In some parts of the world elephants are used as tractors, in others they are treated like gods and in others they are kept in zoos. To many of us, elephants are also symbols of luck. But, where did that superstition come from?
The origins of the lucky elephant can be found in India and Southeast Asia where they are venerated. Ganesha — the Hindu god of wisdom, luck and success — is usually depicted with an elephant’s head, and the god Indra is usually pictured with a powerful elephant by his side.
Instead of using the elephant god Ganesha as a good luck charm however, the elephant itself was appropriated by American culture in the early 20th century. There is speculation that this occurred after World War I when there was a lot of media attention on the white elephants owned by the royal family in Thailand (only the royal family could own them and they spent thousands of dollars to care for them), and soldiers came home from the war with more knowledge of Indian gods like Ganesha.
The belief that elephants are only lucky if their trunks are up has no apparent origin in Indian or Southeast Asian culture, but is thought to be a North American superstition. It is believed that the trunk up means that you are being “showered with luck.” Any amulets or statues that you find with their trunks up in other countries are usually created for American buyers.