As far as superstitions go, the old horseshoe is one of the most easily recognizable symbols of luck. The metal U-shaped objects were once required for anyone wishing to do business – from farmers, tradesmen- since industry and agriculture were powered by horses. And, horseshoes were staple products for blacksmiths. But, have you ever stopped to think about why horseshoes are considered to be so lucky? Well, the answer might surprise you since the origin story doesn’t so much have to do with luck as it does morality.
Horseshoes offer protection to horses’ hooves, something which is vital if you intended to work the horse everyday. Without these metal shoes the hooves of a working horse can wear down faster than they can grow, which can lead to pain or health problems.
Of course, horses in the wild don’t have shoes and they are fine, but they have no demands on their time or labor and so wear down their hooves at a slower rate. In the old days these objects would have been quite common and most towns had a blacksmith on hand (and farriers) to ensure all the working horses had proper shoes.
The Man Behind the Legend
In the 10th century there lived a man named Dunstan who was a jack of all trades sort of fellow. He was born in Somerset, then in the Kingdom of Wessex (now England), and was later educated by Irish monks in Glastonbury. Dunstan was once a member of court, but was brutally thrown out when he was falsely accused of plotting against King Athelstan.
After suffering a horrific illness, possibly related to violent oust from court, Dunstan became a monk and later ascended to become Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, and Archbishop of Canterbury. He became a scholar in addition to his many other skills as an artist, metalsmith, musician, and general tinkerer.
It is thought that Dunstan, when visited by the Devil himself, placed painfully long nails into the horseshoe on one of the cloven feet of the fallen angel. When Satan cried out in pain Dunstan promised to removed the horseshoe only if the Devil promised to never come back to him. Horseshoes were then known as an emblem of protection after the story of Dunstan became popular.
Many people believe that this is the reason why horseshoes are considered lucky today. What started out as a symbol of protection against evil over the years has evolved to represent luck instead. Since Dunstan died in 988 this tradition is more than 1,000-years-old, though some histories don’t tell of the lucky horseshoe becoming a part of European culture until the 13th century.
Proper Hanging of the Horseshoe
In Ireland the tradition of hanging a horseshoe on or over the door to keep evil from ever stepping over the threshold. The custom is an old one that has now been adopted all over the world.
Some people believe that any horseshoe is lucky. However, there are many people who say that a horseshoe over a doorway must be oriented with the open side facing upwards so that the luck one had accumulated doesn’t fall out.