Superstitious? Then take a look at our round-up of the most ghastly, grim and chilling harbingers of death...


1. Screaming banshee



The banshee is a female spirit of Irish origin whose deafening, disembodied, piercing wail – known as keening – warns of an impending death. Originally, she grieved for one of Ireland’s five major families – the O’Grady’s, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors and the Kavanaghs. However, thanks to intermarriage over the centuries it’s thought that most Irish families now have their own banshee… She is also a big part of Scottish folkore.

Her lament is said to be the first warning a household will have of the imminent death of a loved one. She may also appear in form – although it is very rare to see her. The banshee is often depicted as a disheveled old hag, but can also be a beautiful woman. When more than one wails together, they’re foretelling the death of someone holy, or very great.

2. It’s an omen…



A doppelganger is the ghost of a living person, a spirit double – and, if you catch sight of your own, folklore has it that you’ll soon be meeting your maker. If a friend or family member spots your doppelganger, some believe you’ll become afflicted with serious illness or find yourself in danger.

It’s thought that doppelgangers can communicate with their human twin – but this isn’t advised, since the doppelganger may whisper malicious, misleading or sinister counsel or ideas into their double’s ear.

American president Abraham Lincoln claimed to have seen his doppelganger in his bureau mirror shortly after his election in 1860. He noted that the second reflection was noticeably paler than his own, which greatly worried his wife. Lincoln only served one full term in office, as he was famously assassinated while watching a play in 1865…

The mythology of the doppelganger is thousands of years old, and the word, German in origin, literally translates as double-goer.

3. Black shuck



This beastly, ghostly, giant black dog has flaming red eyes, and haunts the country lanes of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Shuck has been appearing for centuries, at least as far back as 1577, when its appearance in Bungay and Blythburgh drew great attention. It was reported that Shuck burst into a Church during a service, thundered up the aisle killing a man and child and causing the steeple to collapse. Chillingly, on its exit from the building, Black Shuck left great scorch marks on the Church’s door – referred to locally as the ‘devil’s fingerprints’ – which can still be seen today…

Seeing the ghastly dog is said to be an omen of death. In 1901, author W. A. Dutt described the creature: “He prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound. You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye… But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck; it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year.”

And Black Shuck isn’t alone – several other ghostly dogs have been reported stalking the British countryside…

Other harbingers of death



4. The three knocks of death

If you ever hear three, unexplained knocks on your door or window, it may be a sign that someone you know is about to meet their end…

5. Say cheese

Some people believe that if three people are photographed together, the person in the middle will be the first to die.

6. Fly away

Sparrows are believed by some to be harbingers of death – take care not to let one fly through your window…

7. Dream on

An old wives’ tale tells that if you dream of birth, it’s actually a sign that death is around the corner.