Lucky Charms in the First World War

Leo Ruickbie’s chapter ‘Lucky Charms in the First World War – Industrialized Magic’ has just been published in Katharina Rein’s anthology Magic: A Companion. Rein has done an impressive job in bringing so many different researchers together to present a wide-ranging investigation into the nature and representation of magic from ancient Byzantium to the present day, although the main focus is on contemporary popular culture.

Ruickbie has been researching ‘exceptional experiences’ during the First World War since 2014 and this latest chapter represents his most recent contribution in a long line of work, see ‘The First World War and the Paranormal’.

‘Lucky Charms in the First World War – Industrialized Magic’

Excerpt from Leo Ruickbie’s chapter:

Nearly every man at the front has a mascot of some sort – a rosary, a black cat, a German button, a lucky elephant, or a weird sign – which is supposed to keep him safe.

Vernon Bartlett, Mud and Khaki: Sketches from Flanders and France (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1917), 124.

From his vantage point of firsthand experience, the journalist and later politician Vernon Bartlett was moved to remark upon the range and near universality of the lucky charm during the First World War. ‘Luck’ could inhabit any sort of object, either through the imagined indwelling properties of the material (such as silver) or its shape (such as the horseshoe), or through association with something else (an incident, place or person). What does this near universality of the charm tell us? And what can we learn from the materiality of the charms themselves?

Magic: A Companion edited by Katharina Rein

From the publisher’s website:

What is Magic?
Magic has been present throughout human cultures in history, proving equally constant and mutable. Defined as supernatural powers, an explanatory belief system or a form of entertainment, magic persists to this day in new kinds of magical thinking in our highly technical, digitized environment.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, magic has enjoyed a growing visibility in popular culture and scholarship. Contributing to this field, this volume illuminates the multi-faceted topic from a variety of perspectives. The chapters collected here investigate diverse aspects and shapes of magic to uncover its manifold material and immaterial appearances in past and present cultures. While offering a broad overview, this book also provides close readings and in-depth analyses of specialist examples, including magical talismans and amulets, magic of the stage and screen (e.g. Black Panther, Shape of Water), historical magicians and their representations (e.g. Harry Houdini) and contemporary queer and feminist witchcraft (e.g. #MagicResistance).
By tracing magic’s strong interrelation with colonial discourses, politics, the economy and the arts, magic’s role is shown to go well beyond its traditional definition. Magic can be a political act, a means of empowerment and protest, an economic metaphor, and an instrument of oppression and liberation alike. This broad spectrum of magic discourses and their permeation into different aspects of cultures in history, present day and fiction is analysed by the more than thirty contributors to this volume in short, accessible essays.

Table Of Contents

  • Foreword: Magical Thinking/Thinking the Magical (Roger Luckhurst)
  • Introduction (Katharina Rein)
  • Part I Magic Beliefs in History and Today
    • Demon Amulets and Christian Crosses – Magic in Byzantium (Antje Bosselmann-Ruickbie)
    • Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) – Renaissance Magic (Thibaut Rioult)
    • Lucky Charms in the First World War – Industrialized Magic (Leo Ruickbie)
    • Unseen Forces (1920) – Spiritualism in American Cinema (Murray Leeder)
  • Part II Magic across Cultures
    • Veneno para las hadas (Poison for Fairies, 1984) – Magic in Mexican Cinema (Enrique Ajuria Ibarra)
    • Representations of Magic in Thai Cinema – Khmer Magic (Katarzyna Ancuta)
    • The Beauty and the Beast in The Shape of Water (2017) – Magical Realism (Álvaro Martín Sanz)
    • The Colour Purple as a Signifier of Shamanism in Black Panther (2018) – Magic in Afrofuturism (Josephine Diecke and Noemi Daugaard)
  • Part III Stage Magic in Its Golden Age
    • The Magician Autobiography – Magic Lives (Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott)
    • The Bullet Catch – Magic at War (Christopher Pittard)
    • Women in Stage Magic around 1900 – Female Conjuring (Katharina Rein)
    • ‘The Suspension Ethéréenne’ under the Photographer’s Lens – Magic Tricks Photographed (Frédéric Tabet and Pierre Taillefer)
  • Part IV Magic Crossing Media Boundaries
    • The Féerie – Magic between Stage and Screen (Frank Kessler)
    • Georges Méliès’ Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin (1896) – The Materiality of Film Magic (Matthew Solomon)
    • Conjuring on the Small Screen – Broadcasting Magic (Jamy Ian Swiss)
    • ‘My Friend the Witch Doctor’ (1958) – Magic as a Pop-Cultural Trope (Roswitha Schuller)
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. I (2010) – Magic and the Blockbuster (Michael Wedel)
    • The Dragon Age Series (2009–2014) – Videogame Magic (Sarah Faber)
  • Part V Magic and the Body
    • Salvator Rosa’s La Strega (1647–1650) – The Witch’s Body (Hannah Segrave)
    • Disability in Magic Performances – Magic and Disability (Anna Grebe)
    • Disney Films – Magic and Labour (Jasmin Kathöfer and Jens Schröter)
    • Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Illustrated Man’ (1950) – Magical Tattoos (Stephanie Weber)
    • Charles Foster’s Being a Beast (2016) – Shamanism and Shapeshifting (Dunja Haufe)
  • Part VI Magic and Resistance
    • J. W. Waterhouse’s The Magic Circle (1886) – The Sorceress and Victorian Gender Roles (Marie Barras)
    • Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (1907) – Magic and Decadence (Jessica Gossling)
    • Coil’s LP Scatology (1984) as a Queer Grimoire – Magic against Homophobia (Hayes Hampton)
    • Queer Feminist Witchcraft and Embodied Reason – Magic and Queer Feminism (Luce deLire)
    • #MagicResistance: Witchcraft on Social Media as Political Activism – Magic against Trump (Daniela Lazoroska)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

Digital and print copies are available from

Dr Leo Ruickbie’s research on exceptional experiences during the First World War was funded by the Society for Psychical Research and was a contributory factor in his being appointed a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.