Friday, 7 February 2020

Lucky Horseshoes

Legends surrounding 'lucky' horseshoes have been around for centuries. But how do you hang your horseshoe? Do you hang it with the ends pointing upwards or down? The traditional way in this country is to hang it over an entrance doorway with the ends pointing upwards in order to keep all of the good luck in and prevent it from falling out.
In France, however, they tend to hang it the other way round so that all the good luck is poured out upon those who enter beneath.
A medieval horseshoe story tells of Dunstan (909 - 988) an English bishop who became the Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London, and finally the Archbishop of Canterbury. St. Dunstan was formally canonised in 1029, his feast day being the 19th May. Prior to Thomas Becket's martyrdom in 1170 St. Dunstan was the most popular saint in Anglo Saxon England for nearly two centuries. He gained his fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least amongst which, were those concerning his cunning in defeating the devil. There are numerous English literature references to St. Dunstan and the devil, including the following ditty. 
St. Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pulled the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.
An illustration from a medieval manuscript held in the British Library showing St. Dunstan tweaking the devil's nose with his blacksmith tongs.

The devil entering the small hermitage where St. Dunstan studied, played upon his harp and practised the art of being a blacksmith. The devil asked St. Dunstan to nail a horseshoe to his cloven hoof but in doing so Dunstan caused the Devil great pain. He only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil from his pain after he had promised never to enter a building with a horseshoe placed above the door. 
I have had the above horseshoe for more years than I care to remember, but do I believe in good luck? I can only tell you that I had forgotten all about the horseshoe until I started writing this post. I then remembered that it was outside sitting on a ledge in our courtyard walled garden. It sits alongside several other old rusty ornamental items found over the years that we now use as decorative garden objects.

41 comments:

  1. Some people are more superstitious than they care to admit, I suspect. I know a person to this day, a farmer, who would have a conniption if anyone turned his horseshoes upside down. Rather than showering fortune on those below he believes that good fortune flows away and is wasted. I noticed it snowed overnight so I will have to shovel the sidewalk clean....better make sure I don't step on any cracks!

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    1. Hope you didn't get too much snow - I remember keeping away from stepping on cracks during childhood days, but had forgotten all about it,

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  2. An interesting story, I have never had a horseshoe, don't see them here around either. I am to down to earth to believe in horseshoes I think. But it is a nice historical story!

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    1. I believe that these tales go back thousands of years to when people were very superstitious.

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  3. I recall brides used to carry a horseshoe along with the bouquet! Wondering if some still do in the UK - never have seen that here.These days we need all the good luck we can get - so if I come across one I'll know which way to hang it thanks to you dear Rosemary!
    Interesting post and I love that stained glass window of St. Dunstan.

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    1. I had completely forgotten about brides being given a horseshoe Mary - in fact someone did actually give me one, and I think it is with my bridal album, I must take a look and see.

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  4. I love this post! When I was a girl, my father (of English heritage) had a horseshoe nailed above his carpentry shop door. Apparently, long before Christianity, the upright horseshoe was symbolic of the Cerridwen's cauldron of plenty and was meant to attract the Goddess's favour.

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    1. Yes, my understanding is that the horseshoe tales do go back way back into the far distant Celtic days.

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  5. Personally I'm not a believer in the power of luck or charms, but in power of God and prayer. I suppose in a way they are both based on our faith and belief in them. I think we all need to have faith and belief in something to keep us going in this world today. Best, Jane x

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    1. I do not believe in luck or charms either Jane.

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  6. Dear Rosemary,
    I am not superstitious. However, I would not think of hanging the many horseshoes we have found on our property upside down. I am ok with walking under a ladder if I just have to. I love your choice of images and it looks like your own horseshoe has found the perfect home.

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    1. Dear Gina - I imagine that luck and superstitions are mainly confined to childhood. There are bits of rusty old metal on that wall that we have found over the years lying around in France and Italy too.

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  7. Hello Rosemary, I love the look of the weathered iron of your horseshoe against the old stonework. I have always heard "up" for the horseshoe position, but now I can defend any "down" ones I see.

    You have reminded me that I have a very old British horseshoe--possibly from Roman times. It has a tag (with place and date) saying that it was found in a deep excavation, and was accompanied by various bits of red-ware, etc. Let's hope that the luck has not expired after all this time!
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I was very curious to see what a Roman horseshoe looked like and googled one. It was interesting to see how much they had changed and developed.

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  8. Makes you order just how old that horseshoe is...

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    1. I imagine that it must be at least 75 years old.

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  9. Dearest Rosemary,
    A very interesting story and you have kept your horseshoe for quite a while it looks like.
    Wishing you a happy weekend.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - I had forgotten about it, but I think that I must have had it for at least 50 years.

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  10. I have a horseshoe, somewhere in a drawer.

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  11. Good luck is made by the recipient, I believe - with the help of charms such as horseshoes?

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    1. I think that good luck is simply something that we sometimes feel we have or we don't.

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  12. At some point there won't be many new horseshoes being made any more...just those who race around a track I'd imagine. Not many horses clopping along these days. Never had a horseshoe myself. Nor a horse.

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    1. There is still plenty of horse riding around here.

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  13. A man of many talents. If he had practiced being a blacksmith for any length of time he was probably stronger than the average person back then as well. Takes a lot of strength to keep an unwilling horse in position and nail the shoe on.

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    1. I don't think that I had heard of him before I started to write this post, and yet in medieval days he was a really well known personality.

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  14. I have never heard of St Dunstan, but he sounds like a very capable bishop, and even a blacksmith as well! In Australia, horseshoes used as good luck charms are placed pointing upwards, as you say to keep the luck confined within. We found an old one similar to yours when we cleaned out my mother-in-law's home. As she believed in lots of good luck theories and charms, I imagine that is why it was there. We keep it in a basket with other 'heirloom' objects, a few old tools etc. from both our parents. I don't know which way it is pointing!

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    1. Never mind Patricia - it appears that whether it points up or down it doesn't really make much difference - good luck anyway!

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  15. St Dunstan always reminds me of the charity, Blind Veterans UK, which supports blind and visually impaired ex-servicemen, but it was also interesting to read here about the stories associated with the saint and the connection with the horseshoe. I did not know that in France the horseshoe is hung on a door with the ends placed down and the reason for doing so. It's always good to learn something new!

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    1. I am not sure why the charity was originally named after St. Dunstan, but the new rebranded name of Blind Veterans UK certainly describes it better.
      Today he is not a very well known saint, but he certainly was top of the list back in distant medieval days.

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  16. In my summerhouse in Denmark I had a horseshoe above a terrasse door with the ends pointing upwards, never gave a thought to the meaning until now :)

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  17. I wonder what the real St. Dunstan was like. The lore that has been passed down through the years is very interesting. There aren't many horseshoes around here, and I'm not superstitious, but I do like the look of the old shoe on the stone wall.

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    1. I think that he must have been highly venerated to eventually become the Archbishop of Canterbury - the highest ranked bishop in the land.
      I have had that old horse shoe for such a long time that I don't even remember where I found it now.

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  18. Dear Rosemary – My son has a horseshoe key-holder. I’ve heard horseshoe is so important to a horse that it can be thought as the second heart of the horse. I remember having seen a real horseshoe and wondered why such a thing was at home. Horseshoe was used as a lucky charm in Japan, too, though not so popular. Mostly hang on upper place in French way. Your aged horseshoe on the rock looks so nice. The story of St, Dunstan is interesting.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - I knew nothing at all about St. Dunstan until I started doing some research for the post.

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  19. Interesting post.
    Countries with different ways of hanging the shoe.
    Some of the older houses have horseshoes but I have no idea which way is what.

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  20. We have a large draught horse shoe in the English way.

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