Elaborate Rituals

The Victorian era, named for the reign of Queen Victorian, was a curious period in many ways, as it is known as a time of prudery, when the mere view of a ladies ankle was considered both titillating and scandalous. Homes of the period were often decorated in a sombre and dreary manner, crowded with knickknacks, like taxidermised birds or dead butterfly's in frames. No doubt, living in such gloomy, museum like interiors, was also a factor adding to this epoch being shrouded with the cloak of superstition and rife with beliefs in the supernatural, unearthly and the strange.

Theatrical Sorrow

Victorian Funeral

Victorian FuneralCredit: Flickr Commons

Mourning and funeral customs of Victorian times, were grandiose, pompous and verging on the theatrical. Queen Victoria after her beloved Albert died, plunged into a deep mourning; this was an important part of the ritual and etiquette of those times. The rules were rigid and complex, but depended on how closely related you were to the deceased person.

The wearing of full black was known as First Mourning and this could last from 4 to 18 months; after this there would be a transition period of Half-Mourning, when mauve could be worn by ladies. However generally the rules were complex, restrictive and highly expensive. Many a family would put themselves deep into debt, to ensure proper displays of respect for the dead.


Victorian HouseCredit: Flickr Commons

Superstition pervaded Victorian times, especially at times of funerals and bereavement. For example if you were out one day walking along the street, minding your own business and you happened to meet a funeral procession, it was advisable to tun around and go in the other direction. If that was not possible, you could still be saved from ill luck, if you held onto a button. However if someone died in your home, it was necessary to stop the clock from ticking, if you wanted to avoid misfortune. And it was always advisable when yawning,  to cover the mouth, so as to avoid the devil whipping in and nabbing your soul.

Be Careful

Mrs Bentley and the spirit of her deceased sisterCredit: Flickr CommonsMrs Bentley and the spirit of her deceased sister

Victorians when attending a funeral, could be sure that the deceased would go to heaven if rain happened to fall on the funeral procession. However if you yourself wished for a decent burial, after your own death, you must take care to hold your breath whist in the graveyard...or else....

Also when you returned home after attending the funeral, you still couldn't relax and wallow in your grief, rigged head to toe in black, because you had to be vigilant for possible omens of death, which could be lurking in everyday mundane happenings. For example if you smelt roses, when there were no roses in the vicinity, then this was a harbinger of death; as was seeing an owl in the hours of daylight. Even in sleep, dreams foretold of death, for if you dreamed of a baby being born, someone close to you was sure to die and worse if you saw yourself in your nocturnal visions -it was you, who were not long for this world.

Portents of Doom

All these signs, omens and portents of doom, no doubt created a lot of stress and anxiety, however the canny Victorians also had a surprisingly simple method to protect themselves from the Grim Reaper. All that was required, was the tieing of black ribbons around dogs, children... and in fact anything which breathed, as it entered the house. And silly old death would be stopped in its tracks!