They’re a Superstitious Lot, Those Victorians
By Kerry A Waight
While the Victorian Era was a period of technological advancement, encompassing as it did the end of the Industrial Revolution, and formality, it was also a period of superstitions, many of which are still observed today.
In a period where medical cures were never as sure as they are today, there were, understandably, a lot of superstitions around death and dying. Many researchers say that the Victorians were, in fact, obsessed with death and the afterlife.
How to know to expect trouble.
There were many signs to give you the ‘heads up’ to expect death, either to yourself or someone close to you.
1.) Seeing yourself in a dream is a sign that you will die.
2.) A dream of a baby being born is an omen that someone will die.
3.) Large drops of rain are an indication that there has been a death, as is a bird pecking on your window.
5.) If a picture falls off a wall, someone you know will die.
6.) Finding a single snowdrop flower in the garden.
8.) Seeing a sparrow land on a piano foretells of death.
9.) When someone in your house is sick, you don’t want to hear a dog howling—it’s a bad omen. If you turn reach under the bed to turn a shoe over the omen can be reversed.
Death and darkness
Of course, you needed to protect yourself from the dead and dark entities, even your family members.
10.) The dead were carried out of the home feet first so that the dead could not look back and call any remaining relatives to follow them into death.
11.) Family photographs were often turned face down so that the dearly departed could not possess any of the subjects of the photo.
13.) If you need to yawn, make sure you cover your mouth. You don’t want your spirit to leave and be replaced by the devil.
14.) Speaking of evil, planting yellow flowers in the garden will protect the family from witches.
There were also things to avoid doing to spare either yourself or others.
15.) Placing new shoes on a table will lead to the death to the wearer within a year. My paternal grandmother was a very superstitious woman. This is the one that sticks in my mind the most. To this day, I cannot put new shoes on a table.
16.) If you open an umbrella indoors, you may lead to the murder of a family member.
17.) While waiting for the funeral, all mirrors in the house were covered with heavy black material so that the soul of the departed could not be trapped in the mirror
18.) To ward off bad luck following a death, it was common practice to stop the clocks in the house at the time of death and not starting them again until after the funeral.
19.) Apparently, you could protect both people and animals from death in a house where many people have died if you tie a black ribbon on everything alive that enters your house, including your animals.
Funerals and burials
20.) Coming across a funeral procession in Victorian times was very bad luck indeed. If possible, you would, and should, turn around and go the other way. Failing that, grabbing a button while the procession passed may save you from the bad luck.
21.) It is bad luck to lock the house after a funeral procession left the house.
22.) The flowers growing on your grave could tell the world what you were really like. Blooming flowers on a grave told of a good person but weeds indicate a wicked person.
23.) If you don’t hold your breath while you are passing by a graveyard, you will not be buried. Given that burial and not cremation was the tradition in the Western World at the time, I would have to presume that your body was not around to be buried.
Not all superstitions were around death, dying and demons though.
24.) Absently rocking an empty cradle means that a baby is on the way.
25.)The sound of a robin singing on a bride’s wedding day was very good luck because they were an omen of joy.
26.) Victorian wedding guests threw rice, grain or birdseed at the couple as they left the church to ensure fertility.
27.) Putting a garment on inside out is good luck.
28.)If a little spider was found on the wedding dress on the morning of the wedding, the bride would never be without money.
29.)Many couples were married in the home. Good luck icons such as bells, doves, wishbones were used to decorate the area where they exchanged vows .
30.) Throwing the first Shrove Tuesday pancake to the hens will give you plenty of eggs for the rest of the year.
31.) Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue? “Blue was the colour sacred to Virgin Mary. Old symbolized that she should still love and stay attached to her old life, new indicated success in her new life, borrowing indicated that friends would be helpful and faithful when needed and blue for symbol of loyalty and constancy” (The Victorian Era 2018).
32.) Turning money over in your pocket while staring at a new moon will double your money.
As you can imagine, there are many more superstitions out there from the Victorian era. While many may laugh at them, how many of us don’t put umbrella’s up inside, throw rice or confetti at a wedding—or follow any type of superstition, even though our modern mind tells us it isn’t true? I, for one, have no intention of stepping on a crack and breaking my mother’s back.
Kerry A Waight
Married with two grown children, Kerry is a retired History and Legal Studies teacher. She is also a genealogist, with the material for the novel in progress coming from her own family records. Published for the first time this year in the anthology Heart of a Child, Kerry is a largely writer of historical fiction, with some non-fiction thrown in around research. With an interest in not only history but the paranormal, Kerry is working not only on a new historical novel and short story, but a paranormal short story under the name Kerriann Waight.
Heart of a Child
Whether you want to take a trip through time, go on an adventure in your back yard, or feel a burst of excitement only to return to an adult reality, each story has something for every reader who wants to feel like a child or be part of a life many children have led before.
Take a trip down memory lane or pull your child into your lap and see the world through their eyes. In this second anthology written by members of Authors’ Tale, both light and heavy themes bring out the child in almost every genre.
This year's anthology features many stories about young hearts and some written for young-at-hearts. These tales will make any reader feel nostalgic or even open their eyes to something they never considered—something that will challenge their view of what childhood can really be like.
Beliefs & Superstitions: The Haunted House. na. Superstitions. Accessed June 26th, 2018. https://beliefsandsuperstitions.weebly.com/superstitions.html.
'Classicbookreader'. 2013. Victorian Superstitions. 31st July. Accessed June 26th, 2018. https://classicbookreader.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/victorian-superstitions/.
CORBELLA, Aleandra. na. Superstitious Beliefs of Victorian Society. Accessed June 26th, 2018. https://classroom.synonym.com/superstitious-beliefs-victorian-society-5443.html.
DEARY, Terry. 2007. Horrible Histories: Vile Victorians. London: Scholastic Children's Books. Accessed June 21st, 2018.
'Etcetera'. 2012. Superstitions of the Victorian Era. 6th June. Accessed June 26th, 2018. http://www.infobarrel.com/Superstitions_of_the_Victorian_Era.
Friends of Oakgrove Cemetery. 2008. Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions. Accessed June 26th, 2018. https://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/.
MORGAN, Rosa. 2011. Superstitions . 17th October. Accessed June 26th, 2018. http://thevictoriantimes.blogspot.com/2011/10/superstitions.html.
The Victorian Era. 2018. Victorian Wedding Lore and Superstition. Accessed June 26th, 2018. http://www.victorian-era.org/victorian-wedding-lore-superstition.html.