Centuries of Fear: 6 Superstitions from the Middle Ages

Representation of Dunstan and the Devil. Wikimedia

Lucky Horseshoe

There are a few reasons why people of the Medieval period believed that horseshoes were lucky. The first was that they were made of iron, a metal that was long believed to ward off evil spirits. The other reason comes from the legend that is told about Saint Dunstan in the 10th century. It was said that that Dunstan worked as a blacksmith and one day the Devil came into his shop. Dunstan pretended not to recognize him and went about getting horseshoes for the Devil’s horse.

However, instead of nailing the horseshoes to the horse, Dunstan nailed them to the Devil instead. The horseshoes caused the Devil great pain but Dunstan said that he would only remove them if the Devil promised never to enter a home with a horseshoe on the door. The horseshoe was also believed to ward off witches.

It was believed that the reason why witches rode on brooms was because they were unable to ride horses. So it was said that a witch would be reluctant to enter any home with a horseshoe over the door. There were rules about the horseshoe. The first was that it had to be iron and the second was that it had to have come off the horse on its own and not taken off by man.

The horseshoe would need to be nailed over the door with iron nails. There is some debate about the orientation of the horseshoe. Some believe that the horseshoe should point up so as to prevent the luck from spilling out of the horseshoe. Others believe that it should point down so that the luck can be poured upon those who enter the home. Horseshoes were also nailed to the masts of sailing ships in the belief that it would help avoid storms.