Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition

Superstition

If you get an elephant as a gift and its trunk is down you can’t accept it.

Jasmine learned this superstition from her mother when she was a little girl, when she was probably 10 years old. She remembers her mother telling her to never accept an elephant with his trunk down when her mother received a porcelain elephant as a gift. Jasmine was unsure of the meaning behind this superstition she sated, “All I know is that you are not supposed to accept elephants with their trunk down cuz its bad luck.” (See also Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions.)

I was able to find the historic meaning behind this superstition in which Jasmine was unsure about. According to the article Lucky Elephant by Catherine Yronwode, this belief originates from the “lucky elephant” which is a charm used for wishing good luck. The belief of an elephant being a symbol of good luck derived from the Hindu religion of India. The origination of this good luck symbol came from the god Ganesha (the god of luck, protection, and religious devotion) who was the elephant-headed son of Siva (the creator and destroyer of the universe) and the goddess Parvati (the mountain goddess). An elephant as a good luck symbol didn’t reach America until the 19th century when many elephant charms were imported to the United States from India. Yronwode’s believes the “trunk up” belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or “the luck will run out.”

The diffusion of Hindu belief has been embraced by other cultures. This reflects the importance of how diffusion of ideas overtime can determine how folklore is perceived in later years and the incredible capability for one piece of folklore to branch off into various forms over time. It’s amazing to see how the belief in Ganesha went from being a religious practice to becoming manifested in a good luck charm that is now sold in stores across America.  This also shows how globalization has had an impact on the diffusion of folklore amongst different ethnic groups.

Annotated:

Yablon, Alys R. Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2008. pp 73-74.

Yronwode, Catherine. “The Lucky Elephant.” The Luck “W” Amulet Archive. 25 Apr. 2008 <http://www.luckymojo.com/elephant.html>.

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