When you hear about lucky charms, you probably think of General Mills’ breakfast cereal first, and of four-leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet, and horseshoes next. People all over the world carry around these items for good luck, hoping to win the lottery, get a massive Canadian casino bonus, hit a jackpot, and generally bring good fortune upon them. As many other things, lucky charms have a long and often gruesome history – at their origins, we find a magical item that was (and still is) used in many cultures, usually referred to as an “amulet”.
Amulet – a short history
An amulet is defined as an object that has miraculous or magical properties, usually meant to protect its bearer from something specific – or protect them, in general. These items get their extraordinary powers either from magic or from sacred rituals. Some amulets derive from pre-Christian and Pagan cultures, others have become known after the spread of Christianism – think of crosses, for example, worn around one’s neck.
Amulets were widely used in the ancient Rome, a habit they inherited from the Greeks. Their amulets were usually non-religious in nature, albeit they were usually crystals and minerals that were associated with certain gods that were all responsible for various aspects of the Romans’ lives – like Mars, the god of War, was associated with red jasper, while Ceres, the goddess of fertility and crops, was associated with green jasper, among others.
Talismans were widely used by the adepts of the Abrahamic religions – Jews, Arabs, and Christians – in the Middle Ages. They were of several types, from those worn on one’s body to others that had to be placed in one’s bath, for example. Christians often used sacred items like crosses, rosaries, medals, and similar items as amulets. These didn’t draw their power from their symbols but rather from the blessing of the Church, coming directly from God.
How amulets became good luck charms
The lucky charms were originally songs that were sung to protect those singing them from anything evil, to ward off bad intentions and maleficent forces, much like in a ritual. But there were times when merely singing a song didn’t seem enough to protect the subject from the many evils lurking around every corner. To increase the duration and the power of the above-mentioned songs, people started to cast the songs on amulets so that they can extend their duration and increase their power. Thus, lucky charms came to be.
Today’s most widely known good luck charms are the four-leaf clover due especially to its rarity (there is one four-leaf plant for every 10,000 three-leaf one), the rabbit’s foot (a good luck amulet of Celtic origin), the horseshoe (only if it’s made of iron and has seven holes), and the Maneki Neko, a waving cat believed to bring happiness and good fortune to one’s home.
Do they work? Well, this is something everyone has to decide for themselves.