Particular objects, symbols, and animals have been adopted as good luck charms around the world for centuries. Lucky charms around the world and throughout history are thought to bring good karma or ward off bad omens. The ancient Romans, for example, were staunch believers of the power of amulets and other fortunes. And Mjölnir amulets, which symbolize power, strength, bravery, good luck, and protection from harm, have been found in Viking graves. These are not the only cultures rooted in the power of charms, however, and good luck symbols around the world can range from mundane-looking coins to three-legged frogs.
Many of these lucky objects around the world are still considered useful today. And though the history of these charms can sometimes be traced to the origin of a culture, there are some unusual symbols you can still try out if you're suffering from a streak of bad luck.
It is very rare that a baby is born with a caul - a piece of the amniotic sac - over its head and face. Recent estimates suggest this happens in less than one in every 80,000 births. Perhaps because it so rare, superstitions about a caul being a good luck charm are abundant and date to medieval times.
Many cultures once believed, in fact, that a child born with a caul was a sign they were destined for greatness. They were supposedly protected against evil for their entire life. One of the superstitions that went along with this multi-cultural belief was that it had to be kept for life, and the owner should be buried with it. If a person born with a caul was not laid to rest with that caul, they were doomed to roam Earth as a ghost, forever looking for the lost caul.
In addition to those born with the caul, history suggests anyone who owned a caul would receive good luck. Roman midwives would take cauls and sell them to lawyers, who thought possessing one would help them win their cases - a superstition that also existed in Iceland, Denmark, and England. Hundreds of years later, coal miners would carry cauls to protect them against disaster.
Many cultures also believed a caul could protect against shipwrecks and drowning. As recently as WWI, sailors carried cauls on their journeys out to sea. Since so many sailors coveted cauls, they were often sold for a very high price. If someone had one for sale, a good way to find a buyer was to advertise in newspapers.
A Jin Chan, also called a Chan Chu or "money frog," is a figurine of a three-legged, red-eyed bullfrog that is generally positioned sitting on a pile of coins. The Jin Chan is a Feng Shui charm for prosperity, and is said to be a mythical creature that appears during a full moon near a house or business destined to receive good news.
According to one legend, the origin of the Jin Chan can be traced back to a story about the Daoist God Liu Hai. The legend goes that Liu Hai encountered a disposed fox and saved it by transforming it into a beautiful girl who wanted to help him become a god. In order to do this, they needed to trick a frog into a well so the pair could ascend together. The trick was successful and Liu Hai was able to use the frog's power to become a god. This frog is supposed to be the Jin Chan.
According to another legend, however, the Jin Chan was the greedy wife of one of the Eight Immortals, who was transformed into a toad as punishment for pocketing the Peaches of Immortality.
Regardless of its origin, in order for it to work as a good luck charm, the Jin Chan has to be positioned correctly. If it doesn't have a coin in its mouth, it should face away from the main door; otherwise, it will suck all of the money out of the house or business. Also be sure never to place a Jin Chan in the bathroom, kitchen, dining room, or bedroom. The maximum number of Jin Chans that can be placed at a time is nine; if the number exceeds that, it must be in a multiple of nine.
The "worry doll" has its origins in a Guatemalan legend about a Mayan princess named Ixmucane. According to the legend, Ixmucane received a gift from a sun god which allowed her to solve any problem that a person could worry about.
The doll represents Ixmucane and her wisdom, and if a child tells one problem per night to the doll and then places it under their pillow before going to bed, by the next morning the worry is supposed to have been transferred from the child to the doll.
Although originally meant to alleviate children's nightmares and concerns, these dolls are also used by adults. Generally no more than two inches in size and dressed in traditional Mayan clothing, the dolls are kept in a box or cloth bag and in groups of six, one for each day of the week, allowing them the option to rest for a day.
Although the Maneko-Neko - AKA the "beckoning cat" or "waving cat" - comes from Japanese origins, there are various stories about how it became a symbol of good luck. The most popular of these tales may be the legend of Gotoku Temple.
According to this legend, in 1615 a monk adopted a cat. The monk's temple had few parishioners and was in serious need of repair. One day, the monk lamented about how if the cat was a man, it would be able to do something to help the temple's fortunes. Not long after his lament, a group of samurai and their retainers passed the temple during a storm. Their leader, Ii Naotaka, was returning with honors to Edo after victory at the siege of Osaka Castle. One version of the legend claims he was lured onto the temple grounds by a cat sitting at the gate beckoning to him. On entering the temple, he met the monk and was impressed by his wisdom and touched by his plight. As a result, Gotoku became the Ii family temple, drastically reversing its fortunes.
A slightly different version of this story claims that Ii had taken refuge from the storm under a tree, but he followed the cat when he saw it beckoning, and consequently moved away from the tree just before it was hit by lightning.
Another legend about the origin of the Maneko-Neko revolves around the Jisho-in Temple, near Tokyo. This story claims that sometime in the mid-16th century two men named Toshima and Ota engaged in combat. Ota became disoriented and stumbled upon a black cat which led him to the temple, where he was able to recuperate. Upon regaining his strength Ota defeated Toshima, and in a show of gratitude for the cat, Ota ordered that a jizo be fashioned in the shape of the creature. The statue is known as Neko-Men Jizo.
No matter the origin, the Maneko-Neko is supposed to bring good luck to its owner. The figurines are often placed at the entrance of various businesses and homes. If the cat's right paw is raised, it is supposed to generate financial fortune, if the left paw is raised, it's supposed to beckon more customers. If both paws are raised, the cat is supposed to protect the family. The higher the cat's legs, the more customers, money, or protection it will bring.