We're in the midst of Triple Crown season, which has me wondering why over centuries, people all over the world continue to believe in the power of the 'lucky' horseshoe. It's thought to bring good fortune and protection, which is why it's been seen hanging over entrances of a home, given to newlywed couples, and in more recent times, worn as jewelry. What are the origins of this idea that has lasted throughout the centuries?
First, there is the story of the Blacksmith and the Devil, of which there are a few versions. It goes something like this: One day a blacksmith was working hard in his shop forging horseshoes, when suddenly, the devil appeared and demanded the smith make him some shoes. The blacksmith recognized him as the devil and nailed the burning hot horseshoes deep into the devil's hooves. After walking away, the devil was in such excruciating pain, he ripped the horseshoes off and swore he would never go near one again. Thus, the tradition of hanging a horseshoe over the entrance of a house to ward off evil spirits was born.
Good luck is also attributed to horseshoes because being a blacksmith was considered a lucky trade. Additionally, iron was deemed magical because it could withstand fire. Which brings me to another story that has more to do with the iron in the horseshoes...
In the middle ages, fear of witches, mythical beasts and malevolent fairies ran rampant. Early Western Europeans believed that iron had magical powers and believed it could drive away these evil spirits. Since horseshoes were made of iron, they kept the badly behaving fairies and spirits away. Other legends tell of witches traveling on broomsticks instead of on horseback since they were so afraid of iron horseshoes. Yet another tale tells that ancient Babylonians believed the crescent shape of the horseshoe protected against the evil eye.
There does seem to be some differences of opinion, however, over how to hang a horseshoe. Some say you should hang it 'heels up', like the letter U. Others say you should hang it down. Hanging a horseshoe 'heels up' means it keeps all the good luck from running out of the shoe, while hanging a horseshoe 'heels down' means it flows good luck down on everyone who walks underneath it. It's personal preference, though perhaps it wouldn't hurt to have a couple of them and hang or wear them hung each way!