The hearse is a most notorious icon of death and mourning. Numerous superstitions, gestures and beliefs are connected to this vehicle. Just the mere sight of a hearse can stir up many emotions about our own mortality.
Since the time of horse drawn hearses, a common belief was that if you saw a hearse, you would be the next to die. To avoid such a horrible curse, in Victorian times, it was believed that holding a button could ward off this demise. Others held a button until they saw a bird. Some people would go as far as to hold their breath, close their eyes and put their feet up in the air.
Another old belief is that a hearse drawn by two horses (especially white ones) signified a death would happen in the neighborhood in the very near future.
One of the more interesting traditions about hearses passing by is taken from Japanese culture. Hiding one’s thumb in a fist while the hearse passed was done to protect the parents from an early death. (The thumb is a representation of the “parent” finger, called “oya yubi” in Japanese.)
Another superstition is based on which direction you see the hearse moving. If the hearse is moving toward you and empty, it is considered good luck in some parts of the United States. In other areas of the U.S., it could bring on three days of good or bad luck. On the other hand, if a hearse is empty and moving away from you, you are close to death.
Some people believe that if they see their reflection in the window of a hearse, it is a bad sign. No matter what, a hearse is the sign of imminent death. Most people have some type of superstitions about seeing one, and most of us will be unable to avoid being the passenger in one way or another. And by the way, you don’t ever want to be the first person to drive a brand new hearse — it is definitely bad luck.
To find out about other superstitions,
visit the Superstition Room.