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Why do people put sheets over mirrors?

Covering mirrors with sheets is a practice that dates back centuries and continues to be common in many cultures today. There are various beliefs and superstitions around mirror covering that influence this custom. Understanding the origins and significance of this tradition provides insight into human culture and psychology.

Historical Origins

The practice of covering mirrors following a death has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome. In Greek and Roman myths, mirrors were believed to be portals to the spirit world. Covering mirrors after someone’s death was thought to prevent the deceased’s spirit from getting trapped in the mirror or home.

Ancient Jewish traditions also contributed to the practice of covering mirrors. According to Jewish folklore, the Angel of Death collects souls by dropping a feather in front of a dying person. If the person’s reflection is visible in a mirror, the Angel of Death can collect their soul more quickly. Covering mirrors helped delay the Angel.

In Victorian times, covering mirrors (and stopping clocks) was a sign of a household in mourning after a family member’s passing. The veil over the mirror represented the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Religious and Spiritual Reasons

In many faiths and spiritual traditions today, covering mirrors after a death remains common practice.

In Judaism, mourners cover mirrors during Shiva, the first seven days after a loved one’s death. This prevents the spirit from getting trapped in the mirror, and helps family and visitors focus on grieving rather than vanity.

In Islam, it is customary to cover mirrors while the body is still in the house after death. Some also cover mirrors for 40 days after a death in the family.

Hindus cover mirrors as part of a formal mourning ritual after a death, as the soul is preparing to transition into the afterlife. When the mirror is uncovered, special prayers are said to mark the soul’s journey.

In Feng Shui, covering mirrors is thought to allow the bereaved to adjust to loss and avoid confusing spirits.

Protecting from Ghosts and Evil

Apart from religious rituals, many cultures share a folk belief that covering mirrors can ward off spirits. Mirrors are thought to be portals where ghosts and spirits can enter or glimpse the world of the living.

In Mexican culture, it’s common to cover mirrors in a home where someone has recently died to prevent the ghost from haunting the living. A more temporary version is covering mirrors during prayer or sleep to avoid evil spirits.

In Eastern European folklore, vampires and evil spirits allegedly cannot be seen in mirrors. Covering mirrors protects people from glimpsing these dark forces.

Some Asian traditions state that leaving a mirror uncovered can attract spirits and bad energy. New home constructions may keep mirrors covered until rituals can sanctify the home.

Even into the early 20th century in parts of rural America, it was customary to cover mirrors and reflective surfaces in a home when someone was dying.

Mourning and Bereavement Psychology

Covering mirrors also has psychological implications for the bereaved. Seeing one’s reflection can disrupt the grieving process.

Viewing oneself in the mirror during mourning can bring up a mix of emotions – vanity, guilt, sadness, anxiety – that distract from processing grief. Avoiding mirrors helps maintain focus.

Covering mirrors also signals others in the household that introspection and solemnity are called for during the mourning period.

Finally, the act of physically covering the mirrors provides a sense of action and ritual to help cope with loss.

When are Mirrors Covered?

Nowadays, mirror covering is most consistently practiced in the period immediately following a death, especially the wake and funeral proceedings. Some families may have customs around when to remove the mirrors’ coverings later.

It is common for motel and hotel rooms, hospital rooms, funeral homes, and other places the deceased may be present to keep mirrors covered while the body is there and during viewing.

Some families also cover home mirrors during major illnesses leading up to a death. And in some sects, mirror covering extends through the entire mourning period of 30 days or a year after a death.

What Objects are Used to Cover Mirrors?

Traditionally, a black veil or cloth would drape over mirrors during mourning. Some families use white sheets or drapes pulled over mirrors.

In hotels/hospitals, paper, bedsheets, curtains, or other available fabrics are simply taped or pinned over glass surfaces.

For temporary mirror covering during prayer or sleep, small cloths or Post-it notes may suffice.

While any opaque material can work, using darker colors and fabrics associated with mourning help set the tone.

Mirror Covering in Popular Culture

References to the tradition of mirror covering appear in literature, film, and pop culture:

  • In Greek myth, Perseus uses a mirrored shield to avoid looking at Medusa and being turned to stone.
  • Vampires like Dracula cast no reflection in mirrors in Gothic horror stories.
  • Mourning families cover mirrors in novels like Beloved by Toni Morrison.
  • Covered mirrors represented grief over a death in films like The Others.
  • “The Veil” references mirror covering after death in Harry Potter books.
  • Rappers like Lil Wayne have mentioned covering mirrors to avoid evil spirits.

These references show how deeply mirror lore persists in our collective imagination.

Should You Cover Mirrors After a Death?

There are mixed views on whether to continue the custom of covering mirrors.

For some mourners, covering mirrors provides comfort through tradition and ritual. They believe it wards off spirits, helps focus introspection, and signals solemnity.

However, others see mirror covering as an outdated superstition with no basis. They feel no need to cover mirrors after a death in their family.

There are also logistical considerations, as covering all reflective surfaces in modern households can be impractical. In shared living spaces like hospitals, mirror covering may not be feasible.

Overall, the choice of whether to cover mirrors is personal based on cultural beliefs, individual psyche, and practical needs during mourning.

Contemporary Approaches

While full mirror covering is less common today, some adapted approaches recognize the value of rituals for grief while also honoring the deceased:

  • Collectively clean mirrors and remove dust before re-revealing them.
  • Place a memorial wreath or flowers around or below the mirror.
  • Hold a small service when taking the covering off to honor the person lost.
  • If relocating, keep one mirror covered until settled in the new home.

With adaptation, mirror covering can retain its significance as a symbolic grieving practice.


Covering mirrors after a death began as an ancient ritual to protect the living and deceased spirits. While some see it as outdated superstition, it persists as a mourning custom across many cultures. Psychologically, avoiding reflections helps focus grief and signal solemnity. Mirror covering endures both as a practical means of processing loss and a symbolic remembrance of those we love.