tocca ferro: “touch iron”


“tocca ferro”

Genre: Superstition

Background: The interviewee, NB, is a European female in her early twenties. NB resides in Los Angeles however has citizenship in the United Kingdom. Her parents come from both England and Italy however, her traditions primarily spark from her Italian descent. The term “Tocca Ferro” translates into English to the phrase “touch iron.” This phrase is similar to the anglo superstition of knocking on wood. This piece of folklore was learnt through her Italian grandparents on her mother’s side of the family. NB stated that this was passed down orally through several generations, not knowing its exact origins. NB explained that the idea behind the reasoning for touching iron versus knocking on wood is that iron is stronger and more durable than wood; therefore by touching iron you have a better chance of avoiding an undesirable situation in the incidence of believing one has “jinxed” themselves. Ultimately this folklore has lead NB to partake in both superstitions: knocking both on wood, “or [her] forehead if there is not wood available,” and any metal that may be nearby.

Nationality: European
Location: origin: Italy, practiced: America
Language: Italian

Interpretation: By definition, a superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation” (Webster Dictionary). The term superstition came about sometime between 1375–1425 from English origin. When researching the idea of superstitions especially those surrounding the idea of knocking on wood, I found it interesting that different cultures use different phrases. For example in Britain they use the phrase “touch wood,” as NB stated in Italy they use the phrase “Touch Iron” and here in America I have often heard the phrase “Knock on Wood.” I find interesting that the British phrasing combines both the word “touch” found in the Italian version, and “Wood” found in the American version. After diving deeper into this phenomenon I that Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also use the phrase “Touch Wood.” The idea of knocking on a surface falls into the category of apotropaic tradition. Apotropaic comes from the Greek “αποτρέπει από τρέπειν” which directly translates into English as “prevent it from happening.” Apotropaic tradition is a type of magic, primarily practiced in Egypt, that is meant to deter harm or evil repercussions. Apotropaic traditions range from symbols, names, charms, and all the way to verbal phrases or actions (such as “knock on wood”). Another common explanation of the reasoning for knocking on, specifically, a wooden surface is that ancient pagans held strong belief in the idea that spirits and gods resided in trees. The ideas of superstitions have always held a strong interest of mine because I, like many others, believe they work. I find it interesting that so many cultures and groups use the same action of knocking to ward off evil or reverse bad luck. I am however, intrigued with the origins of the action of knocking because when i think of that action I normally related it to myself knocking on a door as if I am asking to be invited into someone’s house. This idea does not relate to the idea of warding off spirits or warding off anything in general. For this reasoning I am left with curiosites and want to dive deeper into actions pertaining to European superstitions and how they vary from those in America.