Unlikely Places to Restore Your Luck

Kavya Ram Mohan writes that there are places all over the world where you can go to get luckier - whether in love, work or whatever.

If you’re ever walking along the main thoroughfare of the old town in Dubrovnik, don’t be alarmed if you see people attempting to perform acrobatics on what looks like a small stone ledge. You’ve come across the Dubrovnik Maskeron, the gargoyle head that brings luck in love to those who can successfully take their shirt off while balancing on it.

Once just a normal drain pipe, today the Maskeron is a place people flock to for a shot of good luck. It’s one in a long list of otherwise unremarkable spots that have gained fame for improving the fortunes of those who visit, a list that includes such unlikely objects as pig bellies, dried llama fetuses, and Abraham Lincoln’s nose. 

These locales have become talismans in our pursuit of the fleeting and capricious Lady Luck, and our faith in their powers is reinforced by the success stories that visitors pass on across generations. Some of these places were created lucky, some achieved luck, but most have had luck thrust upon them. You may need to hop, balance, rub, hammer, kiss, or dance to get it, but if these places provide half the good fortune they claim, it should be well worth the effort.

Bolivia's Witch Market
La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivia's Witch Market

Having a bad run? Nothing a dried llama fetus can't fix.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik Maskeron

Hop on this gargoyle's head, take off your shirt while still facing the wall, to find luck in love.
The Statue of St. Anthony's Pig
La Alberca, Spain

Statue of St. Anthony's Pig

Childless couples rub the stone pig's child-making parts for better luck with fertility.
The Guardhouse Monkey
Mons, Belgium

The Guardhouse Monkey

This iron monkey's head is shiny from the thousands of people who have rubbed it for better luck.
Lincoln Tomb
Springfield, Illinois

Lincoln Tomb

Abe Lincoln is an unlikely luck charm but visitors to his grave disagree, and his shiny nose is proof of this.
Il Porcellino
Florence, Italy

Il Porcellino

Speaking of shiny noses, this bronze boar's snout has been rubbed to a golden sheen by visitors seeking good fortune.
Paris, France

Erotic Erosion: The Recumbent Effigy of Victor Noir

Women rub Victor’s impressive girth to prevent infertility, giving the man more action in death than in life.
A newly decorated Gänseliesel
Göttingen, Germany


Once PhD scholars at the nearby university successfully defend their dissertations, they are dressed up in flowers and streamers and paraded to this statue, where they climb up to the Gänseliesel, dress her up with flowers and kiss her for good luck.
Sifting for the perfect protection at the market
Bangkok, Thailand

Amulet Market

A lucky amulet can come in different forms: Buddhas, shards of bone, medallions, chunks of wood from sacred spaces, brass phalluses, or even real human parts – like hair.


Spiritualist Drawings That Open Portals to Other Dimensions

Maria Cynkier of Atlas Obscura writes about an interesting art exhibit:

Often compared to the work of Hilma af Klint, dozens of rarely-seen drawings by the late Swiss healer and Spiritualist are on view at the Serpentine Gallery.

LONDON — Entering the Serpentine Gallery from the cacophony of Hyde Park feels otherworldly. Apart from occasional whispers, camera shutter sounds, and visitors’ footsteps moving through the constellation of rooms, there is no noise. I’m sitting in the Gallery’s central domed chamber; its concentric structure parallels the symmetrically arranged, abstract geometric drawings that hang on the walls around me. The drawings’ colorful, repetitive shapes fan out from centerpoints, like quatrefoils in Christian churches. Every single one is satisfying to look at, and the Gallery’s quiet, cathedral-like atmosphere enhances their ethereal quality.

The exhibition, Visionary Drawings, tells the story of Emma Kunz (1892–1963), a Swiss healer and spiritualist. Her works were only exhibited after her death, and she herself believed that her art was destined to be viewed by later generations. In the last few years, her drawings have been shown alongside the works of artists such as Hilma af Klint and Agnes Martin; however, Kunz’s practice does not easily fit into the history of the development of abstraction. Perhaps this is because art in itself was not her primary occupation; she considered it a means for the exploration of the astral plane.

Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings at the Serpentine Gallery (2019) (Installation view) (Image courtesy Serpentine Gallery)

Just over 40 drawings are displayed in the show, which constitutes a small portion of Kunz’s legacy. Although she didn’t incorporate art-making into her spiritual practice until her forties, she managed to produce hundreds of works. Each one acts as a portal between the earthly realm and the transcendent realm. Spreading out on checkered sheets of graph paper, these “energy field” drawings have an intricate but technical look to them. They were made with a technique called radiesthesia, in which the artist used a divining pendulum to plot the compositions. At times, Kunz would work on them continuously for almost 24 hours, and she considered them to have the potential to give different readings at different times.

More than anything else, Kunz was a naturopath and advocate of a holistic worldview. Her lifelong search for the divine in the natural world sometimes contradicted the laws of science, but also reflected her extraordinary sensitivity. Her drawings reflect her beliefs about the universe, as in “Work no.12,” which is often called “Philosophy of Life.” This diagram is based on two intersecting axes, forming a crucifix; at the center is a human, acted upon by cosmic forces. The vertical axis represents a path to enlightenment, while the horizontal one symbolically positions man between evil on the left and good on the right. While the particularities of Kunz’s symbolism might not be apparent at first glance, the drawings seem to emanate a healing power. Their meditative capacity lies in their dynamic presentation, showing both micro and macro perspectives on the world.

Emma Kunz (1892-1963), “Drawing No. 020” (c. 1939) (© Emma Kunz Zentrum)

Around the outbreak of the Second World War, Kunz made a drawing, “No. 20”: dozens of red rays fanned in a circle, intersected by two sets of thick black lines. While creating the work, Kunz asked her pendulum about the future of world affairs and outcomes of political negotiations. According to her contemporaries, she predicted that the US would develop a weapon with the potential to destroy the world — a prediction often thought to be related to the atomic bombs detonated in Japan in 1945.

Only when I’m halfway through the exhibition do I realize that Kunz’s drawings are not the only artworks on display. Intersecting the space like commas are six benches made by the Greek artist Christodoulos Panayiotou (b.1978, Limassol, Cyprus). In Panayiotou’s practice, materials are usually loaded with cultural, historical or political meaning. The benches he created for Visionary Drawings are made of AION A, a mineral that Emma Kunz discovered in a Roman quarry in Würenlos, Switzerland, which was later named the Emma Kunz Zentrum and Grotto. Kunz believed this stone possessed magnetic, therapeutic powers that could boost health and relieve all sorts of pains, and she named it AION A after the Greek word for “without limitation.” AION A is still sold in Swiss pharmacies, in the Serpentine Gallery, and is promoted by curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Panayiotou’s benches are in a silent dialogue with Kunz’s drawings; like these drawings, they have a practical purpose. Instead of distracting from the works, they serve as viewing devices.

Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings at the Serpentine Gallery (2019) (Installation view) (Image courtesy the Serpentine Gallery)

Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings transforms the Serpentine Gallery into a refuge from the fast-paced London life. By tracing Kunz’s colorful, precise lines across checked paper, one might feel transported to a divine realm. Leaving the gallery, I felt that, through her art, Emma Kunz managed to share with me a small portion of her special gift of sensing networks of mutual influences and non-empirical forces. Walking back into Hyde Park, I begin to understand how the artist considered her connection to her environment to be a form of spirituality.

Emma Kunz – Visionary Drawings: An exhibition conceived with Christodoulos Panayiotou, curated by Melissa Blanchflower and Natalia Grabowska, is on view at the Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA) through May 19, 2019. 


Noni For Medicinal Purposes. But Oh the Stink!

They call Noni the Vomit Fruit because it is so stinky. But shamans use it to scare off the evil spirits.

According to Atlas Obscura, you might not expect something that goes by names such as “vomit fruit,” “dog dumpling,” and “starvation fruit” to be popular. However, noni is so widespread that the fresh fruit is consumed across the globe. Supplements made from noni are estimated to bring in millions of dollars annually. Not bad for a fruit that tastes like rotten cheese.

Diners consume noni at three stages of ripeness. In Mexico, for instance, you may find roadside vendors blending unripe noni into their juices. At this stage, the fruit’s flavor is the most tolerable: spicy and grassy, with hints of horseradish and parmesan.

The fruit is most commonly consumed when fully ripe. At this stage, the outside turns white and feels soft and smooth, while the flavor develops into a combination of sharp cheese, lemon, and vomit. The few who consume overripe noni heavily dilute it. The brown, fermented fruit is too foul to consume on its own.

The main reason people opt to eat a fruit so off-putting is its purported health benefits. All parts of the plant are used to treat ailments as diverse as toothaches, cancer, attention deficit disorder, bruises, and addiction. It also plays a role in traditional ceremonies: Polynesian shamans will use the fruit to ward off evil spirits since it smells so bad that even ghosts give it a wide berth.

Studies have shown evidence of noni reducing inflammation and tumors in mice, but the majority of the health claims are unproven. With that being the case, it may be a better choice to live with a toothache, or an evil spirit, than to subject yourself to this fruit.

A Museum Dedicated to the Last Witch in Europe

The interior of the Anna Göldi museum.Interesting article from Atlas Obscura: As the Local reports, an anonymous donor has given one million francs—about 1,080,000 American dollars—to renovate the Anna Göldi Museum. The museum, which is located in Ennenda, Switzerland, is focused on human rights and women’s rights, topics it explores through the story of the wrongful execution of Anna Göldi, known as “the last witch in Europe.” It’s currently only open in the summers, but will use the money to operate year-round.

Göldi was, of course, not really a witch at all. Born to a poor family in Sax, Switzerland, and subject to a series of misfortunes during her younger years, Göldi eventually fled her hometown for the canton of Glarus, where she worked as a domestic servant for a doctor and aspiring politician named Jakob Tschudi. Göldi looked after the household for 17 years, until one day Tschudi fired her. Soon after, he reported her to the authorities. He claimed that he had found needles in the family’s bread and milk, and that Göldi was using witchcraft to try and poison his children. But modern scholars think it’s more likely that Tschudi was having an affair with Göldi. When he fired her, she threatened to expose this fact, and rather than risk his political career, he decided to use the law to get rid of her. As scholar Walter Hauser told the BBC, “Anna Göldi was a threat to powerful people. They wanted her out of the way.”

Göldi was tortured until she admitted to colluding with the devil. She later retracted that confession, but after she was tortured again, she re-confessed. She was found guilty, and in 1782, she was beheaded in the public square. This execution caused a backlash in her time as well: “Educated people [in Switzerland] did not believe in witchcraft in 1782,” Hauser said.

Over the past few decades, Göldi has found a kind of second life as a symbol of women’s rights, human rights, and what can happen when the powerful are allowed to abuse their authority. In 2008—after much lobbying from Hauser—the parliament of Glarus officially exonerated Göldi, deeming her trial a miscarriage of justice. The local courthouse now has a memorial to her, consisting of two perpetually-lit lamps. There have been books and movies dedicated to her story, and there is even a new musical about her, which opened last fall.

There is also the museum, which first opened in early 2017, and moved to a new location—a historic textile building—that same summer. The large donation will fund the building’s heating and insulation, as well as the construction of a new staircase that will enable easier access.

“With this investment, we can open the museum all year long,” says museum board member Maggie Wandfluh. It’s too little, too late for Göldi—but, perhaps, just in time for the rest of us.



Japanese Bathroom Ghosts

Bathroom ghostsAccording to Atlas Obscura, there are a lot of ghosts lurking in Japanese bathrooms!

Of course, as any horror film fan can attest, the bathroom can be a scary place. From Janet Leigh’s infamous shower scene in Psycho to the blood-spewing drain pipes of Stephen King’s It, there’s no shortage of genuinely startling imagery connected to lavatories. But when it comes to conjuring up the most terrifying possible interruptions to our most private moments, no one beats Japan.

In Japanese folklore, there are a number of spirits rumored to appear in bathrooms. Some reach out from the insides of toilets; others whisper through the stall walls. Each one has its own grim story and particular behavior, but they all share a connection to the bathroom.

“The bathroom is a somewhat unusual space in a household or school or wherever it exists,” says Michael Dylan Foster, author of The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore. Foster describes bathrooms as liminal spaces in that they connect the normal, everyday world to a whole different realm, namely the sewer.

“In that sense, the bathroom is a place of transition, and the toilet in particular is a portal to a mysterious other world,” says Foster. “Even though we generally flush things down, it would not seem surprising for something mysterious to come up through the toilet.” A hand reaching up through the toilet is just one of the possible creep-outs a Japanese bathroom ghost might visit on someone.


Toire no Hanako-san

One of the best-known of Japan’s bathroom spirits is Toire no Hanako-san, or Hanako of the Toilet. Like all ghost stories, the details of Hanako’s origins vary somewhat from telling to telling, but in general, Hanako is said to be the ghost of a young girl who died around WWII, and now haunts school bathrooms. Usually described as wearing an out-of-fashion red dress and bob haircut, she can be summoned by going to the girl’s bathroom on the third floor, knocking on the third stall three times, and saying, “Are you there Hanako-san?” Depending on regional variations, Hanako will respond by saying, “Yes I am,” or a ghostly hand will appear. If someone enters the stall, they could also be eaten by a three-headed lizard.


Kashima Reiko

Hanako is not the only young girl said to haunt the bathrooms of Japan. There is another legend of a young girl named Kashima Reiko, said to be the ghost of a girl who died when her legs were severed by a train. Her legless torso now haunts bathroom stalls, asking unlucky visitors, “Where are my legs?” The correct response, “On the Meishin Expressway,” could save your life. Otherwise, it’s said that she might tear a person’s legs off.


Aka Manto

It’s not all scary little girls. One of the most gruesome of Japan’s bathroom ghosts is Aka Manto, or the Red Cape. Also sometimes called Aoi Manto (Blue Cape), or in some variations, Akai-Kami-Aoi-Kami (Red Paper, Blue Paper), this modern spirit is said to resemble a person completely covered by a flowing cape and hood, wearing a mask that hides an irresistibly handsome face. He is said to appear to people (usually in the last stall) as they are going to wipe, asking a strange question. Sometimes the spirit asks, “Red cape or blue cape?” or offers “Red paper or blue paper?” Choosing red will lead to Aka Manto flaying a person’s back (a red cape), or another gruesome, bloody death, while choosing blue will cause the spirit to suffocate you. Getting clever and choosing any other color will just cause you to be dragged to the underworld. The only way to escape Aka Manto’s punishment is to decline its offer entirely.



One of Japan’s most famous mythological creatures, the kappa is said to sometimes be found in bathrooms. “However, it is not specifically thought of as a bathroom spirit, but more generally as a creature associated with water—usually rivers or ponds. But there are a lot of legends in which the kappa appears in an outhouse, where it harasses people (especially women),” says Foster.



This goblinesque yōkai spirit is filthy and disheveled, with a long, protruding tongue, and according to Foster, it is primarily known for licking the filth off of bathtubs. While not seen as a particularly frightening creature, the image of a gross little sprite licking the dirt off of a tub is not exactly friendly.

Japan’s bathroom spirits may appear to be uniquely ready to haunt your every bowel movement, but ultimately there are good reasons bathrooms everywhere tend to be a source of fear. “You are exposed and vulnerable—literally naked, at least in part—so there is a certain amount of danger or uncertainty associated with being there,” says Foster. “The bathroom is not a place you want to stay longer than necessary to complete the job you came to do.”