Knock On Wood Superstition

I've been doing research for a new book in which one of the characters is extremely superstitious. So, this past weekend, I researched superstitions.

I'm the least superstitious person in the world, but my mother was extremely superstitious. (Maybe that's why I'm not -- rebellion.) I always found it amusing and curious that my mother, such an intelligent woman, would have a hissy fit if someone put a hat on a bed.

In her memoir, Memory Lane: My Sentimental Journey, I helped her compile a list of superstitions. It's hard to believe intelligent people let their lives be ruled by such ridiculous rules.

I envision my character doing the "knock on wood" thing so here's what I learned from Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati about superstitions. (I've had this book forever and still find things in it to intrigue me.)

Knock Wood

Do you knock wood when you say something like, "I'm going to get that promotion." Or, maybe rather than knock on the nearest piece of wood, you say the phrase, "Knock wood."

Knocking on wood originated with the children's game of tree tag where the tree was safety. Go back about 3,000 years ago, and you find North American Indian tribes doing this. On the other side of the world, just a little later, the Greeks were doing it. In both cases, the theory was pretty much the same.

From North America To Ancient World

Native Americans saw lightning strike oak trees frequently so they believed that the oak was where the sky god lived. From the same occurrence, the early Greeks deduced oak trees were where the god of lightning lived.

Native Americans believed that if a warrior boasted about a future accomplishment that it would not happen so they "knocked wood" of the oak tree to neutralize possible retribution as a result of bragging.

In the first century A.D. in Europe, Christians asserted that "knock wood" referred to the cross on which Christ was crucified, but most scholars have debunked that belief.

Odd how just about every culture had this belief. In North America and ancient Greece, the oak tree was the wood to knock. In Egypt, the tree was the sycamore. For Germanic tribes, it was ash, and for the Dutch, the wood wasn't important as long as it was natural -- no paint, carving, or finish allowed.

Most of you know that tree cults were common throughout history and gave rise to other superstitions.

Takeaway Truth

I plan to finish my work in progress this week -- knock wood -- so I'll have time for more armchair research.

1 comment:

  1. Joan, this is so interesting. I'm reading your post to a travel mate on the bus.