Curtains would be drawn and clocks would be stopped at the time of death. Mirrors were covered with crape or veiling to prevent the deceased’s spirit from getting trapped in the looking glass. A wreath of laurel, yew or boxwood tied with crape or black ribbons was hung on the front door to alert passersby that a death had occurred. The body was watched over every minute until burial, hence the custom of “waking”. The wake also served as a safeguard from burying someone who was not dead, but in a coma. Most wakes also lasted 3-4 days to allow relatives to arrive from far away. The use of flowers and candles helped to mask unpleasant odors in the room before embalming became common. In 19th century Europe and America the dead were carried out of the house feet first, in order to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning another member of the family to follow him. Family photographs were also sometimes turned face-down to prevent any of the close relatives and friends of the deceased from being possessed by the spirit of the dead.
Grave robbery by the “Resurrectionist Men”, often doctors themselves was a problem in the 19th century as medical schools needed fresh cadavers for dissection classes. “Bricking-over” a grave was a way of guaranteeing some security after death. The fear of a loved one being buried alive inspired coffin makers to design warning systems such as a bell on the grave which was connected by a chain to the inside of the coffin in cases of premature burial, thus the expression, “Saved by the bell.” Small cakes, known as “funeral biscuits” were wrapped in white paper and sealed with black sealing wax and given to guests as favors. Lavish meals, or collations, were often served after internment. Burial usually followed four days after death.
In many cemeteries, the vast majority of graves are oriented in such a manner that the bodies lie with their heads to the West and their feet to the East. This very old custom appears to originate with the Pagan sun worshippers, but is primarily attributed to Christians who believe that the final summons to Judgment will come from the East.
Personal stationery and handkerchiefs carried a black border, with a wide border indicating a very recent death.
White was a popular color for the funeral of a child. White gloves, ostrich plumes and a white coffin were the standard.
If the deceased has lived a good life, flowers would bloom on his grave; but if he has been evil, only weeds would grow.
If several deaths occur in the same family, tie a black ribbon to everything left alive that enters the house, even dogs and chickens. This will protect against deaths spreading further.
Never wear anything new to a funeral, especially shoes.
You should always cover your mouth while yawning so your spirit doesn’t leave you and the devil never enters your body.
It is bad luck to meet a funeral procession head on. If you see one approching, turn around. If this is unavoidable, hold on to a button until the funeral cortege passes.
Large drops of rain warn that there has just been a death.
Stop the clock in a death room or you will have bad luck.
To lock the door of your home after a funeral procession has left the house is bad luck.
If rain falls on a funeral procession, the deceased will go to heaven.
If you hear a clap of thunder following a burial it indicates that the soul of the departed has reached heaven.
If you hear 3 knocks and no one is there, it usually means someone close to you has died. The superstitious call this the 3 knocks of death.
If you leave something that belongs to you to the deceased, that means the person will come back to get you.
If a firefly/lightning bug gets into your house someone will soon die.
If you smell roses when none are around someone is going to die.
If you don’t hold your breath while going by a graveyard you will not be buried.
If you see yourself in a dream, your death will follow.
If you see an owl in the daytime, there will be a death.
If you dream about a birth, someone you know will die.
If it rains in an open grave then someone in the family will die within the year.
If a bird pecks on your window or crashes into one that there has been a death.
If a sparrow lands on a piano, someone in the home will die.
If a picture falls off the wall, there will be a death of someone you know.
If you spill salt, throw a pinch of the spilt salt over your shoulder to prevent death.
Two deaths in the family means that a third is sure to follow.
The cry of a curlew or the hoot of an owl foretells a death.
A single snowdrop growing in the garden foretells a death.
Having only red and white flowers together in a vase (especially in hospital) means a death will soon follow.
Dropping an umbrella on the floor or opening one in the house means that there will be a murder in the house.
A diamond-shaped fold in clean linen portends death.
A dog howling at night when someone in the house is sick is a bad omen. It can be reversed by reaching under the bed and turning over a shoe.