Description (From Transcript): “It’s kind of a common thing, or I don’t know if this is common, Like knocking on wood? Because my mom does that a lot. My mom is very superstitious. I remember from my childhood, when I would talk, she would be like, “No, don’t say that. Now you have to knock on wood”. She would say this whenever I said anything that she thought would jinx something.And then I got into a habit of doing that. Even in high school, I did competitive dance, and even at the competitions I would find wood if someone tried to say something negative about what was about to happen. I just feel like it’s interesting that something so early from my childhood, that’s just a superstition– there’s nothing really behind it– has stuck with me. I did it so much in high school and middle school that some of my friends started doing it too, just being like, “Okay, now knock on wood”, feeling kind of scared that if we didn’t do it, something would happen. We always just said [if we didn’t knock on wood] it would jinx us, or the opposite of what we wanted to happen would happen. [If there was no wood around] I always got stressed. I remember being like– about to go on to the competition stage, and I had to find wood. I was like, “No, something’s gonna happen”.
Context: T.M. is a second year student at USC. She is part Ecuadorian and part Native Alaskan. She is originally from Juno, Alaska. She believes her mother learned this from her parents because her grandmother is very superstitious and is very careful about what she says, or what she puts into the world (through speaking) because she believes in the power of what is said coming true. She claims that this superstitious kind of behavior comes from her grandma and was passed down to her mom, who made it her own thing. Now she feels that she is pretty superstitious too, and uses spirituality to protect herself from energies. She explains how she would do this at dance competitions to ensure nothing went wrong. Her entire dance team had rituals that they would do together before competitions, such as chants and special handshakes.
My interpretation: While this superstition is pretty common, it was interesting how the informant learned it from her family and then taught it to people in her age group, as well as her use of it in dance competitions. Perhaps the contact from a knuckle to a non-human object is a way of transferring any negative energies or intentions from the person who spoke an unwanted thing to an object that can’t be harmed by negative energy. The action of knocking might also be indicative of how the energy must be removed quickly, the way a knuckle tap is. Because wood comes from trees, it might also be a way to release negativity back into a neutral, usually positive source. As for the fear of being jinxed, it might have become intense because when people say an unwanted thought and therefore cannot unsay it, the best thing to do might be to follow a quick superstitious fix.