Superstitious Beliefs of Victorian Society

The Victorian era was defined by formality, but superstitions were common.
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The Victorian period spanned from 1837, when Queen Victoria took the throne in England, until her death in 1901. The Victorian's are generally regarded as tightly-corseted and stiffly formal. In many areas of Victorian life this perception is accurate, especially of many members of the expanding middle class, however, the Victorian period was not without its whimsy. A strong belief in the mystical led to many Victorian superstitions.

1 Mirrors

Many Victorians believed that mirrors held special powers in relation to the spirit. When a member of a household passed away their body would be kept inside the home until burial, a tradition that came to be called the wake. The wake served a dual purpose. It allowed the family to grieve, and prevented the burial of an individual who was simply in a coma. Many Victorians believed that during this time it was necessary to cover all the mirrors in the home with heavy black cloth to prevent the spirit of the deceased from becoming trapped in a mirror.

2 Funeral Processions

The superstition surrounding Victorian death did not end once the body was removed from the home. Many Victorians believed that it was bad luck to cross paths with a funeral procession. If someone was traveling on a road and saw a procession headed toward them they were expected to turn around and head the other way. In cases where this was not possible it was believed that tightly holding onto a button could ward off some of the negative effects of meeting the procession head on.

3 Clocks

Clocks were believed to hold a special relationship to life and death in the Victorian era. When someone passed away it was customary for the family to stop all the clocks in the household. Stopping the clocks in the home served multiple purposes. It was believed to prevent anyone else in the family from experiencing a run of bad luck, and it was a symbolic act meant to represent the families in mourning. Clocks were usually reset after the deceased was buried.

4 Death Omens

Many Victorians believed in death omens, such as seeing themselves in dreams, seeing an owl during the day, or finding a single snowdrop in a garden or seeing a sparrow land on a piano. Some Victorian death omens are still commonly repeated as superstitions today. For example, the common American idea that opening an umbrella inside is bad luck comes from the Victorian belief that doing so will lead to a murder in the umbrella-opener's family.

Alexandra Corbella has been writing for more than 10 years. She has been published everywhere from the "The Collector" to popular blogs like Beauty Collection and Collective310. She holds a Political Science degree, and has worked for several politicians. She earned a M.A. in History in 2012.