My informant described to me on of the good luck charms, (perhaps superstitious), that her sister used when she was younger. She would keep an actual horseshoe by her bed and hang it so that the horseshoe was like the letter U on the wall. It was hung this way to make sure that luck did not literally pour out. For whatever reason, my informant’s sister hung it up to keep the luck in, whereas in some cultures the horse shoe is hung upside down so that luck pours down on a person.
I asked my informant if she knew the history about the horseshoe, why it was used, and what region the horseshoe as a good luck charm originated. She was not certain, but she thought maybe it was from their Irish heritage.
Upon further research I found that horseshoe, made out of iron, was originally used to ward off faeries as part of Celtic tradition. Since then the tradition as been adopted as a good luck charm and the symbolism of the iron in the horseshoe is no longer an essential part to the good luck charm.
It should be noted that my informant told me her sister was superstitious and that she used multiple luck charms from multiple regions, though most of them were European. The informant’s mother even had an elephant pointed at the front door, which was said to bring good luck. I speculate that this might be an American adoption of multiple customs and luck charms.
The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.
Following are two New Years customs from the Greek community the informant lived in as a child.
When growing up, there was a tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large that the adults would always gamble on New Years eve. All the families would gather, as New Years is a family occasion, and the adults would bet on cards while the kids played. The believe was the gambling for money would bring luck for the coming year; it was an auspicious practice to handle money at the very threshold of the New Year.
Analysis: The handling of money at the beginning of the year probably owed some of its origin to ideas of sympathetic magic. The act of handling and interacting with a lot of money as the New Year begins is an enactment of the what the people wish to happen for the rest of the year; they hope that for the upcoming year they will have a lot of contact with money, and thus be prosperous. Gambling at New Years is a type of ritual, although most of the people participating probably think of it as a good luck ceremony. That the ritual magic implications of the gambling are more important than the more straightforward attempts to win money are supported by the fact that it is a whole family affair, including children.
It was tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large to throw a piece of iron into the house on New Years. Iron horseshoes are usually used, as they are the most common piece of iron around the house. The informant does not remember exactly why this was done, but he remembers learning that it should be done through the stories the old Greek women would tell him. They would explain their cultures traditions to the children, telling them stories and legends. They were the main transmitters of tradition in that social network.
Analysis: In the Greek community that the informant grew up in, the stories were transmitted by the female elders. The informant says that it is through the stories of these women that the young in the community learn who they are. These women are the active bearers in the community. It is their place in the social construction of the Greek society, rather than personality or personal preference, that determines who are active bearers of lore and who are passive. The childrens’ roles are as passive bearers. But this position switches with age, although not sex. The position of those who tell stories is regulated in the Greek community.