There are countless traditions surrounding death in different cultures. But some traditions crop up in cultures all around the world, independent of one another. Some of these traditions require leaving coins on graves to honor a fallen soldier. Others involve placing coins over the eyes of the deceased to pay for their passage to the underworld.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- The Meaning of Coins in Christianity
- Spiritual Meaning of Finding Pennies
- Other Beliefs or Practices Using Coins
- Finding Pennies After a Death in Popular Culture
Coins are also given a lot of significance in other ways. Many people believe that finding coins after someone dies means they’re watching over you. Other people believe that coins are messages from God. Here, we’ll delve into some of the beliefs associated with finding coins after the death of a loved one.
The Meaning of Coins in Christianity
When someone dies, we often look for signs that they’re still looking over us. Many of the branches of Christianity believe that our loved ones look out for us, even after death. And it is thought that our loved ones might even try to send us messages from beyond the grave.
Catholicism believes that the people we love continue to exist in another dimension. While we aren’t aware of their presence, sometimes they break through and try to communicate with us. There is a belief that finding coins in a certain place or with a specific date could be our loved ones sending us a message. That belief is found in many of the branches of Christianity.
There is no real consensus about the origin of this belief. But there is an apocryphal story that has made the rounds for years. It is found in email forwards, social media posts, and blogs all across the internet. It goes like this:
A woman asked a man why he stooped to pick up a dirty penny on the ground. A smile crept across the man’s face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see.
‘Look at it.’ He said. ‘Read what it says.’
She read the words ‘ United States of America ‘
‘No, not that; read further.
‘No, keep reading.’
‘In God we Trust?’
‘And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin, I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him? Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God’s way of starting a conversation with me. Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!
The origin of this story is unclear, but it pops up all over the internet. It helps explain why people of Christian faiths ascribe great meaning to finding a coin on the ground. Finding a coin after a loved one dies can be a source of comfort. It may help the bereaved feel like the deceased (or even God) is sending a message to them.
Spiritual Meaning of Finding Pennies
Christianity isn’t the only form of spirituality. People who practice New Age traditions also consider coins significant. Psychic mediums and other non-Christian spiritualists espouse the belief that a coin may be a sign. But it could be from a spirit guide, rather than a dead loved one.
The circumstance of finding the coin is important too. To them, a coin on the ground probably just means someone had a hole in their pocket. But a dime or penny showing up in an unexpected place or on a significant date could be your loved one trying to reach you.
Many people report finding coins on specific dates that have significance to them. It could be on a birthday, wedding anniversary or anniversary of death. They sometimes find them in unusual places. People have reported finding pennies or dimes on their pillow even though they live alone. Others have found them in the fingertip of a rarely-used glove gifted by a deceased loved one.
People who follow New Age belief practices often ascribe to numerology as well. Numerology is the belief that numbers have a mystical or divine significance.
If you follow numerology, you believe numbers are the basic elements that comprise the universe. Understanding the significance of these numbers can help us understand ourselves. And it gives us insight into the world around us. Pennies and dimes both have the numerology value of one. In numerology, the number one can represent God, creation, and new beginnings.
Numerology isn’t exclusive to the domain of New Age spirituality, either. In fact, it’s an extremely old practice. The Hebrew Bible (also known to Christians as the Old Testament) includes references to numerology. It goes to show how much overlap there is in various cultural and religious traditions.
Other Beliefs or Practices Using Coins
As mentioned earlier, coins play a big role in several burial practices. In Greek mythology, coins were needed to get to the underworld. Charon was the ferryman who took souls across the River Styx into the land of the dead. So in ancient Greece, coins would be placed in the mouth or over the eyes of the deceased. The coins were placed there so the deceased had money to pay Charon to take them on their journey.
A similar tradition is practiced in Khmer funerals in Cambodia. A silver or gold coin is placed in the mouth of the deceased before cremation. This is considered the only wealth that the dead can take to the underworld.
Another burial tradition that crosses cultures is the practice of putting coins on graves. The United States has several different traditions that involve placing coins on graves.
Ben Franklin is known for the saying “a penny saved is a penny earned”. Inspired by that phrase, visitors to his burial site began tossing pennies into his grave. Over time, people adapted that tradition for their own families. It became common practice to place pennies in the graves of loved ones.
If you visit cemeteries for veterans in the United States, you may see coins on the headstones. There is a meaning associated with each coin:
- Pennies: A penny is left on the headstone of a veteran or military member that you don’t know. This is done as a sign of respect and gratitude for their service.
- Nickels: You would leave a nickel if you attended boot camp with the deceased.
- Dimes: Leaving a dime indicates that you served with the deceased at some point.
- Quarters: Leaving a quarter on the headstone is done if you were with the deceased when they passed away.
Coins are left on graves in other cultures too. Throughout Latin America, people leave coins or small trinkets on the graves of their loved ones. This happens predominantly in areas where wealth isn’t plentiful. Leaving a few coins on a grave is a way to show respect without having to find the money for a bouquet of flowers.
Coins also have some significance outside of death. In many ancient cultures, metals like copper were seen as gifts from the gods. Coins made out of it could protect people from evil. In some contemporary cultures, finding a coin on the ground is seen as a symbol of good luck. But, that is often restricted to coins that are heads up. Coins that are tails up can bring bad luck.
Finding Pennies After a Death in Popular Culture
Some people posit that people began paying attention to finding coins thanks to a song. “Pennies from Heaven'' was originally released in 1936 by Bing Crosby. The trach featured Georgie Stoll and his orchestra. The song was the titular track from the film Pennies in Heaven. The song has been covered numerous times. Some of the most notable adaptations are sung by Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Louis Prima, and Frank Sinatra.
After this song was released, people began to look for dropped coins on the street. The song helped associate the idea of our deceased loved ones communicating with us via coins.
The Significance Between Finding Pennies and Dimes After a Loved One Dies
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that coins carry a lot of significance for people. Nearly every culture around the planet has used coins as currency. Thousands of years ago, coins were already in use across the world. Because they are so ubiquitous (and have been around for so long) it’s natural to assign symbolism to them.
This significance goes so far back, it’s impossible to pinpoint when coins became associated with the deceased. It’s also not possible to know how different cultures influenced each other in these beliefs. It could be part of the collective unconscious. Regardless of where they come from, a single shiny coin can bring us unexpected comfort when spotted on the sidewalk. Just make sure it's heads up!
If you're looking to learn more about spirituality and the afterlife, read our guide on the best spiritual books for beginners.
- San Filippo, David “Philosophical, Psychological & Spiritual Perspectives on Death & Dying.” Digitalcommons.nl.edu, National Louis University, January 2006, digitalcommons.nl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=faculty_publications.
- “Creating New Traditions: Maintaining Cultural Identity Through New Burial Rituals.” Ofc.berkely.edu, University of California, Berkeley, www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/abg/artifacts/culturalartifacts.html.
- Glavich, Kathleen “Pennies from Heaven?” Kathleenglavich.org, Kathleen Glavich SND, 29 August 2012, www.kathleenglavich.org/2012/08/29/pennies-from-heaven/#.
- “Medieval Numerology: A Brief Guide.” Web.cn.edu, Carson-Newman Christian University, web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Numerology.pdf.