You may have taken one along to a job interview, onto the sports pitch, into the exam room and if you’ve ever been a bride, you’ll know all about four very specific ones. They are buried at the bottoms of handbags, deep in pockets, hung from key rings, displayed on chains around our necks and dangle from the mirrors of our cars.
Lucky charms come in all shapes and sizes and a whole industry has grown up around them. Catholic travellers and pilgrims have been protecting themselves with lucky St. Christopher medals for hundreds of years, whilst in Asia, Buddha charms and statues have been thought of as lucky for even longer, and are especially lucky if you rub the Buddha's belly. More recently Star Wars fans have taken to wearing lucky Jedi amulets that have, it’s claimed, been infused with the Force.
Throughout history all types of animals have been considered to have luck bringing properties. The ancient Greeks were always happy to see a school of lucky dolphins in the Aegean and the Egyptians wore scarab beetles as jewellery for lucky decoration. Black cats crossing your path can either be lucky or unlucky, dependent on where you come from in Britain, whilst in China dragonflies are considered lucky and a sign of “a good rice harvest”. Some people believe that you should always salute a single magpie and you don’t want to step on a ladybird, as killing one will bring you bad luck or even disaster, particularly fire, at home.
Most of us will have spent an hour or two scouring the lawn for that elusive lucky four leaf clover; each leaf representing an aspect of life – love, hope, happiness, and luck, but in China it’s the bamboo that is considered to be a lucky plant and a gift of bamboo is often presented to brides on their wedding day. In Norse folklore, both the acorn and the oak tree bring good fortune and Vikings would often carry an acorn or an oak twig to bring them luck in battle as they pillaged their way across Europe.
Many people carry a lucky coin and who hasn’t tossed a penny into a wishing well hoping that their wish would come true? Both the British and Americans believe that finding a penny brings luck – “See a penny pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck”, and coin associated luck is particularly big in Asiatic countries where lucky coins are minted by the million. It was once customary to hide a lucky sixpence in your Christmas pudding, but these days health and safety is the name of the game.
A horseshoes is believed to bring good fortune when hung up on the wall or above a doorway, although there’s some debate on which way up you should hang it. Admiral Lord Nelson tacked a horseshoe to the mainmast of his ship and President Harry S Truman displayed a horseshoe over the door of his office in the White House. Brides are often presented with horse shoes for luck and no self-respecting Irish bride would be seen on her wedding day without a horseshoe hidden away in her bouquet.
In fact good luck is everywhere if you just look for it – the wishbone of a chicken, a falling star, even a rabbit’s severed foot; anything can be a lucky charm if you believe that it can bring you good fortune. From lucky colours, or lucky underwear to lucky habits, most of us have our own ingrained superstitious behaviours and good luck charms.
Actor Peter O’Toole always wore green socks both on and off stage, considering green to be his lucky colour. Golfer, Tiger Woods, on the other hand is more of a red man, considering the colour red to be very lucky and often wearing a red polo shirt during a game.
Actors are generally superstitious and Robin Williams is no exception; he always carries an ivory figurine that belonged to his late father for luck, but it seems that rock stars are just as concerned about their fortune. Axl Rose, from Guns N' Roses, refuses to tour in any city beginning with the letter M because he believes the letter is cursed. Meat Loaf always travels with his two lucky teddy bears, Mandy and Marietta, and Coldplay's Chris Martin won't go on stage without brushing his teeth, believing that without completing his lucky ritual he won’t be able to sing a note. Jennifer Anniston also has a lucky ritual – she won't board a plane without stepping on with her right foot first and tapping on the outside of the plane, and Cameron Diaz has more lucky charms, each with a different purpose, than you can shake a lucky stick at.
Lucky charms – it seems that a lot of people won’t leave the house without one; but what if they actually work as some researchers are claiming?
Psychologists at the University of Cologne recently ran an experiment using ‘lucky’ golf balls where half the golfers on a putting green were told that they were playing with a lucky ball, and the other half they were playing with an ordinary ball. The research showed that golfers who were playing with a ‘lucky ball' managed to sink 35 per cent more putts than those who were playing with the ordinary ball. Unbelievably those with the lucky balls sank 6.4 putts out of 10, nearly two more putts on average than the others.
Behavioural scientists have yet to understand why this should be, but are seeing the research as significant. One theory is that knowing that we are in possession of a charm to bring us luck makes us more optimistic and confident and hence we perform better, another is that it helps us relax and focus our minds more on whatever we are doing at the time.
Whether we carry a silver charm, keep a lucky stone in our pocket, nod at the moon, throw salt over our shoulder, or simply cross our fingers, there’s no doubt that we all want our share of Lady Luck’s attention and will try most anything to get it.