Have you ever watched a hound chase a rabbit, the rabbit and its larger cousin, the Hare, have been known for their incredible speed since before the days of the Greek fabulist. Aesop of the Hound is stronger, its legs longer. And unless the rabbit's burrow is near by, the hound eventually catches up.
It's frothing jaws snap shut in a flash of white and that's when the rabbit makes its move.
It turns on a dime, pivoting on a large flat hind feet before pounding away in a new direction. By the time the hound manages to turn, it's already too late. The rabbit is gone. For centuries, the rabbit skill that outsmarting larger predators has made it a subversive and empowering symbol, a reminder that it's not always the strongest that wins the day and that luck favors the clever. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could steal a bit of that cleverness for ourselves?
That's the thinking behind today's superstition, a centuries old bit of folklore that encourages us to harness the luck of the rabbit's foot. Hi, everyone, I'm Alastair Murden, and this is Superstitions, a Spotify original from podcast, Our world is a strange place full of unsettling patterns and idiosyncrasies we struggle to understand. It is here at the intersection of chaos and fate that we find superstitions. We'll tell stories illustrating the horror, the weirdness and the truth behind these beliefs.
We'll explore how they began and what their continued existence says about the fragile human mind. Today, we're exploring an age old superstition that has roots in cultures from around the world and is still practiced today, carrying a rabbit's foot as a good luck charm.
You can find episodes of superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify.
Coming up, we explore one of the world's most subversive superstitions. From four leaf clovers to horseshoes to lucky coins, we're always on the lookout for some charm or token to give our luck an extra boost. But few of these talismans are as unique and enduring as the rabbit's foot. The precise rules vary and can get dizzyingly specific. Some believers insist that it has to be the left hind foot of the rabbit or that it must be kept in the carrier's left pocket to be effective.
Others suggest that the foot has to be removed while the rabbit is still alive, or that the rabbit should be killed on the grave of a criminal. One early 20th century salesman vouched for his wares by saying the rabbit was killed in a cemetery at midnight on Friday the 13th by a cross-eyed, red headed black man riding a white horse. Racism aside, it's noteworthy that these rules all involve some kind of bad omen, as if the more sinister the circumstances of the rabbit's death, the luckier its foot becomes.
This is a key aspect of this talisman. The negative power of the evil omen is subverted through the killing of the rabbit and turned into a protective shield for whoever carries it. Folklorist Bill Ellis calls this concept backward elements. In a sense, the rabbit's foot becomes more than a simple amulet, it's a signifier of reclaimed power, a way of turning things on their head to outsmart stronger forces like the rabbit, outsmarting the hound or like the characters in today's story.
It concerns a couple of low level career criminals who spent their life ducking from the law until an improbable talisman brought a sudden change in fortune. Darius exploded through the back entrance of the auction hall with a package clutched tightly under one arm. He didn't slow his pace as the alarm began to blare or as the two security guards came running out after him. Griffin was waiting for him at the far end of the parking lot in the yellow Pontiac Firebird. Darius crossed a lot in an instant, slid across the Firebirds Hood, wrenched the passenger door open and dove in.
Griffin stepped on the gas and they were away. Neither of the thieves breathe a word as they spent through traffic. Darrius grifts the grab handle above the window so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Griffin's face was an expressionless mask, as if held in place by the same hair products that maintained his impressive bright red pompadour. Red shouted. Darius Griffin slams the brakes and the Firebird skidded to a halt in front of a stoplight. Darrius, his eyes widened.
A police cruiser had come to a stop across the intersection. He could see the cop inside staring right at them and reaching for his radio.
At that moment, another yellow Pontiac Firebird hurdled through the intersection at speed, the police cruisers lights flashed as it turned to chase the car.
Seconds later, four more police vehicles sped past the thieves, joining the chase for the other Firebird. The light changed. Griffin started forward, now moving with the flow of traffic.
Talk about a close shave, exclaimed Griffin, when they were sure the police lights had faded from view. We would have been done if that other firemen hadn't run that light. He glanced over at Dariusz, who was carefully opening the package he'd taken from the auction hall. I thought only said not to open that. If we don't look, how do we know we're not being underpaid, Dariusz shot back. If I just stole the Hope Diamond, I might want to renegotiate my fee.
Dariusz got the box opened and took out a tiny black velvet bag. He opened the drawstring and peered inside. Well, it's not the Hope Diamond, he said. He pulled out a furry gray object and held it up for his partner to see it was a rabbit's foot attached to a simple silver chain, Dariusz reached into the box for the accompanying card and read aloud. This rabbit's foot belonged to Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th president of the United States of America.
The rabbit was said to have been killed on the grave of the outlaw Jesse James in 1884 during Cleveland's first presidential campaign, starting price 23000 U.S. dollars. Griffin scoffed, 20 K for an old rabbit's foot. You've got to be kidding me. Presidential memorabilia is always inflated, said Darius. You pay for the history. Griffin wasn't convinced, does only strike you as a history buff. Arnie doesn't strike me as an anything buff, said Darius, hey, but you're into rabbits, right?
That's what they called you and you for cage matches here, Griffin the bunny man or something. Griffin, the hare and not hare as in rabbit h a i. R as in Griffin pointed to his pristine, perfectly molded shell of red hair. Oh, right. Dariusz chuckled, because whatever you put in there could knock a man out. Because I look good, Griffin snapped, shut up and give me that thing, he reached over to snatch the rabbit's foot from Darius with one hand still on the wheel.
He looped the chain around the rearview mirror so that the amulet dangled over the center console. We've got 700 miles to go in. The cops are still looking for us, he said with a grin. I don't think Ani will mind if we borrow some luck. The Firebird maintained a steady pace and the urban sprawl soon gave way to endless cornfields, Darrius reclined his seat, hoping to steal a few moments of sleep before it was his turn to drive.
He was just starting to drift off when he was jolted awake by a loud bang. Darrius shot up in his seat, Griffin was cursing furiously, the Firebirds rear driver side tire had blown out. The red headed thief fought to control the steering wheel but was unable to stop the car from swerving wildly into the next lane.
Angry Honk sounded in response as cars barreled past, coming dangerously close to clipping the Firebird, Griffin desperately pumped the brakes and finally skidded to a stop in the grass beside the highway. Both thieves got out to survey the damage. There was no hope of patching that tire. It was completely shredded. Dariusz pop the trunk and his brow furrowed. Oh, Grif, where's the doughnut? Griffin stalked over and rifled through the trunk. There was no spare tire.
This is not my fault, Griffin insisted. Ani sent the car. How was I supposed to know it? Was it fitted with a spare? What getaway driver doesn't inspect his vehicle before a job? Darrius shouted. Dariusz stormed off into the weeds alongside the highway to cool off. Griffin whipped out his phone and began scrolling through the Maps app, inspecting the route ahead. He estimated the Firebird could probably make it a mile or so on the flat, but they were in the middle of nowhere.
Griffin's eyes narrowed as a tiny icon appeared on the screen. He tapped the circle and an ad popped up Red Creek Casino and Lodge.
45 minutes later, the Firebird rolled into the casino parking lot, a sign announced that they were now on an Ojibway tribe reservation. The building itself looked like a kosko done up in Christmas lights. Griffin went to check in while Darius called.
He was none too pleased to hear about their predicament. Stay put and try not to make anything else up.
I'm sending someone to meet you on Nikbakht and keep that giant leprechaun partner of yours out of sight. He's like a walking billboard. The line went dead.
Darius pocketed the phone and looked up to see Griffin approaching, grinning from ear to ear and juggling a pair of green poker chips. Look for any money, he said with a grin, tossing one of the chips to Darius. It's not free. It's built into the cost of the room, said Dariusz. Boss wants us to sit tight. Someone's coming to pick up the first. Guess we stopped at the right place then, said Griffin, tossing the green coin and catching it again.
The room wasn't much to look at, but the thieves had seen worse, Dariusz locked the rabbit foot inside the room safe, then dropped onto one of the twin beds for a nap while Griffin showered. He emerged from the bathroom a half hour later, humming cheerfully to himself. He pulled a heavy metal briefcase out of his luggage and set it on the second bed. Dariusz raised an eyebrow. Tell me you're not carrying man, he said wearily. This job doesn't pay enough to catch an armed robbery charge.
Griffin winked and popped the case open. Kusum carrying wouldn't be caught dead without it, he said, assembling the piece of Chrome hardware with the precision and speed of a Navy SEAL sniper. It was a bulky, incredibly expensive looking hairdryer. Dariusz rolled his eyes and got up to take his turn in the shower when he emerged, Griffin was gone. Dariusz assumed his partner had headed down to the casino to spend his 25 dollar chip. He wasn't interested in gambling himself, but he was starving.
He had just pulled on his jeans and shirt and was getting ready to go out in search of food when he heard a knock. Dariusz opened the door to find a tall, incredibly skinny man in a grey flat cap standing in the hallway. He had a large duffel bag slung over one shoulder on sent me, said the man. By way of introduction, you can count the cash out on the bed, said Darius, waving the man into the room.
Darius knelt beside the room, safe in the corner and punched in the code. The safe swung open. The rabbit's foot was gone. The only thing inside the safe was Griffin's chrome hair dryer. Something the matter? Asked the man in the gray cap, Osgoode Daria's called over his shoulder. He pulled out the hair dryer, desperately hoping that the bag had gotten pushed behind it. But there was nothing. You know what I just remembered? We were going to put it in the safe, but then we left it in the luggage, said Dariusz.
Did you now? Said the man in the gray cap, Dariusz. His eyes widened as the faint, familiar click of a pistils hammer sounded behind him.
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Now back to the story. The sound of a pistol cocking echoed in Darius's ears, he was crouched to the hotel room safe, which was empty. Aside from his partners chrome hairdryer, the rabbit foot was gone. Darrius looked into the reflective surface of the hair dryer. The man with the gray cap stood behind him, aiming a silenced pistol at the back of his skull.
Dariusz moved on, instinct, ducking and hurling the hairdryer over his shoulder as hard as he could. It struck the man in the shoulder and he fired into the open safe. Dariusz slammed his shoulder into his attacker's ribs, sending the man stumbling backward into the TV set. He didn't look back as he bolted out of the room. While things were looking dire for Darius Griffin's luck had taken a turn for the better, he had wasted no time in heading down to the casino floor where he'd settled up to the first craps table.
He found the first few bets had gone well and he'd grown a bit bolder and then much bolder. In an amazingly short time, the single 25 dollar chip had transformed into a sizable pile. He howled with delight as the dice landed on 11 and the dealer passed him his winnings. That's what I'm talking about, he exclaimed, pulling the rabbit's foot out of his left pocket and kissing it. He was sure Darius wouldn't mind that he borrowed it from the hotel room safe for a few minutes.
The only other person at the table was a broad shouldered Ojibway man wearing cowboy boots and an enormous belt buckle. He smiled at Griffin as he reached for his own winnings. Looks like you got one mighty potent charm there, said the man in a friendly voice. I might share your table a bit longer. Stay as long as you feel like winning, grinned Griffin. Just follow my bets and hang on tight. The Ojibway man grabbed his coat and moved to a closer seat.
He raised his beer in a toast. Always glad to make a new friend. Name's Eugene. The dealer cleared the board and they placed their next bets. Eugene gestured toward the rabbit foot again. You see a lot of trinkets like that here. Gamblers love their talismans. Coins and shamrocks and lucky undershorts never go into them myself. But I always thought there was something romantic about a rabbit's foot. Griffin looked to the foot and frowned. Really? I think it's barbaric, he rolled.
And one again, Eugene continued, unfazed. Robertson has a special animals that clever.
My people tell stories about the spirits, Nana Bojo, the great hair. At the beginning of the world, he was given the task of naming all the plants and animals, but he was also a cunning trickster. I used to love those stories, but these days I'm not much a fan of Trickster's. Probably the job. What do you do? Griffin asked. Eugene reached into his coat pocket for something which he set on the railing of the table.
Griffin's stomach did a somersault. The words tribal police stared back at him from the star shaped badge. By the way, you wouldn't happen to be the owner of that yellow Firebird in the parking lot, would you? Eugene said, in the same friendly manner. Griffin looked up and met his eyes. He smiled apologetically and said. State sheriff's office will be here any minute. Don't run. Griffin nodded solemnly, then he shouted free money at the top of his lungs and hurled his pile of chips onto the floor.
Eugene didn't have time to hop down from his chair before someone crashed into him. Clawing for the chips, Griffin raced to the exit. His expression switched from panic to confusion at the sight of Darius sprinting straight for him. D We got to get out of here, Griffin began before his partner cut him off. Gray hat gun was all Darius could get out. Griffin looked past him just in time to see a man in a gray flat cap step off the elevator.
He spotted the thieves and started running toward them.
It was clear that both of the thieves stories would have to wait for. Later, they flew through the lobby, dodging patrons and hurdling over tables. It wasn't until they were in the parking lot that they remembered what had brought them to the casino in the first place. The Firebirds tire was still shredded. There was nothing for it. Griffin started the engine while Darius clambered into the passenger seat. The car bucked and bounced painfully as they spat out onto the highway.
Darius turns in his seat to see a gray sedan pull out of the parking lot. Behind them. There was a burst of light from the driver's side and the Firebirds back window exploded. What's this guy's problem? Darius asked angrily. 23000 is a hell of a lot for a rabbit's foot, but not enough for murder or to get yourself arrested. No, man, it's really lucky, said Griffin. Seriously, T.K. is a steal. Just drive faster.
Darius SNAP will wreck the suspension, Griffin protested.
Darius stared at him, mouth agape. Grif. It's a stolen car.
Griffin floored it, doing his best to keep the car from swerving too violently. But within moments, a new problem presented itself. Red and blue lights flashed up ahead. A police officer scurried across the highway, dropping a chain of traffic spikes. It was a roadblock. Darrius groaned, and Griffin started to slow. But the wind of another bullet made him think twice. What are you doing? Darius asked. As the Firebird accelerated, Griffin fished into his pocket for the rabbit's foot and hung it on the rearview mirror.
Up ahead, police scattered, but the gray sedan sped even faster, its nose pressed against the Firebirds bumper. Darrius looked over his shoulder and down the barrel of the gun. At that moment, Griffin slams the brakes and wrenched the steering wheel hard to the left, throwing the Firebird into a sharp spin.
The gray sedan shot past. It flew over the barricade, puncturing its tires on the road spikes and slamming into two of the unoccupied police vehicles.
Dariusz let out a jubilant shout as the Firebird skidded to a stop. Griffin hit the gas again and they started back in the direction they'd come.
A horrible grinding sound was coming from the tire, but they were still moving.
He looked through the shattered rear window to see four officers wrestling the man with the gray cap to the ground, it looked like no one had been injured, but the crash had produced enough chaos that no one was pursuing them at the moment. You are so lucky that worked, said Dariusz, turning back around and shaking his head in disbelief. It's not me, it's the foot, said Griffin. Darrius glanced up at the rabbit's foot and the glint of something shiny caught his eye.
He leaned forward and scratched at the bottom. A small, sparkly, pebble sized object fell out of a small hole into his hand. It was a diamond. Dariusz looked back at the foot and saw more of the stones peeking out from the tear. Arnie, he told Fox, he muttered, he turned to Griffin with a grin. I knew he didn't know Bunk about history.
Like catching the rabbit itself, tracing the origins of this superstition is a tricky matter, not due to a lack of information, but because it could have roots in a few different cultures. One possible origin is a group of Celtic tribes that lived in Western Europe around 600 BCE, according to author Rudolf Brash.
These hunters revered rabbits because they borrowed underground, placing them closer to the underworld where the gods and spirits lived. As time went by, the rabbits and hare became a more sinister symbol for Europeans like black cats.
They were seen as a popular familia for witches and a creature that which has frequently turned into. But that didn't stop them from finding good in rabbits feet.
One early record of the superstition comes from Reginald Scotts, The Discovery of Witchcraft, published in 1884.
It claims that keeping bones from a hare's foot would ward off abdominal cramps and arthritis pains.
This seems like another one of those reverse elements I mentioned earlier, as if the charm has taken the devilish power of the witch and turned it into a blessing for the user. References to the rabbit's foot charm petered out in Europe after the Middle Ages, but they reemerged a few hundred years later across the Atlantic in the African-American spiritual tradition of hoodoo. Hoodoo was developed in African-American communities living under slavery, combining African traditions with Christian elements and even Native American folklore and medicine.
Keeping rabbit feet talismans was not uncommon among hoodoo practitioners, but it would soon spread into mainstream American culture as well, even going as high as the White House itself. The rabbit foot from today's story was inspired by a real one supposedly owned by Grover Cleveland. Because Hoodoo is such an amalgamation of influences, it's possible that the modern rabbit's foot superstition was inspired by the old Celtic traditions or by Native American folklore. Nana Bojo, the Ojibway trickster spirit mentioned in today's story, was a trickster spirit known for taking the shape of a rabbit.
And there are strong similarities between Nana Bojo and another trickster from African-American culture, the folk character Brer Rabbit.
The Adventures of Brother or Brother Rabbit were popularized by African-Americans living under slavery. And like Hoodoo, they grew out of myths they brought with them from Africa.
Brer Rabbit stories almost always involve the mischievous trickster outsmarting a larger predator while they were a source of humor for the slaves who told them. Modern historians see them as instructional tales that taught listeners how to survive in an inhumane and unjust system. The rabbit's foot continues this tradition offering users a chance to harness the cleverness of the animal, as folklorist Bill Ellis put it.
The rabbit's foot belief, no matter how straightforward or campy to many who perpetuated it, connects to a complex body of folk beliefs and practice dealing with symbolic substitutes used to concretize and territorials the power of the other in Anglo American tradition. Perhaps the rabbit's foot unconsciously symbolized the power of a witch or ethnic newcomer to threaten entrenched power structures, while for African-Americans it may have been a means to challenge a discriminatory legal system. Too often, humans sort ourselves into predators and prey, those who have been offered by mainstream society need the cleverness of the rabbit to survive in a world that's always hunting them.
Perhaps the rabbits feet charm is a way of reminding ourselves of that fact, because when the hounds come out and the chips are down, we could all use a little extra cleverness and luck.
Thanks again for listening to superstitions. We will be back Wednesday with a new episode, you can find more episodes of Superstitions and all other originals from podcast for free on Spotify until next time. Be wary of the things you cannot explain.
Superstitions is a Spotify original from podcast. It is executive produced by Max Cuddler Sound Design by Kenny Hobbs with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Erin Larson. This episode of Superstitions was written by Andrew Kelaher.
I'm Alastair Murder. Listeners, don't forget to check out our love story, the newest Spotify original from podcast every Tuesday discovered the many pathways to love as told by the actual couples who found them.
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