Skip to main content

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

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Kathy is a freelance writer for Textbroker and Constant Content and a 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.

"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.

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.

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?

Questions & Answers

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: Why are dead bodies covered with sheets?

Answer: 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


KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 09, 2019:

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!

darren m on June 22, 2019:

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

evelyn and bob on May 08, 2019:

why take a chance !!

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 13, 2019:

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!

Patti64 on February 13, 2019:

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.

Narvelan Coleman on February 02, 2019:

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."

Daissy on March 07, 2018:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 25, 2017:

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!

Skyler on January 13, 2017:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 04, 2016:

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!

Julie Floyd on June 03, 2016:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on September 06, 2015:

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

Laura on September 06, 2015:

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.

Josephine1929 on March 26, 2014:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on March 25, 2014:

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! :)

Josephine1929 on March 24, 2014:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on March 21, 2014:

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

Josephine1929 on March 21, 2014:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 27, 2014:

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! :)

lorraine williams on February 27, 2014:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 19, 2013:

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 from USA on July 19, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 18, 2013:

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! :-)

MysticMoonlight on June 18, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on April 17, 2013:

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

Kitty Fields from Summerland on April 17, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 11, 2013:

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

Ernest Hemingway3 on February 11, 2013:

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


KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on February 08, 2013:

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

sweethearts2 from Northwest Indiana on February 07, 2013:

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

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 08, 2013:

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

Dianna Mendez on January 08, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 06, 2013:

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

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 06, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 06, 2013:

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! :)

Stanley Soman from New York on January 06, 2013:

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

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on January 06, 2013:

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 from the South on January 06, 2013:

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 from australia on January 06, 2013:

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 (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 05, 2013:

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! :)

Carol from Greenwood, B.C., Canada on January 05, 2013:

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.