Around the world, from culture to culture and throughout history, luck has taken many forms, such as Asian good luck charms or lucky animals. We’ve put together the ultimate list of good-luck symbols and then looked into their origins and what they mean to those who believe in them. Whether you’re about to engage in games of chance or ready to try your luck at an online casino, grabbing one of these good-luck amulets in advance might just turn Lady Luck in your favor.
Believed to ward off the evil eye, the Hamsa hand has become one of the most popular good luck symbols around the world. The Hand of Fatima and the Hamsa hand are common in both Jewish and Muslim communities – in Jewish communities it is known as the Hamsa Hand or the Hand of Miriam, while Muslim communities recognize it as the Hand of Fatima or the Khamsa.
The evil eye is a malicious stare from someone that is believed to cause illness, death, or general bad luck. The owner of the Hamsa hand is believed to be protected from all negative energies, the most common one being the envious glares from people who wish you harm. Hamsas often feature an eye symbol, which is said to distract the source of the evil eye and deflect it away from the owner.
The Hamsa is said to represent the five books of the Torah, which are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and are also known as “The Five Books of Moses.” Both “Hamsa” in Hebrew and “Khamsa” in Arabic mean five. In Jewish communities, the Hamsa hand is also known as the Hand of Miriam, named after Moses’s sister. Legend says that Miriam’s virtues contributed to the constant supply of water for the Israelites during the forty years in the desert, and the well that seemed to follow the people of Israel came to be known as Miriam’s well. She symbolizes protection, luck, and happiness.
In Muslim communities, the Khamsa is also known as the Hand of Fatima, and was named after Fatima al Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. She came to be known as pure and completely without sin, and the Hand of Fatima is recognized as a strong symbol of protection, power, and strength. It is said that the Khamsa represents the Five Pillars of Islam – faith, prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, and charity.
The hand-shaped symbol is often seen in the color blue and features symbols like a fish, an eye, or the Star of David. The Hamsa is believed to be a sign of protection, and also represents blessings, power, and strength. It can be seen with the fingers spread apart to ward off evil, but is most commonly seen with the fingers together, which is believed to bring good luck.
Probably the most well-known Native American symbol next to the Chief’s feather headdress, the dreamcatcher was first created by the Ojibwe people before spreading to other native tribes like the Lakota and the Sioux in the 1960s and 1970s during the Pan-Indian Movement. Some consider the dreamcatcher a symbol of unity among the various Indigenous Nations, while others think that it’s become over commercialized and misappropriated by non-Native people.
For the Ojibwe and other Native American tribes, it is believed that the night air is full of dreams, both good and bad. Babies and young children are unable to defend themselves against bad dreams, so the dreamcatcher is especially helpful for them, as it filters the bad dreams and only allows good dreams to enter the sleeper’s mind.
Ojibwe legend says that Asibikaashi, also known as the Spider Woman, was the protector of young children and babies for the tribe. However, as the Ojibwe people began to spread all over the continent, it became harder for her to protect all her people. So, she told all mothers, sisters, and grandmothers to weave magical webs on willow hoops for the babies and young children and hang them above their beds to protect them from bad dreams.
One Lakota legend says that long ago, the tribe elder was standing on a mountaintop and had a vision of the great teacher Iktomi, who appeared as a spider. Iktomi spoke to the tribe elder of the cycles of life and how human actions could affect nature’s harmony, all while spinning a web on a hoop of feathers, horsehair, and beads. He presented the elder with the hoop and told him that belief in the Great Spirit would allow the hoop to keep good dreams, and would help his people make good use of their dreams.
A different Lakota legend says that a Shaman who was very ill was haunted by bad dreams. In order to cure himself, he went to sleep holding a medicine wheel. However, a spider found its way down to the wheel and spun a web that covered it, except for a small hole in the center. When the web was complete, an owl flew over and shed a single feather, which became trapped in the web and hung from the center hole. In the morning, the Shaman woke after a peaceful sleep and cured of his sickness. Believing it to be the medicine wheel, he was shocked when he found the web and the feather – thus, the dreamcatcher was born.
Both the Ojibwe people and the Lakota people believe that dreamcatchers provide good dreams if they are hung above one’s bed, but believe that dreamcatchers work in different ways. The Ojibwe believe that bad dreams are caught in the web and burned up in the light of day while the good ones are allowed to pass through the center hole, down the feathers, and into the sleeper’s head. The Lakota believe that the dreamcatcher snares all the good dreams in its web, which the owner then carries around for the rest of his or her life. The center hole allows bad dreams to pass through, harmless.
Dreamcatchers are made of red willow twigs formed into the shape of a circle, on which yarn or fiber is woven into a web and adorned with beads and hanging feathers. In Ojibwe lore, the circle hoop of the dreamcatcher represents the sun, and the web’s eight connections with the hoop represent the legs of the Spider Woman. There is some contention when it comes to the meaning of the beads. According to some, the beads are a representation of the Spider Woman, the web weaver herself, while others believe that beads symbolize good dreams that could not pass through the web, and are kept in the form of sacred charms.
Either way – if you’re having trouble sleeping because of bad dreams, hang up a beautifully woven dreamcatcher and you’ll be dreaming happy dreams in no time.
Originating in Etruscan Italy, the Mano Figa charm is one of the oldest symbols of good luck that is still used today. The charm depicts a fist with the thumb protruding between the pointer and middle fingers, and the gesture has many different meanings, some of which date back thousands of years. In Central Asia it is considered an obscene gesture, like the middle finger. In Japan, it means sex. In Italian, “mano” means “hand,” and “figa” means “fig,” which is a slang term for female genitalia.
Associated with fertility, virility, and pleasure, in ancient times the figa charm was worn as a tribute to The Goddess and Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, as the fig was associated with him. The charms were made of silver or coral, which were both considered sacred elements of the Roman goddesses Luna and Venus.
During the early 17th century, the figa charm made its way from Italy across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, where it is now commonly produced and worn throughout Brazil and Peru. Here, the figa charm was believed to protect wearers from bad energy, especially the evil eye. Nursing mothers and babies are thought to be the most susceptible to the evil eye, and in Brazil it is tradition to put a small black figa charm around a child’s wrist to ward off the bad energy. It is also believed that the obscene gesture will distract the devil from attempting to take your soul.
The nazar is an amulet believed to protect the owner from the evil eye – that malicious glare that comes from others and can cause harm, death, or general bad luck. This protection symbol can be found in a number of different countries, including Armenia, Turkey, Romania, Albania, Iran, Afghanistan, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq, among others.
A nazar is an eye-shaped amulet typically made of handmade glass. They are traditionally blue, white, light blue, and black. Sometimes the eyes feature gold as well. The most powerful nazars are blue, because the color symbolizes protection – a belief demonstrated by the many countries where painting the front door of your home blue is traditional. Like the blue front door protects the home from bad energy and evil, so the blue nazar protects the owner from the evil eye.
The nazar is used to distract the evil eye, since its resemblance is supposed to be close to that of a real human eye. In this way, the amulet takes the brunt of the evil eye without being affected, and the owner is left unharmed.
Oak Trees and Acorns
The oak trees were considered good luck symbols for a number of different peoples of past major civilizations, including the Celts, Romans, Greeks, and the Germanic tribes. Celtic Druids found oak leaves and acorns to be sacred and carried them everywhere to attract good luck, and Celtic religious leaders used to worship in oak groves. The Norse believed that the oak tree belonged to Thor, the god of thunder, after legend said that he found shelter from a violent storm by sitting under a giant oak tree. Because of this story, the Norse believed that displaying acorns on a windowsill would protect a house from lightning, which in turn is why window blind pulls are often in the shape of an acorn.
Oak trees can live for more than 1,000 years and grow to a staggering 45 meters (147 feet) tall. They were considered the king of all trees and were sacred to the supreme god of various religions – the oak was sacred to the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, and the Norse god Thor, among others. Ancient kings wore crowns of oak leaves as a symbol of the god they worshipped and “represented” on Earth. Successful Roman commanders were presented with oak leaf crowns during victory parades, and the symbolism has lasted to the present day. The oak tree represents power, strength, perseverance in the face of adversity, longevity, and success.
It can take an oak tree anywhere from 20 to 50 years to start producing acorns, but one oak tree can drop as many as 10 million acorns in its lifetime. Acorns were known as “the fruit of the oak,” and considered symbols of youth, prosperity, luck, and patience. English soldiers carried acorns during the Norman Conquest to bring luck and protect themselves from harm, and it is believed that if a woman carries an acorn on a string around her neck it will prevent premature aging and promote lasting youth.
Today, the oak tree is the national tree of both England and the United States.
Ever had those nights when you can’t let go of the worries keeping you awake? Those little good luck symbols will help you get a good night’s sleep – Guatemalan worry dolls are designed to take your worries and put them to rest for good.
Worry dolls are half an inch to two inches high and made from bound pieces of wood or wire which yarn or cloth is wound around. They feature traditional Mayan costumes made of scraps of traditional woven fabric, and usually come in groups of six in handmade pouches. They were traditionally for children but are used by people of any age. Legend says that you tell worry dolls your concerns and then sleep with them under your pillow, and after a good night’s sleep your worries will have been taken care of by the dolls.
The legend of worry dolls says that two children, Maria and Diego, lived with their mother and grandfather in a thatched hut with one room in Guatemala. Their mother made clothing to sell at the market, their grandfather taught them to farm, and they were happy despite being poor.
One season there was a drought so crops weren’t growing. One night, Diego woke to find someone stealing his mother’s cloth and alerted his family, but the intruder escaped. His mother was distraught and fell ill, and the kids realized their family would starve if they didn’t find a way to make money. So Maria and Diego found scraps of cloth and small twigs and fashioned dozens of tiny dolls in tiny clothes. Before going to sleep that night, Maria took some of the dolls, told them her worries, and put them under her pillow. In the morning, the dolls were on the table, and she believed they were magic.
They took the dolls to the market, but had no luck selling them. Just before they packed up to go home empty-handed, a stranger asked what they were selling. “Magic dolls,” Maria said. The stranger was delighted and bought them all, giving the children enough money for them to live comfortably for a year. The kids rushed home to tell their grandfather and their mother, who wasn’t sick anymore. As they reached home, it started to rain, effectively ending the drought.
Maria then found the same pouch of dolls she had spoken to the night before, even though she was certain she had sold them. Inside the pouch was a note that said to tell the dolls your secret wishes, your problems, and your dreams, and when you wake up you might find the magic in you to make your dreams come true.
The horseshoe is probably the most widely recognized and used good luck charm in North America, but is prevalent in countries and cultures around the world. Horseshoes were traditionally made of iron, a material that was believed to ward off evil spirits, and held in place with seven nails, which was considered the luckiest number. Iron was considered sacred, strong, and powerful since it could withstand fire without melting or burning.
The origin of the belief that horseshoes are lucky is believed to have come from Saint Dunstan, who worked as a blacksmith before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The legend says that one day, the Devil walked into Dunstan’s shop and requested that he shoe his horse. Dunstan agreed, but rather than nailing the shoe to the horse’s hoof, he nailed it to the Devil’s. Howling in pain, the Devil begged Dunstan to remove it. The blacksmith agreed, but only after forcing the devil to promise never to enter a household with a horseshoe nailed to the door. After this, many believed that if a horseshoe was nailed above a house or barn door with the points facing down, a witch or evil spirit could never walk beneath it and enter the place.
In Mexico, used horseshoes are wrapped in colorful thread and decorated with sequins and portraits of San Martin Caballero, the horse-riding monk. Included on the back of the horseshoe is usually the Oracion de la Herradura, or the prayer of the horseshoe, which is supposed to invoke the Holy Trinity and bring the holder luck, health, and wealth. In Turkey and Greece, horseshoes are used as amulets to protect against the evil eye. They are usually made of metal or blue glass, and of course integrate the eye emblem to ward off any malicious glares.
There is quite a lot of contention concerning which way the horseshoe is supposed to face. Some say the ends of the horseshoe should point up to collect all the good luck, and a horseshoe pointing down causes all the luck to fall out. Others believe that the ends should point down because the good luck will rain down on whoever passes underneath it. Regardless of how the horseshoe is supposed to be placed, almost everyone agrees that a horseshoe that is used, discarded, and found possesses more magical power than horseshoes that are bought. But don’t worry – there are many sites where you can buy a used horseshoe, so you can take advantage of at least half of the magical luck-collecting power.
Considered one of the rarest good luck symbols, the odds of finding a four-leaf clover in the wild are one in 10,000. However, because of the demand for this little green luck charm, today there are a number of farms that specialize in cultivating four-leaf clovers, including one in the U.S. which is said to produce as many as 10,000 clovers a day.
The four-leaf clover is a rare variation of the common three-leaf clover. However, these plants can produce more than four leaves – five-leaf clovers, also known as rose clovers, have been successfully cultivated and are considered a special prize. In very rare instances, clovers have been known to grow six leaves or more in nature. In fact, the highest number of leaves ever found on a single clover stem was 56, found by a man named Shigeo Obara in 2009. Now THAT is one lucky clover!
According to Christian legend, Eve brought a four-leaf clover with her when she left the Garden of Eden, so anyone lucky enough to be in possession of one had a piece of Paradise. During the Middle Ages, it was believed that a person who carried a four-leaf clover could see fairies and recognize witches or potentially evil spirits.
Nowadays, the four leaves on the clover are believed to represent faith, hope, love, and luck. And, believe it or not, the four-leaf clover is not associated with St. Patrick’s Day – the three-leaf clover, or shamrock, is the correct symbol tied to the national holiday, because Saint Patrick is said to have used the plant as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity.
So now you know. Pick your ultimate good luck symbols, hang it around your neck, over the bed or above the door, hold it in your arms or pin it to your lapel and give your luck a spin today at Planet 7!