Why Do People Cover Mirrors and Stop Clocks When Someone Dies?
"Fried Green Tomatoes" Made Me Curious About Death Superstitions
One of my favorite movies of all time, Fried Green Tomatoes, is based on a book by Fannie Flagg called Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. In the story, two best friends go through life and have a wealth of shared experiences. The story goes that they opened up a small cafe, which soon became famous for its delicious fried green tomatoes and its barbecue. Said to offer the best barbecue in the South, the cafe was frequented by all sorts of people from all walks of life.
In this movie from 1991, a woman named Ruth passes away, sadly, from cancer. I swear—as many times as I've seen this movie, which is quite a few times, this one part shown in the video below always makes me cry. Every time.
"A Lady Always Knows When to Leave"
Why Cover the Mirror and Stop the Clock?
What interested me about this scene is what happens right after Ruth passes away, while her best friend is telling a story about a lake that was lifted up by a flock of ducks and is now over in Georgia somewhere. There is another character in the movie named Sipsey who covers up the mirror in the room where Ruth died, and then she stops the clock. Throughout the entire movie, Sipsey is a very superstitious person, and it shows in her actions when Ruth passes away.
I always wondered why these things were done, and I have learned a lot about superstitions, folklore, and the beliefs people have that inspire them to take these actions when a person passes from this life to the next (if that's what you believe).
The Origins of These Superstitions
Some of the superstitions behind covering mirrors and stopping clocks are thought to come from Great Britain and Germany. According to other sources, they are based on an old Jewish tradition, and I have also read that these superstitions originated with African American and Creole people. Regardless of where they originated, there are certain beliefs that lead people to cover mirrors and stop clocks, either for the benefit of the mourners or for the soul of the deceased.
Why Mirrors Are Covered With Cloth:
- This may be done so that mourners do not have to see how they look while they're mourning and can freely express their grief.
- It may be done to allow the spirit of the newly deceased person to cross over into their new life successfully. Some believe that if the soul of the newly departed sees their reflection in the mirror, they become trapped and can't leave for the afterlife. This might cause the spirit to stay and haunt all who remain in this world.
- Another superstition says that the next person who sees themselves in the mirror will be the next person to die. Mirrors were covered so no one would see their reflection.
- Superstition also claims that reflections in the mirror are projections of the person's soul.
Generally, mirrors remained covered until the funeral. After the funeral, they could be uncovered.
Why Clocks Are Stopped:
- One superstition is to stop the clock so that mourners can stay and mourn for as long as they like without worrying about how much time has passed.
- Stopping clocks is a way to allow the soul of the newly deceased to move on into the next life without worrying about time.
- There is a belief that if the clock is not stopped, all those who remain in the home will have bad luck. This belief is said to have originated in Germany and Great Britain, and it was said that when a person dies, time stands still for that person. They then begin a new period of existence without time.
- If a clock is allowed to continue moving, this invites the spirit of the deceased to remain in the home and haunt it endlessly.
- Probably the most logical explanation for the practice of stopping a clock when a person dies is simply to record the time of death. This was especially true if the home was located in a remote place where it would take a while for help to arrive or for the coroner to pick up the body.
Another Fascinating Superstition About Death
There is another belief that I found to be fascinating, and it regards removing the body of the deceased person from the home where they have passed away.
- This belief, or superstition, is that when the deceased person is put onto a stretcher, they should always be taken out the door feet first. If they are taken out of the home headfirst, this allows them to "look" back into the home and beckon someone else still in the home to join them in death.
It's Hard to Know What to Believe
It's hard to know whether to believe these superstitions or not. I know that when my husband's mother passed away (over 20 years ago now, I guess), she passed away in the home she and my father-in-law were living in at the time. From what I remember, there wasn't a mirror in the room, so there was no need to cover it. I don't remember if a clock was in the room or not.
We did have a hospice nurse with us at the time, and that helped a lot. I think hospice nurses are special kinds of angels here on Earth. The nurse told us exactly what to expect, making death seem less mysterious. Whenever we're feeling charitable, we try to give to hospices whenever we can. They do wonderful things and are fantastic teachers and helpers through a process that many of us find difficult to understand.
No Matter What, I Respect the Beliefs of Others
I do think that if someone else had these beliefs or superstitions and wanted to have the mirror covered and the clock stopped, I would most definitely respect their wishes. That's the beauty of living in the United States. There is freedom to believe what you want, and hopefully people will have respect for those beliefs. At least, I always try to be respectful of the beliefs of others, and I would hope I would be treated the same way. Isn't that the golden rule, anyway—to treat others as you would like to be treated? I think that's a good rule to follow in life.
Do You Believe These Superstitions Enough to Follow Them?
Would you cover a mirror and stop a clock upon a person's death?
Questions & Answers
Why is it said that people shouldn't touch a dead body, with bare hands, within the first 24 hours after the person has passed?
The only reasons I’ve found are related to health concerns if the person passed away from a contagious disease like Ebola. There may also be superstitious reasons as well.Helpful 12
Why are dead bodies covered with sheets?
I would guess that it’s done more for the loved ones and survivors and as an act of respect for the person who has passed.Helpful 11
© 2013 KathyH