10 Superstitions About Death

Even More Death Superstitions

Many people place flowers on caskets in hopes that flowers will sprout in that spot in the future.
Many people place flowers on caskets in hopes that flowers will sprout in that spot in the future.

5: Flower Power

Placing flowers on the graves of loved ones is such an ingrained tradition that many don't know the reasoning behind it. A couple of hundred years ago, before modern embalming and refrigeration, flowers at funerals and on the grave helped mask the smell of decomposition. Today, this odor concealer is no longer needed, but superstitions linger regarding flowers on the grave. Some claim that placing a ring of flowers on the grave keeps the dead firmly below the ground where they belong, and prevents them from climbing out of the grave and wandering among the living [source: Webster]. Others simply feel that flowers appease evil spirits, leaving them less likely to stake a claim on the souls of loved ones.

Wild flowers on the grave have their own line of superstitions. If the deceased lived a good life, flowers will grow over his grave. A more wicked existence means a barren grave, or one blanketed with weeds [source: Roud]. Flowers or weeds, it's always bad luck for the living to pick anything growing over a grave.

4: Unlucky 13

Having a dinner party? If you or your guests are at all superstitious, better make sure the total dinner tally doesn't add up to exactly 13. As one popular superstition claims, when 13 sit down at a table to dine, the first to rise will be the first to die. It might sound unlikely, but this superstition is actually inspired by some pretty strong evidence. An old Norse legend tells of 12 gods who sat down to dine. When a 13th god showed up to the party, one of the gods ended up dead, and the near destruction of humanity followed. Similarly, Judas was reportedly the last guest to take his seat at the Last Supper, and everyone knows how that one turned out. Former President Teddy Roosevelt was a believer; whenever he attended a dinner party, he made his secretary hang around to see how many guests would show up. If the guest count resulted in a total of 13 at the table, Roosevelt made his secretary join in the meal to bring the number to a safe and even 14 [source: Patrick and Thompson].

3: Celebrity Death Match

In the summer of 2009, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson all passed away within a three-day span. It's not the first time a trio of celebrities died in close succession, but it's one of the most famous examples of this superstition. Now, each time a celebrity dies, superstitious folks wait with baited breath to see who's next.

Of course, there's no reason to believe that one celebrity death has anything to do with the next, or to accept that the stars are destined to die in sets of three. This type of grouping is really just a way to find a pattern in tragedy – to organize a messy, unpredictable world into something that makes sense. For some, it may also be a way to hurry along an end to the bad news – just three deaths and the good times can begin once more [source: Montgomery].

In 2014, the New York Times analyzed obituaries, looking for evidence to support this superstition. In 24 years, the paper found just seven cases where three celebrities died within a five day window [source: Flippen].

2: Death and Pregnancy

For centuries, pregnant women have been discouraged from attending funerals. Folklore dictates that departed souls can linger even after death, leaving expectant mothers vulnerable to souls searching for a host that will allow them to stay part of the mortal world. Even today, moms-to-be may skip funerals due to this deep-rooted tale, though the more practical ones may claim they are simply seeking to limit stress, not attempting to avoid restless spirits.

Of course, death superstitions aimed at pregnant women don't stop at the graveyard gate. Simply entering a cemetery to pay respects to a loved one, either at a funeral or any other time, could cause miscarriage. Some young girls used this myth to their advantage in times past, heading into the graveyard in a desperate attempt to eliminate an unwanted blessing. In some cultures, entering a graveyard is fine, but treading on a grave could cause a pregnant woman to lose her child, or cause the child to be born with a clubfoot [source: Franklin].

1: Rule of Three

Everyday activities enjoyed as part of a trio can spell your demise, at least according to superstition. One legend claims that when three people are photographed together, the one in the middle is destined to die first [source: Murrell]. Better find a fourth to fill in, just in case.

A similar tale cautions that a single match should never be used to light three separate cigarettes, as the third person to use the match will die. This one likely dates to the Crimean War, and is based on some pretty logical thinking [source: Webster]. In a battle zone, a lit match signals a sniper that the enemy is near. Leaving that match lit long enough to light a second cigarette gives the sniper time the aim. By the time the unlucky third man is lighting his cigarette, the sniper is ready to fire, leaving the hapless soul dead, his cigarette dangling from his lips. Using three separate matches prevents the snipers from taking aim, and helps you avoid serving as an easy target.

Author's Note: 10 Superstitions About Death

Despite my not-so-superstitious nature, I often find myself holding my breath as I pass a graveyard – just in case. Sometimes it's more of a game, where I end up trying to hold my breath past the cemetery only because the people I'm with are doing it too. It's just the thing to do, right?

Since so many people seem to subscribe to this superstition, I just had to take a quick peek around the web to see if I could find instances where people had tried and failed to hold their breath as they passed a graveyard. I couldn't track down any examples of this exact type of case, but I did find a story about a man who crashed his car in an Oregon tunnel after he passed out while holding his breath. Similar to the graveyard superstition, holding your breath the entire way through a tunnel is supposed to bring good luck.

In this case, the driver didn't quite make it, despite the fact that the tunnel is only 772 feet long. When he passed out, he caused a three-car accident and came to facing a mound of traffic violations and tickets.

Related Articles


  • Deam, Jenny. "7 Pregnancy Superstitions." Parents. Date Unknown. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-life/pregnancy-superstitions/#page=6
  • Flippen, Alan. "No, Celebrity Deaths Do Not Come in Threes." The New York Times. Aug. 14, 2014. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/15/upshot/no-celebrity-deaths-do-not-come-in-threes.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1
  • Franklin, Rosalind. "Baby Lore: Superstitions and Old Wives Tales From the World Over Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Babycare." Diggory Press. 2005. (Jan. 5, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=3XWREKracNsC&dq=hold+breath+past+a+graveyard+superstition&source=gbs_navlinks_s
  • Friends of Oak Grove Cemetary. "Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions." Date Unknown. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/
  • History Channel. "Death Superstitions and Rituals." Date Unknown. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-death/death-rituals-and-superstitions
  • Montgomery, David. "Celebrity Deaths: Is Three Really a Magic Number?" The Washington Post. June 30, 2009. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/29/AR2009062903986.html
  • Murrell, Deborah. "Superstitions: 1,013 of the Wackiest Myths, Fables and Old Wives' Tales." Amber Books. 2008.
  • Patrick, Bathanne and Thompson, John. "An Uncommon History of Common Things." National Geographic Society. 2009.
  • Roud, Steve. "London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of the World's Most Vibrant City." Random House 2012.
  • Thomas, Daniel Lindsey and Thomas, Lucy Blayney. "Kentucky Superstitions." Princeton University Press. 1920.
  • Webster, Richard. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Llewellyn Publications. 2008.


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