Every culture and country has a different symbol or practice that they believe brings them luck. Whether it’s by carrying acorns for good health or placing an elephant in your shop for a prosperous work day, there are many different talismans and ways to use them. As cultures have evolved and assimilated, these good luck charms have traveled across continents and seas.
Behind every good luck charm is not only a superstition or fear, but a deep-rooted history connected to the charm’s origin and the culture from which it came. Good luck charms can evolve from folklore, legend, and even religion. Historically, many were used to protect people from the evil eye, a malicious glare that was believed to cause harm. Others were used to increase the likelihood of fertility or to bring good fortune.
Whether you believe in good luck or not, the reasons these charms remained prevalent throughout history may be compelling enough to make you a talisman collector.
Unique Good Luck Charms
At the end of this article, you’ll find an infographic that covers some of the unique good luck charms you’ll find all over the world and the meaning behind each, giving you a quick guide on good fortune. We’ve incorporated illustrations of these throughout, though all 24 different good luck charms below are worth adding to your collection.
Long before acorns were considered good luck, they were associated with magic between two witches. When passing each other in the woods, witches would hand each other acorns to let one another know who they were and that they were safe in one another’s company.
As a good luck symbol, acorns are said to protect one’s health. Carrying an acorn is believed to protect from illnesses, aches, and other pains. If you’re already ill, it is said to speed up the healing process and alleviate any pain.
Carp scales eaten for Christmas dinner are considered a good luck charm that will last the rest of the year. This custom is also followed in neighboring countries, such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Tradition says you should keep the carp swimming in your bathtub until it’s time to kill it for family dinner, but modern Poles now opt for ready-to-eat carp instead. After the fish is consumed, people will keep a few scales in their wallet or on their person for 12 months to help with good fortune.
This Italian horn known as “cornicello” has been used since ancient times to ward off the evil eye. It is still a common good luck symbol in Italy and is often worn by nursing mothers and pregnant woman. It was also used to maintain happiness in marriage, as many believe the evil eye can affect marriages and relationships.
The inspiration for the horn shape comes from many different sources. For some horns, the shape of a chili pepper served as inspiration. Historians differ, pointing to the African eland horn as inspiration instead. Over time, the cornicello has become more stylized and can appear in many different shapes, some of which no longer even look like a horn.
Dala, or Dalecarlian, horses were first carved hundreds of years ago as a Swedish pastime. Horses were considered a holy animal, so many Swedes would use scraps from wooden furniture and other projects to craft horse figurines.
Today, the horse is also a symbol of good luck. Dala horses are often quite costly, so many people will buy unpainted ones and add the art themselves. Typical colors are red, white, or green, and in addition to good luck, the horse is thought to bring strength and dignity. It is also recognized as the unofficial symbol of Sweden.
Much like worry dolls, the Chippewa Native American dream catcher is used for those with trouble sleeping, specifically those with nightmares. When the person is asleep, the dreamcatcher is said to trap all the nightmares of the sleeper, to bestow good luck, and allow good dreams to flow freely.
Legend has it that when the sun rises, the bad dreams caught in the dream catcher dissolve, as they cannot survive daylight. The Chippewa, or Ojibwa, Native Americans designed these dream catchers to help protect their children. The tradition is associated with the Asibikaashi, or Spider Woman, a woman from Ojibwa legend who was a caretaker of all children.
India and Thailand
Elephants as a symbol for good luck are common all over Asia, but they are especially prominent in India and Thailand. They symbolize strength, power, stability, and wisdom. Many people believe that an elephant facing your door will bring good luck into your home. As a result, many business owners in Asia will place elephants in the entrance of their shops for good luck.
The common belief is that the trunk must be up for good luck, and some go so far to say that the trunk facing downwards brings bad luck. Others believe that a trunk facing down allows for good fortune to be passed freely among everyone, not just the beholder.
The odds of finding a four-leaf clover is allegedly 1 in 10,000, which is why it’s considered so lucky. The four sides symbolize faith, hope, luck, and love, and anyone who finds it is said to have great fortune that day.
One Christian legend claims that Eve took a four-leaf clover with her after being banished from Paradise to remind her of it. Four is also considered a masculine number and relates to the four sides of the cross, so some believe that the four-leaf clover is a piece of Paradise or the Garden of Eden.
The Republic of Ghana
Though the gris-gris originated in Ghana, it has since migrated to other parts of the world, such as North America, where it was introduced in Louisiana. Gris-gris are kept to ward off evil and maintain good luck. When they migrated to North America, gris-gris were used to do many different things, such as stop gossip, attract money and love, and maintain good health for those who carried them.
They likely were dolls or images of gods at first, but have since evolved to be small bags filled with four different elements: salt, incense, water, and fire, which is usually represented by a candle flame. Ingredients must come in odd numbers, and do not ascend higher than 13.
Israel and Middle East
The Hamsa Hand, or Khamsa, is common in both Jewish and Muslim communities as a sign of good luck. This charm can be worn with the hand facing up or down. It is said to protect people from negative energy and bring happiness to the beholder.
Depending on the culture and community, the symbol of the hand bears different meanings. The word “hamsa” references the number five in Hebrew and is said to symbolize the five books of the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Islam, the five fingers are associated with the Five Pillars of Islam. The eye on the hand represents an eye that sees everything and watches out for the beholder.
Though the horseshoe is common in the United States as a good luck symbol, it can also be found in Islamic art and Egyptian iconography. While the superstitious believe that hanging a horseshoe over your door will bring your home protection and good luck, many disagree about the proper way to hang it.
Some believe that the horseshoe points should face up, arguing that this orientation captures and collects good luck. Others disagree, suggesting that the horseshoe points should face down so that good luck pours on everyone who goes through the door.
A famous feng shui charm, the jin chan, or “Golden Toad,” is popular in China as a symbol of luck and success. The frog is said to appear during a full moon, bearing good fortune and warding off any bad news. With only three legs, sitting in a pile of coins with a coin in its mouth, this frog can be traced back to Chinese legends.
According to legend, Daoist God Liu Hai encountered a fox he wanted to save and transform into a beautiful woman who would help him become a god. For this to occur, he needed to trick a frog into going into a well, and did so successfully. He used the frog’s power, and now Jin Chan is supposed to be Liu Hai.
Keys have been a symbol of fortune and liberation around the world, used in many societies and ceremonies. For instance, in the Catholic faith, the newly consecrated Pope receives two diagonally crossed keys. One is silver, symbolizing the Pope’s spiritual authority. The other is gold, representing the power of heaven.
Additionally, Jewish midwives used to give keys to a woman giving birth to “unlock” the infant and ensure a safe delivery of the baby. Today, keys are mostly associated with the opening of doors and freedom, or in romantic instances, as a key to one’s heart.
India and Thailand
Though the laughing Buddha can be found in cultures all over the world, it is predominantly featured in Thailand and India. It symbolizes happiness and abundance because the laughing Buddha is never unhappy. As a result, many people bring these into their homes or businesses for merriment and good fortune.
However, many believe the luck of the laughing Buddha is only effective is you rub his stomach daily, always keeping a positive attitude. In addition to his prominent belly, the laughing Buddha often bears many other features, such as five children surrounding him or a cloth bag. His pose and the items he carries determines what kind of fortune he brings to people.
The Maneki Neko cat statue is characterized by its waving paw. “Neko” means cat in Japanese, and “maneki” means beckoning. If the left paw is raised, it’s believed that the cat will attract customers and bring good business to shop owners. If the right paw is raised, it’s believed to attract money and prosperity, making it the more common Maneki Neko style.
The Maneki Neko can also come in many different colors: white signifies happiness, black signifies protection, green signifies health, and calico signifies extreme good luck.
Brazil, Peru, and Italy
Though the Mano Figa originated in Italy, it is now more commonly associated with Brazil and Peru. The gesture of this charm—a thumb protruding through the middle and pointer finger—bears many different meanings. The phrase was used in ancient times as a call to the goddess of fertility and was made of silver or blood coral.
As Christianity crossed over into South America, the meaning of the charm changed and now is used for protection against the evil eye. Though the gesture is considered obscene, it is said to distract Satan from taking over your soul.
Milagros, which translates to mean “miracle” in Spanish, are small religious charms depicting angels, crosses, arms, legs, animals, and other subjects. They are often nailed to a cross or other religious object or carried in one’s pocket for good luck.
Each subject carries a different meaning. Milagros are often used with the institution known as manda, where a person asks for a favor from a saint. Upon doing so, they will then leave a milagro at a shrine of the saint they have asked a favor for.
The Nazar, or evil eye, is an amulet for protection against those without good intentions. The origin of the Nazar hails from Turkey and its neighboring countries. Unlike the Hamsa, the Nazar has no religious significance. Because of this, it has become popular in countries all over the world.
In Turkey, the Nazar is usually a beaded, blue jewel that is worn or used on personal items for protection. Though its meaning has been adapted to different cultures, it is frequently associated with protection from the evil eye, a malevolent glare from an onlooker.
Nenette and Rintintin
Nenette and Rintintin are Parisian yarn dolls with various origin stories, many of which begin during World War I. Nenette, the boy doll, and Rintintin, the girl doll, were given as good luck charms to French soldiers or worn by Parisians to protect them during World War I raids.
A piece of yarn links Rintintin and Nenette and should not be broken. Additionally, people believed that the good luck charms should never be purchased, only given, or they would lose their protective powers.
“Glücksschwein” is a German expression that translates to “lucky pig.” In Germany, pigs are associated with fertility and good luck. They are often featured on cards expressing best wishes, especially around New Year. They can also be found in candy and there are treats shaped like pigs all over Northern Europe. Norway and Sweden also have phrases that translate to “lucky pig.”
Another common association with pigs is wealth. People all over the world store coins in piggy banks to attract future wealth and protect their earnings.
A pysanka is an Easter egg decorated with intricate designs using a wax-resist method. Ukrainians have been decorating these eggs for many generations. They represent health, fertility, love, and wealth.
As times have changed, interpretations of the pysanky decor have evolved. Many symbols, such as the fish and cross, are now interpreted through the lens of Christianity. In pre-Christian times, a fish signified a plentiful catch, but it has since become commonly associated with Christ, the fisher of men. Despite this evolution in meaning, the designs themselves still emulate the pre-Christian era.
A rabbit’s foot is one of the few good luck charms that is known worldwide. Countries such as England, Spain, and China are among the many that recognize this global talisman.
The origin of the rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm comes from the Celtics. They believed that rabbits lived so deeply underground that they had an ability to speak with the spirits from the underworld. In modern times, it is still considered lucky to carry a rabbit’s foot. In North America, a rabbit’s foot can only be lucky if certain rules are adhered to. In order for the charm to be effective, it must be the back foot on the left-hand side, and the rabbit must be killed under a new moon in a cemetery.
The scarab beetle as a good luck charm dates all the way back to 2345 B.C. The amulet of this beetle represented new creation and eternal life, and is associated with the Egyptian God of the Rising Sun, Khepri.
This good luck charm first emerged in Ancient Egypt. Egyptians observing the scarab witnessed it roll dung across the ground and associated this with the sun’s journey across the sky. The scarab would also lay its eggs in the bodies of dead animals, something the Egyptians connected with life being created from dead matter.
A tumi is an ornate axe from Peru. It was once used for religious sacrifices and is now a national symbol of Peru. In Pre-Inca cultures, priests would use the tumi to cut out the heart of llama as a sacrifice for the sun priest to help predict the future. Tumis were also used for an ancient form of surgery known as trepanation, which involved removing a piece of the skull.
Modern Peruvians hang this axe on their walls as a good luck charm and can even be found in tourist shops on keychains and other accessories.
Unlike many of the other good luck charms you’ll find around the world, Guatemalan worry dolls are created to help someone fall asleep. They are particularly popular with children, though they are a common gift for anyone with mild anxiety who is struggling to fall asleep or who needs luck getting a good night’s rest.
As they are getting ready to fall asleep, the person holds the doll and tells it their troubles. The worries are then passed on to the doll and away from the person. However, some believe each doll can only manage one trouble at a time. For additional worries or fears, the person needs additional dolls.
Unique Good Luck Charms
We’ve created a visual with our favorite good luck charms to remind you that people can find comfort and luck in an item as common as an acorn or as unique as a worry doll.
Next time you visit another country, be on the lookout for one of these good luck charms—and consider bringing along one of your own. It never hurts to trade a bit of good luck with a stranger, even if it’s just a lucky coin for them to carry in their pocket.
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