Lucky charms, amulets, and talismans have been in use since prehistoric times all over the world. Stones, coins, and amulets with symbols are the most common. Others are taken from nature, such as the rabbit’s foot (which wasn’t so lucky for the rabbit), or are considered lucky because of their rarity, such as the four-leaf clover. But a few are just a bit odd.

1. Lucky Swastika

The swastika reminds us of Nazi Germany in the first half of the 20th century, but the symbol has been used for many purposes in many parts of the world. Swastika-shaped ornaments have been found dating as far back as the Neolithic period. Hindus use the swastika as a symbol of the elephant-headed god Ganesh. Jains use it as a symbol of the seventh saint, and begin and end religious services by making the swastika sign. The symbol is supposed to bring long life, good health, and good luck. In fact, the word swastika itself is derived from the Sanskit word svastika, which mean lucky charm.

2. Vulture Heads

Vultures have such great eyesight that they are said to be able to see into the future. South African lottery players would love to have that power, and have made vulture heads into lucky charms to help them win. A poacher can make up to $1,000 on one properly-dried vulture head, leading to a depletion in the vulture population.

3. Ship’s Figureheads

Ship’s figureheads were useful for identifying a ship and intimidating its enemies, but they were mostly charms to protect sailors from harm. A ship’s spirit, or klaboutermannikin, would inhabit the figurehead, and either protect sailors, or in the event of their deaths, would escort them to the proper afterlife. They were also sentimental symbols of one’s ship, to be fought for and protected. To damage an enemy’s figurehead was the ultimate insult. Carved figureheads date from as far back as ancient Egypt, where they resembled deities. About three hundred years ago, figureheads of women became popular because of the old legend that says a woman’s bare breasts will calm the seas. Each sailing era had it own fashions and types of figureheads, but they are all important to those who sail behind them.

4. Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko, or the Beckoning Cat, is a Japanese good luck charm. It was first documented in 1870, but its origins may go back much further. There is a theory that the cat became popular at the end of the Edo period, when western sensibilities caused phallic worship and prostitution to go underground. The beckoning cat became a euphemistic symbol of such activities. Businesses which displayed a Maneki Neko were quite profitable, so the symbol spread to other types of shops as a good luck charm. If the cat is raising its right paw, it will attract money. If it is raising its left paw, it will atract customers. Maneki Neko even has a fan club!

5. Bezoar

A bezoar is a “stone” retrieved from the gut of an animal. They are formed by animal secretions (as in pearls), or material consumed but not digested, such as hair, food fiber, or other material (as in hairballs). The word bezoar comes from a Persian word meaning “antidote to poison.” There is some evidence that bezoars made of hair will absorb small amounts of arsenic, but will have little effect on other poisons. Bezoars of all kinds are used for lucky charms and talismans, and for psychic healing, in addition to protection against poisons.

6. Jatukam Ramathep Amulets

Jatukam Ramathep amulets are all the rage these days. They are sold by Buddhist temples in Thailand. Earlier this year, the Thawee Kara Anant temple near Bangkok got into some hot water for making “special” Jatukam Ramathep amulets out of the cremated remains of infants who died from natural causes. Around 140,000 amulets were made from a combination of herbs and human ashes. The practice is not illegal, but the monks involved were reprimanded by religious leaders.

7. Raccoon Penis Bone

A raccoon penis bone, or baculum, is regarded as a lucky charm, especially for fertility or gambling. They are available alone or made into necklaces or earrings. These bones go by many names; one of the few that can be said in polite company is “Texas toothpick.” Any object can be a lucky charm if you believe in it. If it gives you confidence in your daily activities and decisions, then it is indeed “lucky”.

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