Creepy Victorian death traditions from ‘sin-eating’ cookies to wearing black for years

During the Victorian era there were a few strange deathly traditions, leading some to say that people then were even ‘obsessed’ with death

After the death of her husband Prince Albert, it’s safe to say that Queen Victoria very much set the tone with mourning for Victorians.

In fact, it was pretty rare to see a picture of her not in mourning attire, which is just one of the rules families had to adhere to in order to express their grief.

Victorians were very open about death, they would even try to save money early on in life to make sure they had a proper burial. They also had some pretty strange traditions.

The Victorians liked to commemorate the dead by having photographs together with the deceased, which is a pretty creepy concept.

As families posed with the dead, they would either look asleep or slightly slumped, and the detail of the photograph would be surprisingly strong.

In the mid 1800s there was the rise of ‘memento mori photographic portraiture’ which basically means ‘remember you must die’.

Small, highly detailed pictures on polished silver were a luxury, but not as much as a painted portrait.

Hair jewellery

Having a dead person’s hair in your jewellery was actually quite common during the Victorian era.

The accessories were a way of keeping the deceased relative close by in some form, and were known as ‘memento mori’.

Memento mori was basically jewellery or art for mourning, with lockets or wreaths including hair or teeth from the dead.

As photography became slightly more accessible, the tradition eventually died out.

Another bizarre death tradition that was totally normal at the time were death cookies.

Victorian funerals often had biscuits or cookies in reference to an old immigrant tradition of ‘sin eaters’ in order to absorb their spirits.

Bakeries began to make these cookies as time went on and wrapped them up with mourning poems and death notices, quite sweet really.

Forget wearing black attire just for the funeral, Victorian widows had to wear their black attire for a full two years.

Full mourning generally lasted a year with clothing made of dull fabrics with no embellishment or jewellery.

Women also had to wear a veil to cover their face when they left the house, and ignore what can only be described as ‘frivolous events’ during the period of mourning.

Stopping clocks

A particularly odd superstition about death was when someone had passed away, they had to stop the clocks at the time of death.

This was to prevent any bad luck. The curtains had to be drawn too, apparently.

It certainly gives a new meaning to the famous W H Auden poem.

Covering mirrors

This is another superstition that you sometimes see in the odd horror film too, it involves Victorians covering all mirrors in the house.

The reason for this was to “prevent the deceased spirit from getting trapped behind the glass.”

Graveyard bars

Rest in peace? Not exactly. Some graves had to be surrounded by strong metal bars to stop grave robbers.

They stole everything from rings and necklaces, to even the bodies themselves, so the families of the dead felt the need to protect the grave.

Metal caskets and iron fences were bound to stop any mischief and keep the corpse safe and secure.