There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of superstitions around the world, but none is more important than the one that you personally subscribe to. And if you believe in fortune lagomorphs, losing the foot of a lucky rabbit signifies poor luck as clearly as carrying that promises to bring good luck.
So, how exactly did carrying the dismembered limb of a rabbit become, you know, a thing?
Thousands of years ago, people in Western Europe toiled around a hare ‘s foot, the larger relative of the rabbit, because they believed the limb was imbued with magical properties. Ultimately, both the foot of a hare and the one of a rabbit were deemed lucky. After all, once they are split from their original owners it’s not easy to differentiate between the two.
The Celts first associated rabbits (the whole rabbit, not just it’s severed foot) with good luck back in 600 B.C. Since rabbits live underground in burrows, it was believed they could communicate with the spirits of the underworld.
While the superstition of the feet of rabbit being associated with luck has some origins in European culture, the modern North American myth originates from the African-American folk spirituality known as hoodoo. It’s said that the feet of a rabbit are fortunate due to their reproductive habits, so it was thought that carrying the foot of a rabbit would help with fertility.
There are, however, a few specifications the rabbit’s foot must adhere to in order to technically be considered lucky:
1. It has to be the left hind foot.
2. The rabbit needs to have been captured or killed in a cemetery.
3. The rabbit’s foot needs to be cut off on a specific day—usually a Friday, but with variations such as the weather, date, etc.
According to Folklorist Bill Ellis, some believed the foot would be more powerful if the rabbit was killed on an actual grave—the meaner the person, the luckier the foot.
A common misconception about the feet of lucky rabbit is that their origin has something to do with Easter which celebrates the Christian belief of Jesus ‘ resurrection. The holiday in turn adopted the image of the rabbit being worshiped from older European practices as a goddess of fertility.
The idea that the foot of a rabbit can be charmed, and thus help one live a charmed life, may also begin as an offshoot of totemism. This belief in a divine link between humans and other living beings dates back millennia. A tribe that saw itself as descended from hares or rabbits worshiped the creatures and kept pieces of them for luck. The foot was particularly lucky; it was a phallic symbol, a totem that represented not only good fortune, but also a bountiful harvest.
While people still carry rabbit’s feet (often as a keychain), many nowadays are synthetic, which is certainly good luck for rabbits.
Last but not least, be kind to those rabbits please.
Check out my related post: What are the lucky charms of the world?