One time when I first met my now-husband, Brandon, we were driving in the car. As we passed a cemetery, I shouted “hold your breath!” and clamped my mouth shut.
Brandon quickly listened and held his breath with me. A few moments later, I let out a big exhale. Brandon also exhaled while staring at me.
He asked, “What? Did you fart or something?”
I started laughing and had to explain to him a superstition that I thought everyone followed: holding your breath while passing a cemetery so that the ghosts don’t enter your body through your mouth or nose. This is obviously ridiculous, and I didn’t believe it would ever actually happen, but I had done it habitually since I was a child. I cannot remember exactly where I heard this superstition, but I think a friend must have told me about it when I was little. The first time I remember doing this, I was on the school bus. My friends and I would hold our breath while passing a local cemetery and always lift our feet when going over railroad tracks.
It is difficult to find the origins of this superstition, but one origin could come from the story of Adam and Eve, since “it is believed that God breathed life into Adam” (Bryson, 2011). So life and breathing have a correlation. Another belief of the origins has to do with the actual word soul, which “always derives from the word for breath” (Bryson, 2011). A different belief is that this superstition originated from Native American culture since they believed that “breathing near the dead was risky because you might accidentally inhale someone’s soul” (Cowart, 2015). So that could have been altered over the years to include bodies that were already buried.
Looking back, I realize that I have not held my breath while passing a cemetery since that day in the car with my husband. I now recognize the ridiculousness of continuing to do it, even out of habit. I suppose most superstitions seem ridiculous, even to the people that continue to do them.
Bryson, B. (2011, July 8). Don’t breathe while passing a cemetary [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.pseudoparanormal.com/2011/07/dont-breathe-while-passing-cemetary.html
Cowart, K. (2015, January 8). 25 common superstitions and their origins [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://equinoxparanormal.tumblr.com/post/109640223377/25-common-superstitions-and-their-origins-from