Every culture fears that the dead will return to haunt and terrorize them. Throughout the centuries, different superstitions regarding death and burial arose to help keep the dead in their graves, where they belong.
Haitian Lip Sewing
The religion of voodoo is a mixture of several different practices originating in Africa. The main fear is that a deceased person might rise as a zombie. This isn’t the flesh-eating ghoul introduced by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These are bodies animated by a sorcerer (bokor) and forced into an eternal slavery.
One common practice is to sew the corpse’s mouth shut. A bokor could only raise the dead by forcing the deceased to answer its name. Thus, sewing the lips shut prevents the dead from speaking.
Another way to keep the dead from talking is to bury the corpse face down with its mouth against the earth. A dagger is also given to the deceased so they can stab any bokor who disturbs them.
Finally, you can distract the dead with trivial tasks. Leaving an eyeless needle that can never be threaded or sprinkling a handful of sesame seeds to be counted will keep the deceased busy so they won’t hear the bokor call their name.
How Death Got His Scythe
In Eastern Europe, many corpses were found buried with a sickle or scythe positioned across their necks. The idea here is that if a corpse rose from its grave, the sickle would slice the head off.
People finding these bodies in the Middle Ages associated the sickle and scythe with the apparition of death.
The reason we see burial stones in the shape of a cross is yet another way to keep the dead where they belong. The sign of the cross was thought to deter an evil spirit. Even a sword, with its cross-like hilt, stabbed into the he grave soil will do the job.
A Coin is Your Ticket to the Afterlife
One superstition, dating back to the ancient Greeks, is to place a coin in the mouth of the deceased. The name for this offering is “Charon’s obol”. An obol is a measure of currency. The Greeks believed that the dead spirit traveled to the underworld where it needed to cross the River Styx. Charon was the ferryman tasked with taking souls across the river. But he didn’t work for nothing. The coin was a bribe to make sure your loved one reached the afterlife. Otherwise, they might return as an evil spirit.
Greeks are obsessed with the idea of keeping at least one coin on their person at all times. Your pocket or purse should always have at least one coin. Even your bank account needed a little something. This superstition was meant to ensure that you always had money.
Never Dress Your Corpse in Red
Apparently it’s a difficult journey from the grave to the afterlife. The Chinese believe that a soul travels through the ten Magistrates of Hell, where they face faces trials and torments (one for each sin they committed in life). To ease this journey, monks chanted around the deceased to get them through the Courts of Hell as quickly as possible. There would also be a group of people gambling. The idea being that the corpse must be guarded day and night and the gambling kept the people awake and alert.
The color red signifies happiness. After a death, all statues of deities in the house should be covered with red paper, to protect them from the corpse. Mirrors are also removed because to see the reflection of a coffin means that you will shortly die.
The deceased is never dressed in red because this will cause the corpse to return as a ghost.
Dead Flesh Chewing Gum
In Turkey, gum chewing is perfectly fine so long as it happens during daylight hours. If you chew gum at night, it transforms into the flesh of the dead. The color of Turkish gum is very similar to skin tone and can be mistaken as flesh.
Additionally, you are not supposed to trim your nails at night otherwise a djinn will paralyze you.