Cultures from around the world have their own superstitions, most originating from folklore, religious beliefs, and other internal and external factors.
Common superstitions can range from shunning certain numbers (666 and 13), breaking a mirror (representative of disturbing the reflection of the soul), or believing physical symptoms are signs of good or bad luck to come (an itchy palm being a sign of good luck).
There are various global superstitions surrounding coins.
Most of these superstitions pertain to people bringing themselves good luck and future fortunes by properly employing coins, whether as payments to the Gods, ancient dragons, or karmic beings—relinquishing money as a deed in good tidings to come.
Let’s take a closer look at what some of these well-known, and lesser-known, superstitions are.
1. Greece’s “Charon’s Obol”
Taken from ancient Greek and Latin literary sources, “Charon’s Obol” is the practice in which a coin, particularly an obol, is placed inside of the mouth of a deceased person prior to their burial.
Although this practice has been noted in other regions around the world, the Grecians are most known for this service, using the obol as a payment to Charon, the Greek mythological ferryman who chartered souls across the River Styx.
In some cases, people considered the obol to be less of a payment and more of a bribe to Charon, hoping it would increase the chances of their loved ones to move from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
2. Greece’s “A Coin in the Pocket”
Another superstition originating in Greece was the belief that you should always carry a coin on you.
Whatever the method of security, from a pocket to a wallet, the Greeks believed that money should always be kept inside it, even if that meant carrying nothing but a coin in your purse. This was done as a means of good fortune, to show that your accounts would never be empty.
3. Buried in the Foundation
As seen in the past two examples—burying the dead and having a place to safely secure your money—there is a superstition against keeping oneself, or an object, without some financial safety.
This superstition goes for homes as well. Various cultures believe that, when building a new home or addition, a few coins—minted in the current year—should be placed into the foundation to induce luck to come.
Some other cultures even believe in placing coins inside of the front door to your home, so luck is brought into your home whenever you return and luck is given to you whenever you leave.
4. Rome’s “The Touching”
Continuing with the superstitions that follow mythological cultures, the Romans had their own unique tradition as well. Although they ended up practicing the tradition of “Charon’s Obol” with the deceased, Rome had a superstition when it came to their sick, known as the “The Touching.”
Emperor Vespasian, who was believed to be a prophetic man, would hold a ceremony in which he would hand out coins to ill and plagued citizens of the empire.
The Romans believed that emperors had the authority of the gods, so receiving a gift from them was the same as receiving atonement from a godly deity.
5. Money on the Ground
This is a tradition that most Americans are probably aware of, as it’s a practice of 50-50 luck that is still believed to this day.
While the ground rules vary around the globe, the most common belief is that if a coin is seen lying on the ground, your decision to pick it up depends on which side of the coin is facing toward the sky.
If it is the obverse or “heads up,” then picking up the coin will bring you good luck; if it is the reverse or “heads down,” then it is in your best interest to leave the coin as it is, as picking it up will bring bad luck.
However, other cultures do not follow this 50-50 rule, believing that it would be an offense to ignore money.
Rather than running the risk of bringing on poor financial luck, it is better to pick up the coin in these cultures, no matter which side is showing.
6. Post-Rain Gift
You might have found a coin just lying out on the ground, but what about finding one out on the street following some heavy rain showers? Old superstitions might lead you to believe that these coins are a gift from the gods, sometimes referred to as a “Coin from the Heavens.”
In these instances, it is less important whether the coin is either heads up or heads down; all that matters is that the gods have given you a gift of fortune following the rain.
7. Down the Wishing Well
Originating from Germanic and Celtic traditions, people have long believed that tossing a coin into a well while making a wish can make that wish come true.
Common beliefs surrounding this superstition is that water, being one of the main sources of life, contained deities that would provide well-wishing humans with their desires if appropriately wished for.
Others believed that wells were enchanted, commonly housing fairies and other mythical beings who would grant whatever wishes were spoken, upon fair payment.
8. Into the Fountain Bed
You already passed by a wishing well this morning and took it upon yourself to make a wish while tossing some change down into its depths, but now you’ve passed a fountain while walking through downtown.
Might as well double up on your luck and throw a coin into this fountain bed as well! Fountains gained their significance as harbingers of luck due to the wishing well traditions of Germanic and Celtic cultures.
Fountains that feature statues of gods and religious figures are especially important, as people believe leaving change for them is another means of asking for luck from a deity.
Better yet, you’re not the only one receiving good tidings from this act: various religious and communal service entities will collect the coins from these fountains, turning the money around to help those in need.
Justin Fraughton serves as the Head of Marketing and Content at Provident Metals. Justin is responsible for overseeing the planning, development and execution of all Provident Metals marketing and advertising initiatives.
When he is not working or writing, Justin enjoys spending time with his two daughters and beautiful wife as well as expanding his own coin collection.