Knocking on Wood

Superstition by Olimpia Zagnoli

Knocking on wood, or to touch wood, refers to the apotropaic tradition (a ritual intended to ward off evil) of literally touching, tapping, or knocking on wood, or merely stating that you are doing or intend same, in order to avoid ‘tempting fate’ after making a favorable observation, a boast, or declaration concerning one’s own death or other situation beyond one’s control. The origin of this may be in Germanic folklore, wherein dryads (forest spirits) are thought to live in trees, and can be invoked for protection.

In Italy, ‘tocca ferro’ (‘touch iron’) is used, especially after seeing an undertaker or something related to death. In Iran, ‘bezan be takhteh’ (‘knock on the wood’) is said. The ‘evil eye,’ and being jinxed are common phobias and superstitions in Iranian culture. In old English folklore, ‘knocking on wood’ also referred to when people spoke of secrets – they went into the isolated woods to talk privately and ‘knocked’ on the trees when they were talking to hide their communication from evil spirits who would be unable to hear when they knocked. Another version holds that the act of knocking was to perk up the spirits to make them work in the requester’s favor. Yet another version holds that a sect of Monks who wore large wooden crosses around their necks would tap or ‘knock’ on them to ward away evil.

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