Tag Archives: relic

Knock on Wood: Tree Trunks & Pieces of the Cross

People are supersticious. Over the centuries, people across the world have come up with thousands of techniques to prevent bad luck  & ward off jinxes. Knocking on wood is one of these ways of keeping your luck high.

The phrase is so commonly used, I’m willing to bet a lot of money on the fact that you know its context & I really don’t need to explain it. However, if you’ve never heard it before, it’s nice of you to come out from your cave you’ve been living in & join us. I guess I can give you an example. By the way, daylight is nice every once in a while, isn’t it?

Okay, well, knocking on wood wards off bad luck. It’s widely believed that if you talk about someting you want to happen in a positive light, you’ll jinx it & it won’t happen. People also believe it to prevent bad things from happening because you mentioned that they haven’t happened. Here’s an example:

“I guess it’s been a bad flu season. I’ve managed to stay healthy so far… Knock on wood.”

Some people actually knock on wooden objects.

Modern use of the phrase seems to have grown out of two possible scenarios. If there’s anything you’ve taken away from these blog posts, it’s that phrases evolve over time, & guess what.”Knock on wood”, as we know it here in America is not the original phrase. The expression comes from the British Islands & is very old. Over there, it hasn’t evolved, as they still use the original, “touch wood”. I don’t know if they use any gestures the way we do.

Now for the scenarios:

The origin of the first explanation comes from the time before Christianity took hold in England. In pagan times, it was believed that touching the trunks of trees would let the spirits living inside know you were there. They would then give you good luck by doing whatever tree spirits do to give you luck.


Knock on one of these & get yourself some good luck.
(Photo used courtesy of Wikipedia user, Leifern)

I bet all you readers out there have noticed a pattern in these posts. A good chunk of these idioms originate at sea or in the Middle Ages. The same goes for the second explanation about how this one came to be.

See, back then, people were much more religious than they are now & because of that, there were plenty of relics circulating around Europe. In a religious sense, relics are artifacts which are considered holy or blessed because they somehow came into direct contact with the people who played key roles in their respective religions. The most famous relic in the world is probably the Shroud of Turin, which is said to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Other relics include religious symbols, blood & body parts & even full sarcophagi of saints & important figures.


Yup, that’s a skull. It belonged to St. Ivo of Kermartin & it’s now on display in Brittany, France.
(Photo used courtesy of Wikipedia user, Derepus)


This the humerus of St Francis Xavier. I should’ve used this in last week’s Bologna.
(Photo used courtesy of Wikipedia user, John Hill)

There are other examples of less extreme relics, such as the robe of St. Francis of Assisi.

Anyway, to this day, many churches & cathedrals across Europe claim ownership of the same relics (as is the case of where St. John the Baptist’s head wound up after he was executed), so you’ll get multiple places claiming they have the right sandal of a specific saint or the left thumb of another.

Among the thousands of relics relics was a collection of wood that was said to be pieces of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Hundreds of churches claimed that they were given real splinters from the cross. In fact, so many churches claimed this that John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, skeptically remarked that there was enough wood from the cross to fill a ship. Regardless, thousands of devout Catholics flocked to these churches in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Holy Cross, & only a lucky few were allowed direct access to the wooden pieces. Even fewer were granted permission to touch them. When they did so, they were told that they had been blessed.

So, according to both of these theories, knocking on a wooden table does nothing. If you want luck, go smack a tree, but if you want to be blessed, go track down a church in some remote village in Italy, or something. They’ll probably have what you’re looking for.

Well, after all that information, I’ll let you all go about your days. Until next week, now you know; you’re welcome.

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Filed under Etymology