Superstition: Knock on Wood


“Oh yeah, I always knock on wood whenever someone says they’ve never had something bad happen to them. It’s just a little precaution, you know? Like, I don’t want to jinx anything by tempting fate. Plus, it’s a habit that I’ve had for so long that it’s just become second nature at this point.”


My informant, who is white and from San Francisco, picked this superstition up from his parents as a child, and is a reluctant believer in it today. He interprets it as a method of negating the potential bad luck that could come with a jinx. 


My informant’s superstition is an example of conversion superstition, as he takes action to negate a curse. Essentially, the jinx, for example something like “I have never broken a bone” curses an individual to break a bone, but knocking on wood can negate that outcome. The curse aspect of this superstition shares some similarities with the Evil Eye, where direct compliments actually function as curses, similar to how my informant’s statements of positive wellbeing can doom one to negative outcomes. This belief could be a derivative of historical pagan beliefs in the sacredness of trees and forests, where knocking on wood provided a method through which people could communicate with deities. 

My informant’s reluctance in believing this superstition suggests his desire to depart from his commitment to the belief, perhaps a symptom of his maturing process. This in turn suggests that he views this superstition as a child’s belief. However, one might add that this superstition provides a method by which one can keep his or her self-positive thoughts in check and avoid resting on laurels or boasting.