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Death Comes In Threes Superstition: Origin, Meaning & Cultural significance of this Old Saying

Whether you’ve heard elders in your family talk about death coming in threes, or noticed on social media that celebrity deaths tend to be announced and go viral in small clusters of three, this old superstition abounds in the twenty-first century.

But is it true that Deaths come in threes? And where did this superstition come from?

Origins & Meaning of Deaths Coming in Threes:

There are a number of theories regarding the origin of this belief. Some note that this is a prevalent belief among the people of the Appalachian region in the United States which can be traced back to their European ancestor’s belief in the power of the Holy Trinity. Since three was considered a blessed and special number, this phenomenon is seen as predictive of both deaths and bad things in general.

But that’s not the only origin theory for this belief. In some indigenous traditions, the numerical systems are based around the idea that beyond one and two there is “many.” Under this belief, a phenomenon of three deaths would be synonymous with many tragedies or a widespread crisis.

Death Comes In Threes

Others look to the significance of the number three in various religions including Christianity. The number three is easy to internalize. It’s a small enough number to be understood in practical terms and is not abstract. Thus, even though thousands or hundreds of thousands of people may die worldwide in a given time frame, an individual or family may recall the three deaths that were impactful to them specifically.

Put another way, we are less cognizant of the entirety of statistics like deaths. Just as we can’t easily conceptualize large numbers like GDP, but we can conceptualize our personal income, so too do we tend to see deaths close to us as individuals or families as having more significance as compared to deaths in general in the larger population.

As we age, the more people we know the more likely we are to notice people in our personal circles dying, and many times this involves clusters of three deaths.

Also, because death is often perceived as traumatic, people will look for meaning and significance in a series of deaths. Even if the deaths are spread out throughout a year or several months, we will instantly connect the events and think of them as occurring in a cluster of threes.

Death Comes In 3’s Superstition: Do Deaths Really Come in Threes?

But is it true? It depends on your perception. In small communities in which everyone knows everyone else, it seems easy to understand how people can perceive deaths coming in threes because bad things or tragic events are likely to be clustered together in memory. Thus, even if three deaths occur months apart, it will still seem to validate this belief.

Given that two people die every second worldwide, the more people one knows intimately the more likely one is to feel like they are going to wakes or funerals in groups of three or even more. Others point to the prevalence of celebrity culture as keeping this superstition alive and well.

Since much is made of celebrity deaths especially in the news and on social media, it may seem that deaths occur in threes. In truth, there may be many more deaths occurring at any given time, but the virality of death news related to the famous, make it seem as if the old saying must be true.

Cultural Significance of Death Coming in Threes

Death Comes In Threes Superstition: Origin, Meaning & Cultural significance of this Old Saying

Although the superstition of deaths coming in threes is often traced from the Appalachian region of the United States to the beliefs of Scots-Irish ancestors in Europe, a variation of this belief is also found in Mexico. In this case, it is the belief that each person dies three deaths. The first is the end of the body’s activity, the second is when the body is buried in the earth, and the third is when there is no one left to remember the individual.

Pagan cultures also revere the number three as representing the trinity of the God and Goddess and even non-religious philosophies tend to view three as a number of great significance. It’s a number that implies groups and community, as it expands beyond the individual or the number of a pair or couple. It’s also a number that is easily held in mind, giving greater significance to the first three or most significant three events to make an influence on a person, such as three deaths or three accidents.


Now that you know the origins of the superstition that deaths always come in threes, perhaps you’ll think twice, or three times, before buying into this idea.

On the other hand, it’s likely that even knowing that deaths happen every second won’t change the knee-jerk perception that deaths arrive in threes. After all, it’s hard to change centuries old beliefs and it’s more likely that you’ll know three people who die in a given time frame than people who die every second. As such, it’s easy for the belief that deaths occur in threes to continue to endure.

Angela Kaufman is a Certified Intuitive Consultant, Psychic Medium, Intuitive Empowerment, Life Coach and an LCSW. She is an amazon published author and was Featured on several shows like Discovery Channel’s A Haunting, Echoes from the Past (2007) 14 Degrees: A Paranormal Documentary, Tune In to Wellness Today with LisaMarie Tersigni, and Empowering Entrepreneurs with Melissa Carter as well as numerous radio interviews. She is the author of Queen Up! Reclaim Your Crown When Life Knocks You Down - Unleash the Power of Your Inner Tarot Queen and also co-authored three books on metaphysical spirituality (Sacred Objects, Sacred Space; Everyday Tools for the Modern Day Witch | Wicca What's the Real Deal? Breaking Through the Misconceptions | The Esoteric Dream Book; Mastering the Magickal Symbolism of the Subconscious Mind). Angela regularly conducts workshops, the Inner Queen coaching program and loves writing articles, that blend social criticism with spirituality.