Posted tagged ‘talisman’

Blog Post 80 – Horseshoes

August 17, 2010

Following in the vein of recent posts, today I’m looking at another luck charm:  the horseshoe.  One thing Laine and I discussed in Podcast 13 was that the horseshoe seems to be a rather ubiquitous talisman.  It is so ubiquitous, in fact, that many folks may not even realize it has any magical connotation at all.  In an article from Western Folklore entitled “Lucky Horseshoes,” Jeannine E. Talley writes:

The horseshoe as a bestower of luck is so frequently encountered that it has become a cliche, but at the same time an isolated belief without a context. Barnet’s comment that the mule has been “pounding it full of luck” provides not only the ‘logic’ explaining why the horseshoe is full of luck but also reveals that luck is ac-cumulative. His insistence that the old nails must be used to hang the shoe is not found in standard collections for folk belief, but is akin to the notion that if the hardware is hung with prongs down, the luck will “run out.” This instance is a prime example that collecting the item is not enough; the contextual background of any item is of equal importance since it often contains the rationale which makes the belief credible. (p. 129)

I like this particular examination of the horseshoe because it details two points:  1) the horseshoe’s luck comes from its association with the horse itself and 2) as Talley states, the luck is accumulative, so the longer a shoe has been on a horse, the luckier it is.

Of course, there are plenty of other theories about why a horseshoe might be lucky.  Robert M. Lawrence, in his article,  “The Folk-Lore of the Horseshoe” describes the horseshoe as a talismanic emblem with many possible folkloric connections, including:

  • The Jewish Passover – like blood spread on doorposts/lintels and rowan trees in Scotland
  • Serpent emblem – “In front of a church in Crendi, a town in the southern part of the island of Malta, there is to be seen a statue having at its feet a protective symbol in the shape of a half-moon encircled by a snake”
  • Moon emblem – “the brass crescent, an avowed charm against the evil eye, is very commonly attached to the elaborately decorated harnesses of Neapolitan draught horses, and is used in the East to embellish the trappings of elephants.”
  • Phallic Emblem of some kind
  • Prong-shamed talisman – like protective horns of animals (connected to African symbols)
  • Horse as Sacred Animal (as mentioned above)
  • Iron as “Virtuous” metal capable of dispelling harmful forces (Journal of American Folklore, v.9, n.35, 1896, p. 288-292)

I hope to get into some of these symbols and ideas in other posts at another time—particularly iron, which shows up a lot in fairy doctoring practices and other magical systems—so for now I think it suffices to say that horseshoes have a lot of lore to build upon and are quite lucky, though no one seems to know exactly why they are so.

So how does one use horseshoes?  First of all, the shoe needs to be one which actually has been on a horse at some point (remember all that pounding of luck into it in Jeannine Talley’s article?).  Likewise, there are some who say that hanging a horseshoe involves using a spent horseshoe nail, too.  That seems to be a slightly less stringent requirement, but if you happen to have a spare horseshoe nail with your horseshoe, why not use it?

The issue of which way the “horns” of the shoe are pointing seems to be hotly contested by those who concern themselves with such things.  Both opinions seem to have some sound reasoning behind them, which I mentioned in the most recent podcast.  The general idea boils down to whether you think the horns up are “holding in the luck” or whether the horns down are “pouring the luck out on you.”  Either way, I think this is where instinct kicks in.  If you feel like you’ve hung it the “wrong way,” you probably have and  you should switch it.  But if you feel like your luck’s in good condition and your horseshoe’s “right,” then leave it be.

As to how specifically a horseshoe might be used, Harry M. Hyatt has a few examples of horseshoes in hoodoo work:

1) From Vol.2,p.1547

NAIL A HORSESHOE UP
OVER YOUR FRONT DOOR.
NAIL A PENNY DOWN IN THE FRONT
DOOR TOO. SCRUB IT ALL THE TIME.*
THESE WILL BRING YOU GOOD LUCK.

Dey kin use a horseshoe. Yo’ take a horseshoe an’ yo’ kin nail it up
ovah yore front do’ an’ take a penny an’ nail it down in de front do’; an’
yo’ jes’ let dat penny stay dere all de time an’ yo’ scrub ovah dat penny
all de time, an’ jes’ leave it dere an’ dat’ll be good luck fo’ yo’.
[Savannah, GA; Madam Pauline; Informant #1274. C575:1-C586:10 = 2136-2167.]

2) From Vol.2,p.1443

A HORSESHOE OVER THE DOOR
KEEPS SPOOKS OUT AND BRINGS LUCK.
& A MULESHOE OVER THE DOOR OF A BUSINESS
BRINGS BUSINESS SUCCESS

Keep a horseshoe – keep it ovah de do’ to keep de spook outa dere an’
fo’ luck, specially a man who does business. He’d have a new [mule] shoe ovah
de do’ – like he do’s a business roun’ in a shop or a restaurant or somepin
lak dat, because a mule is a hard-workin’ thing, hard-workin’. All right.
An’ jes’ lak ah’d have de mule when he hitch out an’ go to his stall to
eat, people be coming to his place and say….
[Sumter, SC; Informant #1387; Cylinders C885:1-C902:4 = 2366-2383]

(Both of these can be found in Hyatt’s book or in the excellent Yahoo! Group  “HyattSpells”)

I like the first example because it combines the lucky penny with the lucky horseshoe, and places luck at your head and your feet, so every time you enter a door,  you get caught between the two and get a double dose of luck.  I also like the rationale for using a mule shoe to boost business (because the mule is so hard-working).

Finally, Vance Randolph describes the Ozark methods of horseshoe deployment in Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • Most hillfolk of my acquaintance use a horseshoe instead of the stone (to protect chickens from hawks), and some think that a muleshoe is even better. It is frequently fastened in the firebox of the stove rather than in the oven. In the old days the muleshoe was hung up in the fireplace, or even set into the mortar at the back of the chimney (p. 43)
  • Many hillfolk think that the man who finds a horseshoe with the closed end toward him will do well to “leave it lay.” If the open end is toward the finder, he sometimes spits on it and throws it over his left shoulder, a procedure which is supposed to bring good fortune. Or he may place it in a tree or on a fence,saying: “Hang thar, all my bad luck!” In this case, whoever touches the hanging horseshoe falls heir to the misfortune of the man who placed it there (p. 62)
  • Probably the commonest way to keep witches out of the house is to nail a horseshoe over the door; this is regarded as a sort of general prophylactic against witches, bad luck, contagious disease, and other evil influences (p. 283)

So that’s the lucky horseshoe.  Another long article, so I apologize for that, but hopefully you aren’t too bored.  Skimming is probably a good skill to apply when reading these blogs.  At any rate, if you have any questions or comments about horseshoes, please feel free to post them!

As always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Podcast 13 – Lucky 13

August 13, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 13-

Summary
On this, our Lucky 13th episode, released on Friday the 13th, we’re looking at luck charms and where they come from.  We’ve also got a money bowl spell in WitchCraft, and Van Van oil in Spelled Out.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 13

-Sources-
We reference lots of sources, including:
-Cat Yronwode’s Lucky W Amulet Archive
-The Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris
-Harry M. Hyatt’s Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork
-The article “Charles Chestnutt & the Doctrine of Conjuration”) by Bettye Jo Crissler Carr
-Judika Illes’s book Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells
Ozark Magic & Folklore by Vance Randolph
-The Chan Chu money frog of Chinese lore
-Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1- Witchery of One
Promo 2- Media Astra ac Terra
Promo 3- Borealis Meditation
Promo 4 – Iron Powaqa

Blog Post 79 – Lucky Rabbit’s Foot

August 11, 2010

For today’s post, I’m looking at the folklore and magic surrounding one of the most ubiquitous pieces of conjure paraphernalia, the rabbit’s foot.  There are plenty of theories about this particular luck charm, but not much that can be definitely put down regarding its origin or provenance.  Rabbit foot charms have been around since at least the mid-to-late 19th century in North America, and likely predate the Civil War.  They are used for general luck, gambling aids, love enhancers, and other areas where a bit of extra luck might help.

A quick word of warning, however.  Many of the sources I’ll be citing in this post also date from earlier eras, and thus have a great deal of offensive material in them.  There are words that appear here which would likely incite violence if used lightly today, so please understand that I present them here as a piece of the folklore to which they belong.  Just as a smart modern magician finds a reasonable substitution for liquid quicksilver/mercury (and thus avoids madness and poisoning), a wise student of folklore and folk magic remembers that just because a sentiment appears in print doesn’t make it right or appropriate.

There, now let’s move on to some of the good stuff about rabbits’ feet.

Catherine Yronwode provides information on the rabbit’s foot on her Lucky W Amulet Archive, describing  the foot as catalogue offerings from the early-to-mid twentieth century:

As for the foot itself, a circa-1940 mail order catalogue from the Standard O and B Supply Company, a Chicago-based distributor of African-American hoodoo material, offered undyed rabbit foot charms “made with a metal band and a link to attach on chain.” The Johnson-Smith Novelty Company offered identical charms in its 1941 catalogue. The advertisement shown here goes these one better and promises a free vial of Van Van oil with each rabbit’s foot; the formula is a Louisiana hoodoo favourite that “clears away that evil mess” and increases the strength of any good luck charm to which it is applied. Since none of the older catalogues or ads mention any colour when describing rabbit’s foot charms, it can be assumed that the items were undyed and came only in natural tan or white.

She goes on to talk about her uncertainty regarding why a rabbit’s foot might be so lucky:

Why is the rabbit foot lucky? I am not sure. Rabbits are swift and they reproduce prolifically, but the luck of the rabbit foot is monetary and sexual; as far as i know, it is not related to swiftness or fertility. There is considerable evidence that the lucky rabbit foot is a remnant of an African clan totem, an importation related somehow to Br’er Rabbit, the famous protagonist of an African trickster-god myth-cycle.

Yronwode points out that the rabbit’s foot appears in the famous Uncle Remus stories, written by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.  In a tale entitled “Brother Rabbit and his Famous Foot,” Uncle Remus describes the tricky Br’er (or Brother) Rabbit’s prosperity-drawing mojo bag (which he refers to as a money purse, or dialectically a “money-pus”):

Brer Wolf look at de money-pus, en see w’at in it. Hit ‘uz one er deze yer kinder money-pus wid tossle on de een’ en shiny rings in de middle. Brer Wolf look in afar fer ter see w’at he kin see. In one een’ dey wuz a piece er calamus-root en some collard-seeds, en in de tier een’ dey wuz a great big rabbit foot (Harris p. 223)

So even a rabbit carries a rabbit’s foot for luck and money.  How’s that for strange?  But why is it so lucky?  In a 1973 thesis on conjuration in the works of African-American author (and somewhat accidental folklorist) Charles Chestnutt, Bettye Jo Crisler Carr uncovers some possible reasons behind this talisman:

One might have expected Chesnutt to refer to ghosts who haunt graves, to witches ‘riding’ their hapless victims by night, to conjurers tying bits of roots in tiny bags to ward off evil. But surely his reference to the efficacy of ‘de lef hin’ foot er a graveya’d rabbit, killt by a cross-eyed nigger on a da’k night in de full er de moon’—surely that is something Chesnutt (or Uncle Julius, who seems equally real) has made out of whole cloth.

An examination of folklore sources, however, justifies Chesnutt’s requirements for the rabbit-foot good-luck charm. An informant from Atlanta states that the talisman must, indeed, be the ‘left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.  Mary Owen, recording her collected tales prior to 1893, adds to the requirement that it must be ‘de lef hine-foot ob er grabe-yahd rabbit kilt in de dahk o’ de moon.’ A Memphis informant states further that the graveyard rabbit must have been killed by a cross-eyed person. Louise Pendleton, also writing before the publication of Chesnutt’s stories, comments that the use of the rabbit foot for good luck ‘may be traced to the fetishism, or worship of guardian spirits dwelling in inanimate objects, of their African ancestors.’ (Carr,  “Charles Chestnutt & the Doctrine of Conjuration”)

So now we can see the process of making the charm has something to do with its luck associations.  If a cross-eyed person could catch a rabbit in a graveyard in the dark, he would indeed have to be very lucky, and thus his luck might transfer to the animal’s foot (this is a bit of a stretch for a reason, in my opinion, but there certainly seems to be a specific tradition involved in collecting this talisman).  Much of this lore is corroborated by Harry M. Hyatt in his five-volume compendium on African-American folk magic, Hoodoo – Conjuration – Witchcraft – Rootwork.   Two prime examples are included here:

Vol.2,p.1541

A RABBIT’S LEFT HIND LEG, TAKEN WHILE THE ANIMAL IS STILL WARM
AND SEWN INTO A BAG, SHOULD BE CARRIED WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES,
AND KEPT UNDER YOUR PILLOW AT NIGHT FOR LUCK.

If yo’ wanta go git a job agin, yo’ could use a rabit’s foot – yo’ use a rabbit’s left foot. Ketch a rabbit, if yo’ kin kill him; if yo’ can’t ketch it, kill it. Well, befo’ he gits cold, take de left laig of dis rabbit off. (Front or back?) De back laig. Take de back laig off while it’s warm an’ yo’ sew it up in some cloth an’ when yo’ go tuh bed at night, yo’ jes’ carry it an’ push it in yore pillah. If yo’ git up tuh go in de daytime, wear it in yore pocket or either yo’ could have it in yore stockin’. Put it in yore hat or shoe or anything an’ jes’ keep it wit chew all de time. Yo’ll have good luck wit de rabbit’s left hind laig. (When you are going out to get a job?) Yes sir.

[Savannah, GA; Madam Pauline; Informant #1274. C575:1-C586:10 = 2136-2167.]

Vol.2,pp.1486-7

A CHARM TO CARRY

BURY THE RIGHT FRONT FOOT OF A RABBIT IN THE CEMETERY.
AFTER NINE DAYS AND NINE NIGHTS, DISINTER IT.
WEAR IT ON A CHAIN OR FASHION IT INTO SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WEAR
AND CARRY IT WITH YOU.

You take off his right feet, yo’ bury it in de cemetery – let it stay dere fo’ nine days an’ nights. Yo’ go an’ git it out from under dere an’ make yo’ a chain an’ put it on yo’ fo’ a locket or either, yo’ know, yo’ kin jes’ have it made into somethin’ den – yo’ know, somethin’-like. Dat’s de rabbit foot. [She laughs.] Den y’ jis’
tote it wit yo’ or either place it fo’ a watch charm or anythin’ like dat – right feet, jes’ one, de front.

[Waycross, GA; Informant # 1125 (Contact man Edwards’s landlady); Cylinder C235:4-C250: 1 = 1816-1831, and C384:1-C392: 5 = 1965-1973]

One of the common threads to the rabbit’s foot seems to be an intimacy with death or the dead.  The rabbit must be freshly killed (or “warm”) or found in a cemetery.  This may have something to do with its luck.  The dead are able to provide luck to the living in some folkloric accounts, and a magical animal like a rabbit which becomes tied to the dead may well be “running” luck back and forth from them to you.  If you are interested in more spells like the two immediately above, by the way, you can find many of Hyatt’s spells transcribed in the Hyatt Spells Yahoo! Group.  If you manage to find actual text volumes of his work and you have an interest in folk magic, buy them.  They will be worth it.

Finally, Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph records a couple of uses of the rabbit’s foot charm in his Ozark Magic & Folklore:

  • Some healers claim to cure hiccoughs by rubbing a rabbit’s foot on the back of the patient’s neck unexpectedly.
  • I recall a girl near Lanagan, Missouri, who wore a peach stone love-charm on one garter and a rabbit’s foot fastened to the other.

This particular lucky charm can be found throughout North America, often sold in roadside stores, children’s candy-and-prize machines, and even gas stations.   It’s commonly rubbed to actually activate the luck, and “fed” with an oil like Fast Luck or Van Van on a regular basis.  If you happen to have one of these in keychain or charm form, I’d love to hear your experiences with it.  Have rabbit’s feet ever brought you extra luck?  Or, as the joke is often made, is it just “unlucky for the rabbit”?

Thanks for reading (and reading and reading)!

-Cory


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