April 21, 2008

*Superstitions: Horseshoes

Cross-posted to DDBBG.

In the late 1300s, we see the first British record of a found horseshoe being considered lucky. This belief has been held by pretty much every horseshoe-producing culture, from Scandinavia to Asia. The key was to have a found horseshoe, rather than a new horseshoe, and various degrees of luck were associated with intact nails, number of nail holes, etc.

By the late 1500s, the English were nailing their found horseshoes above their doors to keep the witches at bay. This is probably related to a long-held belief in the power of iron, which protected European people from fairies and other spirits before witches came along.

As we got closer to 1900, horseshoes above the door were less about witches and more for general luckiness. Whether the horseshoe’s ends should face up or down has never been completely resolved. Some people think facing the ends up will keep the luck from falling out of the horseshoe, while others believe facing the ends down will direct all that luckiness to the people walking below it.

Reference: Most of the material from this post was found in Christina Hole's The Encyclopedia of Superstitions and Steve Roud's The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland.

Posted by Jennifer at April 21, 2008 09:00 AM | TrackBack


I'll opt for the group that thinks hanging a heavy metallic object over a doorway is simply foolhardy. Of course, loosening a few horseshoe fasteners of others might win me a few more converts. For the record, horseshoes are a mite harder than most skulls, with career politicians excepted, of course.

Posted by: physics geek at April 21, 2008 10:41 AM

So what about rabbit feet? How did they get to be lucky? And if you shoed a rabbit and then cut off its feet would you have double luck?

Posted by: Jim at April 22, 2008 06:32 AM

I'm not saying I've done it, just that I'm open to exploring options.

Posted by: Jim at April 22, 2008 06:34 AM