15 Good-Luck Charms from Around the World
Good luck is easier to come by than you might think … especially if you carry a rabbit's foot and acorn in your pocket while wearing a hamsa and eating grapes at the stroke of midnight
These days, we could all use a little extra luck. And honestly, who wouldn’t want a magical object that could protect them against evil, sickness, misfortune and even jealousy? Well, you’re in luck already (see how easy it is?), because we have a comprehensive list of good-luck charms that may do just that. You can find tons of these symbols all over the world, from good-luck plants to good-luck food, and their origin stories are fascinating. While some come from celebrations like Lunar New Year or ancient lore, others tap into the supernatural, superstitious and just plain strange.
So if your luck could use a little boost and you don’t happen to have the luckiest zodiac sign this year, you’ll want to keep reading. And as to that age-old argument over whether lucky charms actually work, remember: Believing is half the battle!
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Four-leaf clover (Ireland)
What type of luck it brings: Good fortune, prosperity and protection
How can you have the luck of the Irish? Get yourself a four-leaf clover! One of the most well-known good-luck charms in the Western world, this rare clover has been a symbol of good fortune and prosperity for hundreds of years—and as one legend claims, ever since the dawn of humankind. This myth traces the four-leaf clover to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, when Eve supposedly took a four-leaf clover with her as a souvenir from Eden.
According to ancient Celtic tradition, if you hold a four-leaf clover, you will be protected from dangerous fairies, bad luck and evil spirits. The trick, however, is finding one among all the three-leaf clovers: Your chances of pulling one from the patch is around 1 in 10,000.
Rabbit’s foot (worldwide)
What type of luck it brings: Good luck and cleverness
Today, a rabbit’s foot is considered a good-luck symbol around the world, but the lore behind it isn’t quite as lucky. Think about it: a good-luck charm that involves cutting off the foot of a living animal? Pretty gruesome, if you ask us. On top of that, some legends state that the rabbit has to be captured in a cemetery; others say the act has to take place under a full or new moon; and still others stipulate that for this good-luck charm to really work, the rabbit must be captured on a Friday—possibly even on Friday the 13th.
So why play capture the rabbit? For a few different reasons, according to folklore, including superstition. Some cultures believed rabbits were really shapeshifting witches, so a rabbit’s foot actually equaled a dead witch’s foot. Meanwhile, in the antebellum United States, the rabbit’s foot was a popular symbol among enslaved African communities, who believed the rabbit represented cleverness (as shown in the African American oral tradition of Br’er Rabbit). These days, the rabbit’s foot is still a symbol of good luck in many places around the world, including Europe, China, Africa, and North and South America.
Dreamcatcher (North America)
What type of luck it brings: Protection and peace of mind
A symbol of good luck for Native American communities throughout North America, the dreamcatcher is made of tied-together strings or sinews, beads and feathers. Its purpose? To filter out nightmares so that only positive dreams hit a sleeper’s subconscious.
While different tribes interpret the dreamcatcher’s abilities in slightly different ways, many equate this talisman with the Spider Woman, the protector of humans in Navajo mythology. Today, dreamcatchers continue to be seen as objects that ward off negativity, welcome protection and offer peace of mind.
What type of luck it brings: Protection
Evil eye, begone! Some cultures believe that an envious glare can inflict harm or misfortune on the person who’s on the receiving end of it—but if they have a nazar boncuğu, they’ll be protected. In countries such as Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Albania and Afghanistan, many people hang these eye-shaped, glass-bead amulets in their homes or wear nazar charms around their necks to ward off evil and misfortune.
These evil-eye amulets have also become popular tourist trinkets, and that round blue eye is now one of the most unmistakable signs of good luck. According to lore, the most powerful nazars were blue because the color represented the sky, where the gods reside and watch over us. Not a believer yet? These true stories about luck just may change your mind.
What type of luck it brings: Good health
The next time you pass a fallen acorn on the ground, consider picking it up and slipping it into your pocket. Why, you may ask? Because according to English legend, acorns are major good-luck symbols that can protect your health. In fact, Brits call acorns “the fruit of the oak” and have traditionally carried them in their pockets for good fortune.
Here’s some acorn history: In 1899, a devastating shipwreck on the Aldeburgh killed seven crew members and left 11 survivors; one of the survivors owed his stroke of good luck to the acorns in his pocket. Today, those shipwrecked acorns are preserved and displayed at the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station in Suffolk, England, where the acorn legacy proudly lives on in the hearts of the local community. The reason why pennies are thought to bring good luck has a totally different origin.
What type of luck it brings: Protection and religious miracles
Milagros, or “miracles” in English, are small metal religious charms that depict angels, arms, legs, prayers, animals and other objects or acts. People traditionally carry these charms in their pockets or pin them to other religious paraphernalia, such as crosses or miniature statues of saints, in order to bring protection and good luck.
In Mexico, milagros are used with the religious practice known as manda. This is when a person asks a specific saint for a favor and, in return, makes a pilgrimage to the saint’s shrine and leaves a milagro as thanks. While there are many different images associated with milagros, some of the most common are sacred hearts, eyes, body parts and praying female and male figures. On the other hand, these surprising items may bring bad luck.
What type of luck it brings: Good health and eternal life
What does a beetle that rolls dung across the ground have to do with good luck and eternal life? According to the Ancient Egyptians, quite a bit. Ancient Egyptians associated the beetle with Ra, one of the most prominent gods in their religion, and his journey as he moved the sun across the sky—methodically and diligently, just like the beetle. Because of this, the scarab beetle represented manifestation, growth, existence and creation. Ra may also be behind the superstition of not opening umbrellas inside.
Not only was this good-luck charm helpful in life, but it was believed to be just as effective in the afterlife too. In fact, ancient Egyptians would bury their dead with scarabs in order to ensure their loved ones would be resurrected and enjoy eternal life. Guess the dung rolling really paid off!
What type of luck it brings: Protection
The hamsa is Israel’s own version of the evil eye, though it’s generally used to ward off evil from homes and public spaces. People of both the Jewish and Muslim religions use this hand-shaped amulet with thumbs on both sides to protect themselves from misfortune.
And here are some more interesting facts: In the Jewish faith, the hamsa is also known as the “hand of Miriam,” whose five fingers represent the five senses needed to praise God, as well as symbolize the five books of the Torah. Meanwhile, in Islamic culture, the hamsa is also called the “hand of Fatima” or “Khamsa,” and it represents the five pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, alms-giving, fasting and pilgrimage.
Elephant (Thailand and India)
What type of luck it brings: Abundance, good fortune and strength
Dumbo is so much more than a flying elephant. In many Asian cultures, but especially in Thailand and India, the elephant is a symbol of good fortune, abundance and strength. Why, you may wonder? It all connects to religion: Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom and luck, is depicted as having an elephant’s head. As a good-luck charm, you might buy a figurine for your home or hang a charm on a necklace or bracelet.
Beware, however: You’ll enjoy good fortune only if the elephant has its trunk raised, according to North American belief. The raised trunk symbolizes that one is being showered in luck. Luckily, a lowered trunk doesn’t necessarily represent bad luck, and in fact, some believe it represents balance and continuity in life and work, therefore making it the perfect symbol to use in feng shui—the Chinese art of creating flow and balance in one’s living space.
What type of luck it brings: Success and good fortune
Konnichiwa! Chances are, you’ve seen at least one of these smiling cats waving at you from the entrance of a store. That’s because these beckoning cats, technically called maneki-nekos, are believed to be good-luck charms in Japanese culture. Since this kitty is said to be a people lover, the totem is often displayed in busy areas such as storefronts, restaurants and even the entrances to homes or living rooms.
While experts dispute the origin of this good-luck charm, two main legends stand out. One dates back to the Edo period in Japan (1603–1868) and tells the story of Ii Naotaka, a regional leader who took shelter under a tree during a rainstorm. A cat beckoned him into a temple, and after following the cat, Naotaka looked back to see his previous spot had been struck by lightning. The totem began to be mass-produced, however, around the 1800s, when an old woman began creating pottery in the likeness of her former feline friend … after that said feline friend supposedly told her to do so in a dream. Those smiling kitties haven’t stopped waving since.
What type of luck they bring: Good fortune and abundance
It wouldn’t be New Year’s without a good-luck ritual. In Spain, this means eating grapes—12 of them, to be precise—at the stroke of midnight, much like how the Irish bang bread against the walls to ward off bad luck or Europeans and Americans kiss their loved ones at the same hour. The Spanish tradition of “las doce uvas de la suerte,” translated to “the 12 lucky grapes” in English, gained popularity in 1909. As the tale goes, a few savvy Alicantese vine growers created this superstition to sell mass amounts of leftover grapes from a bountiful harvest. Now there’s a business scheme that caught on, big time!
Because of the tradition’s association with the harvest, the 12 grapes represent prosperity and abundance. While the attempt to eat one grape for each clock chime at midnight on the New Year might seem like a choking hazard to some, Spaniards seem to think the risk is worth it. Although it originated in the European country, the tradition of the 12 lucky grapes has spread to South and Latin American countries, including Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
What type of luck it brings: Abundance and strength
These aren’t your average hard-boiled Easter eggs: Pysanky, or Ukranian Easter eggs, are made using special dyes and melted beeswax in order to create beautifully crafted, multicolored masterpieces that not only look good but also do good. While the tradition potentially has some pre-Christianity roots, the most well-known origin story involves the egg as a symbol for the resurrection of Christ. Each pattern on the eggs symbolizes something different: triangles represent the Holy Trinity, chicks represent fertility and deer represent strength and prosperity.
And the symbolism of Ukrainian Easter eggs continues long after the Easter holiday is over. Putting one of these eggs at each corner of a house is supposed to bring good luck into the home. Some believers also put crushed pysanky eggshells in cattle feed to make the animals stronger, or even bury some in their gardens to create a bountiful harvest.
Anything red (China)
What type of luck it brings: Honor, protection and strength
In China, seeing red is actually a good thing! The color has long represented strength and protection in Chinese tradition. One origin myth states that a demon name Sui ate children and livestock during the Lunar New Year. Parents tried to keep their kids awake by giving them anything to play with … including some rattling coins in a little red envelope. Luckily, there were just two things that mythical beast Sui hated: loud noises and the color red.
And just like that, the tradition of gifting red envelopes during Chinese New Year was created in order to protect children and other loved ones. However, these good-luck charms soon expanded to more than just red envelopes. Wearing a red blouse, a red bracelet or even a pair of red underwear became synonymous with spreading good fortune and luck for the coming of the New Year—and also warding off people-hungry monsters.
Horseshoe (United States)
What type of luck it brings: Protection
Horseshoes have been a symbol of good fortune for centuries, with early Western Europeans believing that iron had magical properties and was able to drive away malevolent fairies, witches and other evil creatures. One origin story links the symbol to Ireland specifically: Saint Dunstan, a blacksmith, was visited by the devil who asked for a pair of personal horseshoes. But the man tricked the devil into wearing red-hot horseshoes and would remove them only after the devil promised to never enter into a horseshoe-protected territory.
These good-luck charms became popularized in the United States with the rise of Western iconography, hearkening back to the cowboy era, with musicians like Elvis Presley referencing the lucky horseshoe. However, there is some contention over the proper way to hang a horseshoe in order to generate good luck. Some believe it should be hung (or worn as a charm on a necklace or bracelet) with the heels up (in the shape of a “U”) in order to keep all the good luck contained. Others prefer hanging the horseshoe heels down so that good luck can flow to all those who walk beneath it.
Carp scales (Slovakia)
What type of luck they bring: Good fortune and abundance
A traditional Christmas dinner in many central European countries—including Poland, Austria, Croatia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic—consists of carp (a type of fish) and potato salad. Yummy … but it’s the scales that apparently bring luck for the new year.
After the outside of the carp is cleaned, revelers scratch off the scales with a knife and set them aside, usually one for each family member. Once the scales are dried, people slip them into their wallets or pockets, so they can carry these good-luck charms with them wherever they go. These carp scales are replaced with fresh ones every Christmas.
Additional reporting by Ashley Lewis.