List of 13 Omens of Death in Different Cultures

Updated

Have you ever felt a spooky feeling that something dark might be lingering by? If so, you’re not alone. People have looked for bad omens that death is near since the dawn of time. Though most people in our culture today avoid talking about death, that doesn’t mean death in different cultures doesn’t appear differently. 

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Known as pre-death indicators or omens of death, these warnings might be more visible than you think. From symbols of mourning to surprising animals, make sure you know exactly what you’re experiencing. While these are always up to interpretation, you might be surprised by some of the darker things that foreshadow death. In this guide, we share the ultimate list of omens of death in different cultures. 

1. Black Butterflies in Central America and the Philippines

First, while butterflies might be beautiful, that doesn’t mean they can’t also bring signs of death. However, black butterflies have been seen as a sign of death in many cultures, similar to black moths. If you spot a black butterfly in your house, it can symbolize someone in your home will soon pass or the end of a relationship. This is a cultural belief in places like Central America and the Philippines

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, some believe black butterflies are a sign of secret wisdom for life's transitions. It’s easy to see how symbols take on different meanings depending on the cultural context. In general, butterflies are a reminder that life is always changing. 

2. Opals in Europe

Next, opals might be stunning gems, but a lot more hides below the surface than you might realize. This all began during the spread of the Black Death in Europe. During this pandemic, those who wore opals noticed the gem changing colors. The gem itself was said to have sparkled until the person ultimately died. 

Because of this, opals were to blame in these times for the deaths caused by the plague. Are the stones really behind this occurrence? In reality, when someone has a high fever, the stones are likely to reflect this heat with higher brilliance (sparkle). When they become cold after death, the stones appear duller. In this way, the shining opals could be taken as a reliable omen of death, though the science was much less sinister. 

3. Comets in Ancient Times

While today scientific advancements might have you excited about comets, this wasn’t always the case. In ancient times, comets in the sky were blamed for just about anything bad that happens to humanity. 

For example, Halley’s Comet only passes Earth every 75 years. When it passed prior to the Black Death in Europe, people said this was a bad omen that death was ahead. Even today, many still look to the stars for answers to why things happen.  

4. Dreams in Modern Society

We didn’t leave all the bad omens of death in the past. In fact, some still believe that dreams can be a sign of death to come. While you might not always remember your dreams, they’re said to be part of your subconscious. 

For instance, dreaming of more than one moon is a sign that bad things are ahead. If you dream you’re making your way through muddy water, this also could be a sign the end is near. However, as a quick study into the meaning behind dreams reveals, these omens can be taken several ways—from anxiety to relationship troubles. 

5. Three Knocks in Ireland

According to old superstitions in Ireland, you want to be careful with the knocks you hear at your door. If you hear three hard knocks, this is said to be a sign that someone just died or is about to die in your home. 

This superstition varies depending on the specific culture. In Scotland, the three knocks have to occur within a few minutes apart. Either way, most unexpected knocks on the door do indicate bad news. 

6. Mirrors in Europe

Though you might have heard that some families in Europe cover mirrors after a loved one dies, can mirrors themselves symbolize death? The most common myth involves broken mirrors. In Ancient Rome, broken mirrors are said to bring seven years of bad luck. To other European cultures, they’re even a sign of death.

Where does this idea come from? In the days before mirrors were common, people looked into water to see their reflections. This reflection was thought of as a portal to the soul. If the reflection was murky (as water often is), this was a sign that something wasn’t right. This idea continues today, and many are still hesitant to look in mirrors, especially after a death occurred. 

7. Will-o-the-Wisps in Scotland

If you ever notice a mysterious bulb of light following you around, it might be a reason to be alarmed. In Scotland, will-o-the-wisps are also called “corpse candles.” These mysterious orbs of light are seen in many colors, and they often appear to follow you around. It’s long believed that these are death omens that follow someone home so they can collect your soul. 

Scientists have come to a different conclusion, however. These light orbs are thought to be glowing balls of gas from marshes or lakes, which is why they’re often seen over water. However, this legend goes back hundreds of years, so who really knows?

8. Falling Portraits in Many Cultures

One common omen of death in many cultures has to do with photos on the wall. Hanging pictures of loved ones is common practice, but you’ll want to make sure these images are secure. This is especially true if you live somewhere prone to earthquakes or other extreme weather. 

If a portrait falls from the wall and shatters, this is a bad sign for whomever’s picture was inside. It’s said that this action foretells the passing of whoever is pictured, even if it’s multiple people in the image (like a family photo). 

9. Black Cats in Western Society

There are a lot of animals associated with death, but few are as well-known as black cats. This western superstition is still very much present today. It’s even led to fewer black cats finding homes than their other fluffy counterparts! We can trace this superstition back to Ancient Greece

According to mythology, Zeus’s wife Hera turned her servant into a black cat as a punishment. He went on to become the assistant for Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Because of his association with witches and evil, black cats are still seen as a sign of bad luck or even death. 

10. Crows in Western Culture

Have you ever wondered why a group of crows is called a “murder?” It’s because a large group of five or more crows is said to be a sign of death or illness. While spotting a single crow is a bad omen on its own, you want to be especially mindful of large groups. 

What’s led to this reputation for crows? This is all thanks to their depiction in literature. Crows and ravens alike are often thought to be associated with witches and other bringers of darkness, giving them this wicked connotation

11. White Horses in England and the Czech Republic

While most people consider white horses to be majestic creatures, they aren’t always bringers of hope. A single white horse in your stable is a sign of good luck ahead, but spotting one out and about isn’t something to look forward to. If you see two white horses pulling a hearse, this means a death might occur in the town within a single month. 

Similarly, if you dream of a single white horse, this is supposed to be bad news. This is because pagan deities were once depicted as riding white horses, making them heavenly. Today, horses are a sign your time might be up. 

12. Fans in Korea

Surely there can’t be anything ominous about household fans? These serve a practical purpose of cooling you down, but this device could be more sinister. In Korea, it’s thought that sleeping with a fan running and your windows closed causes imminent death. 

Since the introduction of electric fans in the 1920s, this continues to be a common fear throughout Korea and Korean communities. While some deaths have been linked to electric fans at night, the death was most likely caused by hyperthermia (heat stress) or underlying health problems. 

13. Doppelgängers in Germany

The word “Doppelgänger” means “double goer” in German. It’s when someone’s exact replica is born to different parents. If you spot your Doppelgänger out and about, this is a sign that your death was soon to come in German culture. The same is true if a friend or family member sees your Doppelgänger. 

You might also hear of Doppelgängers referred to as “evil twins” in folklore. If you speak to your own evil twin, they’ll try to trick you with sinister thoughts. They’ll put bad ideas in your head, causing your demise. 

Watch Out for These Omens of Death

Superstitions around death and dying are nothing new. If you see a black cat or a crow, you might pause and think about what it means. Regardless of your culture or upbringing, nobody is immune from these omens of death in folklore. 

Ultimately, they reflect our fear of our own mortality. It’s scary to think that death is uncertain. Though we know it’s always around the corner, it’s impossible to predict when our last day will be. These omens of death above are ways to find meaning for an otherwise meaningless phenomenon. 


Sources:
  1. “Bad reputation of crows demystified.” Science Daily. ScienceDaily.com
  2. “Black Cats Myths and Facts Debunked.” Four Paws. FourPaws.com
  3. Jones, Walter. “What Does a Black Butterfly Mean?” Psychic Blaze. PsychicBlaze.com
  4. Goldman, Noah. “Science - Comets in Ancient Cultures.” Deep Impact: University of Maryland. UMD.edu
  5. “Korean Fan Death Myth: Why Are Koreans Scared Of Fans?” In My Korea. InMyKorea.com
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