Appalachia Folklore

A Horseshoe Hanging in Time and Place

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Karshner. This is the third post in series of three. Follow these links to read the first two posts: The Lucky Horseshoe: An Origin Story and Hanging Horse Shoes: Up or Down.

Ed and Alex

Ed and his daughter cooking supper

There’s no doubt the horseshoe is the most recognizable symbol for good luck…maybe even more so than the rabbit’s foot. It’s easy to see why. The horseshoe is a very old symbol of luck going back some six-thousand years—if we go with the Passover connection. Even then, we see story of the “Blacksmith and the Devil” having roots in Russia before moving west into India, Greece, and Northern Europe. All of this speculation, however, gets in the way of a simply truth: the horseshoe, is a practical item that protects the horse’s hooves as it travels on uncertain and rough road. We could just as easily make that a metaphor for our own lives. 

But, this is a place to talk about Appalachia, its people and culture. So, I want to take this last post to share why I think the horseshoe is the most Appalachian of lucky charms and what it tells us about ourselves in the fullness of time. 

In his book Signs, Cures, and Witchery, Gerald Milnes writes about a magical formula he saw etched in the barns and homes of German settled areas of West Virginia: Zeit und raum is alles (time and space is everything). When I read that, it really hit me how true that phrase is in Appalachia. In terms of time, we are a people rooted in our past, our history. We use that sense of tradition to untangle the present as we consider the future. For place, well, our emotional connection to the land is legendary. But, there is also our natural orientation—our understanding of how we are placed in that unfolding of time. To me, the horseshoe, more than just a lucky charm, is a compass that orients us in our unique understanding of time and place. 

I think the blacksmith in the story that started this series is a true Appalachian hero in his ability to understand this unique perspective of time. Like I said, Appalachians play a long game. Our attachment to an expansive past allows us to see time as forever unfolding. Because this time unfolds slowly, to exist in time is to have patience. It’s our connection to the land, our natural orientation that teaches us the value of waiting. Whether waiting for the garden to grow, waiting out the winter cold, or sitting in a tree stand waiting for a deer to walk by…we wait. There is always more time. The question is, will we be ready when time fully opens its potential to us? This is a lesson I learned from my grandma. Nobody wins every time and we all lose sometimes. However, life isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about enduring. When the blacksmith picks up old Scratches hoof, I like to think he realizes that, at that moment, he’s stuck. But, also knows that he doesn’t need luck, he needs more time. 

The horseshoe, as a symbol, also reveals to us what we should do with that extra time. The power of the horseshoe, as it moves through the waxing (down to up) phase of “faithfully doing” to the waning phase (up to down) of growth and renewal, is that we are reminded that time changes everything. That if we are “to do,” to consecrate and renew, we have to change, too. That means taking the extra time we find to not just hone our skill set but to acquire new skills. 

I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged such exploration. When my brothers and I wanted to learn a musical instrument, a sport, an art, my parents found a way for us to try. Most of the time it didn’t stick. But, we learned something important with each new experience. Nothing was a waste of time if you learned one new thing. I try to bring this point of view to my own kids. One of my chief pleasures of reading Blind Pig is to try out Tipper’s recipes with the kids (the oven tater chips and parsnip stew are two of our favorites). Those moments in the kitchen together, learning the importance of sharing and making memories, we create a tradition that will, hopefully, benefit seven more generations of Karshners who will, likewise, try new things, acquire new skills, and take pride in their work. 

How is any of this lucky? More importantly, what does all this tell us about what is luck/lucky in Appalachia? Again, I find myself going back to Jack Welch who writes that Appalachians are an “action oriented” people. It would make sense, then, that our luck is action oriented. too. Luck, for us, is not some passive thing out there in the world waiting to drop in our lap. Writing about the Northern European concept of luck, Bettina Sommers writes that luck was not something that “happened” to a person but something we made. Luck was a part of a person’s nature—their skill, intelligence, and ability to apply those traits to achieve success. So, the horse shoe is not just a holder of luck—it is a reminder that we have to make some luck. 

I started this whole exercise with H. Byron Ballard’s idea of “forensic folklore,” the peeling back of layers to get to the foundation of not what we know, but why we know it. Again, a very action oriented approach to learning. I believe that it is so very important to discover not just what we know, but to discover the knowledge we are made of. That knowledge we inherit from others and discover for ourselves along the way becomes the essence of who we are. When we know this, we don’t become trapped by tradition but, instead, realize the role we play in sustaining and creating traditions for those we will come after. To mine a very old folklore metaphor, the road we walk has been forged by others. We, likewise, forge a path for those who will follow us. Luck and passing on luck, in that Appalachian way, is not happenstance but a responsibility. 

I’d like to thank Tipper for giving me the chance to share my ideas with all of you. This little community, with Tipper as mayor, is an important one to me. If you have any questions, would like to continue this conversation, or have something to add, you can email me at [email protected]. Obviously, I love to talk. 


I hope you enjoyed Ed’s post! I’ve greatly enjoyed his series on horseshoes.

I like to think about the people of Appalachia and I’ve never thought of them in relation to the luck contained in a horseshoe. Ed has given me much fodder to study on.

Tipper

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 25, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    I wonder if it matters whether the horseshoe was made be fitted on a actual live animal or to throw around a stob forty feet away.
    OOPS! I have been underlined with a red zigzaggedy line. Spell don’t know what a stob is! Is stob not a word or am I just not up with the times. Do you know what a stob is?

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      May 25, 2021 at 3:06 pm

      Spell = Spellcheck

    • Reply
      Ed Karshner
      May 25, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      I’d say it doesn’t matter. Most of this symbolic meaning is based on sympathetic magic. So, an object takes on the properties of what it resembles (like the moon or magical letters in this case). Just like a mercury dime replaced actual mercury in protection sachets because the “liberty” character looked like the character Mercury and that’s a lot of layers of sympathy!

      (Stob…a fence post?)

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        May 25, 2021 at 7:41 pm

        It’s not only a fence post. A post driven into the ground as an anchor . You might tie the milk cow to a stob so she don’t wander off somewheres at milking time. If she eats all the grass in the circle she is confined to, you move the stob.
        If tilted in the opposite direction so as to counteract the force applied, a stob may become the “deadman” Tipper defined in her next to last video. “next to last” I’m not sure of.
        In my part of Appalachia a post was inserted on a hole dug to accept it. A stob is driven into the ground with a hammer or more likely a maul. A post is meant to be permanent while a stob is transitory.
        In my part of Appalachia we had no lawns. We had yards which provided a buffer between us and a wilderness. Often the yard would be overcome by grass, clover, weeds and wild onions. Perfect conditions for a milk cow except for the wild onions. Wild onions impart their flavor and smell to the milk not unlike ramps do to some people.
        So you tie the cow to a stob with a rope or a small linked chain making sure Old Bossie will not be able to reach those atrocious plants. In my experience the cow will graze in continuously one direction and in so doing will wind the rope or chain around the stob. With every revolution the spiral becomes smaller until the cow reaches the stob. If you are diligent you will recognize that Bossie needs to move and will pull the stob and move her to greener places.

  • Reply
    Lon Howle
    May 25, 2021 at 11:55 am

    Thanks! I really enjoyed this article concerning the horseshoe! Lots of great information and perspective’s I’ve never even thought of.

    Pastor Lon (The Homesteading Pastor)

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 25, 2021 at 11:17 am

    In other words we go out and make our luck, we don’t stand and wait for it?

  • Reply
    dee
    May 25, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Enjoyed your article, Ed. I’ve had no reason to put a horseshoe on our house but if I had one I would probably have put it in the garage. My people were “action oriented;” in fact, when I think back on my Parents, Aunts, Uncles, and Grandparents, I think they were stately work horses. Luck didn’t enter into it but a disciplined work ethic did. Some people would say my husband was lucky, as he could step out in the yard in the summer, look around, bend down and pick up a “4 Leaf Clover.” I never saw him fail. Was it luck — no – he had eagle vision and could hone in on his trophy. I could have stood there all day and never spotted that 4 leaf clover.
    Like you though, I have had a deep love and respect for those that came before me. I have walked through my peoples pioneer cemeteries, old home places long gone, down dusty clay roads surrounded now by pine forests, and got me a drink from a cold spring water that my parents and grandparents enjoyed a dipper full on a hot, humid, dusty day in the south. I remember many years ago my cousin and I were in Savannah, TN., she was paying her taxes at the courthouse, and as we walked up to the door I said, “we are walking in the footsteps of our great-grandfather.”

  • Reply
    Allison B
    May 25, 2021 at 10:24 am

    A very interesting series. Enjoyed all 3. Thanks!!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 25, 2021 at 8:46 am

    Hmmm, like that idea of horseshoes as variously either “up” or “down” which leads to cycles which leads to seasons, in life and nature. As he says, a horseshoe as metaphor. Some of us ( I include Mr. Karshner) are “bad to” study on things and their meanings. It has been said of me, for instance, that ‘You think too much.’ That is true sometines, false other times.

    Maybe the way to hang “a” horseshoe is to hang two side by side, one up and one down and let folks “study on it”.

  • Reply
    Margie G the glass lady
    May 25, 2021 at 8:15 am

    As everyone already knows, there will be no horseshoe in my home period. I’d let Murray put one on our shed if he wanted but he has never mentioned it. If you like them, knock yourself plumb out! I’m not a horse rider and have no horse past. The time I did get up on a horse, it was one scary event being so high and it hit me quick if I fell I’d probably break something or die so no thanks! I am above all a realist about life in general. However, I did like reading Mr. Karshner’s take on things and he’s a good writer about Appalachia I think. Besides with an extensive antique glass collection, horse shoes would have no place here.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 25, 2021 at 7:38 am

    Thanks, Ed, I have enjoyed your perspective! I have a horseshoe hanging over my front door with the sides pointing down while the curve is up. I can’t tell you why I hung it that way, it just seemed like the thing to do. I have enjoyed your observations in this series, it has made me stop and think. It’s a good thing to stop and think sometimes, it’s very nice to have something come along to prompt thinking. I am a thinker at heart.
    Thanks for the picture of you and your daughter cooking, a picture sure helps with perspective.
    You are a thinker, I really appreciate that! There is not near enough of that these days.
    Thanks for these three posts. I will go back and read them all togethers one day soon!

    • Reply
      Ed Karshner
      May 25, 2021 at 9:11 am

      Thank you, Miss Cindy. Nothing puts perspective on a man of a certain age like a pair of camo cargo shorts!

      Thank you for you words on not only my posts but every morning. I always look forward to reading your perspective everyday.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 25, 2021 at 6:25 am

    Loved the article. Lots to think about as you said.

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