While it’s unclear exactly where the origin of the four-leaf clover superstition began, one thing is certain: four-leaf clovers are one of the most recognizable good luck symbols in the Western world.
Horseshoes have been considered lucky since ancient times. While the origin story has many variations, the tale goes that St. Dunstan, a 10th-century saint who was a blacksmith at the time, was visited by the hoofed devil. The devil asked for a horseshoe for himself, so Dunstan nailed a hot horseshoe on one of his hooves. The devil, in pain, begged for him to remove it. Dunstan agreed under the condition that the devil respect the horseshoe and not enter any place where one hung above the door. This legend caused people to believe that hanging a horseshoe above their door (typically with seven nails, due to it being a lucky number) could ward evil spirits off.
There are contrasting opinions on which way the shoe should be nailed. There are some who believe it should be pointing “up” in order for the horseshoe to catch the luck, while some believe that it should be pointing “down” so that the luck is poured upon those entering the home.
The Maneki Neko is a lucky charm commonly found in Japan. Otherwise known as the Beckoning Cat, Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat, Money Cat, or Fortune Cat, this figure is commonly found in businesses.
Many variations of this figurine exist, all with different significances; a cat with its left paw raised is believed to attract customers, while a raised right paw is believed to attract money and prosperity. The higher the paw is raised, the greater the luck. Additionally, the Maneki Neko can come in many different colors – white for happiness, black for protection against evil, red for combatting illness, gold for wealth and prosperity, and pink to attract love.
The legends as to where Maneki Neko originated are plentiful, but two versions are very popular. In the first tale, a poor monk lived in a small temple with a cat named Tama. One day, Lord Nakaotoa Ii was traveling through town when a storm came. He sought refuge under a big tree near the temple. Soon after, he noticed Tama raising one paw, as if becoming him to the temple. The Lord followed the cat, and as he did so, a lightning bolt struck and destroyed the tree he’d previously been underneath. Nakaotoa was incredibly grateful, so he became a patron of the temple and repaired it, eventually renaming it Gotoku temple in 1697. Tama eventually died and was buried in a special graveyard for cats, with a statue of Maneki Neko built in the temple to commemorate him.
The second popular legend states that the owner of a failing shop took in a stray cat, despite barely having the means to take care of himself. The grateful cat thereafter beckoned customers to the store in return, bringing prosperity to the owner. This folktale solidified the cat as a symbol of good luck for small business owners.
Sometimes everyday items can be considered good luck – including the acorn. Because the long-living oak tree is born from it, legends say that carrying an acorn will bring you good luck and longevity.
In the United Kingdom, it is believed that English soldiers carried acorns to protect themselves from serious injuries and death during the Norman conquest. While the superstition dates back centuries, a more recent event might prove the legend to be true.
In December of 1899, Augustus Mann was part of an 18 member crew on the Aldeburgh lifeboat. The lifeboat was sailing near dangerous coastline and got caught in a fierce storm that caused heavy seas. The boat eventually capsized due to the seas and storm, washing a few crew members ashore and trapping others within the ship. Only 11 men survived, including Mann, who attributed his escape to the three acorns he was carrying in his pocket for good luck.
Augustus left the acorns to the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station, which still today rest in a glass box inside the wheelhouse of one of the station’s boats.
The Nazar is believed to have originated from the Egyptians, but over time was absorbed into a plethora of various religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. While used around the world, it is widely associated with Turkey.
The Nazar is an eye-shaped amulet (typically found in many forms, from a bead to a large charm) believed to both provide protection from the Evil Eye by using its shiny, glass surface to deflect bad fortune. This amulet is commonly found in hanging in homes and businesses, painted on boats, and even hung over animals. Though considered a lucky charm, the Nazar is said to only bring this luck to its original recipient, which cannot be passed on.
There are countless iconic lucky items found around the world – from amulets, to animals, even to rituals. Do you keep any of the above items for good luck? If not, do you have any unique things that you consider lucky? We want to know!