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Knocking on wood for good luck: Revealing superstition's origin

Knocking on wood for good luck: Revealing superstition's origin Knocking on wood for good luck (Getty Images)

The superstition of knocking on wood for good luck is common in many cultures, but its origins are still uncertain. Although this tradition has existed since the 19th century, there is no consensus on how it actually appeared.

Psychology behind knocking on wood

We perform rituals (or avoidant behaviors) in the hope that they will help us avoid failure or ward off the evil eye.

In a study conducted by the University of Chicago in 2013, researchers discovered a pattern in the behavior of their subjects.

After saying “I will never get into a car accident,” each subject either knocked on a tree, threw a ball (which has no superstitions), or held the ball and did nothing.

The researchers found that the subjects who acted (rather than just holding the ball) felt as if they had avoided misfortune.

Knocking on wood for good luck: Revealing superstition's origin

Katie Beirne Fallon and Shaun Donovan knocking on wood in the Oval Office (photo: Wikipedia)

Pagan, Christian and more recent theories of origin

One explanation for this superstition is related to ancient pagan cultures that believed spirits and gods lived in trees.

Knocking on tree trunks probably served to awaken the spirits and call for their protection, but it could also be a way to express gratitude for good luck.

Why knocking on a tree:

  • to make a loud sound to scare away evil spirits
  • to summon good to help
  • to make the vibrations of the tree strengthen the aura

When Kyivan Rus was baptized, the ancient traditions did not disappear, but simply transformed.

Christians often associate this practice with the cross tree from the crucifixion of Christ, as the first crosses were made of wood, including the body crosses.

Some researchers believe that knocking on wood is a more recent phenomenon. They trace the practice to a nineteenth-century children's game called Tiggy Touchwood, in which players were protected from being caught whenever they touched a piece of wood, such as a door or tree trunk.

Although it is not known for certain how the belief of knocking on wood originated, this superstition remains popular around the world and has various variations.

For example, Turks often pull their earlobe and knock on a tree twice to ward off bad luck, while Italians say "touch the iron” for the same purpose.

Other ways to ward off evil spirits

If you want to get rid of bad luck or keep your good fortune, here are popular practices followed in many cultures:

  • spitting over your shoulder after a statement helps to scare away evil spirits
  • it is believed that throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder will ward off bad luck
  • finding a four-leaf clover is considered good luck in many cultures, and it is also believed that clover is a good lucky charm (a similar superstition exists with the fern flower)
  • crossing your fingers is a simple gesture used for good luck or protection from bad luck

Sources: HowStuffWorks, History, JournalMaudau, Wikipedia.