Victorian Death Photography and their Superstitions

Victorian Death Photography and their Superstitions

Victorian death is a fascinating topic to explore that will incite lots of conversation. How much do you know about their superstitions and rituals following the death of a loved one?

Victorian Death - a deceased girl sat to the side on a chair so that a stand can support her body.
Deceased girl sat to the side on a chair so that a stand can support her body.

The Victorians certainly had their fascinating customs when it came to death. I’ve included a few of my favourites below and I would love to read your feedback.

Photographing their loved ones following their passing was a common practice for the Victorians. To them, it’s not weird or strange to have and cherish a memento of your loved one. Mind you, as a photographer myself, would I be happy photographing someone’s loved one following their death?

I find the whole concept of memento mori fascinating and for the most part, I do think it’s a shame that an art form is lost.

I find these photographs intriguing. On the one hand, I feel like I should be appalled, but on the other, I’m feeling the love. After all, to want a keepsake like this, their feelings of love remain strong. You can feel their grief!

Can you imagine propping up your loved one like the girl in this photograph?

Her eyes are not open. Painting their eyelids to make it appear that their eyes are open was also a common practice. You would think she was a normal Victorian girl simply posing for her photograph. The time and detail of creating this portrait is testament to their skill and respect of people.

The Victorian girl pictured above more than likely died of mumps, which was a big killer in the Victorian times.

Victorian Death and their Superstitions

The Victorians had lots of superstitions surrounding death. Indeed, when reading through these below, you can see where ideas for horror films come from. I find these Victorian death superstitions truly fascinating and I wonder how many of you uphold any of them?

As soon as there was a Victorian death, all the mirrors in the home would be covered. They believed that the spirit of their loves one may become trapped in the glass.

Not stopping a clock from telling time will bring bad luck.

The custom of ‘waking‘ was to watch over the body every minute until burial, which would last 3-4 days. This would also serve as a safeguarding should a person be in a coma. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry too much about this today.

This next superstition was still in use long after the Victorian period ended. Drawing curtains to prevent the soul from leaving before the funeral was common practice. I remember this from being a child back in the seventies but I didn’t know that it was to prevent the soul from leaving.

More Superstition

Carrying the dead out feet first will prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning others to follow.

Saved by the bell‘ comes from the fear of being buried alive. Some coffins have a bell connected to a chain so that one who wakes can sound an alarm.

Flowers will bloom upon the grave of someone who has a good spirit or had a good life.

Hearing a clap of thunder following a burial indicates that the deceased’s soul has reached Heaven.

If you smell roses when there are none around, someone is going to die.

If you don’t hold your breath whilst walking past a graveyard, you will not be buried.

A bird pecking your window or crashing into one, is a sign of death. Oh dear, I’m in trouble as wood pigeons commonly fly into my patio doors.

If a picture falls off the wall, there will be a death of someone you know. From personal experience, I don’t believe this.

A single snowdrop in a garden foretells a death.

It is bad luck to cross a path of a funeral procession. If this cannot be avoided, you should hold tightly onto a button to ward off some of the negative effects.

Concluding Victorian Death

The BBC has a wonderful report to read about the unsettling art of death photography. I highly recommend reading it. Victorian Cemeteries and my thoughts is also worth reading.