Lucky Rabbit’s Foot – History and Symbolism

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The left hind foot of a rabbit has long been considered to be a good luck charm in various places around the world.

Although much of the world has moved on from this superstition, some people still believe that a mummified rabbit’s foot can bring good fortune to those who bear it.

Here’s how the rabbit’s foot acquired its status as a lucky symbol.

History of the Rabbit’s Foot

Using rabbit’s feet as an amulet to attract good fortune is not as uncommon as you think. In fact, this tradition is evident not just in North and South American folklore but is also present in Europe, China, and Africa.

The sale of rabbit’s feet as good luck charms in Europe began with a 1908 report from Britain that claimed that the imported rabbit’s feet from America were killed in special conditions which gave them these supernatural powers.

In ‘Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture’, Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Penn State University, Bill Ellis says that for the rabbit’s foot to actually have lucky properties, the rabbit would have to be slaughtered at exactly midnight on Friday the 13th (traditionally considered an unlucky time) in a country churchyard. The rabbit must meet its end at the hands of a “cross-eyed, left-handed, red-headed bow-legged Negro” who must also be riding a white horse.

Ellis recognizes how absurd this may sound and he also acknowledges other versions of the story which contradict the ideal time and place of the rabbit’s death. But he notes that all accounts refer to rabbit’s feet cut off at an evil time, whether that be on Friday the Thirteenth, a rainy Friday, or just a regular Friday.

There are other stories in Europe that associate the rabbit’s foot to a severed hand of a hanged man called the ‘Hand of Glory’. During the middle ages, authorities would often do public executions leaving the corpses of criminals hanging on the streets to serve as a grave warning to the public. However, some would cut off the left hand of these criminals and pickle it, believing it to have supernatural powers. Much like the Hand of Glory, the rabbit’s foot was also considered magical and lucky because it was believed that witches are known to shapeshift into rabbits.

Meanwhile, the fascination of North Americans with rabbit’s feet can also be traced to the practice of folk magic or “hoodoo”. Legend says that the rabbit must be shot with a silver bullet in a cemetery either during a full or new moon. Other sources suggest the rabbit must still be alive before its left hind leg is removed.

Quite a lot of famous people in the West believe in this superstition. These include British Parliamentarian Reginald Scot, Former American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and even Hollywood actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Rabbit’s Foot

We’ve discussed how a rabbit’s foot was supposed to be acquired for it be lucky but what exactly does the rabbit’s foot symbolize? Here are some suggestions.

  • Fertility – Some carry rabbit’s feet charms with them because they associate rabbits with fertility, due to their fast-paced breeding.
  • Good Fortune – The severed left leg of a rabbit symbolizes luck because rabbits are believed to be connected to witchcraft.
  • Bountiful Harvest – The ancient Celts fear rabbits because of the long time they spend under the ground. But for the very same reason, they also revere the creatures for their strong connection with nature, gods and the spirits. That’s why a rabbit’s foot charm is believed to attract a bountiful harvest.
  • Cleverness and Self-Devotion – Japanese mythology deem rabbits to be clever beings and as such, associate rabbit’s feet with intelligence, clarity and confidence.

Some believe that the rabbit’s lucky foot has some connection to Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. However, this isn’t true as the rabbit had been worshipped even in ancient times. It’s likely that, like many other Christian symbols, this too was adopted by Christianity, possibly to make it easier for pagans to relate to the new religion.

Use in Jewelry and Fashion

Some people still carry around a rabbit’s foot as a keychain or sometimes an amulet. Until the 1900s gamblers in the United States carried dried rabbit’s feet in their pockets for good luck. Today, these charms are no longer made of the actual thing. Most rabbit’s feet charms today are simply made of synthetic fur and plastic.

Kangaroo testicle Australia

Kangaroo testicle souvenir in Australia

On a related note, in Australia, you can often find the paws and testicles of kangaroos made into popular souvenirs as key tags, bottle openers or back-scratchers. While these don’t have any magical or superstitious beliefs attached to them, they are similar to rabbit’s feet charms in that they’re the mummified part of an animal.

Where Should I Put My Lucky Rabbit’s Foot Charm?

To maximize the power of lucky rabbit’s foot charms, it is believed that such charms must always be placed inside the left pocket of its owner. If not, it may also be worn as a necklace or placed inside a pocketbook.

In Brief

While the stories surrounding the history of lucky rabbit feet varies from one country to the next, the one thing all these cultures agree on is the power of the rabbit’s foot to bring good luck. Even today, the rabbit continues to be associated with good luck and fortune, but the practice of cutting of the hind leg and preserving it is almost obsolete.