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Published on March 23, 2021

Memories are made of this

Keep spirits happy, knock on wood

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Spring is beginning to take over from old man winter and change the landscape around here.

St. Patty’s Day and Easter also join in to usher in the season.

You can see the change in the green halos the old trees proudly display in their tresses of branches.

We are lucky in Brazoria County to have ancient oaks, pecans and other trees. If you don’t have them in your yard, visit them in the local wildlife refuges.

Standing silently beneath their spreading branches, you can almost hear them breathe and watch them grow. It makes you realize how lucky you are.

Recognizing that, you may just reach out and knock on the bark of the tree, thanking the “spirit” who resides there.

But have you ever thought about where the expression “knock on wood” comes from?

It turns out – there are several explanations, but nothing definitive that answers all.

The main saying comes from centuries-old practices held by various groups of Indo-European people, depending on which origin story you are researching.

Strangely enough, the expression only popped up a little over a hundred years ago. It was first documented in 1905 with the British expression “touch wood,” which showed up about 1899.

How the ideas for this expression originated started with the beliefs of various pagan people from India to Ireland. They thought trees were inhabited by nature spirits, and they incorporated them into their worship and rituals.

They thought that by knocking on the wood of the tree that you invoked the aid of the benevolent nature spirit living within.

The Irish took this expression on a slightly different tangent. They believed that if you were having a run of good luck that you knocked on wood to thank the “wee people” (leprechauns) for helping you.

And if nothing good was happening, you would make offerings of whiskey and food on your threshold before going to bed and “knocked on wood” to let them know what you had done, hoping to gain their favor.

There is another theory of knock on wood, or “touch wood,” attributed to Christians.

The Christians raised the pagan tradition to a higher form. In this case, the wood referred to the cross on which Christ was crucified and knocking on this wood invoked Christ’s protection.

Still, another version of the expression is attributed to the Jewish faith during the Spanish Inquisition in the 1490s. In this version, Jews who were in danger would seek refuge in synagogues and temples, which were built of wood, and their coded knocks on wood would allow them to enter safe places.

No matter the origin, “knock on wood” is meant to either request and bring you good luck or protection or to thank the tree spirits for the luck you have been given.

At any rate, the trees are “greening;” I’ve gotten my COVID-19 shots; and I’m feeling lucky. I think I need to go knock on wood – the leprechauns are waiting.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)