Saturday, October 25, 2014
Festival Of Fear: Day 25: Superstition Saturday: Cemetery Lore
There are many names for people like me: gravers, tombstone tourists, taphophiles. They all refer to one who finds great enjoyment in visiting cemeteries. I find cemeteries beautiful and poignant places and feel completely at peace in them. Call it morbid, but I’m captivated by the thought of thousands lying silent beneath the earth, and I love the sculpture of the tombstones.
Tying in with another one of my obsessions, folklore, I have decided to write this piece up on legends, superstitions, and bizarre facts surrounding cemeteries.
Another old wives’ tale you might have heard is that walking on a grave is bad luck, particularly one of an unbaptized child. Doing so could result in the contraction of a grave-scab, a fatal disease that’s symptoms included quivering limbs and shortness of breath and could only be cured under very specific means, or so it goes in British folklore. A pregnant woman who walks over a burial plot may result in giving birth to a club-footed child.
A once pagan, and later Christian belief (it always seems to go that way, doesn’t it?) was that bodies should be buried with the head facing west and the feet east, so that corpses would be prepared for Judgment Day. Bodies should be buried in their most complete possible form; for example, if a corpse is put in the ground missing a limb, it may be left to wander the earth searching for it, incomplete. The eastern areas of the cemetery were considered most desirable as they would get the most sun, and the northern corner—the coldest and darkest—was once reserved for suicides and criminals. Witches were supposed to be buried face-down in hopes that spells would no longer afflict the townsfolk. In Britain, a symbolic burial is when you hold a fake funeral for a still-living—but ill—person in hopes that it will cure them of their sickness.
So think of these next time you pass a cemetery—and don’t forget to hold your breath. Feel free to include any of your own superstitions in the comments!