Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

Knocking on wood

After declaring something positive regarding his or her future, an observer of this tradition will knock on wood to ensure that the future does not turn out the opposite. Knocking on wood is a way of avoiding a jinx, or the opposite of what one hopes to happen turning into a reality after one expresses that original hope. An observer of this superstition will say “Knock on wood,” literally knock on wood, or do both in order to avoid an ill fate.

My informant always does both, and with a laugh to accompany it because he knows others view it as silly. He doesn’t believe that it literally wards off ill fate, but he does believe that it affects his mental space in a way that manifests into a more positive reality.

I asked him to describe this effect and he said:

“It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is into it, it just matters to me. As long as I get my head ok, then everything else is fine.”

I asked if he learned it from anyone else, to which he said:

“No, I figured it out on my own.”

I asked if anyone else in his group of friends or family observes the tradition to which he replied:

“No, I’m the only freak.”

My informant is a 44-year old massage therapist who lives in Pasadena, CA. He struggled with OCD as a child, and ever since then, has worked hard to maintain a calm inner life. Those with OCD often have their thoughts manifest themselves into ugly realities. They think something irrational, and then they do something irrational. So it makes complete sense that my informant would use this tradition as a technique to avoid that very pattern. I imagine for many, knocking on wood is not just an abstract superstition, but a small yet effective way of quieting their minds.

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