George Stimpson

His life and works

Home > Information Roundup > Why is the horseshoe associated with good luck?
Why is the horseshoe associated with good luck?

The superstition that finding a horseshoe and nailing it over the door will bring good luck is widespread and dates back several centuries. It appears to be merely a modification of the earlier belief in the horseshoe as a protective charm. In the second century A.D., when iron horseshoes were still uncommon, Pliny the Elder recommended a horseshoe as a protective charm and healing agent. During the Middle Ages the horseshoe was used as a charm against witchcraft. John Aubrey (1626-1697), English antiquary, wrote that many houses in London in his day had horseshoes over the doors. It had long been a common belief that a horseshoe nailed to the door of a house would protect the inmates from witches and that no evil spirit would cross the threshold of a home so protected. Lord Nelson had a horseshoe nailed to the mast of his flagship. In a mild form the superstition is still quite prevalent and horseshoes are often attached to buildings, vehicles and ships. Soon after he became president in 1945 Harry S. Truman had a horseshoe put up for luck over the main entrance to his white House office. Just how the iron horseshoe acquired its alleged magical properties is not known. The horseshoe superstition may be a fusion of several ancient beliefs. One theory is that it was the iron of which the horseshoe is made rather than the horseshoe as such that was originally regarded as a protective charm and as a symbol of good fortune. In ancient times iron was a sacred and luck-bringing metal. [page 66] Finding any iron object was propitious. The Romans drove iron nails into the walls of their houses as an antidote to the plague. An old English rhyme runs:

See a pin and pick it up;
All the day you'll have good luck.
Another theory is that the horseshoe acquired its magical properties because of its similarity in shape to the lunar crescent, which in ancient times was a symbol of good luck. Some authorities suppose that the halo or nimbus around the heads of saints and angels in conventional pictures was suggested by the crescent of the moon. Crescent-shaped devices were used to ward off the evil eye. Still another theory is that the superstition is somehow related to the mystic seven, the number of nails in a horseshoe. Some people say that only a cast-off horse. shoe that has been found on the road is effective as a good-luck charm and that the potency of the charm is increased in proportion to the number of nails in the shoe when found. It is probable that placing horseshoes on stable doors was originally intended to prevent witches from entering and riding the horses at night. Believers in the horseshoe superstition disagree on the manner of hanging or nailing the luck piece. Some hang the shoe toe down "so the luck won't run out." others hang it with the heels pointing downward in imitation of the sacred halo. Still others insist both of these methods are wrong and that the shoe brings the best luck when hung with the sides horizontal. The horseshoe that President Truman had hung above the door to his executive once in the White House was placed with the prongs up and the loop down.