Day 141: Good Luck



When you start looking at Ozark folkways you’ll see pretty quickly that most of the charms and so called “superstitions” are aimed at luck and love. Luck, as we’ll see in many of the examples below, doesn’t necessarily pertain to worldly goods or money, but to the health of the land, the home, and the family. Here are some examples of luck charms, signs, and omens from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“A button received as a gift is always lucky, no matter what the color. Years ago, many an Ozark girl collected buttons from her friends and strung them together into a sort of necklace called a charm string. A charm string not only brought good fortune to the owner but also served as a sort of memory book for women who could not read one button recalled a beloved aunt, another a friend’s wedding, still another a dance or a quilting party or an apple-peelin’ or some other pleasant occasion. Nancy Clemens, of Springfield, Missouri, says that the craze for charm strings once reached a point in Douglas county, Missouri, where girls had to borrow pins to fasten their dresses before they could go home from a party. May Stafford Hilburn remarks that ‘each donor of a choice button came under the charm, and nothing could break the friendship between that person and the owner of the charm string.'”

“Many hillfolk think that the man who finds a horseshoe with the closed end toward him will do well to ‘leave it lay.’ If the open end is toward the finder, he sometimes spits on it and throws it over his left shoulder, a procedure which is supposed to bring good fortune. Or he may place it in a tree or on a fence, saying: ‘Hang thar, all my bad luck!’ In this case, whoever touches the hanging horseshoe falls heir to the misfortune of the man who placed it there. In some parts of the Ozarks one sees dozens of bad-luck horseshoes hanging in trees along the roads, but no real old-timer will touch one of them for love or money. Near the village of Day, Missouri, I have noticed that even my old friend ‘Doc’ Keithley walks wide of these horseshoes, although he is scornful of most taboos and superstitions.”

“An empty hornets’ nest is hung up in the loft of nearly every old-time mountain cabin, and I have seen such a nest tied to the rafters of a new house that had not yet been occupied; some people say that this brings good fortune to the whole household, particularly in connection with childbirth and other sexual matters.”

“If you find your initials in spider webs near the door of a new home, it is a sign that you will be lucky as long as you live there.”

“To find a dead crow in the road is always lucky, but a dead ‘carr’n crow’ is a sign of superlative good fortune.”

“Most hillfolk seem to think that the presence of a feather crown in one’s pillow means good fortune here or hereafter, but there are some who believe they are death signs, the work of the Devil.”

“Barn swallows are supposed to bring good luck to cattlemen, and it is said that a barn in which swallows are nesting will never be struck by lightning.”

“When a woman burns light bread, so that the crust is black, it is a sign that she will fly into a rage before the day is over. The person who eats this blackened bread will have good luck, however, and among other blessings will never be troubled by intestinal worms.”

“Many of the old settlers say that it is good luck to find a rock with a hole in it, but that such a stone found in running water is superlucky. At several homes in the Ozarks I have seen little boxes containing stones with holes in them, placed under the porch or the wooden doorstep. Near Marvel Cave, in Taney county, Missouri, the Lynch sisters who own the cavern used to have a lot of these stones strung on wire; when Nancy Clemens and I visited the place in 1936, Miss Miriam Lynch took down one of these wires and gravely presented each of us with a lucky stone. Some say that lucky stones keep off witches and evil spirits; others tie one of the stones to a bedpost in the belief that it somehow prevents nightmare. Near Harrison, Arkansas, children are told that it is good luck to find a round stone with a hole in it, but that such a stone must be thrown away at once and never carried in the pocket.”

“A few hillfolk say that it is good luck to see a white cat on the road; there is some difference of opinion about this, but everybody agrees that it is a very bad sign when a black cat crosses ahead of a traveler.”

“Country boys often leave one fish of a large catch hanging in a tree near the fishing hole. ‘Oh just for the birds,’ a boy answered rather sheepishly when I asked him why this was done. The old-timers say that it is supposed to bring good luck next time.”

“A man in Fort Smith, Arkansas, told me that his father placed the entrails of a big horned owl over the door, to keep witches away. And Otto Ernest Rayburn tells of a man on trial for hog-stealing who wore ‘the dried gizzard of a hoot-owl tied round his neck for good luck.'”

“A dream of death is good luck if the dream comes at night and usually signifies a wedding, but to fall asleep in the daytime and dream of death is very unfortunate.”

“It is good luck to dream of pigeons or doves, and usually means that a fortunate love affair is just around the corner.”

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