Tag Archives: luck

Chants for Good Luck

Context:

H is a spring admin freshman at USC, studying Music Industry. H grew up in Taiwan, but moved when she was 8 to San Jose. 

Text:

H: “Whenever I encounter something bad, I basically chant like something from Buddhism. It goes like ‘大慈大悲, 救苦救难, 管旭音菩萨’ (Pinying: da ci da bei, jiu ku jiu nan, guan yin pu sa; Translation: great mercy and great compassion, save the suffering, guan xu yin bodhisattva). It’s basically what I chant so they can give me power, something like that. I think it’s just telling them I’m in trouble, it’s not asking them to come to me, but I feel like they’re going to do something about it and that’s why I do it.”

Analysis:

H’s chant is something along the lines of a conversion, a superstitious charm that negates or balances out an event. In H’s case, the chant is religious, referring to a god in Buddhism, but meant to offset something bad in her life using her god’s power. Her chanting is ritualistic, in the sense that H will do it on the principle or possibility that her god may be listening, while not knowing if anything will change. Just the act of chanting, the practice of a charm that’s believed to give good fortune, makes her believe that good will come, which is a faith nearly more powerful than the tangible confirmation that there really is a god up there, in my opinion. H creates a sense of order for herself in the midst of a crisis or hardship through this learned chant, and always repeating it to herself, she maintains faith that her chant comes true. Essentially, her ritual chant is believed to bring good luck for her, therefore it does bring good luck.  

Two Dollar Bill

Text:

The informant was given a two dollar bill by a grandparent of a close friend from college. It acts as a good luck charm, and the informant carries it with them wherever they go in their wallet.

Context:

This particular grandparent had a unique tradition of handing out two dollar bills to those they deemed important in their life or in the life of their loved ones. The grandparent took a moment with each of the friends of his granddaughter, and gave each of them two-dollar bills. This moment created a sense of connection and solidarity among the recipients, fostering a shared bond through the common experience of receiving the two dollar bill. The intimate moment shared between the informant and the grandparent further highlights the significance of this gesture, as the grandparent acknowledged the informant’s importance to their grandchild.

Analysis:

The two dollar bill, often associated with luck due to its rarity in circulation, serves as a symbol of protection, good fortune, and well wishes from the grandparent. Additionally, the bill acts as a reminder of the informant’s college friends and their shared experiences, emphasizing the importance of maintaining connections with those who positively impacted their life. This moment acts as both a ritual and a superstition. The grandparent took the time with each individual, ensuring that the performance of handing over the bill was both sincere and impactful. Because the grandparent performed this ritual effectively, the informant continues to believe in the bill they carry around with them daily.

St. Christopher Necklaces

Text:

In this tradition, the informant is a mother who gave her sons with St. Christopher necklaces as a symbol of luck and protection. St. Christopher, known as the patron saint of travelers, is believed to guard the wearer from harm and guide them through life’s journey. The necklaces are typically made of metal and feature a medallion with an image of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child. 

Context:

The informant first learned of this tradition in Arkansas, particularly in Christian communities where religious symbols and beliefs are deeply rooted. The informant recalls seeing boys in her hometown wearing St. Christopher necklace when she was young. She always hoped to continue this tradition with her own children. The practice also happens to be popular in Southern California, where she lives now. St. Christopher necklaces can be found in many surf shops. In both regions, the necklace serves the same role as a symbol of protection and a reminder of the importance of faith.

Analysis:

The act of giving St. Christopher necklaces to sons serves multiple purposes. For the mother, it is a way to leave a lasting mark on her children, connecting them to their heritage and instilling the values she holds dear. A way to maintain a connection to her upbringing and the values that were instilled in her during her childhood in Arkansas. It is a tangible reminder of her love, care, and the protective role she plays in their lives. For the sons, wearing the necklace is a symbol of their connection to their mother and their family’s traditions.

Beyond the personal connection, this tradition also reflects broader communal beliefs. For example, highlights the interplay between religious beliefs and a token of luck.The necklace becomes a symbol of not just faith, but also a shared identity and sense of belonging whether it is worn in the surf or in small-town Arkansas.

The tradition of giving St. Christopher necklaces carry both personal and communal significance. It reinforces the bond between family members and connects them to a larger community of shared beliefs and values. A simple piece of jewelry becomes a meaningful expression of love, protection, and luck.

Lucky Penny Magic

Text

“I believe in lucky pennies. I have a bunch right here; I have some in my window. They’re only lucky if you find them heads up. But if I find one that is heads down, I’ll flip it so it’s lucky for the next person.

“Sometimes if I know someone’s having a bad day, or they have an exam and they need some luck, I’ll give them one of my lucky pennies.

“But there have been times when I’ve found a lucky penny, and I’m like, ‘Ok, this is the day that I have to do something ballsy and brave. This is a sign.’ And then it won’t go well. And I’ll be like, ‘The lucky penny magic isn’t real,’ and I’ll swear off lucky pennies. But I never seem to stop myself. I always continue doing it anyway.”

GR said she couldn’t recall an experience when a lucky penny actually gave her good luck. “Unless I have incredibly spectacular, amazing luck, I’ll never recognize good luck. I only really recognize when I’ve had really bad luck.”

Context

GR is a 21 year-old college student from Portland, OR, currently living in Los Angeles. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants.

Lucky penny belief is performed mostly in public spaces where one is likely to have dropped loose change, such as a place of business, a parking lot, or the sidewalk. As a resident of a large urban area, GR often encounters such spaces. It is likely that the frequency of finding lucky pennies influences her belief.

Analysis

Lucky penny magic reflects the values of American capitalist society, in which money is the main mechanism of upward mobility and survival. Under this system of values, coming into any amount of money by chance is genuinely good luck.

GR’s belief goes further, however, claiming that the pennies are not merely an instance of luck but a token of it, a good luck charm. Lucky penny belief for some is merely a sign superstition, a form of belief that requires no action; one merely encounters a sign of good or bad luck.

However, GR actively takes part in the belief, choosing to collect the lucky pennies, give them to her friends, and flip a heads down penny over for the next person. This action is what makes her belief magic. Specifically, GR believes that lucky pennies are a form of contagious magic in their ability to bring good luck to whoever possesses them.

Additionally, her choice to collect the pennies out of belief that they may bring luck in the future reflects the future-orientation of American culture, as described by folklorist Alan Dundes.

Card Game Superstition

Text

“As long as I can remember, every time I play a card game of any kind, I always wait until everyone has their cards dealt to them before I touch my cards. Otherwise, I feel as if it’s bad luck to touch the cards, and I won’t win the game. It will curse me for that round of cards. 

“Everyone in my family does this, and if someone does touch their cards beforehand, it’s a taboo thing where everyone looks at you like, ‘What have you just done?’

“We’ve passed it along to some family friends, too. It’s like an introduction to our family, and a way for the people we’re closest to to become almost like extended family. Since we believe this and we care about them, we don’t want them to get the bad luck from it.”

Context

BD is a 20 year-old college student from Sacramento, California currently living in Los Angeles. This superstition is part of a card game that has been passed down from his grandparents. When learning the rules of the game, I was also taught this superstition.

BD said he doesn’t remember learning the superstition. “It’s just always been this way and I’ve always done it.”

Analysis

BD’s family sharing this superstition with their close friends as a way of making them part of the family reflects how folk belief can function to create group identities. For example, when reflecting on his family teaching the superstition to his girlfriend, BD said “she has become part of the family by knowing our ways.” Thus, the lore creates the folk.

Superstitions about luck are very common in the context of card games, which often depend on a combination of chance and skill to win. Believing that a certain action will give one good or bad luck for a game is a way to feel a degree of control over a larger, less predictable situation.


The belief that touching an object can give one good or bad luck is an example of contagious magic, as the cards are believed to contain the luck. One can avoid bad luck by abstaining from touching the cards until the proper time.