The rabbit’s foot is often used as an amulet to bring about luck. The lucky rabbit’s foot originated from ancient beliefs held by the Celts around 600 BC. The Celts considered the rabbit a friend to the god of fertility, due the rapid rate in which rabbits reproduce. Rabbits are also associated with spring and the return of flowers and foliage. Since rabbits live underground, the foot of the rabbit was used to protect a person from evil spirits.
Women who wished to become pregnant or those who wished to enhance their sexual lives, also carried the rabbit’s foot. In the 16th century, Reginald Scot, an Englishman who wrote The Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, claimed a rabbit’s foot in your pocket would ease arthritis pain. The belief in the lucky rabbit’s foot is seen in Europe, China, Africa, and North and South America, but the view of the rabbit’s foot varies by culture. To the Chinese, the rabbit’s foot symbolizes prosperity.
Not all of the rabbit’s feet are considered lucky. When rabbits run, their hind legs land of the ground first, thus it was their right hind leg that was considered magical, since the left was often associated with the devil. One superstition claims that the foot would only be lucky if the rabbit was shot in the cemetery at night with a silver bullet.
In hoodoo, which is a mix of African/American folk magic, the rabbit’s foot was used in various ceremonies. Superstition claims that carrying the foot will bring you good luck, and rubbing it on the bottom of a baby’s foot will assure the child good luck for life.
Not all beliefs regarding the rabbit’s foot are said to grant luck, for there were some that believed they evoked bad luck if the owner of the rabbit’s foot kept the talisman for themselves. The good luck was only believed to come if the owner gave the rabbit’s foot to another. This would bless the giver and receiver of the rabbit’s foot luck, but if the receiver lost the lucky talisman, both giver and receiver would be met with bad luck.
Animal rights activists have concerns regarding the killing of rabbits for such a purpose, and thus encouragement toward the rabbit’s foot as a lucky charm is passing into history. Although you can still buy them in some countries, synthetic alternatives are readily available.
A special thanks to Scientific American and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry