All around the world, you’ll find symbols, talismans, charms, and amulets that have come to represent good luck. In the Mediterranean, people ward off the evil eye with a Nazar amulet. Bat charms are used to frighten away evil spirits in China. I could go on!
Lucky charms might be something to hold in your hand, wear around your neck, or maybe use as a house decoration. No matter how you display them, they are supposed to ward off bad luck and bring you good fortune. Some people swear by them, while others may think they’re silly. But regardless of whether a Japanese waving cat, an Egyptian scarab, or a Peruvian ceremonial knife really attracts Lady Luck, lucky charms make great souvenirs.
So, if you don’t already have a favorite lucky charm, read on to check some popular ones from around the world and see if any inspire you.
1. Nazar Boncuğu
In Türkiye, one of the first things you’ll notice is an evil eye, the unblinking eyeballs are everywhere — staring out from bowls, bracelets, and even doormats. It’s a cultural thing that has over 5,000 years of history and is still used all over the country. Today, it’s especially used to keep bad energy away for a newborn baby, a new car, or a newly built house.
The nazar is very distinct, often a handmade glass bead in white, blue, and light blue with a black dot at the center. In effect, it looks like a wide-opened eye. Despite its name, the evil eye does no evil toward you; it protects you from those wishing you harm. For thousands of years, people have been using evil eye talismans, or nazur, to ward off the bad luck caused by these curses.
The Turkish evil eye is found on bracelets, necklaces, pendants, wall hangings, and more, and they make great souvenirs to bring home. I have several hanging on my kitchen wall at home, and maybe they somehow bring me luck in the cooking “department,” as I rarely get any complaints from my family!
Other countries such as Greece, Armenia, Iran, Albania, and Afghanistan also have evil eye amulets to keep the bad spirits at bay.
That smiling cat that waves at you as you walk into a Japanese restaurant or business is known as a maneki-neko, which means “the beckoning cat” in Japanese, and is usually displayed in the hope of bringing success and fortune to a business. The different colors of the cats represent different fortunes — white means prosperity and happiness, gold means wealth, green is for health, and black wards off evil. The waving paw also determines fortune — if it’s the right paw that is moving, it means that the cat is inviting good fortune and wealth, and if it’s the left one, it means the cat is calling out to customers.
Children and adults who see a maneki neko typically imitate the waving movement of its paw.
Native American Tribes
According to the Chippewa Native American tribe, a dreamcatcher hung over a person’s bed is thought to protect sleepers from bad dreams as they flow by, by only letting only the good ones through. Legend has it that when the sun rises, the bad dreams tangled in the dream catcher dissolve, as they can’t survive in sunlight.
While dreamcatchers are traditionally hung by the bed, you might like to hang one in your office window to keep bad luck away. Or perhaps buy a pair of dreamcatcher earrings, or a dreamcatcher necklace to carry luck with you wherever you go. You could also use one on a keyring or hang it in your car to bring good luck on your travels.
According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to little quitqpena, or “worry dolls,” and then place them under their pillow when they go to bed at night. By morning the dolls have gifted them with the wisdom and knowledge to eliminate their worries. The story of the worry doll is a local Mayan legend.
Quitqpena are said to work on anyone who can’t sleep. So if you’re worried about someone who constantly worries, why not pick up some of these miniature handmade dolls on your travels?
Israel And The Middle East
With roots in both Judaism and Islam, this hand-shaped symbol is said to grant its wearer happiness and protection from evil. Depending on the community and culture of the user, the charm has different meanings. In Hebrew, hamsa (sometimes called khamsa) means the number five and is a symbol of the Torah’s five books — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Islam, it represents the Five Pillars of Islam. The eye on the hand represents an eye that sees everything and watches out for the owner.
Hamsas take their name from the Arabic saying, “khamsa fi ainek,” meaning “five [fingers] in your eye.” Jews sometimes refer to them as the Hands of Miriam, and Muslims know them as the Hands of Fatima. Hamsas are usually made from brass, tin, or enamel, and may be decorated with the sacred color blue or with symbols like the fish, eyes, or the Star of David. Prayers like the Birkat Habayit (Blessing for the Home) or the Tefilate HaDerech (Traveller’s Prayer) are often inscribed on Jewish Hamsas.
They’re available on necklaces, wall hangings, door knockers, coffee mugs, and even candles. Jennifer Aniston rocks one, Madonna and Heidi Klum do too. Rhianna, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Goldie Hawn have also been spotted sporting hamsas. Bring one home for yourself or a friend as a holiday souvenir.
In Peru, it’s considered good luck to hang a tumi on the wall. These ceremonial knives, usually made from a single piece of bronze, gold, silver, or copper, were used in ancient ritual ceremonies.
Tumis feature a human face on the handle, which historians believe is Naylamp, a mythic hero and founder of the ancient Peruvian Sican culture. Historically, the semi-circular knife was used during Incan ceremonies to sacrifice a pure black or white llama to the gods, or sometimes even for brain surgery! Today, Peruvians have turned the tumi into a symbol of good — something for which I’m sure the llamas are grateful — and they’re often seen hanging on the walls of homes and businesses.
7. Figa Charm
Mano Figa charms initially came from Italy before eventually reaching Brazil and Peru. Shaped like a hand with the thumb placed in between the middle and index fingers, the charm is believed to repel bad energy and bring good fortune. They used to be made of blood coral or silver and were used in olden days to call the Italian goddess of fertility. When Christianity reached South America, the charm’s meaning changed. Today, it is used to protect the owner from the evil eye and is thought to store all the luck you haven’t used yet.
8. Red Bat Charm
What comes to mind when you think of bats? Halloween, horror movies, or spooky caves? In Chinese culture, these nocturnal winged creatures are actually a symbol of happiness and good fortune. In Chinese writing, the characters for “bat” are homonyms (words with the same spelling or pronunciation, but different meanings) for “fortune” or “blessing.”
Bats are thought to ward off evil, so they’re worn as lucky charms. Chinese mothers would often sew small bat-shaped buttons made of jade on a newborn’s cap to bestow a long, healthy life on them. The Chinese also associate various colors as symbols of good luck. The most popular is the color red, which signifies joy, and when combined with five bats, represents the “five good fortunes” — health, longevity, love, wealth, and virtue.
A tapestry or wall hanging of five red bats makes a particularly auspicious souvenir.
9. Dala Horse Charm
These cute red wooden horses, which originated from the Dalarna region in Sweden, were first carved hundreds of years ago and represent strength, wisdom, faithfulness, and dignity. Horses were holy animals, and many Swedes would use scraps of leftover wood to craft horse figurines. Today, the horse is also a symbol of dignity and strength, and you’ll find one in almost every Swedish home.
The Dala horse is Sweden’s best-selling souvenir, so how about picking up one for yourself?
10. Scarab Charm
Most people these days would shudder at the thought of wearing a beetle around their neck, but in ancient Egypt, this practice was believed to bring good luck, so people wore scarab amulets to protect them in this world and the afterlife.
The scarab has been a symbol of good luck since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. It is associated with Khepri, Egypt’s god of the rising sun. The beetle amulet represents eternal life and new creation. Mummies were often buried with large carved scarabs, and sometimes a scarab amulet made out of a hard green stone would replace the mummy’s real heart to symbolize the “power of life.”
My parents brought me a tiny scarab home from their travels in Egypt when I was small, and nearly 50 years later I still have it tucked away in my jewelry box.
I was going to stop my list here at number 10. But no list of lucky charms would be complete, in my opinion, without including one from my adopted home country of Zambia.
11. Nyami Nyami
Nyami Nyami, said to be half snake and half fish, has been revered as the Zambezi River God for hundreds of years by the Tonga People of Zambia. Nyami Nyami is believed to have the power to take the lives of the people living along the Zambezi River banks, and numerous stories tell of lives lost in the river due to lack of respect for him.
A Nyami Nyami pendant is a good luck charm in Zambia, and supposedly a powerful source of luck and protection to those who wear it. Most people who live near or spend time on the Zambezi River — like local guides and fishermen — carry Nyami Nyami charms for protection.
Pendants are worn around the neck and are usually handcrafted out of soapstone, wood, horn, or bone, with a leather strap or string used to hang it around the neck. The lower half of the charm represents the coils of the snake’s body, while the upper part is a fish head. Charms can be small enough to fit onto a necklace or large enough to crown a walking stick. There is a Nyami Nyami charm for everyone, and I must confess I bought charms for both my sons before they went white water rafting on the Zambezi River.
The playwright Tennessee Williams once wrote, “Luck is believing you’re lucky,” and that may well be true, but people all around the world have tried to enhance their good fortunes with lucky charms. Whether they work or not may be debatable, but they certainly make cool gifts and souvenirs to bring home from your travels!