Heels Up or Heels Down?

by Kelly Sue Bachen

Published in the February 2000 Issue of Anvil Magazine

"Find a horseshoe, pick it up and all the year you'll have good luck." So goes the saying, it's been heard since days of old, but just exactly, how I ask, did this philosophy unfold? It could have begun with the blacksmith's saint, Dunstan was his name, who when the devil came calling one day, proceeded to make him lame. But when the fiend cried out for relief, his pleas were to no avail, for Dunstan had devised a plan, that he was certain would not fail. Before he would remove the shoes, to make his pain subside, these words he spoke and made him promise, their contents to abide: "A horseshoe hung upon the wall, for all the world to see, will be a sign of protection and luck, therefore you will have to flee." And so, agreeing to the terms, he was sent upon his way, and thus the horseshoe was thought to bring luck, as it is to this very day. However, this causes a quandary of sorts, a somewhat curious case, if you want to hang a horseshoe for luck, which way do the heels need to face? Now, being the confident folks that they are, not afraid to speak their mind, I decided to ask some farrier friends, to see what I could find. Anticipating a quick resolve, I was a bit distressed, when half said "up" and half said "down," now who'd have ever guessed? "To keep the luck in," claimed those who said "up," a reason most commonly used. But the many other reasons folks gave, left me all the more confused! "The dimensions of the shoe," said one, with heels up, are quite hard to see." Not too exciting, but I'd say he gets points for his practicality. A Farrier Guild formed 'round 1300, London's Worshipful Company, on its symbol displays the heels facing down, "tradition" says that's how it should be. One confident fellow quickly replied, having no time for senseless chatter: "A shoe gives a blacksmith continual luck, so the direction really doesn't matter." If needing a blacksmith, back in the old West, and traveling through a strange town, the blacksmith's place was distinguished, by the horseshoe he hung with heels down. "Whichever way it looks better," was the reply I got from some. Then there was one who insisted, it depended on where you were from! "Sideways," one said, "will end the debate, and settle it once and for all, or maybe one up and the other one down," now that was the final straw! My quest for an answer seemed fruitless, confusion was my lot, when a piece of advice I was given by Edward Martin, the well-known Scot: "A blacksmith can hang a horseshoe any way that he sees fit, he's absolved from such superstitious nonsense," - and that was the end of it! And so the question was answered, at least for the blacksmiths out there, but as for all of the folks who are not, well, I guess it's still up in the air!

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