You may be familiar with horseshoes (thanks to St. Dunstan) and four-leaf clovers (way to go, Celts and Druids!), but there are plenty of other good luck charms out there, cultural reminders that we all want to encourage prosperity and ward off bad fortune.
Everyone can use a bit of good luck, though, so maybe it’s time to start carrying around a few acorns in your pocket and putting some bamboo in your office. Here are 10 charms that you may not know about …
Maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) figurines wave a paw as a way to entice people to enter an area, be it a bar, restaurant, shop or temple, thus bringing about good fortune for the proprietors. While there is plenty of discussion around the figurines’ variations — a raised left paw brings money to bars and tea houses while a right paw brings health and is for shops — everyone seems to agree that these cute cats are intended as bringers of luck.
Dracaena braunii, according to Chinese folklore, can bring prosperity for a year if given as a gift at the start of the new year. While they can bring bad luck for 29 years if the plant were to die in the first year, it’s easy to care for these stalks. They need only indirect sunlight and fresh water every two weeks or once a month, depending on what the seller recommends.
A number of countries, including Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and Croatia prepare carp for Christmas meals. Some households even catch a fresh carp and keep it in the bathtub for a couple of days in an effort to cleanse the mud from its digestive track — though, apparently, that doesn’t work.
After the meal is eaten, diners look under their plates to find a carp’s scale. This scale is placed in the wallet until the following Christmas Eve as a way to bring about luck in the next year.
This Peruvian ceremonial knife is associated with a number of ancient cultures, including the Incas. The tumi was used predominately in animal sacrifices, though it also saw use during cranial surgeries.
These days, the tumi is a sign of good luck. It hangs on the walls of homes, and the Peuvian government uses it as the official symbol of tourism in the country.
According to Norse folklore, acorns bring about good fortune, and druids believed the same. Keeping a couple of acorns in your pocket is believed to protect you from aches, pains and illness.
And, if that squirrel gets away with your acorn, don’t worry. Acorns made of other materials, like gold or silver, will work just as well.
The number 8
In China, the word for eight (“ba”) has a similar pronunciation to that for the word for wealth or fortune (“fa”), and so the number is heavily associated with good luck. The number is seen as so auspicious that when Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics, the games commenced on Aug. 8 at 8:08 p.m. to maximize the luck of the event.
“Schwein gehabt!” is a common German expression associated with having a stroke of good luck, but it also literally means “Got pig!” So what do pigs have to do with luck in Germany?
It all dates to the Middle Ages when having a lot of pigs was a sign of prosperity. It also meant that a family wouldn’t go hungry. Nowadays, marzipan pigs are exchanged as good luck confections on New Year’s Eve.
Red bats have a long history of bringing good fortune in China, especially if they appear in a group of five. Five bats represent the five blessings in Chinese culture: long life, wealth, health, love of virtue and a peaceful death. A red bat by itself, worn as a charm, is believed to ward off evil.
In the image above, the five bats surround the character for longevity.
Scarabs have a long history of being associated with good luck. Ancient Egyptians associated the dung beetle’s rolling of dung across the sand with the movements of the sun. This connection was then tied to the god Khepri, a deity associated with the sun and creation that has a face like a beetle.
The scarab has since become a charm for regeneration and transformation, in addition to a protection from evil.
The hamsa hand has its roots in Judaism, but it can be found in other religions, including Christianity, Islam and plenty of New Age iconography. The symbol may predate all those religions, however.
In a hamsa hand, the middle three fingers are extended and pressed together while the thumb and pinky finger bend outward in a symmetrical fashion. In the hand’s palm, there is an eye.
The hand is thought to ward off the influence of the evil eye and other worrisome influences. The symbol has additional meanings, depending on the religion. In Islam, it represents the five pillars of Islam (belief, worship, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage) and, within the Shia branch of Islam, the hand represents the Five People of the Cloak, referring to Muhammad, his daughter Fatimah, his cousin and godson Ali, and his grandsons Hassan and Husayn.
In Judaism, the hand represents the hand of God and the five books of the Torah.
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