Folk Belief

“Knock on Wood”

Dustin Anderson is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is from a very small town in northern Minnesota where he was born and raised. His mother is second generation Swedish.

Every time that Dustin says something that he does not want to actually happen in real life, he knocks on wood, literally. For example, if Dustin were to talk about the horrible possibility that he would die in a plane crash, he would finish his statement by knocking on wood and saying “Knock on Wood” aloud to inform those around him and God that he was just figuratively speaking and not requesting for this event to happen. In addition, it is highly important that the person actually knock on real wood. It does not suffice to simply knock on any material and to say the phrase. If one does not knock on wood after saying such a horrendous statement, there could be confusion on the behalf of God or the gods to the point where they may misinterpret your statement and think you have requested for such a thing to happen.

Dustin claims that he first learned this practice of “knocking on wood” while in the first grade at the elementary school within his town. A classmate mentioned the possibility of being robbed and then proceeded to actually knock on wood and to say the phrase. He says he is not sure whether he actually believes that things would occur if he did not follow many of his comments with the phrase and action surrounding the “knock on wood” superstition, but he figures it doesn’t hurt to do it just to be safe.

It seems interesting that the material which one must knock on is wood. Possibly wood is the chosen material because wood is generally hollow in the center. It could be possible then, that the emptiness of the wood may be symbolic of the hopeful empty- handed statement, or that the statement may be just as empty and untrue as the wood is hollow. It seems once again, that this superstition is like many others. It is a way in which people try to gain some sort of control in a chaotic and often senseless world.