Creepy Mountain Folklore – Claiborne Progress
Spooky Mountain Folklore
Posted at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday, October 13, 2022
II have commented before that highlanders tend to cling to old traditions, many of which are deeply rooted in European (particularly Scottish-Irish), African and even Native American ancestry. As the Halloween season approaches, I thought I’d cover some paranormal superstitions that I learned in my family or heard locally. I bet you’ve heard at least one or two yourself.
Death comes in threes: This superstition suggests that if someone dies, two other people associated with the deceased will also soon die. I’ve heard this one all my life, and the only historical reference to explain it is an old belief called the “Rule of Three”, which states that bad events (or good events) come in multiples of three.
Blue Porch Ceilings: It’s an old belief that painting porch ceilings blue will ward off evil spirits because they won’t pass through water, and the color blue confuses them where they won’t come. My wife’s grandmother (Momsie) insisted on this all her life. The traditional color is a shade of light blue which was aptly called “haint blue”. Haint for you youngsters is an old mountainous term for ghost.
Staying awake to an alarm clock: It is the tradition to watch over a corpse before burial, normally the day before. The term comes from the Old English “wacan”, which means “to be awake and to watch”. It is an old Celtic tradition that predates Christianity and comes from Scotland and Ireland.
Vigils were held to ward off evil spirits from disturbing the body. With the introduction of Christianity, prayer and meditation were sometimes added to the wake.
Cover mirrors after a death: This was done as soon as someone died, and all the mirrors in the house were covered with sheets until after the burial. An old belief was that if the souls of recently deceased people saw their reflection in a mirror, they would be trapped and unable to leave and begin their afterlife, which could lead them to stay and haunt.t home. Another reference noted that evil spirits gather where someone died and you might spot them in a mirror.
Stopping the clocks at the time of death: This had several possible origins. There is a belief that when a person dies they start a new life.riod of existence without time. If time is allowed to continue in the house, as in a ticking clock, the spirit can remain in the house. Another belief was that if the clocks weren’t stopped, bad luck would stay at home.
A bird flying in a window predicts death: My wife’s grandmother Madon believed that the death of one of her sons was heralded by a bird flying into a closed window and committing suicide. There are several versions of this superstition, including a bird actually entering the house, or a bird landing on a windowsill and banging on the glass with its beak. The only reference I could find on this one is that a long time ago birds in general were considered mystical because they could fly and all that and so their appearance in an unusual way was a red flag.
Trees that flower out of season are a bad omen: I was freaked out by my Great Aunt Jenny Arnold’s when I was 10. My mom and I walked with her to her old house one day in September, and there was a dogwood tree in the yard that had few flowers on it, a far cry from its normal April bloom time. Seeing these out-of-season flowers frightened her, and she was adamant that something bad was about to happen, suggesting someone was going to die. His extreme agitation scared me too, because, well, there were only three of us there and so the odds weren’t good for any of us.
Steve Roark volunteers at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.