Even if most of us today don’t carry rabbits’ feet around with us, most of us are aware of them as a superstitious symbol of good luck. Why do we consider the rabbit’s foot lucky?
Of all animals, why is a rabbit’s foot lucky? In fact, why would any animal be seen as lucky?
Several millennia ago, around 600 BC, long before people knew anything about science and evolution, it was believed that humans were descended from animals. Where ancient thought deviated from modern evolutionary thought was in the ancient belief that different tribes of humans evolved from different animals. This belief is known as “totemism”. People found parallels between human traits and animal behaviors until eventually certain animals were seen to be lucky for particular things. The animal’s luckiness was also influenced by other ancient spiritual beliefs. For example, the animal’s believed magical powers were sometimes based on its interaction with “gods” like the sun, the earth or the skies.
The symbolism of rabbits
Rabbits were a symbol of several particular traits:
One of the things the rabbit is most famous for is for its talent for procreation! Observed by our ancestors, they would have linked the rabbit with human traits like:
- Successful harvests,
- Fertility, reproductive and romantic success,
- Longevity of your family line
- Birth and rebirth, as occurs in spring (which may partly be why we have the Easter bunny that pops up in spring time)
Since the rabbit and the hare are born with open eyes (unlike humans) this made ancient people think that rabbits must know a lot about where they came from and about the mysteries of procreation. Based on this, people began connecting rabbits and hares with wisdom. The rabbit’s cleverness was not only believed to be limited to knowledge about creation. Throughout folklore the rabbit is seen to use its quickness and wiliness to outwit his enemies, not too unlike Bugs Bunny!
- Protection from evil forces and connection with ground spirits:
There is a theory that rabbits may have been imbued with protective power against evil. It is thought by some that ancient humans used to believe that hellish entities lived underground in the underworld. Since burrowing rabbits could survive in spite of spending much of their time close to these evil entities, they must have special protective powers again these forces, giving the rabbit a lucky, protective power.
Other people think that the rabbit’s burrowing ability simply gave people the impression that the rabbit was in good terms with a world humans knew little about: a world imbued with spirits that could make your crops grow and spirits that looked after all things buried. By holding onto a rabbit a human could therefore let some of the good vibes between the rabbit and these underground spirits, rub off on them.
Finally the rabbit’s burrowing ability in darkness may have lent it luck for venturing into the unknown.
Of all body parts, why did they choose the rabbit’s foot?
Although various parts of rabbits were used as lucky charms, including the tail, ears and even the innards, the foot was always considered the luckiest part of the rabbit. Why? It’s possible that luck was attributed to the foot because it resembled a phallus. Ancient cave paintings seem to include rabbits’ feet in this context, using them as a phallic symbol.
From ancient superstitions to the present
It’s amazing that our culture retains remnants of beliefs that arose millennia ago and that these stay with us despite the advancement of human knowledge. Hopefully we’ve become more humane over time and most of us wouldn’t want to kill animals for the sake of luck. I for one would definitely favor a lucky pet rabbit over a decrepit foot on a keychain. I reckon its foot should be just as lucky if not luckier when it is permeated with life force and when attached to the cute little critter.
See the Culture section for more interesting “say why do I”s.