STO­RIES BE­HIND SU­PER­STI­TIONS

Why do we knock on wood? We’ve been leaf­ing through the his­tory books to trace the roots of this be­lief

The Simple Things - - MISCELLANY -

Don’t want to lose this good thing – as the song goes – well, you bet­ter knock, knock on wood. We’ve been us­ing the phrase since at least the 19th cen­tury to pro­tect our good for­tune but the­o­ries as to why link it back even fur­ther. It’s thought that in pa­gan cul­tures, it was used ei­ther to call on the protection of spir­its, or scare away ma­lig­nant forces. A Chris­tian in­ter­pre­ta­tion links it to the wood of Christ’s cross – as well as a Jewish one, re­call­ing the coded knocks of es­cape net­works dur­ing the Span­ish in­qui­si­tion. A later in­ter­pre­ta­tion links to a child’s game of tag, and the knock­ing on wood that means “safe”, made more plau­si­ble by the fact the first writ­ten ref­er­ence to touch­ing wood is as re­cent as 1899. Nev­er­the­less, vari­a­tions of the su­per­sti­tion ap­pear in many dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Ital­ians, for ex­am­ple, in­stead will find them­selves “touch­ing iron”.

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