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What is the Origin of Crossing Your Fingers for Luck?

By Larry Ray Palmer
Updated May 16, 2024
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The custom of crossing your fingers for good luck is fairly common. Superstition states that the act of crossing one's index and middle fingers brings good luck and wards off evil spirits or witches. While the origins of this gesture are somewhat murky, it is commonly believed that the sign originated from early Christianity or pre-Christianity. While there is no solid proof of any one theory, the prevalence of crossing your fingers in cultures with a Christian background lends some credence to the claim. This idea is further supported by noting that the gesture is not common among Muslim or Buddhist cultures.

Some historians contend that this gesture pre-dates Christianity and was an early European device. Those who believed in sacred geometry thought that benign spirits lived at the intersection of crosses. These believers would extend their index fingers to make wishes. One person held out his or her finger and made the wish. The second person responded by crossing the finger with his or her own, showing support for the idea and invoking the benign spirits.

The theory of a Christian origin of crossing your fingers is based on early periods in the religion's history. During these early times, Christianity was an outlawed religion and the disciples of Christ usually formed a secret society. To protect the identity of the sect's followers, secret hand signs were developed so the members could recognize each other.

When it began, the act of crossing fingers was probably a two person process. A Christian would extend his or her hand with the index finger and thumb forming an L shape and another Christian would do the same. When their thumbs were pressed together and index fingers crossed, this would form the shape of the Christian fish symbol. Over the years, the signs of the cross and fish came to stand for good luck and blessings, as well as Christianity.

While the process of crossing your fingers for luck may have been around for centuries, it required the actions of two people. Sometimes, an individual needs that extra luck when there isn't another person around, however. The evolution of the gesture was inevitable as people developed ways of crossing fingers — and commanding their fortunes — independently.

The modern version of crossing your fingers probably came into existence during the time of the Hundred Years War. In this epic war between France and England, which lasted from 1337 to 1457, the rival armies wanted all the luck they could muster. The archer preparing to make a shot would have crossed his fingers and then said a prayer before pulling the bowstring.

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Discussion Comments
By anon991933 — On Jul 30, 2015

@ Yasmina: That is actually the origin of flipping people "the bird." They would flip that finger as to taunt that they still had their finger.

By turquoise — On Jun 30, 2012

@simrin-- Actually, that has a similar origin with crossing fingers for luck. They both have origins in Christianity as the article mentioned (aside from the Hundred Years War Story).

As far as I know, during the time that Christians were being persecuted, if they were questioned about their religious beliefs, they would lie saying that they were not Christian. But while they lied, they would cross their fingers behind their back to nullify what they were saying.

Christians would also cross their fingers to show their belief in Jesus who was crucified on a cross.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 30, 2012

@ysmina-- Hey, thanks for sharing that! I never knew the story behind it!

When I was a little kid, I would cross my fingers behind my back when I lied to my parents. Does that have anything to do with crossing our fingers for luck? I wonder where this emerged from.

By ysmina — On Jun 29, 2012

My history teacher told us about the origin of crossing fingers for luck while he was teaching the Hundred Years War.

Apparently, the English archers were really talented and could beat the enemy very quickly. So if French soldiers caught any English archers, they would cut off their index and middle finger because an archer can't draw back a bow without these fingers.

Because of this, English archers started to cross their two fingers before they started attacking in the enemy with the hope that they would still have their fingers at the end of the war. Eventually it became a sign for good luck.

Isn't that really neat? And apparently, if the English archers caught any French soldiers, they would hold up their index and middle finger in a V-shape to say "look, I still have my fingers!" And that eventually become an inappropriate sign to insult someone.

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