12 of the Most Fascinating Good Luck Charms from Around the World
Your recipe for good luck awaits you. All you need are five bats, an acorn, and one pocketful of carp scales.
Bats in China
When you think of bats, Halloween, horror movies, and spooky caves may be the first things that pop into your head. But in Chinese culture, these nocturnal winged creatures are far from scary; they’re actually a symbol of happiness and good fortune. In fact, the Chinese characters for “bat” are homonyms for “fortune” or “blessings.” A painting or tapestry with five red bats will give you an extra dose of good luck. Red signifies joy and the five bats represent the “Five Blessings”—health, longevity, love of virtue, prosperity, and a peaceful death—which are paramount in Chinese culture. In face, Chinese mothers used to often sew small bat-shaped buttons made out of jade on their newborn’s caps to bestow a long, healthy life on them.
Acorns in England
The English oak tree is the national tree of England and epitomizes strength and endurance. It’s also abundant in English folklore and history, from Celtic religious leaders worshipping in oak groves to lovers reciting their wedding vows under its sturdy branches. The tree’s admirable reputation may explain why the Brits called acorns “the fruit of the oak” and carried them in their pockets for good luck and health. In 1699, a devastating shipwreck on the Aldeburgh killed 7 crew members and left 11 survivors; one of the survivors owed his stroke of good luck to the acorns in his pocket. Today, those shipwrecked acorns are preserved in varnish and displayed in a glass-fronted display box (made of, coincidentally, oak timber) at the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station in Suffolk, England, where the acorn legacy proudly lives on in the hearts of the crew and local community.
Tumis in Peru
These ancient ceremonial knives are often made of gold, bronze, copper, or silver with a human face on the handle that historians believe is Naylamp, the mythic hero and founder of the ancient Peruvian Sican culture. The semi-circular bladed knife was often used in Incan animal ritual ceremonies such as Inti Raymi, a celebration where they would sacrifice a black llama and use its organs to foresee the future. Other ancient civilizations like Paracas used tumi knives for brain surgery to treat mental disorders, headaches, or cranial fractures. Doctors would cut open the skull to allow the “disturbance” to bleed out, then cover the incision with a gold plate. Today, Peruvians have turned the tumi into a symbol of good luck used in Peruvian tourism and they’re often seen hung on the walls of homes and businesses.
Nazars in Turkey
You’ve probably had someone give you the evil eye at some point in your life—that powerful glare of envy that some cultures believe may inflict harm or misfortune on your life. In Turkish culture, “nazar” is another word for “evil eye,” and the only way to ward it off is by using “Nazar Boncuğu,” an eye-shaped glass bead amulet. The most powerful nazars were often blue because it emulated the sky where the Gods lived and protected them. Nazars distract the evil eye from the receiver’s eye because of its uncanny resemblance to a real-life human eye. Many Turkish people hang their nazars in their homes or in their cars to protect them from evil and misfortune. Other countries such as Armenia, Iran, Albania, and Afghanistan also have evil eye amulets to keep the bad spirits at bay.
Scarabs in Egypt
Most people would be grossed out to wear a beetle around their neck, but in ancient Egypt, it was a way of life and believed to harness good luck and keep the wearer out of harm’s way. Kheper was the ancient Egyptian word for beetle and meant “to exist,” so people wore scarab amulets to protect them in this world and the afterlife. Mummies were often buried with large carved scarabs, and sometimes a scarab amulet made out of a hard, green stone would replace the mummy’s real heart to symbolize the “power of life.”
Maneki Nekos in Japan
You know that smiling white porcelain cat that waves at you when you walk into a Japanese restaurant or shop? It’s called a Maneki Neko and is often displayed in the hopes of bringing the business success and fortune. Historians are unsure how this legend emerged, but one story is about a poor restaurant or bar owner who takes in a homeless cat off the streets and cares for it. In return, the cat sits at the front of the store to attract patrons and brings prosperity to the owner in thanks for their generosity. Each of the colours on the porcelain cat represents a different fortune: white means prosperity, gold means wealth, and black wards off evil. The waving paw also determines fortune: the left brings in customers and the right paw brings wealth and good luck.
Hamsas in Israel
The hamsa is Israel’s own version of warding off the evil eye from homes and public spaces. Both Muslims and Jewish people use the hand-shaped amulet with thumbs on both sides to protect themselves from misfortune. Hamsas are also adorned in the sacred colour blue and symbols like the fish, eyes, or the Star of David. Prayers like the Birkat Habayit (Blessing for the Home) or the Tefilate HaDerech (Traveler’s Prayer) are often inscribed on Jewish Hamsas.
Carp scales in Slovakia
A traditional Christmas meal in central European countries like Poland, Austria, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, contains lots of carp because fish has always been a well-known symbol of Christ and Christianity, which might be why the carp scales are considered good luck. Each Christmas, the fish is killed, gutted, then soaked in milk and salt to dull the fishy smell and taste and sweeten the meat. It’s then usually sliced from top to bottom to form horseshoe-shaped portions to bring good luck. For an extra dose of fortune, they keep the carp scales in their wallets until the following Christmas Eve.
Easter eggs in Ukraine
Ukrainian Easter eggs, better known as psyanky, are not your average hard boiled eggs dipped in food colouring. Ukrainian egg artists use special dyes and melted beeswax to create beautifully crafted masterpieces with blues, reds, pinks, oranges and geometric patterns to signify things like fall’s bounty, fertility, good luck, and happiness. Some are even inscribed with Christian symbols like a cross or a fish and are placed in homes, barns, trees, and given as gifts.
Chimney sweeps in Europe
Mary Poppins may have been onto something when she fell in love with the goofy, charming Bert. In places like England, Germany, and Hungary, chimney sweeps are actually a sign of good luck and often make an appearance at weddings. The old-fashioned tradition dates back to 1066 when a chimney sweep saved King William of Britain from a runaway carriage. From that day forward, the king declared all chimney sweeps lucky and invited the heroic chimney sweep to his daughter’s wedding. Germans even exchange small chimney sweep ornaments and figurines as a symbol of good luck in the New Year.
Beaded turtles in North America
An ancient, centuries-old tradition of placing a child’s umbilical cord inside a beaded turtle-shaped amulet is still going strong in some Native American communities (particularly amongst the Lakota and Sioux). Because of a turtle’s long life span, the beaded turtle case symbolizes longevity and protection and is worn as a necklace.
Fumsups in the United States
Fumsup is just a funny name for a good luck charm that American, Australian, and other soldiers used to keep them safe during World War I. A fumsup was a tiny doll pin made of pewter or gold, with jeweled-eyes and an oversized wooden head. For full, exclusive access to the doll’s magical luck, you needed to recite this rhyme: Behold in me the birth of luck, Two charms combined TOUCH WOOD-FUMSUP. My head is made of wood most rare My thumbs turn up to touch me there. To speed my feet they’ve Cupid’s wings, They’ll help true love ‘mongst other things. Proverbial is my power to bring Good luck to you in everything. I’ll bring good luck to all away, Just send me to a friend today.
Originally published as 12 of the Most Fascinating Good Luck Charms from Around the World on ReadersDigest.com.