Monday, April 2, 2012

Feather Crowns (death crowns, angel crowns ) Tennessee folk lore

Have you heard of feather crowns?  This little bit of Tennessee folk lore was not part of our family legends.  However,  it is a bit of middle Tennessee folk belief with possible connections
 to northern Alabama and to bayou country in Louisiana, as well.  (Perhaps, it is found in many other places, too.  If you have heard of this, please leave me a comment and a note about where you are from.)

The feather crown is a clump of feathers found in a feather pillow after someone has died.  One old explanation for this is that as the soul leaves the body, the feathers are sucked or woven into a hard not.  Another variation is that the crown is found if the person went to heaven, and a variation of this tale is that the crown forms as a crown for someone to wear upon entering heaven.   Of course, some have offered logical explanations, such as the feathers forming around a thread or some other object in the feather ticking.

One woman, Mrs. D. B. Andrews, was quoted by middle Tennessee historian, Jill Garrett as saying that it was bad luck to find one if someone had not died.  That meant that a death was coming.

People opened the pillows, pulled out the feather crowns, and kept them as memorials to the deceased.  Jill Garrett's own family kept two such crowns in their own family, one from 1894 and one from 1918.  the earlier one fell apart in the 1930's, but as of 1979, Ms. Garrett's family still had the 1918 one.

Many claim that these form only when a person has died, thus simply tossing and turning during an illness doesn't make it happen.

Of course, this is superstitious rather than scriptural, but interesting nonetheless.  I'd love to know if they really only do form in someone's last illness, for whatever reason.  Perhaps, as someone is dying, their movement is restricted, and their head stays put in one place for a long time.  This could make a permanent indentation, I suppose, if the feathers did clump around something within the ticking.

In the 2010's, most of us sleep on foam pillows, and only those who really love feather pillows seek them out. So, we have less scope for studying this phenomenon.

Enjoy!




14 comments:

  1. Interesting blog post. I've never heard of feather crowns before. Thanks for sharing this information.

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  2. Hi Ceclia. I had never heard of them either, until I researched this post. I recently came across pictures of them. The people actually take the clumps of feathers out and preserver them. Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting.

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  3. I had never seen or heard of anything like this until I moved to Southern Indiana in 2008. I visited the local museum where there are a few Angel Crowns on display. I am not sure how or why or what these are but found the folklore interesting none the less.

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  4. Hi Cindy,

    I've not seen one in person, only in pictures. I'm not sure exactly what these are or how they are formed, but they are interesting! Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

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  5. I have seen one personally. My family lived in rural West Virginia. My uncle died as a teenager in the 1930's. He had only been sick for a week. After he died my grandmother was cleaning up, tore open his pillow and found his feather crown. I saw it in the 1970's. A cousin still has it. It is kept in a box with other mementos of Uncle Rhondus.

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  6. That's great that your family still has this memento. I hope that it is preserved through future generations.

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  8. My mother has her grandmother's who passed away in Sept. 1949. They lived in Kentucky. My mother says their belief was that a person having this crown in their pillow was believed to have gone to heaven. Of course, as you say, there is no way of knowing.

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  9. There are several death crowns on display at the Lawrence County Museum in Bedford, Indiana.

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  10. My grandmother and her sisters would search for the crown in the pillow of a deceased family member. They would add the crown to their own pillows believing that the crowns collected would bring them luck and good health.

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  11. I have inherited my great grandfathers feather crown. He died at home on this feather pillow. He died in 1949 in Georgia. He was born in Fannin County Georgia which is near the Tennessee and North Carolina border. His mother was from North Carolina.

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  12. In 1982, my grandmother showed me two crowns that she said belonged to her parents. She lived in Helena Arkansas. She told me that each feather in the crown represented one year of life, and that each crown contained the exact number of feathers that matched their ages when they passed.

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  13. I was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains. My grandmother had one and it was the most amazing thing to see. The feathers were so tightly woven together and they all went in the same direction. It was about 3 inches thick and 7 inches wide. Kind of heavy where there were so many feathers in one dense area. There was nothing holding the feathers together but yet they were bound by a weave likeness. It is obvious that one could never be handmade. We were never told that they were anything but a sign that the person that had passed had gone to heaven. So, they were revered as a good thing. Nothing to be afraid of. They were passed down simply because they are so amazing to see. This one belonged to my grandmother and passed to my mother and passed then to my oldest sister and now her son.

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  14. Just googled this because I live in bootheel of Missouri but our grandparents migrated here during the depression. My Grandma kept a crown from Grandpas feather pillow right aftwr he died. Us kids were astounded. Recently I switched to feather pillows for comfort and remembering the old days with my Grandparents. I have had a 6 bypass open heart surgery 12 years ago and an abdominal aortic anuerism surgery 5 years ago. As you can guess health aint that great but us country hill folk work til the day we drop although mobility is an issue these days. Tonight I was fluffing my pillow since I fold it to keep me aligned to reduce pain and disconfort and lo and behold a well formed crown in the corner of it brought back the stories I heard as a young man. My first thought is I hope what Grandma told isnt true even though I am realistic about my odds at a long life. This article reinforces the stories I use to hear and although I wont let it be a determining factor in my faith it will definitely keep me thinking.

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