Should a horseshoe be placed pointing up or down?
That was the source of an argument with my husband when he was putting up a horseshoe on an outside door.
Where I come from it is hung pointed down, but he is from Yorkshire and it is pointed up. So who is right?
The answer later, but first, why was a horseshoe placed on doors of buildings?
Over the ages the entrance of a house has been regarded as a sacred place, akin to the family altar. The custom of placing symbols around the door is common throughout the world.
But why so many different cultures consider a horseshoe as a lucky charm, with many putting them on doors is a mystery. It seems that there is no one thing that can be pinpointed, but instead numerous rituals and beliefs which have adopted the horseshoe as a talisman.
In 1898 Robert Means Lawrence wrote an extensive report, The Magic Of The Horseshoe. He identified a number of theories which may have been instrumental in transforming the common horseshoe into a object revered as a bearer of luck.
The Romans had a custom of nailing horseshoes into cottage walls as an antidote against the plague. This practice is thought to originate from the rite of the Passover. The blood sprinkled upon the doorposts during the Jewish feast formed an arch. The theory is that people adopted the horseshoe as an arch-shaped emblem of good luck.
Serpent-worship was common among primitive peoples. The serpentine shaped horseshoe could well have been adopted as a symbol of the snake.
During the Crusades, horseshoes were synonymous with good fortune. On festive occasions a ‘lucky’ silver shoe was hammered on to a horse’s hoof just before a parade. The person identifying the horse with the shoe would have good luck for the rest of his life.
Blacksmiths in many countries were viewed as magical craftsmen, looked upon as superior to other artisans. This was due to their working with fire, manipulating iron and steel, metals supposedly having traditional power against evil-disposed goblins. A horseshoe made of these metals by a blacksmith was thought to have supernatural powers against witches.
The reason why horseshoes are hung on the outside door may have to do with the common belief that witches were only able to perform their chicanery inside a building. A horseshoe hung at the entrance kept the evil creatures from entering. A shoe hung inside a building lost its powers.
Horseshoes also were placed at the entrance of shops and public buildings in the hope that its mystical powers would barred mischievous persons with devilish thoughts in mind.
Numerous horseshoes traditions have existed around the country. At Oakham Castle, a Norman mansion in Rutlandshire, every nobleman who journeyed through its precincts was obliged as an act of homage to forfeit a horseshoe of the horse that he was riding on, or else pay a large sum of money. The horseshoes were nailed upon the gate.
The degree of luck that a horseshoe would provide was thought to depend on the number of nails remaining in it. The more nails the more luck. In Northumberland the holes free of nails indicated how soon the finder may expect to be married.
In Derbyshire it was customary to drive a horseshoe, prongs upward, between two flagstones near the door of a dwelling so that the luck would not spill out.
Whatever the reason for the horseshoe mystical charm, superstitions change but the rusty horseshoe is highly likely to continue is reputation as a lucky token.
So how should a horseshoe be handed – pointed up or down? Both ways are correct. Some believe that a horseshoe should be hung with the ends pointing upwards as it holds in any good luck that happens to be floating by. Hanging it with the ends pointing down will make all the good luck fall out.
However, others believe that the horseshoe should be hung with the ends pointing down, so that all who pass through the door will share in the good luck.
Images of horseshoes on the internet have at least a third hanging in this way. So how are the horseshoes on our door hung?
The ends are pointing up, the Yorkshire way.