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An upcoming exam could have students scampering around looking for ways to ensure a passing grade. Athletes may look for tokens such as lucky socks to set them at ease for a big game or match. Studying and being prepared is a tried and true way to succeed. But some may search for a talisman to make certain.

Lucky charms have roots to ancient times. But where did the superstitions begin?

Carrying a Rabbit Foot

From the African-American folk spirituality known as hoodoo. It’s said that rabbit’s feet are lucky because of their reproductive habits, so carrying a rabbit’s foot was thought to help with fertility.

It has to be the left hind foot.

The rabbit needs to have been captured or killed in a cemetery.

The rabbit’s foot needs to be cut off on a specific day—usually a Friday, but with variations such as the weather, date, etc.

Picking up a penny

A penny with the tails side up should be turned over for another person to find. On the other hand, many people believe any penny you find is good luck.

You may hear people repeat a common rhyme to this effect: “Find a pennypick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.”

According to the website Wonderopolis, ancient people believed that metals were given to them by their gods for protection. They also believed there was a constant fight of good against evil. The superstition developed over the span of time after metals were made into coin, that one side represented good (the head side) and brought luck. Conversely, the other took the guise of evil (the tails side) and brought bad luck.

The Four Leafed Clover

The legend of the four leafed clover as a bearer of good luck began with the Celts. One legend states that the mystical four leaves of a clover plant allowed someone to see fairies, the harbingers of bad luck, and gave the bearer protection against the mischief they caused.

Four leafed clovers are rare. Only about one in 10,000 plants carrying the lucky leaves.There are many varieties of the plant, but the lucky ones are said to come from the white clover plant, also called Trifolium repens.


This popular lucky charm derived from the folklore of the Stone Age in Northern Europe and the British Isles. According to legend, the area was inhabited by small beings known as elves or goblins.

As the Celtic tribes began migrating to the area, these mystical creatures began wearing green hid among the camouflage of the forests. The superstitious tribesmen believed the magical beings caused misfortune but they also believed the goblins and elves feared the human metal weapons.

The belief among the invading Celts was that it was the metal of their weapon that held the ‘wee folk’ at bay and that it was forged iron that protected them.

The Celtic people began hanging iron horseshoes over the doors of their huts to protect their homes from harm from small beings.

Another legend dates back to the late 900’s when Saint Dunstan was said to have nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s horse. Dunstan nailed the iron horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof instead and refused to remove it until the Devil  promised not to enter a building with a horseshoe nailed above the door.

Are Lucky Charms Effective?

Lucky charms developed from superstitions and a belief the items does grant luck. But do they work?

In an article written by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, published in the September issue of Psychology Today, researchers have concluded that a “that people who believe they have luck on their side feel greater “self-efficacy”—the belief that we’re capable of doing what we set out to do—and this belief actually boosts mental and physical performance.”

Or do we make our own luck?

“One might ask, do you consider yourself lucky because good things happen to you, or do good things happen to you because you consider yourself lucky?” says David J. Hand, author of The Improbability Principle, emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College, London.

Chelsea Wald’s states in her article on the website Nautilus states that researchers have found that, “Belief in good luck goes hand in hand with feelings of control, optimism, and low anxiety.”

On the other hand, in a 2013 study psychologist John Maltby of the University of Leicester hypothesized that beliefs in being unlucky are associated with lower executive functioning—the ability to plan, organize, and attend to tasks or goals.

“People who believe in bad luck didn’t necessarily engage in some of the processes that are needed to bring about positive outcomes,” Maltby said.

Whether lucky charms work or not is up for debate. One thing to remember when arguing in favor of the use of lucky charms, the rabbit might not think the superstition very lucky at all.


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