With St. Patrick’s Day less than a week away, a lot of my neighbors have posted four-leaf clovers on their doors and windows. The sight makes me a bit nostalgic, remembering how, back in elementary school, my friends and I once spent a few recesses searching the scrubby grass for a four-leafed clover.
Given that there are about 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every one with four, the odds of us finding one were small and we never, indeed, did. A more easily acquired good luck charm — a hot pink rabbit’s foot — made me uneasy. While I was entranced by its softness, I felt a vague sense of horror looking at the little hard stub of bone at the end, a reminder that the foot had not brought the rabbit any good luck.
It’s impossible to know where a rabbit’s foot originates from or the circumstances under which the rabbit was acquired. (In some traditions, the foot must be cut from a live rabbit in order to be considered lucky). Here’s some other items traditionally believed to bring luck without such a disturbing origin.
1. Lucky Bamboo
Also known as the Belgian Evergreen of the Ribbon Plant, Lucky Bamboo is not actually a type of bamboo. It is native to Cameroon in West Africa and is an understory plant in rain forests. In the traditional Chinese practice of feng shui, lucky bamboo, with its woody stems and flexible leaves, is considered to be a powerful example of the thriving wood and water element, with the number of stalks seen as having different meanings: three means happiness, five, wealth.
But a plant with four stalks is avoided as, in Mandarin, the number is pronounced syh, which sounds almost the same as the Chinese word for “death.”
13 is, of course, considered a most unlucky number in Western culture. There’s no statistical proof for this. Indeed, in some cultures (Italy), 13 is a lucky number.
In Chinese culture, the number eight is considered auspicious; the Mandarin and Cantonese words for “eight” (ba, baat) sound similar to that for “fortune.”
3. The beckoning cat
In Japan, the maneki-neko is a figurine (ceramic and often white but also black, gold or red) of a cat with one paw upraised. The higher the paw is raised, the greater the luck one is to gain (some cats come with moving, constantly beckoning paws, operated either by batteries or solar power). Sometimes the cat holds a coin, a koban, a reference to the belief that the cat brings in power and wealth.
Lentils, black-eyed peas, black soybeans and other legumes are associated with good luck and prosperity — perhaps because they look like small coins — and often served on New Year’s Eve and at Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the Jewish new year. Those who find an actual coin baked into a cake (such as the Greek vasilopita) are said to have good luck for the next year.
5. The evil eye
A bead or other object with an evil eye is considered in some cultures to be a good luck charm with an apotropaic function. That is, such charms are meant to protect someone against bad luck — someone giving you the evil eye — by turning back an evil look to its giver. Such eyes are seen on the prows of some ships in the Mediterranean and on the hamsa hand, a hand-shaped talisman with an eye on the palm found in some parts of the Middle East.
Do you have a lucky item?
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