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 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.