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Don’t Tempt Fate: The Power of Knocking on Wood to Protect Against Misfortune

April 15, 2024
Man knocking on wooden table. Photo credit: Michael Haegele / Getty Images.


Knocking on wood is a common superstitious practice deeply rooted in Egyptian culture, and many others around the world, holding different meanings.

The act of knocking on wood, or wooden objects, is typically used to ward off any sort of ‘bad luck’. When a positive event occurs, Egyptians have superstitiously knocked on wood to repent the envious eye.

Some attribute the tradition to ancient Egyptians, as they used to hold the Sycamore tree to special significance, and considered it sacred, connected to the gods and heaven. Ancient Egyptians worshiped the Lady of Sycamore, also known as the Tree Goddess, and believed in her healing and protection powers that came through the tree.

It is also thought that the act of knocking on wood could have been transformed from a Christian tradition to an Arab tradition. Christians would touch a wooden cross for blessing and protection, as it was believed to symbolize the magical power of the wooden cross on which Jesus was crucified.

The tradition lived on and people started touching any wooden object for blessing, protection and to ward off the evil eye. This practice continued and spread to surrounding regions and people, including Muslim Arabs, who maintained the popular tradition to this modern day for protection against evil.

However, it is not just Egyptians who knock on wood. 

Another theory traces the practice back to ancient times and different regions, starting with the Celts, which typically inhabited different lands all over Europe from Ireland to Turkey. It is thought that the Celts believed that spirits and gods resided in trees and knocking on wood was a way to summon these spirits for protection and to express gratitude. 

Knocking on wood is also a famed tradition in Russia. Popular belief discourages Russians from talking about the future. Moreover, in fear of ‘frightening fate’, they knock on wood to avoid tempting fate. The common practice dictates to knock three times and spit three times over their left shoulder to ward off the evil eye.

Similarly, in Turkey, after speaking about good fortune or happiness, the Turkish pinch their right ear lobe, knock on wood twice, and say “mashallah,” as it is believed to stop the devil from hearing about good fortune and sabotaging it.

United States Americans and Europeans follow the tradition of knocking on wood for good luck, especially after talking out loud about their blessings, in fear of jinxing it. Believed to come from Europe’s pagan days, the tradition is spread in the States to deflect the evil tree spirits.

Knocking on wood, although it has obscure origins, remains a deeply ingrained tradition in Egyptian culture and around the globe.

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