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The four-leaf clover is a universally recognized symbol for good luck. Nowadays, it’s mostly associated with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, but the symbolism of four-leaf clovers has deep roots in both religious and pagan histories, which we will explore in this article.
History Of Using Four-Leaf Clovers For Good Luck
“If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing.”
These words from Sir John Melton, written in 1620, appear to be the first literary documentation of what early people thought about four-leaf clovers.
In 1869, a description of the unique leaf read:
“The four-leaf wonder is gathered at night-time during the full moon by sorceresses, who mixed it with vervain and other ingredients, while young girls in search of a token of perfect happiness made quest of the plant by day.”
The famed ‘luck of the Irish’ is likewise related to the fact that the rare leaf is more abundant in the country compared to anywhere else in the world. Abundance in this case means there is about 1 four-leaf clover in every 5,000 regular three-leaf clovers in the European Island, whereas there is only 1 four-leaf clover in every 10,000 three-leaf ones outside Ireland.
The early Celtic priests believe the rare leaf offered protection from bad luck. Interestingly, the Druids braced themselves to encounter evil spirits shortly after coming across a stray four-leaf clover, believing the leaf represents a warning that could help them prepare or escape misfortune in time. For this same reason, courageous children who wanted to see fairies and other supernatural beings wore four-leaf clovers as jewelry.
In Christianity, legend dictate that when Eve, the first woman, realized that she was being cast out of the Garden of Eden, she stashed away a four-leaf clover as a ‘remembrance,’ so she would not forget how beautiful and wonderful Paradise was.
Early-day Egyptians also used to present newlyweds with four-leaf clovers to bless the marriage.
As for its relation to St. Patrick, it is believed that St. Patrick was generally fond of clovers, regardless of the number of leaves. However, most illustrations of the saint feature him with a classic shamrock (a three-leaf clover) and not with a four-leaf clover (more on this difference below).
Meaning and Symbolism
Across different cultures and eras, the four-leaf clover has acquired a wide array of meanings, including the following:
- Rare Good Fortune – it is thought that each leaf of a clover represents something. The first three represent faith, hope, and love. If you come across one that has a fourth leaf, it represents luck.
- Protection – anyone who brings with him a four-leaf clover is expected to be spared from accidents or unfortunate events.
- Link to Parallel Universes – the rare leaf is believed to be a portal, an access point that could open up parallel worlds where the supernatural reside.
- Balance – four-leaf clovers have impeccable symmetry that is absent on most leaves, which usually have alternating or random leaf positioning. The bearer of a four-leaf clover is said to achieve balance — the key to a happy life.
Shamrock vs. Clover
While shamrocks and four-leaf clovers are often confused but there are significant differences between the two.
A shamrock is a traditional three-leaf clover, a symbol of Ireland for centuries. It’s also connected to Christianity as the three leaves are believed to represent the Holy Trinity as well as Faith, Hope and Love. It’s the more common variety of clover and can be found everywhere on the island. When celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, the shamrock is the correct symbol to use.
Four-leaf clovers are much harder to find and are uncommon compared to shamrocks. As such, they’re associated with good luck.
Four-Leaf Clovers in Jewelry and Fashion
Because of its reputation, several big brands have incorporated the four-leaf clover in the design of their logos and products.
For one, Italian race car maker Alfa Romeo used to adorn its vehicles with painted four-leaf clovers. Elon Musk’s space exploration firm, SpaceX, also embroiders four-leaf clover patches on its rockets to wish for good luck in its space missions.
Even the New Jersey Lottery developed its logo to feature a white ball with a four-leaf clover drawn on it.
Some of the most sought-after necklaces also feature actual four-leaf clovers preserved in clear looking glasses. Alternatively, jewelers have sought to capture the charm and good luck of the leaf by crafting precious metals into four-leaf-clover-shaped pendants, earrings, and rings.
Accounts of legend and history have been consistent in depicting the four-leaf clover as a symbol of good luck. It is relatively abundant in Ireland, hence the phrase ‘luck of the Irish.’ Main representations of the rare find include balance, protection from harm, and awareness of otherworldly beings.