Knock on Wood, Fingers Crossed, God Bless You

It occurs to me that there are many things that I do in the course of a day that I have absolutely no explanation for. They’re habits, pure and simple, and originate in the ancient past. They have nothing to do with my current reality, but the idea of discontinuing these actions makes me very uncomfortable.

For example, I say God bless you when someone sneezes. According to Wikipedia, there are several possible explanations for this. Perhaps at some point, people thought that your soul could shoot out of your body when you sneezed, or your heart could stop, or, even worse, it could open your body to invasion by evil spirits. Another theory is that sneezing was often the first sign of the plague, so you better bless that person as quickly as you can, because they probably weren’t going to be around much longer. If any of the above is true, then those of us who sneeze while alone are doomed. Personally, I say God Bless You so as not to be perceived as being rude or inconsiderate.

I also cross my fingers for luck. Apparently, this is mainly a Christian thing. It started off in Roman times, when making a sign of the cross was believed to ward off evil. I’d forgotten that children also do it when telling a lie, or to invalidate a promise. That’s an interesting juxtaposition, when you think about it. Something I didn’t know was that in Vietnam it’s regarded as a sign of female genitals, and it is considered to be as rude as giving the finger is in this country. Good information to have if I ever go to Vietnam. I basically do it to cover my bases. It can’t hurt, right, unless you’re in Vietnam?

Another thing I do is knock on wood, so as not to tempt fate when I mention something going potentially wrong. “I hope we don’t get an earthquake (knock wood).”

I was always taught that that dated back to the Druids, who believed spirits resided in  trees. Knocking on wood was a way to acknowledge that you believe in them, so as not to anger them and cause them to make the bad thing come to pass. I’m also reading in Wikipedia that some believe you’re waking those spirits up so that they can protect you, or that the knocking sound would prevent evil spirits from hearing what you say and acting upon it. Again, for me, it’s a cover my bases type thing.

If I know all these things really hold no power, why do I do them? I like to think of myself as a scientific, analytical person. But… you never know.

I think a lot more of life consists of these strange little gestures that are out of context with the modern world than we’d care to admit.

knock on wood

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