In Appalachian culture a sure omen of death was something found in the pillows of those who were ill. It is a bizarre phenomenon known as feather crowns.
Long ago, the people of Appalachia began to notice a peculiar phenomenon: odd crownlike masses in the pillows of the seriously ill or recently deceased.
These objects became known as Death Crowns (or less-commonly, angel crowns). Death Crowns are usually elaborate, interlocking designs that resemble a disc or crown. The quills always point inward, and though rare, are only found in the feather pillows of the seriously ill or recently deceased.
Because of the isolated, rural nature of the area, the phenomenon appears to be unique to Appalachia, or locations where some of these mountain folk migrated, such as Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio. But it’s almost exclusively a lost-belief now that most people have switched out their feather pillows for comfort foam or synthetic fibers.
A resident of the Blue Ridge mountains recalled a story about this belief. She started talking about the recent death of her elderly father. He’d been killed while walking around a bus he’d just exited. A car sped by without caution, striking the old man. She was elected the sorrowful chore of sorting through her father’s belongings. As she lifted her father’s ancient feather pillow she felt something solid inside. She started to throw the pillow away, but something compelled her to open it up. She reached inside and probed with her fingers in search of what she had felt. To her astonishment, she pulled out an intricately woven wreath of feathers, roughly the size of a bird’s nest. She took this has a sign her father had gone to heaven.
These odd formations are usually interpreted as a heavenly sign, but skeptics believe that the movements of a dying person—tossing and turning combined with fever sweats–could cause these objects to take form.
If you are one of the few that still sleeps on feather pillow, do not lose all hope if you find a Death Crown in your pillow tonight. One old wives’ tale claims that if you break these wreaths up you could prevent the death of the person the pillow belongs to.
Source - Cult of the Weird
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer