The Four-Leaf Clover
History and Origin
The symbolic meaning of the four-leaf clover has a definite origin. It is most commonly associated to the holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. Though, many celebrate it, few know of the true relationship between Patrick and the clover. “Patricius, better known as Patrick, is remembered today as the saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland, the teacher who used the shamrock to explain the trinity, and the namesake of annual parades in New York and Boston” (Cagney). Now, one can see that this explained the symbolic meaning of a regular three-leaf clover. Patrick attached each leaf of the clover to God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the fourth leaf is found, it represents god’s grace (Clover Specialty Company). Not only does the significance of the clover relate to Saint Patrick’s analogy, but it also references the bible. “When Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, Eve snatched a four-leaf clover as a remembrance of her days in Paradise” (Wallechinsky). This, in a way, agrees with St. Patrick’s representation of the clover in regards to its association with religion. “The clovers also occupied a position in the cultural life of early peoples. White clover in particular was held in high esteem by the early Celts of Wales as a charm against evil spirits” according to N.L. Taylor of Clover Science and Technology (Clovers Specialty Company). Also, Druids held the 4 leaf clover in high esteem and considered them a sign of luck. In 1620, Sir John Melton wrote: “If a man walking in the fields find any four-leaved grass, he shall in a small while after find some good thing.” (Clovers Specialty Company).
Cultural Transfer and Transformation
If one decides to credit St. Patrick for giving the meaning to the four leaf clover, one will often have arguments with those who believe its meaning was derived from the bible. This occurs because St. Patrick was known for driving the snakes out of Ireland, as stated before. This event by St. Patrick gives a background meaning to the clover through St. Patrick’s accomplishments. That meaning can be argued with common knowledge of the bible that Satan took the form of a snake in order to deceive Eve. So, those who believe that the clover has relevance to St. Patrick’s ability to drive away the snakes of Ireland, are shut down by saying the clovers in the Garden of Eden did not drive the snake away.
“The shamrock and its kin may actually turn out to be a much more practical than magical harvest. Cattle eat it, bee’s use its nectar and soil grows richer in its presence” (Sohn). The realistic perspective of the four-leaf clover, connected with the rarity of the plant, makes it a symbol of good luck. “The rarity of the plant (at one time) contributed to its value, although seeds which grow only four-leaf clovers are now available (Wallechinsky). According to Yoke and Zoom, The four leaf clover is a mythical symbol of good fortune, caused by a rare genetic mutation produced in an average of 1 in 10,000 clovers (Yoke). Though the overall meaning of “luck” is still universal, it has also been added to. Each leaf now symbolizes something different. One leaf is for faith, the second for hope, the third for love, and the fourth for luck (Clovers Specialty Company).
As it is clear, the symbol and its significance originated in Ireland by St. Patrick, and was introduced to the U.S. when Irish immigration to New York City took place during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s (Beau). When symbols are shared between cultures, it is natural for them to change slightly. While the original significance of each clover was faith, hope, love and luck, American culture invited the symbolism of the four-leaf clover into one of their sayings on the luck of the clover. “One leaf for fame, one leaf for wealth, and one leaf for a faithful lover, and one leaf to bring glorious health, are all in a four-leaf clover” (Wallechinsky).
Contemporary Cultural Meaning
The mystique of the four leaf clover persists today, since discovering a real four leaf clover is still a rare event and sign of good luck. Today, most commonly each leaf of the clover still represents the four meanings of faith, hope, love and luck. There are those still who perceive it in a religious sense of the trinity and god’s grace. This symbol is used in a variety of ways, from being tattooed on one’s body, to molded into good luck coins, to being displayed on post cards wishing others good fortune. The symbolic meaning of the four-leaf clover is the same throughout the world. The clover is found across the globe, most species are found in the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but many also occur in South America and Africa, particularly at high altitudes in the tropics (Bradley). It is clear that the way American culture was introduced to the four-leaf clover and its significance, is the same way that all of these other locations have come to have the same opinion of the clover. Now, there may not be a different meaning between cultures, but rather, some may find no meaning out of a four leaf clover. Pete Hamill, writer for the Wall Street Journal says,
“For many Irish-Americans (I’m one of them), the shamrock is part of the green-beer-kiss-me-I’m-Irish nonsense that engulfs us all on St. Patrick’s Day and causes some of us to stay home,lock the door and watch a Fellini movie. When we see a plastic shamrock, our hearts don’t swell with pride or defiance; we don’t inflate with a rush of self-importance; we don’t cheer or weep. We are indifferent. Usually, the pasting of a shamrock upon the signboard of some bogus Irish pub is a symbol of only one thing: a complete and utter failure of imagination.”
One would surely agree with Hamill. Though, there are others that have the same attitude for other symbols as well. There will always be someone that disagrees with something. Part of what Hamill is saying is true. Do you remember the last time you remembered the origin of the four-leaf clover and the greatness and luck it offers you when you sat in McDonalds drinking your shamrock shake?
Beau, Dure. “Words heat up for colossal Shamrock-Slice showdown.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Feb. 2011
Bradley, David. “Where to Find a Four-leaf Clover.” Science Blog from Freelance Science Writer David Bradley. 31 Oct. 2008. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <http://www.sciencebase.com/science-blog/five-leaf- clovers.html>.
Cagney, Mary. “Patrick The Saint.” Christian History 17.4 (1998): 10. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Feb. 2011.
Clover Specialty Company. “Facts about Four-leaf Clovers.” Clovers Online / Buy Lucky 4 Leaf Clover and Shamrock Gifts, Plants and More! 2001. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <http://www.fourleafclover.com/vshop/facts_about_4-leaf_clovers.html>.
Hamill, Pete. “Diversity Blarney.” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition 12 Aug. 1999: A22. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Feb. 2011.
Sohn, Emily. “The roots of good luck.” U.S. News & World Report 130.11 (2001): 51. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 18 Feb. 2011.
Wallechinsky, David, and Irving Wallace. “Trivia on Origins of Good Luck Charms Four-Leaf Clovers | Trivia Library.” Trivia on Movies, Music, TV, Sports, Science & More | Trivia-Library.com. 1975. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <http://www.trivia-library.com/a/origins-of-good-luck-charms-four- leaf-clovers.htm>.
Yoke, and Zoom. “Cell, London Zeigt N55 / Yoke and Zoom in London – Ausstellungen in Kunstaspekte.” Künstler Kuratoren Galerien Museen Ausstellungen in Kunstaspekte. 25 June 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <http://www.kunstaspekte.de/index.php?tid=25685&action=termin>.