It's easy to dismiss many common good luck charms as purely wishful thinking — after all, how can any inanimate object determine whether you'll have a good day or one plagued by bad luck? Well, it turns out that so-called good luck charms may actually help you succeed in life, whether that means performing better on a test or making it through a tough day of work.
What matters is that you believe in the charm. It's the belief that gives the talisman its power by boosting your self-confidence and allowing you to perform at your peak [source: Angelle]. Think of it as a placebo effect of sorts. Even if there's absolutely no evidence or any good reason that a charm should turn the odds in your favor, your belief in the charm might just influence your actions enough to actually boost your chance of success — or leave you feeling more positive about your results, whatever they may be.
The best part is, any charm will do, because the power comes from inside your mind, not from the object itself. Need some ideas? Check out these bizarre good luck charms for a bit of inspiration!
Ladybugs are seen as universally lucky among a variety of cultures and regions, but the origins of this luck are unclear. Some believe it was inspired by the Virgin Mary, or "Lady Bird," but the ladybug is lucky even in areas where Christianity isn't the dominant religion, such as Asia.
No matter its origins, it's said that simply having a ladybug land on you will bring you luck as long as you let it leave on its own accord — no brushing it away. If you must send the ladybug flying, preserve your luck by gently blowing it away and reciting the poem, "Ladybug Ladybug." A ladybug landing not only brings luck, but also allows the bug to carry your problems away with it when it goes.
Beyond basic luck, ladybugs are also said to predict the future. Some say that counting the spots on a ladybug will tell you how many kids you'll have. Others believe that the number of spots reveals the number of happy months ahead. While it's difficult to carry a ladybug in your pocket for luck, the ladybug's lucky reputation makes it a popular choice for clothing and décor, particularly in Asian cultures [source: Webster].
Amulets, or small charms made from metal, bone, stone or gems, have long served as protective charms throughout many parts of the world. The ancient Egyptians gave young girls a fish amulet called a nekhau, which they wore around their necks or tied to a lock of hair to help prevent drowning [source: The Met]. Variations of this amulet can be found throughout different cultures, but what's interesting is that each culture changes the design slightly, modeling the amulet after local fish species.
One modern researcher, epidemiologist Christopher Charles, has taken advantage of these charms' power to benefit one Cambodian village's population. In 2008, Charles handed out tiny iron fish amulets — made in the likeness of a popular local fish species — to the village's residents. By urging the residents to cook with the lucky fish in the pot, the researcher virtually eliminated anemia, which had once plagued a large percentage of villagers [source: Smith].
It was the fish design itself that spurred his success: When he'd handed out shapeless lumps of iron for the same purpose, villagers declined to throw them in the pot. It took the so-called lucky likeness of the fish for his plan to work — and to improve the health of the local people.
Believe it or not, the severed and preserved heads of vultures are widely recognized as good luck charms in some parts of the world, leading some luck-seekers to pay hundreds of dollars or more to obtain one of these gruesome objects. Because they feed on dead flesh, vultures have long been seen as bringers of death, but many believe they can also foretell it [source: Webster].
This sense of clairvoyance has spelled doom for many vultures, as poachers target them in order to sell their heads. Despite the birds' endangered status, eager buyers in Africa and other parts of the world line up to score these good luck charms. They are particularly valued for their supposed ability to predict the future, making them highly desired by gamblers and lottery players [source: Marshall].
Of course, even if you can come up with the cash to score one of these valuable lucky charms, there's no guarantee that any reputable casino is going to let you hang out at the poker table cradling a dried-up bird head — buyer beware, indeed.
You may be familiar with the bezoar thanks to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." In the book, Harry famously feeds Ron one of these stonelike charms to save him from some poisoned mead. While author J.K. Rowling borrowed the bezoar throughout the Harry Potter series, this charm — actually a mass that forms in the stomach of goats, deer and other animals — has long been seen as a token of luck. Many cultures believe that crushing the bezoar into powder could save a poison victim, while others dropped the bezoar into a glass to check for poison before drinking [source: Webster].
Simply carrying the stone is thought to offer protection against illness and bad fortune, while some still use the bezoar as a remedy for hangovers and other maladies [source: Petersen]. In China, people crush bezoars to use as medicine, especially for mouth ailments [source: Barbian and Schierkolk].
Want to get your hands on one of these stones? They come from any cud-chewing animal — think cows, sheep and deer — and it's sometimes possible to find a bezoar that an animal has vomited up. In rare cases, people have also performed surgery on an animal to remove a bezoar without harming the creature. Though it may seem slightly unsettling, humans can also produce bezoars, though they are rare in people with normal digestive tracts [source: Barbian and Schierkolk].
The baculum, or penis bone, of the raccoon is another lucky charm that seems to have been awfully unlucky for the animal itself, though it's said to bring good luck to people who own one. Also known as a Texas toothpick, the baculum is removed from the raccoon and boiled clean. Some users drill a hole in one end and wear it around the neck or wrist, while others simply slip it into a pocket. The lucky raccoon baculum tradition likely comes from the American South, where it's popular in hoodoo — American folk magic [source: Russell].
Carrying the baculum is said to bring luck, especially for gamblers, while some use it as an aphrodisiac or fertility charm. Artifacts found near former slave residences suggest these charms were popular among early African-Americans, who some sources suggest picked up the practice from Native Americans. While purists will want to stick with the real thing, more casual believers may be satisfied with the large array of synthetic (mostly plastic) alternatives available in modern shops — much to the relief of raccoons everywhere.
For centuries, cosmetics were markers of social standing. Delve into the history of makeup around the world at HowStuffWorks.
Author's Note: 5 Bizarre Good Luck Charms
I spent hours searching through fields of clovers as a child, hoping to find a four-leaf clover. After all that work, I never managed to locate one, leading me to believe that they were just a myth. It wasn't until I sat down to research this article that I learned four-leaf clovers are not only a real thing, but they're really not all that rare. Not only that, but botanists figured out how to produce the seeds for these special clovers long before I was born, which means I could've had one anytime I wanted if I'd only been looking in the right place.
- Angelle, Amber. "Superstitions Bring Real Luck, Study Reveals." LiveScience. July 12, 2010. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.livescience.com/8392-superstitions-bring-real-luck-study-reveals.html
- Barbian, Lenore and Andrea Schierkolk. "Hairballs: Myths and Realities Behind Some Medical Curiosities." National Museum of Health and Medicine. Oct. 21, 2014. (April 1, 2015) http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/index.cfm?p=exhibits.virtual.hairball.index
- Ellis, Bill. "Why Is a Lucky Rabbit's Foot Lucky? Body Parts as Fetishes." Journal of Folklore Research. Vol. 39, No. 1. Pages 51-84. January-April 2002. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814831
- Hutcheson, Cory Thomas."Gator Paws, Doll Babies and Ugly Mugs: Material Culture in American Folk Magic." Pennsylvania State University. Oct. 27, 2014. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://sites.psu.edu/hollershakeshout/2014/10/27/gator-paws-doll-babies-and-ugly-mugs-material-culture-in-american-folk-magic/
- Marshall, Leon. "Gamblers Fuel Trade in 'Lucky' Vulture Heads in Africa." National Geographic. Feb. 25, 2003. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0225_030225_SAvultures.html
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). "The Collection Online — Fish Amulet." 2015. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/546742
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- Petersen, Georg G. "Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient Peru." Geological Society of America. 2010.
- Russell, Aaron E. "Material Culture and African-American Spirituality at the Hermitage." Historical Archaeology. Vol. 31, No. 2. Pages 63-80. 1997 (Jan. 5, 2015) http://users.clas.ufl.edu/davidson/arch%20of%20aa%20life%20and%20culture/Week%2007-08/Russell%201997.pdf
- Smith, Eleanor. "The Good-Luck Charm That Solved a Public-Health Problem." The Atlantic. Dec. 22, 2013. (Jan. 5, 2015) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/an-iron-fish-in-every-pot/355742/
- Struthers, Jane. "Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom." Ebury Press. 2009.
- Webster, Richard. "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." Llewellyn Publications. 2008.