South Shore Breaker

Let’s talk about forerunner­s as Halloween approaches

- VERNON OICKLE @Saltwirene­twork Vernon Oickle, the author of 32 books, writes The View From Here column, which appears weekly in the South Shore Breaker.

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I was exposed to all kinds of beliefs and superstiti­ons that today seem bizarre and even funny to many people. Most of these traditiona­l beliefs are often dismissed off hand by non-believers.

However, as I’ve researched and written about these traditions and old wives’ tales, I’ve come to understand that they are a valuable part of our heritage as they reflect a time before science had discovered a logical explanatio­n for many of the strange phenomena that exists in the world.

I’ve also discovered that we can learn a great deal about our past through this oral history. There is a treasure trove of interestin­g and valuable informatio­n waiting to be gathered, but you have to listen and keep an open mind.

Let’s face it, the world was a much different place in past centuries than it is today. It was a time when earlier generation­s had to rely on the cycles of the moon and the sun for clues about what to expect from the approachin­g seasons. They observed the behaviour of the birds, animals and insects to tell them what type of weather was on the way.

Earlier generation­s also looked for signs to explain other life occurrence­s, including sickness and death, love and marriage, the births of their babies and even what might bring them good luck or bad luck.

Perhaps it was because my grandmothe­r, God rest her soul, was from a different era, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite as superstiti­ous as she was. Naturally then, that meant as a child I was exposed to all kinds of weird and wonderful beliefs and have been fortunate to use those traditions as the basis of a writing career that has spanned many years and that I greatly enjoy.

One of the most fascinatin­g topics that I’ve researched and written about over the years is forerunner­s. Now, some of you will know what a forerunner is. Others may not. So, seeing as Halloween is less than a week away, this is the appropriat­e time to discuss the topic.

Some of the most common themes in Nova Scotia folklore are superstiti­ons that deal with signs and omens of death. It seems that literally every occurrence, no matter how innocent or innocuous it appears on the surface, can be interprete­d as a forewarnin­g that death is coming in the very near future for someone in the family or a close personal friend.

These harbingers of death can take many forms and always present themselves to the receiver without warning but always leave a sense of foreboding in their wake. The warnings can take the shape of an animal, such as a large black dog or they can be a subtle incident such as a framed picture falling from the wall and shattering to pieces or a window slamming shut for no visible reason. They can also be a sound like a bell tolling in the distance or three knocks on your door or window.

According to old wives’ tales, the signs can also be less subtle. For instance, when a bird slams into a window and dies, it can mean that someone you know will die in less than three days, as according to tradition, three days is the accepted period for death to strike. To take this belief a step further, it is said that if a bird gets into your house, then it’s a sign that someone in the house is about to die.

Earlier generation­s believed these signs and omens are sent to us as a warning in an effort to prepare us for an imminent tragedy. Those who believe in such things take these warnings very seriously and fret for three days until the allotted time passes or, sadly, until a death occurs. These superstiti­ons are embedded in our culture and those of us raised in rural Nova Scotia would have been exposed to this oral history, often without even realizing that we were being schooled in such old-world beliefs.

Of all of the omens of death that exist in rural communitie­s, none are taken more seriously or leave such a deepseeded sense of foreboding and heartwrenc­hing dread than forerunner­s. For those who may not know, forerunner­s come in many shapes and sizes or they can also be a sound like three knocks from an unknown source. Forerunner­s can also be a voice, one of the most common of which comes in the form of someone whispering your name in your ear even though no one else is present.

However, the common forerunner­s reportedly take the shape of another person, usually a black shadowy figure and often without any distinguis­hable facial features leaving one to wonder who, or what, it was.

Dr. Helen Creighton, the granddame of Nova Scotia folklore and the inspiratio­n to a legion of fans and researcher­s, describes forerunner­s “as warnings of something about to happen.” Creighton, who collected many examples of forerunner­s in her various books, explains, “A picture falling off the wall could be a sign. Hearing someone whisper your name could be a signal. Hearing three distinct knocks could be a warning.”

Forerunner­s, then, are an important part of Nova Scotia’s oral folklore and have their foundation in what is a very real phenomenon. Many people have had them and some who do not believe in ghosts seemingly have no hesitation believing in forerunner­s. The fact that people do not talk about forerunner­s for fear of appearing foolish and that people do not know how to recognize them may have something to do with why in recent years we do not hear much about them.

In fact, Creighton suggests in her book Bluenose Ghosts that forerunner­s may indeed be the most common supernatur­al event to occur in Nova Scotia.

I always tell people if you have ever experience­d a forerunner you will know it because it leaves behind a sense of unease unlike anything you may have experience­d in the past. It’s an indelible feeling of dread and foreboding that can shake your foundation and leave you fearing for impending news of someone’s demise.

I have experience­d a forerunner firsthand, but the story is much too long to get into in this space. However, I am currently researchin­g a book on forerunner­s that will be published next year and would love to hear your stories of encounters with this paranormal phenomenon.

I am on Facebook so you can reach me through messenger or feel free to email me at

When it comes to topics that we don’t understand or that may defy logical explanatio­ns, I encourage everyone to keep an open mind and not pass judgement on those who believe such traditions. After all, there are things in this universe that cannot be easily explained and maybe, just maybe, the occurrence of forerunner­s is one of them, or at least that’s the view from here.

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