I’ve always thought it quite funny how when someone shivers, especially if particularly violently, they will declare that someone must have walked over their grave. I remember imagining as a kid that there was this green space somewhere just waiting to be used as a burial plot, maybe even with a blank headstone just itching to be carved with someone’s name. It happened to me more recently, and it still strikes me as an odd saying to be announced to those around you when you shiver. Why do we believe someone has walked over our eventual resting place and when did this start? What is the likelihood that someone could have stepped over your burial plot? Should we still say this even if we wish to be cremated and scattered or does that just mean we could potentially shiver a lot more than those who will be confined to one place?

Of course, a lot of that those questions posed are simply my own humorous trains of thought that often can end up in the realm of ridiculous. Hence why I rather enjoyed the discussions at Death Café on the topic of celebrating or even knowing our death days and what this could mean for our lives. Oh yay I made it past April 4th again, another year of waiting to see if it will be my time in 365 days!

A brief bit of research into this saying seems to be that it comes from the 18th century originally and is found in a few different English speaking countries. I would be interested to know if you are familiar with this saying and where you are from. Also, do any other languages have this or something similar? In English it appears to stem from a folklore type belief of simply that someone has just walked over your future grave. I’m guessing no one considered that if you never shivered then your grave was somewhere no one ever went or if you shivered a lot then the footfall of your grave was pretty high. I’m also assuming that this only applied to standalone shivers, the ones that shake you suddenly and independently and not the ones you get with being cold or unwell.

So what is the likelihood that someone is walking over your future grave site? That is, of course, a very difficult thing to predict or say confidently but it’s worth exploring. As I said above, if you are going to have your ashes scattered in a memorable or beloved spot then I suppose it’s quite likely if this space is vast and popular. That reminds me of stories of ash scattering into high winds off of cliffs where more of the deceased ends up on the people doing the scattering than anywhere intended. Maybe they would be one of these people that shivers often and for absolutely no reason.

I guess if your grave is with a loved one, in a family plot or on a plot being reused then actually it’s quite unlikely. A small number of us know where we are going to be buried because we have already reserved the space. A privileged few who could probably test out this folklore type belief. Now I have an amusing mental image of someone running backwards and forwards over a grave and asking ‘how about now?‘. If you ultimately end up with a plot that is being reused, and yes this does happen, then I imagine the likelihood of someone walking over it to be minimal. Most people do their very best to avoid any kind of grave when they visit cemeteries, I know I do and try to stick to the spaces in between as best I can while looking for particular plots.

If the reusing of graves is something shocking to you, I’m sorry to have to admit this to you! In the UK we are quite short of land in comparison to other countries, and older cemeteries in London are able to reuse plots after 75 years. This is even applicable if the original grave was sold with the terms of it being forever. A couple of years ago I went searching for a grave in Ripple Road cemetery in Dagenham in East London and the person I was searching for was underneath two other people. It doesn’t mean the original owners are removed after 75 years, it just means that they share with a complete stranger from the past or future depending on where anyone is in that sequence.

The last thought that popped in my head regarding this was, what happens if you are relocated? Would the shiver be associated to both sites, or to just the eventual latter site? Or what if you keep moving around, like for example you are ashes in a ring or item of jewellery. Would this still apply, or would only a small part of you not be enough to make the shiver happen? The poor folk in the London churchyard clearances would have had shivers from the churchyard, or from their now resting place in the City of London cemetery?

We will certainly never know, and that’s okay but it does still make it fun to speculate and theorise about. You might believe shivers are an involuntary response to the cold or a range of feelings, but what if there really is more to it than that?

MG x

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