Superstitions surrounding the luck and good fortune of horseshoes have existed for hundreds of years, dating to early Europeans and the Crusades. No one knows for sure where these superstitions started or how to best take advantage of the horseshoe’s luck, but it’s commonly believed that horseshoes are, indeed, very lucky.
Early Western Europeans believed that horseshoes, which were most commonly forged from iron at the time, were lucky because the metal substance could drive away evil. Many folktales from the region tell that mischievous and malicious fairies are kept at bay by iron. These early pagan Europeans also found the crescent moon shape of horseshoes to be a symbol of fertility and good luck.
In the Middle Ages, horseshoes gained extra lucky power because of the heightened fear of witchcraft. Witches were thought to be afraid of horses, explaining why they traveled on brooms, and were scared of anything that reminded them of the animal, including horseshoes. It is said that a horseshoe can repel a witch just as a crucifix might repel a vampire.
Horseshoes vs. Taxes
During the 12th century Crusades, horseshoes were accepted to pay taxes and a lucky silver shoe was nailed to the bottom of a horse’s foot just before a parade.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, when Catholicism began replacing paganism in Europe, St. Dunstan is said to have shod the devil himself, causing the devil to fear horseshoes. It is said that the devil approached St. Dunstan’s forge one night and asked to have his hooved feet shod. St. Dunstan, recognizing the devil, made his shoeing excruciatingly painful. When the devil was finally released, it was with the promise to never cross the threshold of a house with a horseshoe hanging above the door for fear of undergoing another painful shoeing.
This is perhaps why it is even today considered to be good luck to hang a horseshoe over your door, though no one seems to agree about how the shoe should be hung.
Heels up? Or heels down?
Some people believe that a horseshoe hung heels up will keep all of the good luck from falling out of the shoe, while others believe that a horseshoe hung heels down will cover all those who pass beneath it with good luck.
The jury is still out on which is correct.