I am currently finishing off another small book, this time on superstitions, in my new “Short History” series. So I thought that I would share with you an excerpt – the history of the four-leaf clover…
More than any other factor, the rarity of the four-leaf clover (normally, the clover is a three-leaf plant) made it sacred to the sun-worshiping Druid priests of ancient England. The Druids, whose Celtic name, dereu-wid, means “oak-wise” or “knowing the oak tree,” frequented oak forests as worshiping grounds. They believed that a person in possession of a four-leaf clover could sight ambient demons and through incantations thwart their sinister influence.
Our information on the origin of this good luck charm (as well as on other beliefs and behaviors of that learned class of Celts who acted as priests, teachers, and judges) comes mainly from the writings of Julius Caesar and from Irish legend. Several times a year, Druids assembled in sacred oak forests throughout the British Isles and Gaul. There they settled legal disputes and offered human sacrifices for any person who was gravely ill or in danger of death from forthcoming battle. Huge wicker cages filled with men were burned.
Though Druid priests preferred to sacrifice criminals, during periods of widespread law and order they incinerated the innocent. The immortality of the soul, and its transferal after death to a newborn, was one of their principal religious doctrines. Before terminating the forest ritual, Druids collected sprigs of mistletoe (believed to be capable of maintaining harmony within families) and scouted for rare clover.
Four-leaf clovers are no longer rare. In the 1950s, horticulturists developed a seed that sprouts only clover with four lobes. The fact that today they are grown in greenhouses by the millions and cultivated by the score on kitchen windowsills not only strips the tiny herb of the uniqueness that is its luck but usurps the thrill and serendipity of finding one.