Why Do People Cover Mirrors and Stop Clocks When Someone Dies?

Updated on July 12, 2019
KathyH profile image

Freelance writer for Textbroker, Verblio, and Constant Content. Published author in Neon Rainbow Magazine.

There are many superstitions surrounding death, including these two traditions. Learn about their potential origins and why people may do these things today.
There are many superstitions surrounding death, including these two traditions. Learn about their potential origins and why people may do these things today. | Source

"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.

Some people believe that, after a person passes away, the next person to look in the mirror will be the next to die.
Some people believe that, after a person passes away, the next person to look in the mirror will be the next to die. | Source

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.

According to some, if a clock continues ticking after a person dies, their spirit might haunt the house forever.
According to some, if a clock continues ticking after a person dies, their spirit might haunt the house forever. | Source

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 feetfirst. 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.

Would you cover a mirror or stop a clock?
Would you cover a mirror or stop a clock? | Source

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?

See results

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.

  • 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.

© 2013 KathyH

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      5 weeks ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thank you for your comment, Darren M. I had never heard about placing two coins on the person's eyes for the boatman - very interesting!

    • profile image

      darren m 

      8 weeks ago

      i have just always done this. first the clocks then the mirrors. as well as being sure the deceased goes out the door feet first. i place two coins upon their eyes. for the boatman

    • profile image

      evelyn and bob 

      3 months ago

      why take a chance !!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 months ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thank you for sharing your experience Patti64! It is interesting the things that we remember! I have also remembered things, in my case it was after losing a grandparent, and then I find myself thinking why am I remembering that? Thank you for your comment!

    • profile image

      Patti64 

      6 months ago

      I remember in the early 70's as a very small child about 5 my great uncle died in London and the first thing my mother (who has now also passed) did was cover all the mirrors, not sure about the clocks. It was the only time i recall this happening when a death occurred in my family. For some strange faraway memory i think that he was Jewish though i can't be sure, my Mothers family were Roman Catholic. Strange the memories that sit foggily on the rim of our minds.

    • profile image

      Narvelan Coleman 

      6 months ago

      Josephine1929: Mirrors are not the windows to the soul.

      According to the Holy Bible, in the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes 19:27: "The face, therefore is the image of the heart, and the eyes are the mirrors to the soul and its affections."

    • profile image

      Daissy 

      17 months ago

      Thank you so much!! I was always curious as to why they did this!! I love this movie it's one of my favorites thank you for the info!!!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      2 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You have some good questions, Skyler! I believe the time the clocks stay stopped is at least until a doctor or professional is able to come to the home to record the person's time of death. So much is going on surrounding a person's impending death and when they die that this was done to get an accurate time.

      I'm not sure how long mirrors stay covered though! I guess as long as people feel they need to be according to their beliefs. It is a practice that has always been fascinating to me! Thank you for commenting!

    • profile image

      Skyler 

      2 years ago

      I do believe. But, I have a serious question, How long should you cover the mirror and stop the clock and all that stuff?

      Will I be able to see my reflection again or should it be remained covered?

      Can I be able to check the time again or should it be forever stopped?

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      3 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You've made a great point, Julie! I think this experience is universal to anyone who has ever lost a loved one. Thanks so much for commenting!

    • profile image

      Julie Floyd 

      3 years ago

      The clock stopping to me would be significant because when someone close to you dies it seems like your world has been fractured, broken, stopped, while others are grocery shopping, laughing, walking their dogs. Don't they know the world has changed? Isn't there a significant shift in the world now? Time must go on, but for the grieving it might be comforting to say..."stop, notice, mourn "

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      3 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You've brought up some really good points, Laura! Thank you for commenting!

    • profile image

      Laura 

      3 years ago

      My belief is that some people have been watching too many horror movies. And by that I mean, beliefs get distorted over time. The more time that passes, the more distorted they become, even more so if Hollywood gets ahold of them.

      There are, of course, very practical reasons behind every superstition. A perfect example of this is stopping the clock in order to have a record of the time of death. In a time when villages were small and isolated, doctors were few and far between, and hospitals were virtually unheard of, this was a necessity. It also makes sense that a family in mourning would not want to have to listen to the grandfather clock in the hall chiming out the hour, every hour. A quiet, subdued environment just feels natural to most people after there has been a death in the home.

      Another root of superstition is lack of knowledge or understanding. A person seeing a mirror for the fist time, not having any knowledge of how one works, might very well believe that someone is inside the mirror looking out at them, or that their soul has somehow become trapped inside the mirror. A mirror can catch odd reflections, or distort images, making it seem as though something is there that is not. A cloud passing over the sun, a bird flying by a window, or a person standing somewhere out of the line of sight, could all make it seem as though there is someone, or something, strange inside the mirror. Mirrors in the past were often warped and flawed, which would have distorted images even further.

      Religious beliefs also contribute to the superstitions regarding mirrors. People, girls in particular, were discouraged from admiring themselves in a mirror so as not to be guilty of the sin of vanity. Stories were made up about bad things happening to those who admire themselves too often or for too long in order to reinforce the belief that vanity is a sin.

      Old spiritual beliefs get passed down through the generations, but their meanings are often left behind. New explanations are made up to replace them, further distorting them from the original. A simple belief that a young girl should be taught not to admire herself in a mirror too much becomes a belief that something bad will happen to her if she does. The need to identify what that bad thing is leads to the need to create a new superstition.

      And then Hollywood gets ahold of it and fills our heads with images of creepy characters crawling out of mirrors, or popping in, then popping out again at a different location, running amok and wreaking havoc, and this becomes a new chapter in the history of the superstition.

      My personal belief is that a mirror is nothing more than an ordinary piece of glass and a clock is an annoying device that was invented just to irritate me. And superstitions are for entertainment purposes only.

    • profile image

      Josephine1929 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for your response KathyH. I have another belief regarding these mirrors. and it is one my sisters hold too. That mirrors are portals that beings/spirits can use to move one place to another. They are only trapped in that mirror if a spell has been cast to bind them to that mirror. I personally, have never done that, but due to my own experience of mirrors I hold this belief strongly. I have used cross symbols on my mirrors so entities can not jump through them. I also, am so firmly into this belief that I have only 1 mirror in my house that is used, in the bathroom. My vantity mirror is covered with a sheet, and I only lift it up as needed to look at something quickly. Sounds strange but it is a rule in my house with four teenage daughters, no large mirrors... So everyone uses the bathroom mirror..If I recall only 1 of my girls have a handheld mirror.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much for your wonderful comments, Josephing1929! :) It is interesting to hear others perspectives and beliefs on this topic. I always found these traditions to be interesting and have always been fascinated by them! Thanks again! :)

    • profile image

      Josephine1929 

      5 years ago

      Thank you KathyH. After reading Mystic Moonlights comment about the baby superstition it intrigued me enough to reread it. My niece was under 1 and I refused to allow mirrors be around her. I didn't know why; but just that it isn't a good thing for her too look at herself in the mirror. It drove me nuts when my sister would place her up to the mirror to look at herself. So her response gave me a keen explanation as to the superstition behind my belief. Now that my niece is over 1, it doesn't bother me. Uhm... Obviously, whomever is around me has a firm belief in these superstitious beliefs. Interesting!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Josephine1929! So glad you enjoyed this! :)

    • profile image

      Josephine1929 

      5 years ago

      I think more people should believe in the mirror is the window to your soul. Jewish tradition required all mirrors covered when someone died. Yes, beings can get trapped in them, but I also believe they are portals between mirrors where beings/spirits can jump from destination to destination. Yes, the lady was very superstitious but she had good reason. Very informative article.. Impressed!!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      That's so interesting that they would still want you to do that, Lorraine! I didn't realize people still did this! Thank you for commenting! :)

    • profile image

      lorraine williams 

      5 years ago

      my mum who is irish has asked my 4 sisters and myself to cover the mirrors stop clocks and close the curtains when any thing happens to either my mum or dad i found it very weird i dident question them about it thats why i looked it up on internet and found this site explaining it to me so it looks like we wil have to obey her wishes

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're so welcome, FlourishAnyway! I'm glad I could help to bring back some good memories for you. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words! :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      6 years ago from USA

      Well written and different. I really enjoyed this hub, as it reminded me of all the superstitions and old sayings of my great grandparents. Thank you for writing this.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thank you so much Mystic Moonlight for your fascinating comment! I hadn't heard that about babies and mirrors! So interesting! Kind of scary, too, when you see how many toys there are that are made just for babies that have mirrors on them today. Thanks again! :-)

    • profile image

      MysticMoonlight 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting. I, too, wondered about the exact reasons for doing such things and looked up the reasons years ago after seeing 'Fried Green Tomatoes' one day. Very intriguing notions that seem to have validity among many different cultures. Often, I've noticed, elderly people have such beliefs and I've seen them insist on similar practices being carried out on certain occasions. I remember after having my first child, 18 years ago, my grandmother would scold me if I let my baby see herself in the mirror before she was one year old. She (my grandmother) said that it was a bad omen for the baby to let themselves see their reflection and that often, if the baby did, it would either have bad luck in life or sometimes the baby would die before they reached one year old. I thought it a pretty odd thing but out of respect for her and her beliefs, I followed her advice.

      Nice Hub, interesting topic :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much for your great comment, kitty! :) I appreciate it so much! Blessings to you as well!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      Awesome hub. In Ireland, there are people who still cover their mirrors and stop the clocks when a loved one passes. Blessings to you.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      So glad you found this interesting, Ernest! Thanks so much for commenting, I appreciate that! :)

    • Ernest Hemingway3 profile image

      Ernest Hemingway III 

      6 years ago from The World

      Very interesting Hub-I am fascinated by different superstitions in different parts of the world.

      Ernest

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks, sweethearts2! So glad you enjoyed this, thank you for your nice comment, too. :)

    • sweethearts2 profile image

      sweethearts2 

      6 years ago from Northwest Indiana

      Very interesting hub, I enjoyed your personal thoughts and reflections (no pun intended). Voted up and interesting

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're welcome, Dianna! So glad you learned something! I am always learning from your writing, too. Thanks so much for your nice comment! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Interesting to read the history of these superstitions. I can see how covering a mirror to prevent how one looks during grieving would help the emotional status of a person. Thanks for the education.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're welcome, expertscolumn, so glad you enjoyed this! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I always appreciate it! :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks, Beckie! Isn't that the neatest story about the ducks and about how the lake disappeared? And the way it's told in this movie gave me goosebumps... it's a story I never get tired of.

      I know what you mean about each nationality having its own sets of superstitions. :) Coming from some German and Irish roots, I've heard tales, too. Thanks so much for your comment! :)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thank you, travmaj! So glad you found this interesting. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

      Thanks, Catgypsy, so glad you liked reading this, too. These are the kinds of things I love to write, so I'll see if I can come up with some more interesting topics. Thanks so much for your comment! :)

    • expertscolumn profile image

      Stanley Soman 

      6 years ago from New York

      When i read the superstitions out loud I giggle, but I'm sure it was no laughing matter to whoever thought of these things. They're intriguing look into the traditions from bygone eras.

      Thanks Kathy

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I am old enough to remember my Irish Nana performing the mirror and clock ritual. I guess every nationality thinks it originated from them. Then again, we Irish are a superstitious group.

      I also remember my Irish kin referring to the days when people were laid out in their home. It was a tradition that someone sleep in the same room as the body so no harm came to their spirit. We Irish, at least my strain believed the spirit stays with loved ones for three days before going to heaven.

      Great write.

      P.S. I too love Fried Green Tomatoes and cry every time. Just the other day sirens went screaming by our house. My Mom wondered what it was and I went into the movie scene where the ducks freeze to the lake and fly away with it. My sister started grinning as she knew exactly where I was going with it.

    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 

      6 years ago from the South

      I do believe in many superstitions and certainly believe in honoring others beliefs. Great hub...very interesting, I would love to read some more like it!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 

      6 years ago from australia

      This is really fascinating - I love to delve into superstitions and different cultures. This is very well researched and I found it really interesting. Voting UP.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR

      KathyH 

      6 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much for your wonderful comment, onegreenparachute, so glad you enjoyed this and learned something in the process. :) I always wondered why this happened in the movie, I'm glad I wrote about what I learned! Thanks for commenting! :)

    • onegreenparachute profile image

      Carol 

      6 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

      Fascinating! I love explanations of how superstitions came about and why they are practiced. But I especially love to hear about spooky superstitions. Lovely! Thanks.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, exemplore.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://exemplore.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)