"Good luck”, “That was lucky”, “It’s bad luck”. For an abstract concept which occurs beyond one’s control, without regard to one’s will, intention or desired result, luck appears to have had a remarkable effect on the way we as human beings have functioned and still do today. Ranging from the rolling of dice in a casino to the fear of someone ‘jinxing’ a performance, or indeed from buying a lottery ticket to hoping that the train arrives on time, luck permeates every aspect of modern society. As a result, a wide variety of global cultures have their own take on the ‘luck’ factor: with Irish people wandering the countryside searching for four-leaf clovers and native Americans stringing up ‘dream-catchers’ above their beds.
However this poses the question as to what exactly is luck, if anything at all, and should we as a developed society really be putting so much faith into something that happens regardless of one’s wishes? Should we really ‘take our chances’ when it comes to a principle of uncertainty, or should we ignore them? To find out, it is necessary to explore the different variations of luck that we as human beings subconsciously employ every day, and whether or not there is such a thing as being ‘lucky’.
The first way in which one can interpret luck is as an essence. Over the past few thousand years there has existed a series of spiritual or supernatural beliefs regarding fortune, and although these beliefs vary widely from one to another, there is general agreement that luck can be influenced through spiritual means by performing certain rituals, avoiding certain circumstances or obtaining certain objects.
Nowadays this most commonly takes the form of superstition, with picking up pennies being considered as ‘good’ (both in the lucky and financial sense) and opening an umbrella indoors being seen as ‘bad’ (as well as impractical). Mesoamerican religions, such as the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, had particularly strong beliefs regarding the relationship between rituals and the gods, which could in a similar sense to Abrahamic religions be called luck or providence. In these cultures, human sacrifice (both of willing volunteers and captured enemies), as well as self-sacrifice by means of bloodletting, could possibly be seen as a way to propitiate the gods and earn favor for the city offering the sacrifice. Christianity, in its early development, accommodated many traditional practices including the acceptance of omens and carrying out of ritual sacrifice in order to divine the will of their ‘supreme being’ or to influence divine favoritism.
Echoes of the more archaic take on fortune can still be felt today, as although we may not pray to the household gods for luck as the Romans did we still arguably devote ourselves to it through mottos and ‘paraphernalia’. For example, during the middle ages Blacksmithing was considered as a ‘lucky’ profession, so is it any wonder that the horseshoe is perceived as an embodiment of fortune? Furthermore ever since humans started to count numerology has been applied by various cultures to fortune telling and psychic reading, with the number 7 being considered as ‘lucky’ (due to the Japanese ‘Seven Gods of Fortune’) and the number 13 being considered as ‘unlucky’ (due to its association with the Last Supper). Thus in one sense luck is not a determining factor but a form of tradition, in which the faith of our ancestors has inspired us to believe in similar, if developed, principles of fortune.