Friday 13 January 2023

Folklore: Horseshoes for Protection and Lucky Charms

Horseshoes are one of the most instantly recognised symbols for good luck. You'll see them on charm bracelets, greeting cards, and of course as gifts to a happy couple getting married. At one time real ones were regularly nailed above doorways to protect all within from harm, although that's less common in cities nowadays simply because you don't get so many horses there. 

The best kind of horseshoe for luck is the one you find by chance. I picked up the one in the picture when I was on a country walk. I've not got round to putting it over my doorway yet - although perhaps I should do as I've had a run of misfortune recently.

According to folklorist Steve Roud, in the Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland, finding a horseshoe was considered lucky at least as far back as the 14th century. That's a good couple of centuries before recorded evidence of them being stuck to walls. If you did find one, you were supposed to pick it up, spit on it, throw it over your shoulder, and make a wish. 

Nailed above doors, horseshoes were at one time specifically thought to ward against witches entering your home. Melusine Draco in The Secret People mentions an old rhyme that goes:
The first thing you will see
At the house of rich or poor
To keep the witches out
A horseshoe’s o’er the door;
I can vouch for the fact they don't act as a barrier to modern witches, but historically the word "witch" was often used to mean any kind of cursing. Nowadays, the most they're likey to do is make a witch pause and nod in approval at your magical house protection. 

One frequent debate is about which way the horseshoe should go. Some say you should have it with the points upwards to keep the luck in, while others say the round bit should be a the top so the bad luck can run off. Another theory is that the pointy bits represent the horned god (or sometimes the devil) and witches should hang their horseshoes that way in honour of whatever horned one they prefer. However, there's no evidence that belief is particularly ancient, according to Steve Roud. 

While my horseshoe is genuine, you can make lucky charms with pretty much whatever you want. I go by the theory that what a thing symbolises and how you feel about it is the most important thing when doing magic. You could use materials such as card, clay or wood to make a horseshoe shape. Decorate it how you like, then visualise it protecting your home and bringing luck to all within.

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