The Symbolism behind Horseshoe Tattoos

A traditional good luck charm which has spread the world over and become the subject of countless tattoos, this the real story of ingenious tool…

Back to Medieval Times

The most plausible theory dates the first horseshoe back to medieval times when the horse was still considered a true instrument of war. Some smart blacksmith or farrier in Northern Europe had the bright idea of fitting U-shaped irons to their hooves. And that marked the invention of the horseshoe, or the ancestor of the shoe that we now find everywhere made of the most varied materials, from aluminium to plastic, titanium and copper.

With the two ends pointing up…

The horseshoe is the most universal good luck charm of all, more well-known than the rabbit’s foot, or the four-leaf clover. If the horseshoe is hung with the two ends pointing up, this means that the place will be cleared of negative influences. There is a lot of confusion too about the ideal age of our good luck charm. Some say that a horseshoe must be brand new for its beneficial powers to work; others firmly believe that there is only power in used horseshoes. And there is yet another dilemma to give us food for thought: if a horseshoe is stolen, it’s the original owner and not the thief who will have the good luck. The thief will have only misfortune.

The St. Dunstan legend

Why do we hang horseshoes on the doors of our houses? The most widely accepted explanation is to be found in the legend of St. Dunstan, a humble blacksmith who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 959. Over the centuries, his cult crossed religious divides seeing how nowadays he is venerated by the Catholic church, the Orthodox church and the Anglican church on his feast day of 19th May. After his death, all manner of fantastic stories abounded, especially stories in which he managed to fool the devil. The legend tells that Dunstan nailed horseshoes to the devil’s hooves causing him terrible pain. Satan had come to him to have his own horse shod, but the sly old archbishop had a far better idea. The devil was in such agony that he begged the saint to free him and promised to leave Earth and never cross the threshold of any doorway where a horseshoe was hanging on the door.

A sexual symbol/metaphor?

Other peoples in Southern Europe see the horseshoe as a symbol of the female sexual organs. This fetish forged in metal served to distract demons who would stop to adore it and so it and prevented them from crossing the threshold. This is why during the Middle Ages many Italian, French and Spanish churches featured bas reliefs of female genitalia. These sculptures, which were really explicit, would catch the eye of any passing demon and virtually hypnotise them so that they didn’t enter the holy place. By the way the Egyptians supposedly considered them lucky because of their resemblance to the crescent moon. For the Chinese the shape recalls the curves of Nagendra, the sacred serpent, while the Turks see it as a fertility symbol associated with the Arabian crescent moon.