by Katie Oliver
People are a superstitious bunch. The use of lucky talismans is common to almost all cultures, but the objects that people put their faith in vary greatly from one place to another. Here’s a selection of good luck charms from around the world that you might not be familiar with.
1. THREE-LEGGED TOADS
In Chinese culture the Jin Chan (also known as Chan Chu), or “money toad,” is a Feng Chui prosperity charm used to attract wealth and guard against bad luck. Feng Chui experts recommend putting a Jin Chan statue in the “lucky corner” of your room, with a Chinese coin in its mouth. Placed correctly, you should be blessed with good luck and prosperity. Although with its missing limb, you may wonder how lucky things were for the toad.
Believed to provide protection from the “evil eye,” the fascinus—a representation of the male member—was a popular lucky charm in ancient Rome. Viewed as the divine embodiment of the phallus, it was often depicted with wings. Some Romans even adorned their babies with necklaces bearing this bold phallic symbol.
Originating in China, maculomancy is the art of divining fortune from the shape, size, and placement of birthmarks and moles. Facial moles are considered to be lucky, especially if they are in a hidden location, such as within the hair, eyebrows, or beard. And moles that are round in shape, very dark or pure red, or that have a hair sprouting from them are viewed as being highly auspicious (if not particularly attractive).
4. CHIMNEY SWEEPS
it that in 18th century Britain, King George III almost came a cropper (fell to the ground) when the horses pulling his carriage suddenly went out of control. The only person brave enough to stop the horses was a chimney sweep, whose swift actions saved the king’s life. He was so thankful he invited the man to his daughter’s wedding and declared all sweeps to be lucky. The tradition has continued to this day, with some brides and grooms hiring a sweep for their wedding to bring them luck in their marriage.
5. SCARAB BEETLES
The scarab—modeled after a type of dung beetle of the same name—was commonly used as an amulet in ancient Egypt. As the Egyptians believed that the sun god Ra rolled the sun across the heavens every day, the scarab beetle’s habit of rolling dung gave it a sacred status in their society. It symbolized rebirth and regeneration, and was believed to provide protection from evil.
Pigs have long been considered a symbol of luck and prosperity across European cultures. In the Middle Ages, owning plenty of pigs meant you were wealthy, and this association can still be seen today in the tradition of collecting money in a piggy bank. Germans traditionally give a Glücksschwein (lucky pig) made of marzipan at New Year's and have a saying—"schwein gehabt"—that literally translates as "got pig" but actually means something like "got lucky there."
7. RUDRAKSHA NUTS
In Hinduism, the nut of the Rudraksha tree is associated with the Lord Shiva, whose tears upon beholding the suffering of the world are said to have given rise to the tree. Worn strung together as bracelets, or on earrings and necklaces, the nuts are thought to keep the wearer healthy and well-respected.
8. BECKONING CATS
The maneki-neko, or "beckoning cat," is a Japanese talisman believed to bring good fortune and wealth. The cat—traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail—has one, or sometimes both, paws raised in a beckoning gesture. Often positioned in the entrance of shops and restaurants, one paw is believed to bring luck while the other brings wealth. Popular modern versions are battery-powered so the paw moves up and down in a cute, cat-like kind of way.
These days the swastika has extremely negative associations due to its adoption by the Nazi Party, but prior to this it was regarded as a symbol of love, light, and luck across eastern civilizations. Its name originates from the Sanskrit word "svastika," which translates as "lucky or auspicious object." It’s still regarded as such by those who practice Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism today.
10. TOUCHING WOOD
In Western cultures, touching or knocking on wood is a superstition used to attract good luck. Its origin may stem from pagan times when trees were worshipped as having magical powers or as the homes of spirits, and touching trees was a way of asking for good luck (or as thanks for having received it). Some say it may also be a reference to the wood that Jesus was crucified upon.
All photos via iStock except where noted.