Superstitions in Normandy: Portents of death

Many omens presaged death to the people in Normandy, their relatives or acquaintances in the 19th century. Someone would decease if an owl cries near the house, strangely enough, this portent seems to have the same meaning in Mexico. Someone would perish if a hen crows like a cock, if three magpies stand together or if a persons hears three knocks on the flooring of his sleeping room.

Different omens appeared in dreams to presage death, dreams of teeth, of priests or of laundry. Laundry was dangerous anyways, if a shirtfront would lie on the ground of the wash-tub, it’s owner would die during a year (I bet that led to problems at the time the washing-machines were invented).

If a corpse had open eyes, somone else would decease as well. A mole, that was digging in a basement or kitchen with hard packed clay floor announced the near death of an inhabitant. If a dead bird fell in the chimney, a member of the family would perish. If the fattened pig died before slaughter, someone in the house would pass away.

To find out if someone, that was far away, for example in a war, had died, people held a key with two fingers over the Gospel according to John. If the key was not moving, the person was dead.

To show to the neighbours, that someone had deceased in a house, a white cloth was hung in the window.

The soul

Deux anges emportant une âme au paradis, église d'abbaye de Saint-Wandrille

Detail of a tomb slab of the 14th century. Two angels carry a soul up to heaven. Licence: fair use, Musée du Louvre, P. Philbert, unknown artist died over 100 years ago.

The soul of someone that was hung or hung himself, stayed between heaven and earth. Souls like that often came back to haunt the living.

People put a bucket with clear water in front of the bed of a dying person, so the soul could wash itself before flying out of the window, that was opened in the moment of it’s death.

When it’s getting dark the souls try to go back in the houses and therefore nobody should sweep in the dark, they could sweep out the souls with the dust.

Based loosely on :
Croyances Populaires de Normandie by Solange Lebreton, published at Éditions Bertout in 2005, ISBN=2-86743-587-0


3 thoughts on “Superstitions in Normandy: Portents of death

  1. Do you happen to know where does the image of the 14th century tomb slab come from? I had been trying to find any info about it, but without any success. I would greatly appreciate any detail!

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