In the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, in draw c.61.1, below case c.61.a Amulets and Charms and Religious Artefacts – UK, is a rabbit’s foot amulet (1942.12.67) attached to an advertising card. It was purchased by Beatrice Blackwood from Woolworth’s, Cornmarket, Oxford, on December 11th, 1942.
Rabbit’s feet, carried as charms, are worn mostly as key fobs or on neck chains. As a superstition these talismans are one of the oldest in the world – known from around 600 BC amongst British Celtic tribes – and across Europe, China, Africa, and north and south America. The rabbit’s foot superstition is believed Afro-American in origin as a passed-down African tribal ritual. Rabbits, and hares, were sacred to the ancient Celts. Indeed, Irish fairies derived from the Tuatha de Danaan, or Little People, who also like rabbits abode underground. This is suggestive of the source of the belief in animistic religion.
The foot needs a number of constraints to be effective. It has to be a hind left foot; must have been captured or killed in a cemetery at full moon, sometimes new, on a Friday; by a man with a certain attributes. Among negroes in the southern American states, the left hind foot of a rabbit caught jumping over a grave in the dark of the moon by a red-haired and cross-eyed Negro was treasured as a charm. Also in north American folklore a source may be found in Afro-American folk magic or hoodoo. In the lyrics of the blues song “There’ll be a Hot Time in Old Town Tonight” a line opines “And you’ve got a rabbit’s foot, to keep away the hoodoo.” Again, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s song “Rabbit’s Foot Blues” links the rabbit’s foot tradition with the bones of the dead. Luck? My foot! Such attempts to recruit Lady Luck to our side ultimately bode no luck for the rabbit itself.
April 29th, 2010.