What is a Good Luck Charm?
A good luck charm is an object which is supposed to bring good luck to its carrier. Many cultures have beliefs about good luck charms and talismans which ward off evil and ill-fortune, ranging from carrying a rabbit's foot to keeping a cage of crickets in the kitchen. People around the world wear and use good luck charms, even in the case of individuals who are not particularly superstitious. Depending on the region of the world where one lives, a good luck charm may be a particular object, or a random object which has come to be associated with good fortune.
Humans have associated auspicious and inauspicious meanings with various objects for centuries. Certain colors and shapes, for example, were associated with luck and good fortune, while others were viewed as ominous. These beliefs have carried over into the present day in many cultures; in China, for example, red is a lucky color, and people often wear red on major occasions and keep red objects in their homes for good fortune. In some European countries, a horseshoe is used as a good luck charm over the door of a home.
Some good luck charms are worn, such as charm bracelets and necklaces with amulets. Others may be kept in a home or vehicle. Prayer cards, religious statues, and various lucky objects may be positioned in a particularly auspicious location in some regions of the world, while in others, they may simply be kept readily in view. In some cultures, objects can only bring good luck if they are blessed by a religious officiant, or if they are handled in a particular way. Some Catholics, for example, carry rosaries which are blessed by bishops and other high-ranking church officials.
People may also view living organisms as good luck charms. Certain animal species may be considered auspicious, or people may believe that animals of a particular color are especially lucky. Keeping such an animal is supposed to bring good fortune, and the death or disappearance of the animal may be viewed as a bad sign for its owner. Beliefs about lucky animals are varied; in some parts of India, for example, people leave gifts of milk out for snakes, while in Burma, white cats are considered lucky and blessed by the heavens. White cats may be carried in parades or kept in businesses as a good luck charm.
Individuals with deep-seated superstitious beliefs may view their good luck charms as extremely important. Even people with mild superstitions sometimes become extremely attached to their talismans, as for instance in the case of a lawyer who insists on using his or her “lucky pen” to sign all legal briefings. People may feel that if their good luck charm is not present, they are tempting fate when they engage in new endeavors.
You're right in pointing out that good luck and bad luck charms are often determined by culture. Take cats, for example. In the United States, black cats are considered bad luck while the opposite is true in Europe.
Even in the 21st century, this particular American still clings to some superstitions and I always tend to have a black cat around my house (I fall into the "they are good luck" category).
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