Reading a largely incorrect account of the rabbit's foot charm at Cracked inspired me to write a fresh blog post on the subject.
Rabbit's foot charms are pretty classic hoodoo -- they're one of the rites I kept coming across over and over again when trying to do my research for the book Conjurin' Ole Time (now republished as Conjuration). However, in that same research, I was finding heavy indication that the rabbit's foot charm has English or Scottish origins, not African -- though like with the notorious Black Cat Spell, the African practice of harvesting the animal parts from the still-living animal (to enhance the magic) got taken up for this otherwise European spell.
It's of note that as late as the early 20th century, rabbit's feet (normal, without lucky property) were being used as practical tools -- they were used as brushes for applying paint or cosmetics, or for dusting gold leaf. There was even a particular style of old time powder puff called a "rabbit's foot" which retained the name even after they ceased to be made from actual rabbits.
A proper, traditional hoodoo lucky rabbit's foot should be acquired either on a new moon or full moon (these being transitional times) from a rabbit caught in a graveyard. In lieu of this (or, for extra good luck, in addition to this) a person who is considered "lucky" can be the one to catch the rabbit -- such lucky people would be lucky hunchbacks, seventh sons of seventh sons, or people born under auspicious signs. In any case, one foot should be cut from the living animal, who is then released. The foot then has to be dipped (three times, according to some) in water that has naturally collected in a hollow tree stump, before it is properly lucky.
In the 20th century, though, the popular perception of the rules began to change -- maybe it was increased laws about animal cruelty and trespassing in graveyards after dark, or maybe it was because more people moved to cities where rabbits are harder to come by; but by the age of the Curio Catalog, it was more typical to just buy a readymade rabbit's foot, certainly prepared without ceremony, and dress it with a bit of Van Van perfume.