For as long as humans have lived, they've been telling stories about death. Cemeteries and funerals are often associated with a long list of superstitions. Many of these tall tales and legends came from old world traditions of the 17th and 18th century. Others originated from even older pagan practices. But most cemetery superstitions can be debunked with science and 21st century common sense. Before your hold your breath in a graveyard, check through this list of the top ten cemetery superstitions that are more fiction than fact.
Myth: Pallbearers Must Wear White Gloves to Protect Against Evil
Pallbearers did wear white gloves in the 1800s, and while the gloves do look nice and clean, they were not worn as a shield against bad luck and evil spirits. The gloves were typically worn simply as a uniform for the pallbearers, a way to signify who would be carrying the casket. The clean gloves were also a sign of reverence for the deceased and provided some sanitary protection against dirt. Today, pallbearers don't wear gloves, but still wear nice clothes as a symbol of respect.
Myth: Only Criminals Are Buried In the North Side of the Church
This cemetery superstition comes from the idea that criminals and sinners should be buried where there is the least amount of sunlight. And that spot is often the north side of a church. While over a century ago some evil people may have been purposefully buried in shadow, modern placement of the graves has nothing to do with a person's criminal past. Cemeteries strive to provide the most pleasant location for every grave. There is no good or bad section.
Myth: Hold Your Breath When Passing a Cemetery
This is one of the most popular of the top ten cemetery superstitions. According to legend, if you hold your breath when passing a cemetery, the spirits of the deceased cannot enter your body. Not only does this make no sense (why does the spirit need to get into your lungs or stomach?) it can be somewhat dangerous. There are large cemeteries in America and trying to hold your breath as you pass by a lengthy mile-long graveyard can result in disorientation which is never a good thing when driving.
Myth: Don't Point At Graveyards
Most of the top ten cemetery superstitions deal with the threat of evil spirits possessing and haunting a disrespectful person. Pointing at a cemetery falls into that category. While it is considered rude to point at anyone, gesturing towards a tombstone or cemetery won't invite ghosts into your body. That said, pointing at graves is still considered wicked and evil in Hawaiian culture.
Myth: Funeral Bells Keep Spirits in Their Place
Church bells can often be heard during a funeral service, but they are not rung to prevent ghosts from entering human hosts. The legend argues that the loud sound keeps spirits away from the living people attending the funeral. More likely, church bells are heard in a cemetery because the cemetery is located next to, or near a church. The church bells are rung to honor the deceased, not keep their spirit in the ground.
Myth: Wildflowers in Cemeteries Are a Sign the Person Went To Heaven
Wildflowers blooming on a loved one's grave may be a beautiful image. But it's not a sign the person has made it safely to heaven. Conversely, if no flowers blossom on a gravesite or the ground becomes dry and dusty, it is not a sign the person failed to get into heaven. The ground of a cemetery is regularly maintained and any wildflowers or dirt patches that appear on a grave are random.
Myth: Taking Flowers from a Grave Will Bring Bad Luck
You should never steal flowers from a gravesite -- it's disrespectful at best and criminal at worst. But after a loved one's funeral service, you may want to take a single flower as a memento. Doing so will not result in evil spirits haunting your home. The flower can be dried and placed with a photo of your loved one as a sign of respect.
Myth: Everyone Must Wear Black to a Funeral
In America, mourners often wear black at a funeral or cemetery. But in China, mourners actually wear white. The colors associated with death change throughout the world depending on cultural traditions. What's most important is that the clothing you wear is respectful, no matter the color.
Myth: It's Bad Luck to Be the First One to Leave in a Cemetery
Though it's unclear where or why this cemetery superstition originated, you can rest assured that the order in which you exit a cemetery will not result in good or bad fortune. Besides, if no one leaves the cemetery first, will everyone stand around for hours and hours? The most important thing to do when leaving a cemetery is pay your proper respects to the deceased and carefully drive on the winding cemetery road.
Myth: It's Bad Luck to Take Photos of a Gravesite
You should avoid taking pictures during a funeral service, but when visiting a cemetery on your own, it's perfectly acceptable to photograph the headstone. There are even online archives containing thousands of photos of graves. People use these photos to locate loved ones and trace family history. As long as you're not interrupting a service or being disrespectful to others in the cemetery, it's okay to photograph a grave.
The Biggest Myth of All: Cemeteries Are Evil
The top ten cemetery superstitions may seem silly, but they have persisted for centuries. And perhaps the biggest cemetery misconception is that these places are gloomy and evil. In fact, today's cemeteries can be beautiful and inviting. They are designed to respect loved ones and celebrate life. Ignore the old superstitions about evil spirits and ghosts, and discover the real culture of cemeteries.