Appalachia has a rich history of superstitions and rituals. Some of these are of a practical nature, such as telling the best time to plant crops or harvest. But you will also find a darker side to the beliefs, stories that warn of upcoming deaths and disaster. Many have heeded the advice from these stories over the years as they have been passed down through the generations. Let’s look at a few Appalachian death superstitions.
Appalachian Death Superstitions Involving Pets
Animals have traditionally played a big part in Appalachian life, and you will find their influence in the superstitions of the area. For example, if you hear a dog howling in the night, the story goes that there will be a death in the community.
That’s not the only death superstition involving man’s best friend. Apparently, if a black hound is found to be following you at night, there will be a death. Of course, it may be hard to see a black hound at night, so be cautious.
Superstitions and Other Creatures
You probably don’t want to leave a door or window open for too long. The reason is that some in Appalachia consider a bird that flies into your home to be a sign of coming death. Bats that come into your home also serve as a warning.
Much like the dogs howling at night, another Appalachian death superstition warns us about cows mooing after midnight. And while you are listening for things that go bump in the night, be on the lookout for owls. Three quick hoots from an owl is another way for nature to warn you about death.
Nighttime is not the only time you should take note of these ordinarily nocturnal creatures. If you are out and about during the day and see an owl, take it as a sign of approaching death, no hoots required.
Another thing to watch for is a hen that crows. Typically, the crowing is left up to the cocky, strutting roosters, but hens do have the power to crow. And when they do, it’s apparently not good.
While on your way home from a funeral, watch out for any blackbirds hanging out at your home or business. The presence of blackbirds right after death is a sign of more to come.
If you are a wife and your newly departed husband kept bees, you have another task to do after the funeral. That is, if the wife doesn’t talk to the bees and ask them ever so politely to stay, they will all pack up and leave the hives.
Superstitions and Household Items
Appalachian death superstitions involve household objects as well. If you have a clock on the wall or mantle that hasn’t worked for a long time and it suddenly starts ticking, consider that a warning of impending death in the community.
This one you may have heard before. If a picture in a frame suddenly falls and breaks, it is a sign of death. It’s not necessarily the person in the photo, but more of a general warning about someone dying. It could also be a sign of an earthquake, so you’ll want to judge accordingly.
When someone dies, you should probably cover all the mirrors in the house. The story goes that the next person to look into a mirror after someone dies will be the next to follow suit. By covering the mirrors, you can save someone this unfortunate fate.
Don’t forget to watch how you store some of your household items. According to the story, leaving shoes on a table will bring death. The same goes for having hats on a bed, so be sure and stow them both in their proper places.
Speaking of shoes, you’ll want to break them in well before you go to a funeral. Wearing new clothes, and especially new shoes, to a funeral will invite death into the family.
Superstitions and the House
When someone dies, you should immediately unlock all the doors and open all the windows in the house to allow the spirit to leave and continue on its journey. But don’t have them open too long, because you don’t want any birds or bats flying into the house.
Everyone loves to pass the time on the porch in a comfortable rocking chair but be careful when you get up. If you leave it rocking, the story goes, it will cause death to come. Maybe death likes a good rocking chair as much as the next person but lacks the material body to make it work. So, stop the rocker to avoid inviting the grim reaper to sit a spell.
Superstitions and the Dead Body
The body of the dead itself has its superstitions. When someone dies with their eyes open, you’ll want to shut them as soon as possible. If the eyes are left open, the story goes, the deceased will see someone to take with them.
If the person is dead because of a murder, you can use the body as a witness. It works like this – have the accused person touch the fatal wound on the body. If it suddenly bleeds, then you have found your murderer.
According to superstition, somebody should stay with a dead body for at least 24 hours. If no one does, the spirit of the deceased will come back and haunt the living. Staying with the body scares off any malevolent spirits.
When carrying the body out of the house, make sure the feet go first. Otherwise, the soul will return to haunt the family. If you are only helping to carry the body, you might be okay; touching the deceased will prevent the spirit from haunting you. Unfortunately, the rest of the household may not be so lucky.
As you carry the body out of the house (feet forward, of course), don’t be surprised if a gust of wind hits as you step out. Appalachian death superstitions have it that a mighty wind will appear to escort the soul and help it on its way.
And speaking of wind, don’t forget to hold your breath when you pass a cemetery. Otherwise, you may suck in the spirit of a person buried there. After that happens, your new-found (and ghostly) traveling companion will haunt you. This would be a great spooky game to play with kids.
Other Appalachian Death Superstitions
There are other things to watch for when it comes to Appalachian death superstitions. You might want to go easy on the pepper at the Sunday dinner table. If the oldest person at the table sneezes, it is a sign of impending death. But it’s okay to pass out the pepper shaker on the other days of the week.
When it comes to taking a family photo with two of your cousins, try to be the one on either side. When you have a picture of exactly three people, the one in the middle is going to die first. It doesn’t say how much longer the two on either side will live beyond that, so you might want to avoid any road trips with them for a while.
If someone is sick, it’s customary to keep things tidy around the sick bed. But according to superstition, you don’t want to sweep under their bed. Otherwise, you can cause them to die. This situation is one of the rare times that a few dust bunnies may help save a life.
Life could be hard in the mountains, and Appalachian death superstitions served to help people cope with the sometimes brutal experience of living there. But given how many had the same beliefs, it makes you wonder if perhaps there isn’t something a little more to the story than meets the eye.