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Preserving Customs

1910 Black Friday protest photograph

A suffragette on the ground surrounded by men, including a police officer, during the 1910 Black Friday protests.

Protection can be given not only to physical entities but also to customs, beliefs and institutions. These can range from a wish or blessing for good luck to something which upholds social norms.

Social norms shape the way we live and interact with each other; they are often explicit or implicit guidelines on which we model our behaviour. Patriarchal social norms, for example, continue to shape our daily lives. These norms only become real when they are upheld by a community, even if this is done unconsciously. Institutions such as schools and the police enforce societal standards, sometimes even those that are detrimental to society.

Luck can convey protection, but belief in luck is also something to be protected. Storytelling, blessings and designating physical objects ‘lucky’, can help strengthen belief in luck and its importance in everyday life. Focusing on either improving fortunes or protecting the lucky object's owner from hardship or evil, luck is an important tradition throughout the world.

The defence of these immaterial ideas is defined by actions. Customs cannot be locked away, so they must be protected through other means. They are taught to us, enforced by society, and reinforced through our belief in their existence and power.


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The Tolbooth, Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen’s Tolbooth was a jail from the 17th to the 19th century. This padlock is said to have been used in the Tolbooth to lock the cell of a condemned prisoner. Prison was viewed as an institution that protects the general public by removing criminals from society, but by 1800 even poaching could condemn a person to death. Who, then, was this institution really protecting?


Chinese charm coin

Chinese charm coin
Unknown date


From the Western Han Dynasty to the present day, charm coins have been used to banish evil and bring good fortune. Nowadays, they are often used as commemorative coins. The front of this coin depicts Jiang Ziya, a minister who is believed to dispel evil gods and bring good luck. On the reverse, two lucky animals, a dragon and a tiger, can be seen.