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Iron in mythology

Iron in mythology and folkore has a long and varied tradition throughout the world. As human blood smells of iron of which it is largely constituted, and blood in many traditions is equated with the life-force, similarly iron and minerals have been attributed as being the blood or life-force of the Earth. This relationship is charted further in literature on geomancy and ley lines and songlines. Fred Hoyle's observation of stellar formation champions iron as the core of celestial bodies. Interestingly, the bulk of meteorites are constituted by iron.



In Plutarch's mystical writings, iron and lodestone is referred to the as 'bone' or 'core' of the gods. Symbolically, iron is the bone, the foundation or the mineral core of both blood and red ochre.

Cold iron

Cold iron is sometimes asserted to repel, contain, or harm ghosts, fairies, witches, and/or other malevolent supernatural creatures. This belief continued into later superstitions in a number of forms:

  • Nailing an iron horseshoe to a door was said to repel evil spirits or later, to bring good luck.
  • Surrounding a cemetery with an iron fence was thought to contain the souls of the dead.
  • Burying an iron knife under the entrance to one's home was alleged to keep witches from entering.

In his story, "Redgauntlet," the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott wrote, "Your wife's a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your chamber-door."

In mythology, the term "cold iron" is sometimes only applied to cold-worked iron of meteoric origin[citation needed], as such metal has never been heated by human agency. Mined iron must be smelted first, so such iron may or may not be considered "cold iron", depending on the source consulted.

Faeries and iron

Iron, particularly Cold iron, was employed as a protective substance or charm against faeries. In Celtic Folklore, Fae are culturally held to hold an aversion to iron or even be harmed by the touch of iron. Conversely, amongst Asian traditions, there are tales of ironworking fairy.

For luck


Horseshoes are considered a good luck charm in many cultures and its shape, fabrication, placement and manner of sourcing are all important. A common tradition is that if a horseshoe is hung on a door with the two ends pointing up (as shown here) then good luck will occur. However, if the two ends point downwards then bad luck will occur. Traditions do differ on this point, though. In some cultures, the horseshoe is hung points down (so the luck pours onto you); in others, it is hung points up (so the luck doesn't fall out); still in others it doesn't matter so long as the horseshoe has been used (not new), was found (not purchased), and can be touched. In all traditions, luck is contained in the shoe and can pour out through the ends.

In some traditions, any good or bad luck achieved will only occur to the owner of the horseshoe, not the person who hangs it up. Therefore, if the horseshoe was stolen, borrowed or even just found then the owner, not the person who found or stole the horseshoe will get any good or bad luck. Other traditions require that the horseshoe be found to be effective.

One reputed origin of the tradition of lucky horseshoes is the story of Saint Dunstan and the Devil. Dunstan, who would become the Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 959, was a blacksmith by trade. The story relates that he once nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to reshoe the Devil's horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after the Devil promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is hung over the door.

Another theory concerning the placing of horseshoes above doorways is to ward off Faeries (the Celtic kind); the theory being that Faeries are repelled by iron and as horseshoes were an easily available source of iron, they could be nailed above a door to prevent any unwanted, otherworldly guests. One can see how the custom, as people began to forget the stories concerning the Fair Folk, eventually morphed into a simple good luck charm. It is also possible that the Romans, when arriving in Celtic countries, came across horseshoes nailed above doors and simply borrowed the concept of horseshoes as good luck charms, failing to understand the background of the Celtic custom, and made their use more widespread.

Meteoric Iron in Tibet

Thogcha means 'sky-iron' in Tibetan. Meteoric iron was highly prized throughout the Himalaya where it was included in sophisticated polymetallic alloys for ritual implements such as the singing bowl (Jansen, 1992) and phurba (Müller-Ebeling,, 2002).

Blood and ochre

In many indigenous Australian Aboriginal peoples' traditions ochre and blood, both high in iron content and considered Maban, are applied to the bodies of dancers for ritual. As Lawlor (1991: p.102-103) states:
In many Aboriginal rituals and ceremonies, red ochre is rubbed all over the naked bodies of the dancers. In secret, sacred male ceremonies, blood extracted from the veins of the participant's arms is exchanged and rubbed on their bodies. Red ochre is used in similar ways in less secret ceremonies. Blood is also used to fasten the feathers of birds onto people's bodies. Bird feathers contain a protein that is highly magnetically sensitive.
Lawlor comments that blood employed in this fashion is held by these peoples to attune the dancers to the invisible energetic realm of the Dreamtime. Lawlor then draws information from different disciplines charting a relationship between these invisible energetic realms and magnetic fields. Iron and magnetism having a marked relationship.

Songlines, magnetic fields and wayfinding

Lawlor (1991: p.105) quotes the biophysicists F. A. Brown and F. H. Barnwell who have conducted research on the biological effects of the Earth's magnetic field (and particularly how it relates with directionality and wayfinding):

There remains no reasonable doubt that living systems are extraordinarily sensitive to magnetic fields. By extremely simple experiments it is shown that highly diverse plants and animals may have their orientation modified by artificial fields of the order of strength of the geo-magnetic field...The nature of the response properties suggest that the organism is normally integrated with its geo-magnetic environment to a striking degree. [1]

Lawlor then builds on this with citing research conducted on homing pigeons which has pinpointed a tiny crystal in their brain. This crystal which is supersensitive to the earth's magnetic fields or geomagnetic currents, works in tandem with the birds other wayfinding propensities. As Mathrani (2002) states:

Many animals have the ability to sense the geomagnetic field and utilize it as a source of directional (compass) information. Studies have shown that salamanders and frogs use magnetic fields for orientation when they have to find a way to escape from danger, such as from predators. Other animals that have been known to migrate via the detection of the Earth's magnetic field include sparrows, pigeons, bobolinks, yellow fin tuna fish, honeybees, and bacteria. Magnetite has been found in the tissues of all these organisms.

Crystals of magnetite have been found in some bacteria (e.g., Magnetospirillum magnetotacticum) and in the brains of bees, of termites, of some birds (e.g., the pigeon), and of humans. These crystals are thought to be involved in magnetoreception, the ability to sense the polarity or the inclination of the earth's magnetic field, and to be involved in navigation. Also, chitons have teeth made of magnetite on their radula making them unique among animals. This means they have an exceptionally abrasive tongue with which to scrape food from rocks.

The study of biomagnetism began with the discoveries of Caltech paleoecologist Heinz Lowenstam in the 1960s.


  1. ^ Quotation cited from p.91 of: Beasley, Victor (1978). Your Electro-Vibratory Body. Boulder Creek, Ca.: University of the Trees.
  • Finneran, Niall (2003). Ethiopian evil eye belief and the magical symbolism of iron working. Source: (accessed: Thursday, March 15, 2007)
  • Lawlor, Robert (1991). Voices Of The First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal dreamtime. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, Ltd. ISBN 0-89281-355-5
  • Jansen, Eva Rudy (1992). Singing bowls: a practical handbook of instruction and use. Holland: Binkey Kok Publications. (Refer partial scanning of book on following metalinkage (accessed: 1 December 2006). [1]
  • Müller-Ebeling, Claudia and Christian Rätsch and Surendra Bahadur Shahi (2002). Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas. Transl. by Annabel Lee. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Iron_in_mythology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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