A rabbit's foot is considered lucky in many countries, but especially in America, where over 10 million rabbit's feet are bought every year and are said to bring good luck to their owners & protect them against evil spirits. The rabbit's foot is mostly worn on a neck-chain or put on a key chain and is even available, dyed in various colors.
Many actors are known to keep a rabbit's foot in their make-up box and some even apply their make-up using the foot, while sportsmen are known to wear them on neck-chains. Rubbing the charm all over a newborn baby ensures that the child is always lucky. But one should be very careful to not lose the charm, as misfortune will then move in swifter than the running of a rabbit.
The superstition is thought to be of Afro-American origin and is said to be one of the oldest in the world, as old as around 600 BC. It is assumed that this is a carry-on of rituals or talismans of an African tribe and may also be connected to the legends of the Br'er Rabbit (representing the black slave who used his wits to overcome situations and extract revenge on the white slave-owners)
Since rabbits live underground, they were also linked to darkness, witches, and the devil, but were considered to have protective powers against these evil forces. Also earlier on, only the left hind foot of the rabbit was considered lucky and it had to be rubbed to bring on good luck. The hind leg was considered lucky because when rabbits run, their hind feet go ahead of their front, although it is not clear as to why only the left hind foot was taken.
The ironic part here according to some historians is that although rabbits are slaughtered, it is the hare that is supposed be have supernatural powers. The hare has historically been both feared and revered and were sacred to the ancient Celts, who associated them with the moon as did the Chinese, Mexicans, American Indians and Egyptians, The hare also stood for peace, prosperity and good luck amongst the Chinese but was considered as omen if sighted, while for the North American Indians, the hare was a symbol of their savior as well as hero of the Dawn, father, guardian, creator, transformer and a trickster. Also the hare was considered a divinatory animal because they are born with their eyes open.
It is understandable though as to why the two are mistaken; it is not easy to differentiate between them, although hares are larger and have longer ears. Moreover, in many places a rabbit is easier to find than a hare.
Another reason for their widespread appeal may not be too much to do with luck but with another aspect that is considered equally important, especially for men, fertility. Since both rabbits and hares are fast breeders (a doe can produce 42 young ones a year), they are considered symbols of fertility, procreation, abundance, spring, good fortune, sexuality, lust & renewal and are thus said to bring good luck, many children and lots of prosperity. They are also considered emblems of love gods & goddesses such as Venus, Aphrodite, and Cupid and since the foot is believed in many cultures to be a phallic symbol, it was but natural to assume that the rabbit's foot has extraordinary powers.
An interesting story is that if a cross-eyed person kills a rabbit on a full moon night and if the rabbit's left hind foot is removed and carried in the left pocket, it is very lucky. Also if you dream about a rabbit's foot, it means that your life will change for the better and you will have more happiness and prosperity. It is also thought that a rabbit's foot will help avoid rheumatism and cramps. In some places, it was considered unlucky if a rabbit crossed the path, especially for a pregnant woman, as she would then miscarry, pregnant women would therefore carry a rabbit's foot as a preventive measure.
It is unclear whether the rabbit's foot's charm works like a charm but the quest to bring lady luck on to our side has resulted in millions of rabbits being slaughtered. It is important though to keep in mind the fact that the rabbit's foot is ultimately unlucky for the rabbit itself, a fact used by 'Burma-shave' for one of their roadside advertisements during the 50's.
'On curves ahead
That rabbit's foot
R. E. Shay put it more succinctly, 'Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit'.