In case you’ve ever had a thought about a remotely unfortunate event and then spent next few seconds in desperate search for wood to touch and announce, “Touch wood,” for the universe’s good graces to fall upon you; we have a story to tell. Here are a few interesting facts about the ‘knock on wood’ superstition and the origins of its influence on different cultures around the world.
Knocking on wood is a superstition stemming from an apotropaic form of magic, meant to ward off evil or negative energy and circumstances.
The origins of the superstition stem usually from western folklore but are also speculated to be part of Germanic folklore. The Germanic origins believe trees or wood to be the residence of Dryads (nymphs) that can be evoked for protection.
But the term holds different meanings & usage in different countries around the world. Here’s what it means in different parts of the world:
In India most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Nazar na lag jaaye,” when one attempts to hope for a fortunate statement to not turn around. Synonymous with that sentiment is also the use of ‘touch wood’.
Declared as “amit-amit”, in Indonesia, one would knock their fingers on wood and then their heads when overhearing someone say bad things.
The Italians choose iron over wood; “tocca ferro” is the phrase invoking good luck when someone mentions death.
With a common phobia of the evil eye and and being jinxed, the Iranians believe in knocking on wood to ward off evil spirits, with the phrase, “Bezan-am be takhteh, cheshm nakhoreh.” It translates to: “I am knocking on the wood, to prevent -it, he or she- from being jinxed.”
With the phrase, “Emsek El Khashab,” translating to “Hold the wood,” in Egypt the ritual is accompanied with a fortunate event or mention of good luck.
In Romania, bad luck can be warded off by knocking on wood with the literal phrase, “a bate în lemn”. Although, the rule exempts knocking on wooden tables.
The Bulgarians usually knock on wood to ward off misfortune, where the nearest wooden object is used for knocking. Again, except for tables; what’s with tables huh?
In Russia, as well as Poland, the habit is to knock on ‘unpainted’ wood to prevent misfortune. In the Czech Republic it is often accompanied by knocking on one’s teeth for stronger effect.
The Turkish folk like to pull on an ear lobe and knock on wood twice, to imply “God save me from that thing.”
During the 18th century, men used to knock on the wood stock of their muzzle-loading rifles to settle the black powder charge, ensuring the weapon would fire cleanly. Hence, the good luck.