Illustration by Abby Roxas/22 West

Not Just For the Irish

Symbols of luck around the world

By Isabelle Cruz, Editor

Illustration by Abby Roxas, Contributor

When I was in elementary school, my friends and I would spend recess hours looking for a four-leaf clover during the month of March. We were convinced the clover had some magical power. Eventually, I found one and I felt so lucky.

But I’m not the only person who believes in luck.

YouGov found that 13 percent of Americans admitted to being superstitious. People have seen symbols over the years enhance their luck and ward off any bad omens. Sometimes people wear these symbols or keep objects representing symbols for aesthetic.

Here are a few stories about symbols of luck, told through different cultural contexts:

Four-leaf clovers

The odds of finding a four-leaf clover is one in every 10,000 three-leaf clovers. Perhaps the true power of the four-leaf clover lies in its rarity. According to Jennifer Schultz Nelson, educator and horticulture expert, the power of four-leaf clovers date back to century old legends. One of these legends involve Druids of Ireland using clovers against evil spirits. The four-leaf clover since then is considered a Celtic charm presumed to ward off bad luck and offer some sort of protection.

Horseshoe

According to superstition, if you find a horseshoe, you should instantly spit on it and throw it over your left shoulder as you make a wish. “The Folklore of the Horseshoe,” by Robert M. Lawrence, claims the symbol was used for protection from any form of evil and brought good luck. The iron from the horseshoe is noted to perpetuating its luck. Iron has strength since it can withstand fire. The horseshoe is a well-known symbol of luck in the Western world, most especially if the horseshoe is found.

Rabbits foot

There was a tribe that considered itself descendants of hares and rabbits called the Hare Tribal Society, according to a book by Charles Panati, “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.” The tribe worshipped the animals and carried pieces of them for luck. Rabbits and hares are believed to have communication to gods and spirits underground according to the Celtic tribes. Carrying the foot is lucky. It said to bring good fortune, fertility and good harvest.

Elephant

The belief in elephant luck is common in Southeast Asia and India, where the elephant is worshipped and taken care of like a divine figure. According to “Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook,” by Cassandra Eason, elephants symbolize strength, power, stability and wisdom. Elephant carvings, statues and pictures are used to bring luck, protection and stability to a household or business. In modern day, millions wear elephants as charms for good luck.

Maneki-Neko

“Maneki” is the Japanese word for beckoning, and “neko” means cat in Japanese. According to “Tokyo,” a book by Michelle Mackintosh, the legend says there was a poor priest who lived in a small temple called the Gōtoku-ji Temple (in Tokyo) with his beloved pet cat. One day, there was a traveler trying to find cover from the rain. The cat drew in the traveler to the temple with its beckoning paw and later lightning struck the spot the traveler was standing. The cat was believed to have saved the traveler who ended up being a rich lord. The lord blessed the cat and temple with wealth. Since then, the beckoning cat is known to bring prosperity to the owner and the home. Maneki-Neko is the lucky Japanese cat with its left or right paw held up. If the left paw is up, the cat is claimed to beckon customers. If the right paw is up, the cat may bring money, luck and prosperity. This symbol is believed to bring good fortune and wealth to the owner.

Evil Eye

According to “The Cure for Evil Eye and Envy” by Abu Najm Rodriguez, the evil eye may actually have originated as early as the Upper Paleolithic age in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu societies. The evil eye is called “Mal de Ojo Nazar Mauvais Oeil,” which is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare causing misfortune. The evil eye talisman or other jewelry with the symbol are believed to protect against this curse. It’s believed that there are three types of evil eyes: the unconscious evil eye which harms people and things without intending to, the second type which intends to harm and the third one is unseen. The talisman repels the intent back to the onlooker trying to curse you. The evil eye could also be interpreted as a symbol used to scare people into being good citizens.

Symbols are powerful. Sometimes they’re repeated in different cultures, and all mean the same thing. When I believed in the power of the four-leaf clover, I thought good luck would make life change drastically. Luck of the clover is the same luck people believe they would get if they had a certain statue or object in their possession. We are surrounded by symbols every day of our life. Perhaps, to some level, we need them to believe that things will work out in the end.