Why are horseshoes lucky and what is the connection with St Dunstan? What does a lucky horseshoe symbolise? What is the meaning of Horseshoe Luck and does a good luck horseshoe gift really bring good fortune?
Horseshoes are probably the most well-known good luck charm or symbol in the Western World
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Millions of people think that they bring good luck, and that the horseshoe charm is a protective symbol or talisman. But why?
Since earliest times, man has believed that the U-shape or crescent was a powerful protective symbol: For the ancient Greeks, the horseshoe shape symbolised the crescent moon with links to the Moon goddesses Artemis and Diana. In ancient Celtic tradition (a culture not averse to great symbolism), horseshoe jewellery was used to ward off so-called mischievous fairies.
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St Dunstan and the Horseshoe legend
But perhaps the most striking and specific reference to the horseshoe as a protective (and lucky) symbol comes from ancient England: Here, lived a man named Dunstan (909 – 988 AD) who later on became the country’s favourite Saint. Whist doing some work as a blacksmith, Dunstan is said to have nailed a horseshoe to a horse. But, the horse was actually the Devil in disguise and it caused the Devil great pain. Dunstan was said to have agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil only after he promised never to enter a house (like his) which was displaying a horseshoe. And so, the symbol of protection and goodness arose.
Dunstan was born in Baltonsborough, Somerset. He was the son of Heorstan, a nobleman of Wessex and brother to the bishop of Wells and Winchester. So right from an early age, he was indoctrinated into a religious life and was said to be a very pious child. In his early years, while he was living at nearby Glastonbury, Dunstan worked as a silversmith and in the scriptorium. It is thought that he was the artist who drew the well-known image of Christ with a small kneeling monk beside him, now housed at Glastonbury. Some say that this early life so closely associated with the Church attracted the Devil to visit him in the first instance. And, by all accounts, it was not the only such visitation to Dunstan by the Devil.
Dunstan rose to great prominence in English religious and monastic life becoming Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London, and eventually Archbishop of Canterbury – the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. His life’s work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church. There are reports of a vision of angels when visiting the shrines of St Augustine and St Ethelbert, and he worked to improve the spiritual and temporal well-being of local people, building and restoring churches, establishing schools, and generally promoting peace whilst enforcing respect for purity. It is no wonder he was made a Saint. His relics are housed in a tomb on the south side of the high altar of Britain’s Canterbury Cathedral. Because of his early life experience as a blacksmith, he also became the patron saint of English blacksmiths, goldsmiths and silversmiths.
But it is the horseshoe incident mentioned above that brought St Dunstan the most renown, and it is principally this which is claimed as the origin of the lucky horseshoe. However, there are other associations between Dunstan and the Devil which would imply some sort of protective provenance: In the most famous, he is said to resist temptation, and tweaks Lucifer’s nose with a hot pair of smithing tongs. English novelist, Charles Dickens makes reference to this in his famous Christmas Carol:
Saint Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the Devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more
Evidently, these tongs can be seen at Mayfield Convent, a Roman Catholic boarding school in the village of Mayfield in Sussex, England.
So what does a Horseshoe symbolise?
Does this historical horseshoe spiritual meaning still exist? What does a horseshoe symbolise in the 21st Century? There are countless schools and charities throughout the UK (and the world) dedicated to St Dunstan – particularly in the southwest of England, around his native Somerset (and Glastonbury) and there are also many churches all over the world which are named after him. In many instances, the horseshoe is featured in the Coat of Arms, Logo, on stained-glass windows, and so on. And gifts made out of horseshoes (or symbolic horseshoe shapes) are popular for all sorts of events where wishing good luck (or protection from bad luck) are thought to be important. For example: As a wedding or engagement gift, a retirement present, a housewarming gift when someone is moving to a new house, to offer protection and wish good luck in the new home. Or indeed, as a means of wishing good luck for a driving test or some other exam or competition.
For all these events, the horseshoe symbol is said to offer protection from evil, and bring good fortune.
Apart from the bare horseshoe that can be hung in a home or office / place of work, horseshoe charms are commonly found in jewellery worn as earrings, bracelets and pendants on necklaces.
The combination of luck, protection, religion, and even magic are all captured by the horseshoe symbol and many people believe it will bring them good luck in their lives and to any special event or occasion – and ward off evil and misfortune or bad luck.
How do you hang a horseshoe for good luck?
In the past, sailors used to nail a horseshoe to the mast of their ship to help their vessel avoid bad weather, storms and disaster. Normally they would nail it “facing up” to catch all the falling luck. But this brings us to the question: How do you hang a horseshoe for good luck? Is it bad luck to hang a horseshoe upside down? What does it mean when a horseshoe is upside down? Sailors normally nail it “facing up” to catch all the falling luck. But fishermen (also sailors of course) tend to nail the horseshoes “upside down” so that any luck falls down into their nets.
So, just how DO you hang a horseshoe for good luck? i.e. Should a lucky horseshoe be mounted open end up or open end down? “Up” to stop luck running out or “Down” to shower luck onto you.
After much research, it would appear that it doesn’t really matter: It is the thought and effect of the charm that matters – the belief in the so-called magic. In fact, the ‘correct’ orientation varies from country to country, and from culture to culture. As you look at pictures of hanging horseshoes around the world, and on jewellery too, you will see it in all different orientations.
Where do you place horseshoes for prosperity, good luck and protection?
The combination of luck, protection, religion, and magic are all captivated by horseshoe jewellery and the lucky horseshoe symbol and in reality, it doesn’t matter what you do with it, how you hang it, or where you place it . . it is the belief that matters. And although there is a strong semblance with Saint Dunstan and ancient cultures, it is the good-will in the gifting, and the faith in the talisman symbol or shape that lead so many people to believe that a horseshoe will bring them good luck – and help them ward off evil and misfortune or bad luck. Horseshoes and horseshoe jewellery make the ideal lucky charm presents because of their good luck meaning and the association with St Dunstan and protection from evil.
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Good luck horseshoe: It doesn’t matter what you do with it, how you hang it, or where you place it . . it is the belief that counts