Do you ‘knock on wood’ after saying something positive about yourself?


What is the origin to the strange “custom” of knocking on wood after saying something positive about ourselves or revealing something we hope will come about? Note that I do not call this a ‘superstition,’ though I understand that many people believe it is just a folk belief. I think the mystery of this odd practice is resolved by the answer to another, seemingly unrelated question: Can the devil read our thoughts? 

Although many believe otherwise, the devil does not have the ability to read minds and thoughts. Our mind is an integral part of our soul, which is made in the image of God.
Just as we are able to sense that something bad has happened the instant our friend walks into the room from the expression on his or her face, to which we respond; “What happened?” so do evil spirits, by studying our behavior and habits, sense what we are about to do. Only God knows our innermost thoughts. Demons have to work from our behaviors and outward actions.

From the lives of saints we also know that clairvoyance was given to saints for the benefit of the souls of His faithful flock, but unrestrained access to our souls (minds) has not been given to demons by our Creator and Lord. On several occasions our Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples at times ‘not to talk’ – such as after His transfiguration: “And when they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what things they have seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.” (Mark, 9:9) St. John Chrysostomos explained that the Lord urged them to be silent so that Satan would not hear about Christ’s transfiguration and figure out Who exactly, he was up against and what was about to happen to him and his evil kingdom.

In our daily prayers we beseech God to deliver us from the evil one. “Be sober, be vigilant;” warns us Apostle Peter, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter, 5:8) He lurks about, seeking an opportunity to ruin our day, ruin our life, destroy our faith, joy, and the blessings given to us by our Lord. For this reason, when we enjoy the blessings of our Lord, whether health related, family related, work related, or whatever, do not brag.

This brings us to the custom of “knocking on wood.” Why does a person who says: “I never spent a day in the hospital” immediately ‘knock on wood’? Out of fear that the devil, upon hearing this, will take action against him, and he will “end up hospitalized the next day.”

But why ‘knock on wood’? In the days when Christianity with all its blessed traditions was an integral part of people’s everyday lives, faithful Christians would make the sign of the cross when any unnecessary and undesirable words were spoken. I recall that my mother would always ‘cross herself’ when she said something of this sort or inadvertently judged someone. Now we live the days in which, under the guise of ‘political correctness’ a subtle campaign is being waged against Древа Крестнаго, Древа Жизни the Tree of the Cross, the Tree of Life.  Forgetting the words of Apostle Paul: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (ICor.1:18), Christians have relented to merely touching- tapping upon something made of wood because the Cross on which our Lord was crucified was made of wood.

It is for this reason that I would not call this ‘custom’ a superstition. If anything, it is a lame substitute for the power of the Cross – as if the hollow echo of a knock on a wooden surface is reminder enough to the devil of the ‘wood of the cross’. I sincerely doubt that tapping or scratching wood will make him flee and forget any plans he may be making against us. The interesting thing is: People are so fearful of Satan that even those who do not believe in God, or the devil – for that matter, will ‘knock on wood’. May we, the faithful, in contrast with these wood-knocking friends, consciously and deliberately remember and invoke the full power of the Cross as Holy Tradition teaches us to do.