Knock on Wood: where does this expression come from?

“Knock on wood”… We’ve all heard this expression before, but what do we really know about it?

In reality, many cultures know this saying (or at least other very similar ones).

Used to attract good luck, avoid trouble or repel bad luck, this technique consists of knocking on wood to everything folkloric... but after all, what if it really worked?

And in fact, where could this strange custom come from?

It’s true, what would wood have that’s better than any other material?

Would all this have a sacred, religious meaning? Or on the contrary profane and closer to witchcraft?

These are all questions that we will try to answer together in today's article.

Without further ado, let's take a look at this superstition, this lucky habit of knocking on wood !

Contents :

The origin of the expression “touch wood”

Some versions of “touch wood” around the world

Several lucky charms linked to paganism and ancient religions

Rediscover a forgotten magic

pagan jewelry, symbols and lucky charms


Origin of the expression

Basically, the act of “touching wood” consists above all of a superstitious act (without any negative connotation) aimed at warding off bad luck or, on the contrary, soliciting luck.

In fact, this expression is realized… by touching a piece of wood. (That one was pretty obvious.)

Many of those who value it use this technique when they are taking risks or have committed an act that could backfire on them. In this sense, knock on wood is also a way of protecting yourself from possible future misfortunes.

In short, our expression has been part of the large corpus of popular expressions since at least the 19th century and, failing to reach an agreement, historians present us with three theories as to its origin.

We are going to discuss these two theories now.

Wooden log placed in the middle of the countryside.

Wood: a primordial natural element for the ancients

It seems that the idea of ​​knocking on wood to ward off bad luck might actually ward off evil spirits.

The difference is subtle, but it is very important.

You should in fact know that in the imagination of our ancestors, wood was seen as an almost magical material.

Most traditional cultures and mythologies, particularly in Europe, also accorded a sacred character to trees and everything that came from the forest in general.

Concretely, if a piece of wood is the fragment of a tree (which is the case!), touching it would mean touching this tree, and therefore reconnecting with everything it has to offer us.

Personal beliefs will play a big role here on the conclusions to be drawn. Here are some ideas that might resonate with you on this subject :

  • Touching wood allows us to reconnect with the primordial energy of the world, which helps us to vibrate better and keep negativity away.
  • Wood spirits and other forest creatures can help us when we knock on wood.
  • Many human civilizations were built on natural resources such as wood. Touching is therefore a way of showing our gratitude to the world.
  • In many traditions, wood and living materials in general have energetic properties that directly influence human well-being.
  • And a whole bunch of other very personal visions!

To explore the subject, here is an article detailing the effect of wood on our five senses, and the Wikipedia article which focuses on the symbolism of trees.

Christian cross engraved in a piece of wood present in a church.

“Knock on wood” for Christians

The Christian religion gives a special place to wood.

It is in fact on a wooden cross that Christ was crucified, the Calvaries that we see in our countryside are generally made of wood and most of the crosses which one day decorated churches around the world were also made of it.

Many Christians believe that by touching wood, they are symbolically touching the Holy Cross and thus paying homage to Christ and God.

Many superstitious people even do it to ask for some kind of blessing, divine protection from dangers and temptations. This reflects a rather poor knowledge of Christian doctrine, but it is nevertheless the case.

Some also make a link between this theory and the first, more pagan one that we have seen. For them, everything that exists in nature would be inhabited by the presence of God. Touching wood would therefore be a way of connecting to his grace.

A third point of view considers wood as a symbol of simplicity. Raw, unprocessed: this material is indeed ideal for expressing the idea of ​​happy sobriety.

Whatever your point of view on the matter, if you are a Christian, you have undoubtedly already seen loved ones wearing this type of fairly simple cross.

You now understand the reasons that can explain this.

Child playing in traditional Victorian dress.

A less sacred explanation

The two hypotheses that we have just seen both consider the custom of touching wood to be very traditional and capable of being linked to ancient traditions.

However, there is a third, significantly less poetic than the previous two.

Folk historian Steve Roud actually makes an interesting connection between our expression and a game that entertained British children during the 19th century, a game known as “Tiggy Touchwood”.

The game was quite simple: one child was designated while all the others had to flee from him, becoming in turn the plague victim if they were touched and then having to pass their burden to another, and so on.

What connection with our subject will you tell me?

Well in fact, touching a tree or, even more so, a wooden pole, allowed you to be immune and take a break from the game.

This game would then have spread throughout the Western world, even going so far as to create our famous saying...

Compass on old and aged world maps.

Some versions of “touch wood” around the world

Yes, as we just said, the idea that knocking on wood brought luck has spread across many cultures, sometimes giving rise to amusing variations.

Here are a few :

  • The British will literally translate our expression to use the phrase “touch wood”.
  • The Americans, somewhat more gruff, will go so far as to hit them with their famous “knock on wood”.
  • Our expression has traveled to the Arab world, who for their part use “imsek el-khashab”, which there also means “to knock on wood”.
  • Brazilians see things exactly the same way with their “bater na madeira”.
  • In Sweden, the expression rather astonishing. Their “peppar peppar, ta i trä” actually translates as “pepper, pepper, touch wood”. (Don’t ask me what the wood is doing in there.)
  • With their “chtipa xilo” and their “nazar iagna”, the Greeks and Indians remain quite close to the meaning we give to this custom.
  • More original, the Italians replace wood with iron with their “toccare ferro”.
  • Rather than touching it or tapping it, the Egyptians simply hold the wood via their “emsek el khashab”

Like the one we discovered today, there are traditions that transcend people. The same goes for certain symbols and lucky charms.

It is in particular this idea that we want to convey with our collection on the theme of Europe.

Lucky charm featured in this article

Simple wooden cross

Simple wooden cross

See more
author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.