death omens in Polish folklore


the following things, considered to be a sign of upcoming death – or even something that would bring death upon someone – are widely present in many branches of slavic beliefs. they are deeply rooted in the belief in magic – and even if now thought by many to be merely folk superstition, they were once a very set and important way of recognizing signs, foretelling the future, and protecting yourself and your household – way of life if you will.

considering my research and sources I’m using focus mainly on Polish folklore (with lesser additions from other slavic countries) I refrained from using the universal “slavic” title and categorization.  

however, keep in mind that many of those will be present in the folklore of other slavic (especially east and west) lands.


– if a rooster crows three times, it means the death is coming – similarly, if he crows at night. if a hen crows similarly to the rooster, it should be killed because it is a terrible omen

– killing a stork will bring death upon the killer and misery upon the entire village

– if a swallow hits the window and dies, it foretells a death of someone in the household

– if you hear a cuckoo while staring at the ground or looking down it means death will get you before the year ends

– if a woodpecker pecks at the door or threshold of a house it warns you about the upcoming death

– if a woman sees a black pigeon it is a sign she will soon be a widow

– if an owl hoots throughout the night near the household it is a sign that someone will soon die

– if a jay sits upon the roof, someone in the household will die

– if a nightingale sings while someone is sick or dying, it means their death will be peaceful and painless

– crows, raven, and jackdaws circling above the household were the most agreed upon death omen


– if a dog howls relentlessly at night, it means someone will die

– if a dog howls precisely three times, it means that someone just died and their soul passed close-by

– if a dog howls while looking down on the ground, it means he sees death itself coming for someone

– if a dog keeps digging in the ground in one place it is a sign of a grave having to be dug soon

– if a dog dies while its master is sick it is a sign the person will die as well


 cutting down an elderberry would bring death upon the person who did it; cutting one growing above a pond or stream would poison the water

– a lonely tree in a field, especially if dead or slanted, would bring bad luck, demons, or even death upon someone who touched it or sat beneath it

– digging up a rowan or a  hazel tree (or destroying its roots) would bring death upon the one who did it


– killing a household or barn snake would bring bad luck, illnesses or death upon the family

– if a child was sick and a household snake died it was a sign the child would die as well

dead, corpses, funerals:

– if someone points a finger at a funeral procession, they bring death upon themselves

– falling asleep in the room where a body of the deceased was kept would bring sickness and death on the person – similarly if someone sat or put anything between the legs of the dead

– if you look a dead person in the eyes they might take you with them

– if you do not belong to the closest family of the dead person or you are not the one appointed to carry out funerary preparations, touching the corpse might bring death upon you

– if someone looks through the window of the room and sees the deceased, that person will die soon

– if the funeral procession stops randomly while going through the village, someone will die in the house by which they stopped

– do not look behind you while in the procession, as the dead person’s soul might be following and will take you with it

spring and Kupala’s Night:

– if someone fences off his household in spring – or during Kupala’s Night St. John’s Eve – and drives the stakes through the ground, they will die before autumn

– if someone bathes in a pond or river before Kupala’s Night or St. John’s Eve they might die, killed by “the evil in the water” (usually topielce, boginki, witches, evil spirits etc)

these are, in all honesty, just a part of nearly countless beliefs and superstitions connected to death – and the signs and omens. 

if anyone – especially my Slavic followers – knows more and has something to add, please do so, I’d greatly appreciate it.

(main sources, other than personal research and conversations with people – especially older – in villages and cities of Silesia and Lesser Poland: A. Lebeda, Komentarze do Polskiego Atlasu Etnograficznego: Wiedza i Wierzenia Ludowe, 2002; Z. Sawicka Śmierć i pogrzeb w tradycji ludowej; B. Żurawski Ludowe zwiastuny śmierci i złe wróżby; excerpts from S. Hodorowicz, Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore)