I grew up in Nova Scotia, hearing and being taught implicitly or indirectly about superstitions about the dead. These superstitions supposedly developed to protect the living from the dead.
Recently I was driving in my car with a passenger, giving them a lift home from work and we passed a cemetery. They held their breath, I didn’t. As a death doula, it got me thinking. I grew up believing that holding your breath while passing a cemetery supposedly prevents the spirits of the dead from entering you. Another explanation of this practice states “When passing a cemetery, people were told to hold their breath, otherwise, they would not be buried.” 2
More cemetery/funeral superstitions are as follows:
“Pallbearers were to wear gloves so the spirit of the deceased could not enter the body.
Bells ringing at a funeral were also ways to keep the spirit away.
Rain on a funeral was felt to be a good omen that the deceased would go to heaven. If it thundered, that was even better as it indicated that the soul had made it to heaven.
Taking flowers from a grave means that the spirit will haunt you.
One should never whistle in a cemetery as it will summon the devil.”2
From another source, they also suggest that “Whatever you do, don’t count the number of cars in a funeral procession. It’s believed to be bad luck. Some believe doing so will reveal the number of years you have left to live or will take a year off your life for each car you count.” 4
Pregnant women should avoid funerals is another common superstition. “It’s another long-held belief that if you’re pregnant, you should avoid the cemetery. It is believed to be bad luck, and some believe the baby could become possessed.”4
As you are reading this blog, do any death-related superstitions come to mind? With your current death literacy level, have these superstitions been abolished as practices? Will they become relics of the past and not handed down to the next generation or are they still firm beliefs?
In conclusion, and as a death doula, my hope is, with further death literacy, superstitions will one day be a thing of the past.
1 https://www.funeralhelpcenter.com/13 death and dying superstitions