We’ve all heard different superstitions about death. For instance, seeing a black cat or crows are both famous signs that death is coming for you, or someone you know. Different omens have different origins and specific meanings. And regardless of their truth, people throughout history have believed in these signs and their alleged messages. But what are some of these omens? And how have they been interpreted throughout history? Here is our list of the most well known Omens of Death in Folklore.
Omens of Death in Folklore
1. Black Cat
Black cats are definitely one of the most famous omens of death, and are found in folklore traditions around the world. There are many different ways that interacting with a black cat is seen as a sign of danger, or of the approaching death of either you or someone you love.
For example, an old German superstition states that if a black cat sits at the bedside of sick person, this is a sign that they will die very soon. Hearing the meowing of a black cat at midnight is another common superstition, said to be an omen of someone’s death. A black cat crossing the path of a funeral is a sign that a family member of the deceased will die soon. The worst part however is that these superstitious omens has resulted in black cats being adopted significantly less than other cats.
Crows are yet another very famous omen of death or misfortune. Even in films today, it is not uncommon to have crows present in scenes that are meant to be dark, dangerous, and foreboding. Seeing a single crow is believed to be an omen of bad luck, rather than death. However, if you see a large group of 5 or more crows (also called a “murder” of crows… yikes), this is believed to be an omen of the illness or death of yourself or someone you know.
In some cultures, crows were believed to be messengers between this world and next and In the middle ages, people believed that witches used the crow as a symbol to cast death spells. Crows are incredibly intelligent birds who can pick locks, steal food from closed containers, and more. No wonder people have been afraid of them!
The owls are not what they seem…
Owls are yet another bird that have an unfortunate reputation in folkloric superstitions. For example, if you are walking under a tree at night, and you hear an owl hooting overhead, this is believed to be an omen that family a member is going to die soon. If an owl is perched on your rooftop, this is also a sign that death is coming for someone you know. There are even famously rumoured instances of owls foreshadowing death in history. It is believed that before the death of the Roman Emperor, Antonius, an owl was seen perched above his bedroom door.
Doppelgänger is a German word, meaning “double goer”. It refers to someone’s exact replica born of completely different parents. In German and Irish folklore, seeing one’s doppelgänger was believed to be a sign of your own immanent death. If one’s doppelgänger was seen by a family member or friend, this would also signal impending danger or misfortune.
Doppelgängers are also referred to as “evil twins” in such folklore, as it was believed that if you spoke to your own doppelgänger, they would trick you, and plant sinister or evil ideas in your head. So much like the Highlander, there can only be one!
5. Deathwatch Beetle
Deathwatch beetles are insects that are known for damaging wood – especially during their mating season, when they attract mates by knocking their heads against a hard surface (making them a metaphor for many humans). This makes a tapping or ticking sound, which can be heard quite clearly in a quiet, old house at night.
Because of this, the sound of the deathwatch beetle became associated with sleepless nights, often at the bedside of a dying loved one. As a result, the deathwatch beetle and its tapping was seen as an omen of death and misfortune.
6. Death Knocks
There is an old superstition that when you hear three knocks at your door, and open it to find no one is there, death is coming for you. These knocks, also called the “knocks of doom”, are heard of in many different cultures, such as Irish, Scottish, and Native American communities. This omen is still often referenced today in horror films; used as a sign that someone is about to die, or something dangerous is on its way.
7. Phantom Funerals
Phantom funerals (also known as “goblin” or “fairy” funerals) are old superstitious and supernatural events that can allegedly only be seen by certain people. When phantom funerals are seen, they are believed to foretell the death of a loved one. These processions will appear as funerals comprised of ghost-like figures, and are said to occur in the same place and take the same route as the funeral that is being foretold.
Found in the folklore of Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, these omens of death will only signal one’s own if you look into the casket!
8. Solar Eclipse
In the past, when humans knew less about the planet and the solar system, a solar eclipse was usually perceived as a dangerous disruption of the order of nature – a sign that something was going to go (or had gone) wrong. Different cultures had different stories associated with the eclipse, such as in ancient Greece, where the eclipse was believed to have been caused by angry gods who were signalling an impending danger. From stories such as these, the solar eclipse eventually became a sign of danger and approaching death.
9. Fan Death
Our final omen is very specific to Korean culture. It is believed by many Koreans that sleeping in a room with a fan running and the windows closed will result in immediate death. While this superstition would seem easy to disprove, you’d have to risk death to try! Fans in South Korea are often sold with timers to prevent them from being accidentally left on before bed. While no evidence exists suggesting fans to be real omens of death, the myth is perpetuated online, and even in news media coverage.