Throughout the history of humanity there were always moments where superstitions ruled the land; Walking under a ladder, a broken mirror meant bad luck for seven years and black cats bring you bad fortune. In historic sense, superstitions were everything. There is hardly anything on this planet which has not, at one time, served as an omen which are surrounded by superstitions. People believed that at any moment one may trigger bad luck hence, it was necessary to know the warning signs to be forewarned of an impending disaster.
Owls have always been associated with ghosts, Halloween, and horror movies. In history, owls were believed to be bad luck and people tried to avoid them at all costs on the street. In order to fight off the bad luck that came from the sight of an owl, a person would turn their clothes inside out to ward off any evil or misfortune.
The ancient Roman’s believed that touching a silver metal while watching the moon would bring much more silver to the person in the future hence, they always carried silver coins on their person. Superstitions in the world go back in history many years and some of the most profound deal with death.
Globally and since the beginning of time superstitions surrounding death have prevailed. Death has always been both celebrated and feared. As far back as 60,000 BC, man buried their dead with ritual and ceremony. Researchers have even found evidence that Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers, much as we do today. In Ireland, Neolithic monuments and chambers for the dead are a legacy left behind by a section of the ancients, are literally sprinkled all around the country.
In Loughcrew, Ireland, the “Hill of The Witch”, a Cairn of stones lies at the crest and after the darkest night of each year, just as the sun begins to shine, light illuminates the length of the passage carved into the hill. The Hill of The Witch is 7,000 years old, inscribed with stone age engravings within the mystical linear chambers to pay tribute to the dead, to gods of the Sky, Sun, Moon and the Stars.
Other famous sites include Newgrange, The Burren passage tomb, Queen Medbh’s Tomb and, many other wonderful monuments erected to the dead. Ancient superstitions surrounding the dead include using lucky charms, Magical words, charms and incantations and it is amazing how many ancient myths are now part of our everyday lives and traditions.
The Ancient Order of Druids, neither a religious or political organisation, have been around for millennia and are perhaps the oldest organization in the world which dates back to 6000 before the birth of Christ. The Druids were legislators, governors, poets, politicians, mathematicians and highly learned and respected within their community. The Celtic people held the Druids with such esteem that Kings sent their sons to be educated by them through sword and penmanship.nt
Celtic Druids, an earth- based religion, believed in an afterlife where the immortal soul and in death passes to another body, hence, they did not fear death. The Druids believed that when you died you moved onto the Otherworld, a gathering place for the souls of the departed, and there was a continual exchange and flow between worlds. Their reverence for the natural world, nature, sacred trees, hilltops, water and plants was paramount as was their belief that Gods and Goddesses inhabited every single natural being and phenomenon.
One Druidic tradition is the wearing of costumes. The first costumes were actually disguises of animal furs and masks worn by ancient Druids to trick the spirits of the dead who were looking for another body to inhabit. On this night, food was left by the doors to lure the good spirits, and the masks were worn to scare off and fool those spirits that were up to evil or mischief.
Superstitions worldwide vary from the ancients beliefs which have permeated time and ended up in our traditions today. Early burial ceremonial rites were practiced to protect the living and to appease the spirit world. Superstitions and ghost protection rituals are still in use today. The custom of shutting the eyes of the deceased is believed to have begun this way, done in an attempt to close a ‘window’ from the living world to the spirit world. 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.
Another well known superstition regards the lighting of the Jack-O’-Lantern. An Irish legend tells of Jack, a drunkard farmer, who, on his way home, met up with the Devil. A deal with the Devil kept Jack out of Hell, however, Jack could never enter Heaven. So Jack supposedly wanders the Earth aimlessly, holding a lantern. On Halloween night, it is a custom to place Jack-O’-lanterns on porches in hopes that Jack, will take the light if needed instead of bothering anyone.
In Iceland, there is an abundance of superstition and lore regarding deaths, ghosts, ghostly phenomena, and anything associated with the dead. A common practice was to tie seven, fourteen, or twenty-one knots into a rope, while naming the soul you wish to restrict. Bury this outside the home to keep that spirit out, or burn the rope to release the spirit into another existence. In the sixteenth century, a common recipe for banishing unwanted spirits was to fast, pray and drink wine mixed with holy oil, and carry appropriate religious charms or relics. In Ireland, we have several supernatural beings that warn families of upcoming death or great misfortune:
THE BEAN-SIDHE: (Banshee)
She is a woman of the Fairy who forewarns members of certain ancient Irish families of a upcoming death. The Banshee has long flowing hair which she combs as she wails and wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or death grave robe and can appear in three forms: a young woman, a stately matron or an old hag (maiden, mother and crone). The Banshee, (the Celtic Goddess of war and death), Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain. Her deeply soulful mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die and, according to Irish tradition, she cries for five major and ancient Irish clans or families; the O’Brien’s, the O’Connor’s, the O’Gradys, the O’Neill’s and the Kavanagh’s. The Banshee can appear in other forms which include a hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel. Although, tradition states that the Banshee only appears to these five families, she has been seen and heard by many people over the centuries and is greatly feared.
The DULLAHAN – Ireland’s Headless Horseman:
The Dullahan (also Durahan), the “Angel of Death”, possibly originated from the Celtic fertility god, Crom Dubh, who was worshiped by an ancient King of Ireland, Tighermas. This headless horseman rides on Halloween night and disappears before sunset. The legend of the Dullahan emanates from Tighermas who sacrificed humans each year to Crom Dubh, by cutting off their heads. Hence, the Dullahan is a headless entity, who rides a black horse and carries his head under one arm. His facial features are horrific; gigantic eyes, a grossly wide grinning mouth that spreads across this entire face and the colour and features of his skin is akin to a wrinkled yellowish-green tinge.
The Dullahan rides on horseback carrying a whip which is a human spine, he calls out your name and when he stops riding you are going to die. It is believed that nobody can outrun or hide from the Dullahan and the sound of his horses hooves are terrifying. In some parts of Ireland he is seen to drive a black coach with a team of six black horses and not always on the ground. The hooves of the horses spark and set alight any to anything they strike. When the Dullahan rides for you all gates open and nothing can stop him from “getting his soul”. The Dullahan is reputed to throw fresh buckets of blood over victims while they walk outside at night time just for the fun of it.
The POOKA (phouka):
The Pooka is possibly one of the most feared solitary fairies in Ireland. This entity is only half in the world of form and can appear in many guises and forms such as a horse, a bull, a goat, an eagle, a donkey or an eight foot dark shadow enshrouded in a long black cape with a black hat. The Pooka comes at nightfall, creating harm, terrifying people and shape shifting into horrific forms.
The form in which it most recognised is a figure on a black horse who has yellow eyes and a long wild mane. The Pooka can speak to humans and knocks down anyone who walks in his path. He is known to call out to people in their houses, if they refuse to come out his vindictive side comes to the fore and he ruins their property, kills their animals and destroys anything that he can.
For generations, people have left gifts out for the Pooka e.g., when a harvest is brought in a percentage is left in the field and this is called “The Pooka’s Share’. This tradition of leaving out gifts is still used in various parts of Ireland to appease this wayward fairy.
The Merrow is a female entity “Sea maid” and are horribly ugly with pointed teeth, scaled skin, facial features akin to a pig, her feet are flat and she has webbing between her fingers. The Merrow is a member of the Sidhe that lives in the Land below the Waves and when seen, it means great sorrow or death.
Many Merrows take on the form of a seal and her urge to live in the ocean is overwhelming. There have been stories that a female Merrow, if she throws away her hat and cloak, may come ashore and marry a human man (she is particularly fond of Fisherman) that they have fallen in love with her however, they need to keep the hat and cloak in order to return back to their natural world or they are stuck on earth.
Female Merrows are more wealthy than Kings as they have full access to all the riches on the sea bed from shipwrecks and sunken worlds. It is very unique to ever see a male Merrow. When the female reaches soil she transforms into magnificently beautiful and enchanting woman who can lure the heart any man. Men are warned not to take a Merrow bride as she will always leave to return back to their home under the waves.
UNIVERSAL DEATH OMEN SUPERSTITIONS
Universal superstitions surrounding Omens of Death vary from the weird, spiritual to bizarre e.g;
– Ringing someone’s doorbell and repeating the phrase “trick or treat” stems from the Celtic attempts to try to appease any evil spirits: ghosts, goblins or demons.
– A clock that chimes randomly in between hours is a sure omen of an impending death within the house.
– Carrying a corpse through the back door ensured bad luck for a year.
– An animal being allowed near a coffin is regarded as highly unlucky.
– Owl screeches and their glassy stare are said to be an omen bringing death and disaster.
– Covering the face of the deceased with a sheet comes from pagan beliefs that the spirit of the deceased can escape through the mouth.
– Twitching of left eye signifies a death in the family.
– If a dead person’s eyes are left open they will assuredly find someone to take along with them into the realm of the dead.
– Coins put on the eyes of a corpse-prevent the devil entering and robbing the soul of the departed.
– A person who dies on Good Friday or midnight on Christmas Eve will go straight to heaven.
– A swarm of bees coming down a chimney is an extremely bad omen.
– A corpse must be carried feet first out of the home or their spirit may return back into the building.
– Hold your breath while going past a cemetery otherwise you will breathe in the spirit of someone.
– If a robin flies into room through a window, death will shortly follow.
– If the mirror falls and breaks by itself, this means that some body in the house will soon die.
– If dogs howl at night there is sure to be a death within the family before daylight.
– Any animal jumping over a coffin is a very unlucky omen.
– In some cultures, the home of the deceased was burned or destroyed to keep the spirit from returning.
– Always open doors and windows to ensure that the soul of the corpse can escape and go on their journey in peace into the next realm.
– Touching a corpse brings good luck and good fortune.
– Counting six crows together is a warning of a death of a loved one.
– A lone raven flying in circles around a house is a warning of death.
– If 13 people sit down to eat together, the first one to leave the table will die before the year is over.
– If you do not cover your mouth while yawning or sneezing, your soul will go out of your body along with the yawn or sneeze.
– Pointing at the funeral procession will cause you to die within a month.
– All windows should be kept opened at the moment of death otherwise the soul cannot leave the body.
– Funerals on Friday indicate another death in the family during the year.
– If you meet a Witch on Halloween night, you must first take off your clothes then wear them inside out. They ceremony is then concluded by walking backwards away from the Witch whilst not uttering a sound.
– A corpse unburied over a weekend means another death soon.
-Touching the forehead of a corpse-prevents dreaming about the deceased.
– Having a corpse on board a ship is very unlucky.
– If a clock that has not been working suddenly chimes, there will be a death in the family.
– Family photographs are 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.
– If you walk in front of a corpse then you will be dead within a year.
– Carrying a corpse across a field will ensure that this field will become barren and no longer produce crops.
– Cover any mirrors so the soul can not get trapped and not be able to pass to the other side.
– To see three seagulls flying together overhead is a warning sign of death.
– Chairs and tables holding a coffin must afterward be turned upside down to prevent another death.
– If the buried person was good, flowers will grow on his grave. If the person was bad or evil, weeds will grow.
– Dropping the umbrella on the floor is an believed indication of murder or an unhappy death within the house or building.
– If three people are photographed, the middle person will die first.
– If you do not cover your mouth while yawning or sneezing, your soul will go out of your body along with the yawn or sneeze. In some cultures if a baby yawns people make the sign of the cross over their mouth to stop evil from entering.
– The spider could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching over their family so never kill one as it could be your Great Auntie Ethel.
– Touching the hand of a corpse-cures all manner of ailments, especially, sores, cancer, and warts.
– Black cats, bad luck, as they were associated with witchcraft, and it was believed that if one crossed your path it would block you way to heaven.
– It is very unlucky to keep a corpse in the house on New Year’s Day.
Death has always been both celebrated and feared. As far back as 60,000 BC, man instinctively buried their dead with no great knowledge to draw from, with weapons to help the body to the next world, food and water for their long journey and with gifts and flowers.
These burial ceremonies were carried out with great ritual. To Neanderthal mans primitive mind, life and death were acts of the spirits and a source of fear. Early funeral rites history, customs are as old as civilisation itself as are the burial superstitions that surround the ceremony..
The first burial customs were crude in their attempts to protect the living from the spirits which caused the death of the person. Burning of bodies was widespread to destroy any evil spirits and, in some cases, people left corpses to rot for fear they may die if they touched a dead person. Sacrifices of one kind or another were also offered in honour of the dead.
In some cases their purpose was again, to appease the spirits and it was common practice to kill the wife, servants or anyone associated with a dead man especially if he was a King, a Prince, a Chieftain, a Witchdoctor or a Leader.
The Celts worshipped nature and had many Gods and Goddesses, with the Sun God as their favourite. It was these Gods and Goddesses who commanded their rituals and death and rebirth were part of the cycle that Lugh journeyed through in his mating with the Goddess, during the waning year. The Goddess oversaw the festival in her Triple guise as Macha.in her warrior aspect, the crow who sits on the battlefields awaiting the dead. She was the Crone, Maiden and Mother, Anu, Banba, and Macha, who conveyed the dead into the realm of the deceased.
The ancient Celts lived in a world of spirit-filled nature long before Christianity entered our shores. When the Druids became Christian, they maintained their ancient rites, but only changed the meaning to fit with accepted theology. They worshiped a Sun deity and found in Christ a new name for their Sun God. Later on in history, Celtic Monks literally walked away and severed all ties with the Christian Church and our famous “Book of Kells” relates the history and stories from our past.
The ancient Egyptians had an elaborate set of burial rituals and customs which they believed were vital to ensure their immortality after death. These rituals included mummification, grave goods that could be used in the afterlife and Magic spells and inscriptions on their tombs to ensure the safekeeping of the individual while they moved on into the next phase of their lives.
In the year 834 AD the Roman Catholic Church comprised a standard ritual for the deceased and a coffin became the normal resting place for a corpse. In most cemeteries, the vast majority of graves are placed so 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, however, Christians believe that the final summons to Judgment will come from the East. During the first century the Romans invaded Britain and with them came their customs which influenced burial ceremonies which quickly spread with the new Christian religion throughout Europe.
In more modern times the body would be prepared for the wake and burial ceremony usually by the women within the family. The corpse was washed and camphor was applied to preserve it. The body would be dressed in their best clothes and a piece of cloth was tied from under the chin to the top of the head to hold the mouth shut. Coins were applied to keep the eyelids shut and their hands were placed resting across the chest.
When the coffin arrived for the Wake, it was placed in the best room of the house and furniture. Chairs or tables were arranged to take the weight of the coffin. The corpse was then placed into the coffin and the coins and cloth holding the mouth shut were then removed.
As was the ancient custom which is still used today at a modern wake, the corpse was never left alone for fear that an evil spirit may take away its soul before it was interred. Family, children, neighbours and friends arrived to the home to view the corpse to pay their respects and often a party would ensue to “send them off well”. This tradition is still widely used in Ireland today.
The final ceremony is the blessing of the corpse, the funeral mass and then the interring of the corpse in the graveyard. The corpse always travels at the front with family, friends and neighbours behind the funeral car and after the burial ceremony it is customary to throw a small handful of soil onto the coffin; afterwards, a small gathering for refreshments as everyone offers their personal condolences for the loss.
Even today, whether you bury or cremate a departed loved one we still use a form of ceremony and ritual for their immortal soul and as a healing process for our own grief. Our rituals and ceremonies today compared to the ancient Celtic tribes are united by similar customs and practises, and religion.
There is an abundance of superstition worldwide, depending on your cultural background and beliefs, regarding death, spirits, ghosts as follows:
– During the Middle Ages, upon the death and burial of a corpse, people who knew the person lit candles near their bed in order that their soul would move on into the next life with a smooth and gentle passage.
– An ancient Celtic tradition following the burial of a corpse is to cross water, a stream, a bridge over a river etc., as this meant the soul could not follow them home.
– After the corpse is removed from the house you must immediately wash your entrance step in order to prevent them from returning into the house.
– One ancient Celtic custom involved rest stops were at places where ‘cairns’ were built for resting the coffin. At each of these stops, for resting, switching pall bearers, or sharing whisky, the men would throw a stone at the side of the road as a tokin. Even today one sees these heaps of stones by the roadside. This was a way to saying a final farewell to the spirit and ensure that it would not return back to Earth.
– In Malaysia incense and sacred water prevents the corpse from being taken by the grasshopper demon.
– If a person does not receive a proper burial then whomever finds the corpse must ensure that they are correctly interred as this stops the spirit of the person haunting it’s finder.
– In Greece, dancing around the grave of a corpse is considered a way to keep them from returning.
– Scatter salt, dill, fennel and mullein all around the coffin to ensure the spirit’s safe transition to the next life.
– After a corpse was buried hang a sprig of Rowan over your doorway to prevent the spirit from following you home.
– In Africa, the sight of a white bird flying into a prayer hut was a sign of an ancestor visiting and this was highly welcomed.
– In order to bring contentment to the spirit of the recently departed you must place personal things that they loved during their lifetime within the coffin e.g., pictures of loved ones, a favourite drink, trinkets etc.,
– You must always close the eyes of the dead as this stops their spirit from wandering back to Earth.
– If it thunders on the day of a burial it is a sign that their spirit has ascended into the next level safely.
– The ancient Greeks planted violets after a funeral to ward off wandering spirits.
– The Egyptians mummified their corpses and applied sweet spices so that when their soul arrived into the next world the Guardians would allow them into their next existence.
– A white moth inside your home signifies sudden death.
– In ancient times the death knell bell would ring for every year the person lived in this earth hence, if the person died at 47, the bell would chime 47 times.
– In ancient times in China a white bird signified an impending and sudden death.
– In India a sprig of Basil is always placed with a corpse to ensure the spirits peaceful journey into the next world and prevents their return to earth.
– On death, immediately cover any mirrors as this prevents the spirit from getting confused and remaining in the house.
– An ancient Scottish custom following a burial was to take a bath in fennel water to deter the spirit from returning home.
– Burn Myrrh and Frankincense in your home if there is a corpse present as this gives the soul peace and rest.
– Dogs howling in the dark of night, howl for death before daylight.
– To confine the spirit to the grave during a waning moon gather Knot Grass and place over the tomb or grave.
– When passing a cemetery you must hold your breath otherwise you will breath in the spirit of the most recently buried corpse.
– Take a piece of rope and tie seven, fourteen or twenty-one knots and whilst you are knotting the rope name the spirit that you wish to rest in peace and restrict them from returning to this Earth.
– In Scotland death is a community event and the Bell-Ringer stood in the middle of the town square and ring the death bell to announce a death. Not only was this an invitation for the community to attend the funeral, it was also to show the departed spirit that they were highly respected within their community and could move on into the next world in peace.
– If a robin flies into your house through an open window this is a warning of an upcoming death within the home.
– In ancient Romanian Lore if a black crow flew in your front door and directly out your back door then whomever it flew over would certainly die.
– If you bury a woman in black then she will definitely come back to haunt the entire family.
Most superstitions came into being during the time of our ancestors when the world was a great mystery and the ancients assigned subtexts to events as they tried to make sense of an existence that appeared frighteningly unpredictable. Unusual incidents were believed to foretell the greatest shifts of fortune and unusual behaviour in animals was a cause for great concern. Death was heralded when a wild bird flew into a house, encircled and flew out and many occurrences such as this provided the same message.
Some of these superstitions are ten’s of thousands of years old and almost all of the major superstitions started out with ancient man which were passed to the ancient Egyptians, then to the Ancient Greeks and to the Romans and so forth up to modern day where superstitions have evolved with the times.