Why are rabbit's feet considered lucky?

At Anthropology in Practice, Krystal D'Costa looks at the cultural history of the rabbit's foot as a good luck charm, and attempts to figure out why bunny feet ended up being imbued with such significance. After all, owning that foot didn't turn out to be particularly lucky for the rabbit. But then, that may be part of the point.

It's an interesting article, and D'Costa finds connections to both European hedge-witchery and African-American trickster legends. But one idea that was particularly engaging to me: The "luck" of the rabbit's foot might come from procuring it in the most "unlucky" way possible. The foot becomes a paradoxical totem—an object so damn unlucky that it's back around to being lucky again. In other words, people thought rabbit's feet were lucky for the same reason we think little, gremlin-looking pug dogs are cute.

Folklorist Bill Ellis traces the lore of the rabbit’s foot to an interesting thread of subversion evident in the ways these tokens were certified—the process by which they were created determined the effectiveness of the charms. For example, one advertisement read, “the left hind foot of a rabbit killed in a country churchyard at midnight, during the dark of the moon, on Friday the 13th of the month, by a cross-eyed, left handed, red-headed, bow-legged Negro riding a white horse.”

Ellis labels these descriptive terms as “backward elements”—that is, they run counter to positive, fortuitous signs: the rear and left side is the “sinister side,” red hair and physical deformities were regarded as unlucky, the dark of the moon and Friday the 13th are both regarded as sinister times, and albino mules or horses were regarded as unlucky.

Image: Unlucky Rabbit's Feet, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from jbcurio's photostream


  1. best collection of insane yet sensical words that I have seen in a while. 

    “by a cross-eyed, left handed, red-headed, bow-legged Negro riding a white horse.”

    Thank you

  2. Two things that always come to mind on the subject of rabbits’ feet: first, the saying that they weren’t lucky for the rabbit.

    The second is comedian Robert Schimmel talking about his daughter’s pet rabbit. When it got sick his first response was to not take it to the vet because “we’re looking at four potential keychains here.”

  3.   In my research on doing tanning with bunnies I’d read somewhere that rabbit foot charms rose and fell in popularity with bunny fur popularity as a clothing stock.  I got the impression that they were the hotdog of the rabbit industry.  If you take my meaning.  That’s just anecdotal, however.

  4. Same idea with stepping in dog poop, or having a bird deliver its greetings from above.. such an unlucky event your luck is sure to get better afterwards..

    at least in italy that’s the idea.

  5. I wonder also about horseshoes … in the UK I have always seen them nailed to door frames in both the UK and here in Sao Tome e Principe (Africa) upside down (an “n”) but I was told that way your luck would “run out” and they should really be hung as a ” U” but the ones on my doorpost (actually donkey-shoes) are the only ones I have ever seen hung that way.

    Can anyone explain?

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