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Mystical Trees

Touch Wood

Have you ever wondered where the expression comes from? The expression is used almost universally by people around the world accompanied by the touching of an item made from wood as a form of protection, but why and protection against what?

When in discussion on a subject regarding good luck and health, the custom of touching a piece of wood is normally carried out with the right hand. It is usual for the person to hope that, whatever topic is being discussed, it will be protected from failure or misfortune.

The custom is thought to originate from Pagan times when trees were held in high esteem. People believed that ‘wood spirits’ inhabited the trees and woodlands. To touch a tree with respect is thought to indicate that the person was in search of protection from the particular wood spirit.

It is thought also that the action may be a result of the Christian belief in The Crucifixion. Christ was crucified on a cross made of wood and hence touching wood may now be a sign of this belief, and a sign of deep compassion and reverence for Christ’s resurrection. This would of course have no connection with the Pagan reasoning, but perhaps the action may be seen as result of two distinctive belief systems.

Touching wood still occurs but has developed through time to include touching any item made from wood and rarely includes a tree (although some woods are still viewed as sacred). Regarded today by many as only a superstition, it is somewhat of a mystery why the action still occurs for the majority of people. Perhaps this has to do with the action being viewed as a superstition with a desire not to break a custom, or a 20th-century conscience knowing the practice of boasting is frowned upon. Misfortune may occur after bragging or assuming that a successful outcome will result from a task, and hence the ritual of touching wood is used merely to salve the conscience rather than indicate any investment in a traditional belief.

Some people actually touch their own heads when uttering the expression which is perhaps more of a light hearted action referring to their intelligence (or lack of it at certain times). One Dutch tradition that is said to still be practised is the touching of the underside of a wooden table when such a thought is muttered, perhaps to divert the attention of the evil eye and negative influences.