Spiral form, labyrinth, mano cornuta, horseshoe. The horseshoe too is a trap. Some say it traps the good luck and should never be hung horns inverted because this would let the good luck escape. Yet this is more superstition, habit, and rather less than wonderment.
An older version of the horseshoe was, and in all likelihood still is, nailed on stable doors and hung above the animals themselves in order to repel the spirits who ride the horses at night. If unprotected;
“Very often in the mornin’, there they be all a-brokt out in sweat, the very same’s ‘off they’d a-bin hard to work.” 
Elworthy further comments how “The same thing is done by hanging up scythes or sharp instruments to the stable rafters, by which the pixies will be cut if they ride the horses.” 

Another use of the horseshoe is recounted by R. C. Maclagan:
“”Mattie Lavarty used to be going about the country here makin’ eolas I mind yince a coo belongin’ tae yin Neil R. took ill before calfing, an’ they sent for Mattie Lavarty. She worked aboot the coo wi’ water, an’ said her paternoster or somethin’ else o’er’t an left a horseshoe in front o’t. But the next mornin’ whan Neil gaed intae the byre the calf was lyin’ deed in the greep. That pit Neil frae gaun near Mattie or the like o’ her ever after.”
“Our business here,” Maclagan continues, “is not with Mattie’s success or failure, but with the subject matter used in her attempted cure. The illness of the cow was probably a protracted labour, and Mattie put before it what was symbolical of a free passage for the expected calf. It was no mere placing of something for luck, but a use of the symbol of reproduction on an appropriate occasion.” (Evil Eye in the Western Highlands. R. C. Malagan. London, David Nutt, 1902.)
The horseshoe, then, functions as a useful object. The use is in a consecrated relationship between shoe and uterus. Also I duly note that the fluidity of this nexus of function and meaning surrounding the evil eye has again slipped so that indeed, this horseshoe is not a trap. It is an aide-memoire, influence at a distance. A spell cast to unlock the cow’s bewitchment – and as such, true, the horseshoe should trap and divert the negative fascination or flow that is knotting up the birth of its calf. Perhaps Mattie was unsuccessful here precisely on this count? Even within the other logic of magic an object or invocation has a job to do and like anything or anyone else it can best do that job when not trying to do several other things at once. A nick in the dam’s ear or a red rag or water in which silver had soaked or water in which red hot coals had been dunked, depending on your tradition, anyone of these methods may have countered the Eye. Let the horseshoe concentrate solely on the struggling unborn – or vice versa – however these things work.
The amulet, the protective gesture or sign, holds sway against the evil eye by operating along two main frequencies. The first is the labyrinth, the trap, diversion – so this can be the ridiculous or the complex, for the gaze to get lost in. The second is a more direct countering; for the threat of an eye there is no more sure repellent than an image of an eye. That is, fear to fear, fight fire with fire. So if an evil eye pulls up sharp when met by itself, one wonders how it is that across the literature it is taken as given that iron is repugnant to faery folk, the spirits, and so base, so foul a metal is this that it is best to construct entire temples, furniture and frame alike, without the use of nails. 

But what of iron? It visibly rots and it is red. Red rags abound in this swathe of connection. One is reminded of the smell of menstruation. Could a formative matriarchal society have used the power of this cyclical presence? Taboo forming from a rich, mineral odour, from a genuinely awed set of linkages; crescent and moon, night and sex, blood and tides. Initially the connections are actual, barely metaphorical at all, but then they become veiled, are presented as mystery, are covered and uncovered in rites and rituals. Notably Isis wears a crescent on her brow. This is both poetry and subterfuge, revelation and repression. Eventually political repression, barely metaphorical but actual; the taboo on menses is turned around in the patriarchal and becomes a method of policing ‘woman’.

A horse being shod is as vulnerable as a young couple might be at their wedding to malocchia. The smithy stood close to the centre of those societies in which the horse dominated. Thoroughly routed by the petrol engine, even over so short a span of time it seems necessary to re-imagine for oneself just what the importance of the horse must have been. We forget, yet the horse was not only transport but a symbol of well being, not only an individual’s livelihood but their liberty; destroyers of horizons, vital to food, wealth, order, communication. No surprise then, that the blacksmith would seek to prevent the workings of invidia slipping in between the exposed hoof and his ironwork. For example, although iron and the shoe itself were apotropaic it was nonetheless deemed necessary to hang above the forge a phallic amulet. This should perhaps be seen as something other than ‘merely’ buying into the dominant ‘archy’. Indeed, the phallus rather than properly patriarchal was the property of Priapus. That is to say, the Green Man, Pan, Bacchus. This gorged and thrusting member – hung above a place for pounding metal – is a vegetative godhead, mushroom cock, delirious fermentation. Phallus proper is a penis fitting for a goddess, otherwise it is the sterile and frozen self regard of skyscraper, sports car, and gun.

Original first published in Inventory: losing, finding, collecting. Vol.3 No.2 1999.

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