Old Timey Superstition: Death Comes in Threes



My grandfather died, then my uncle suddenly passed away within two weeks of each other, and immediately, a feeling of anxiety swept over the mountains of southern West Virginia as our entire family began eyeing each other – and some themselves – as we awaited the inevitable third death that seemed inevitable.

Dating back to my boyhood, when I remember attending my first “wake” all the way up to this past week, I’ve heard it said a dozen times over throughout the mountains of Appalachia — “They come in threes!”

Fortunately for our family, the unthinkable occurred and for whatever reason that almost forgone conclusion of a third funeral never occurred — at least not until everyone had moved on to other things and the memory of the two previously deceased relatives had long since passed.

While I’ll be the first to admit that those of us who grew up in the mountains of Appalachia are privy to some pretty wild superstitions, particularly when it comes to death, i.e., birds singing outside one’s window at nighttime means a death is coming… as does rocking an empty rocking chair; however, the “death comes in threes” notion is one that I tend to believe ever the more as I grow older.

I cannot count how many times I’ve seen this take place with my own eyes — Let’s not forget about the time Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett all died in the same week.

But why do so many people believe this and what are the origins of this mysterious belief?

Like a countless number of other Appalachian beliefs and superstitions, the notion of people dying off in threes can be traced back across the Atlantic to our European ancestors, who, thanks to an unshakable belief in the Trinity, began to see everything broken into sections of threes — tragedies, births, etc.

While there remains considerable debate as to whether folks in a community or family actually do pass away in threes, the reality is that if you’re in Appalachia, you simply won’t have to go too far to find someone who believes this — perhaps even myself!

Like articles like this? Then you will love Appalachian Magazine’s Ghost Stories & Haint Tales: A Collection of Memories & Commentaries a Collection of Memories and Commentaries from the Mountains of Appalachia! Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

Share this article with your friends on Facebook:


  1. I’m from Wetzel county and I’ve heard this my entire life. I’ve mostly observed it to be true. I personally believe there are many things we find true that we won’t understand this side of eternity.

  2. I grew hearing that not only deaths, but also misfortunes come in threes. I well remember the winter that the oven quit working and the television died. My father took a flashlight and went down to check the water heater, because he expected one more thing to give up the ghost, as “troubles fly in threes”.

  3. As someone whose mother grew up in southwest Virginia, I remember her telling us some of these superstitions, such as when it was raining but the sun was shining she would say : “The devil is beating his wife”. She sometimes called these “old wives tales”.

  4. Our family had 3 deaths in 1986. We lost an Uncle( my Mom’s brother) on 11/2/1986. My Dad passed away the following day, 11/3/1986 and another Uncle (my Dad’s brother) on 11/17/1986. 3 deaths in 17 days. I am from southeastern Kentucky and a firm believer of this. Happened again in 2017. Lost 2 close friends and a cousin within 12 days.

  5. North Alabama here. Recently had two friends of the family pass. I’ve watched my mother pace nervously wondering who the third will be.

  6. Have you ever heard that fish and family spell after 3 days?? Lol meaning when family come to visit 3 days is usually enough. LOL…Another Kentucky wise tell.

  7. This year alone I have lost my father, my daughter and my mother in law and 2 of my dogs and my son’s favorite cat. I’m so done it’s not even funny. Death just really needs to leave my family alone.

Comments are closed.