Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Why is a Horseshoe Considered Lucky?

American proverb:  “Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades.”

 

For Chrismukkah, I bought my wife a silver bracelet with a horseshoe charm.  With 2008 being such a rough time for us and others, I thought it was an appropriate symbolic gesture for good luck in the new year.  It did get me thinking, however, why on Earth is a horseshoe, of all things, considered a talisman of good fortune?

 

According to The Magic of the Horseshoe by Robert Means Lawrence, there are multiple theories as to the origin of the horseshoe as a good-luck charm:

 

Among the Romans there prevailed a custom of driving nails into cottage walls as an antidote against the plague.  Both this practice and the later one of nailing up horseshoes have been thought by some to originate from the rite of Passover.  The blood sprinkled upon the doorposts and lintel at the time of the great Jewish feast formed the chief points of an arch, and it may be that with this in mind people adopted the horseshoe as an arch-shaped talisman, and it thus became generally became emblematic of good luck. 

 

The same thought may underlie the practice of the peasants in the west of Scotland, who train the bough of the rowan or mountain-ash tree in the form of an arch over a farmyard gate to protect their cattle from evil.

 

Lawrence continued: 

 

The supernatural qualities of the horseshoe as a preservative against imaginary demons have been supposed to be due to its bifurcated shape, as any object having two prongs or forks was form thought to be effective for this purpose.  As with the crescent, the source of this belief is doubtless the appearance of the moon in certain of its phases. 

 

Lawrence’s conclusions make logical sense and seem to answer the question on a general level as to why a horseshoe is considered a talisman.  But here’s the $64,000 question: Is it considered luckier to have a horseshoe pointed up or pointed down over a doorway?  I was raised with the tradition of the horseshoe pointed up, so the luck wouldn’t run out.  However, my Italian-America father-in-law told me that his family tradition was to hang the horseshoe pointed down, so the luck would pour over those who walked under it.  Which is correct?

 

 horseshoe1

It turns out that the folklore of the horseshoe as a talisman often has traditions or characteristics unique to the ethnic background of its origin.  According to the Web site www.luckymojo.com:

In most of Europe, the Middle-East, and Spanish-colonial Latin America protective horseshoes are placed in a downward facing or vulval position . . . but in some parts of Ireland and Britain people believe that the shoes must be turned upward or “the luck will run out.” Americans of English and Irish descent prefer to display horseshoes upward; those of German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, and Balkan descent generally hang them downward.

So which way is luckier to hang a horseshoe?  Let’s all hang horseshoes and compare notes this time next year. 

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