandering spirits so they won’t escape. Spirits can apparently be easily confused and can only move in straight lines. That is why people often left windows and doors open (to let a soul depart), and why cemeteries have gates (to keep the spirits in).
- If you take the flowers from a grave, you will be haunted by the spirit you stole from. This one seems pretty fair, actually. It is always best to respect the gifts left by loved ones.
- The soil from a cemetery is believed to have strong, magical powers and should not be removed by the average person. Witches, in particular, were believed to take advantage of this superstition. On a more practical note, it is a good way to scare grave robbers away.
- Graves should never be left open overnight, as it will lead to a second death. This is also fairly practical from a historical standpoint. A grave that is left open but not filled in is more likely to attract predators, which would be bad for any family coming by to visit the next day.
These days, superstitions about graves are more entertaining than scary, but it is a good idea to always be respectful. Do not remove anything that does not belong to you and keep the noise to a minimum – the other families in attendance will thank you for it.