Dis-enfrancising Superstition

Personally, I think it’s silly that many of us still are hung up in practicing superstition. One in particular which I’d like to address that you very often see people doing is knocking on wood.

Let me just start out by saying that no matter how beloved these superstitions are to you and how much you feel you cannot do without them, ultimately they are all based in fear.

Do you want to live in fear?  Do you want to be ignorant? Do you want to continue embracing a belief system that doesn’t work?  If you answered yes to all three of these questions then by all means, no one has the power to persuade you away from your cherished beliefs. They are yours and yours alone. I really respect that. One thing that I have believed for a long time is that each person’s belief is sacred and a source of their personal power and no one can change it.

Now, for those of you who happen to see that their own personal belief is a detriment to their existence then it might be time to change it. But, to change a belief you have to understand it, where it came from, how it came about…..all about it.  Once you do you will discover its flaws. Every human-contrived belief has its flaws. It never fails. Some, however are more resilient and able to stand the test of time than others. When you study the belief you will be presented with a certain amount of information with which to make your decision with which you can choose to continue with it or drop it like a Led Zeppelin.

I am speaking to you from experience.  I once believed that a Korean man named Sun Myung Moon who started The Unification Church (The Moonies) was The Messiah. I believed that for 15 years. However, if it wasn’t for a book written by his daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, I wouldn’t have had the information I needed to begin questioning that belief.  Without going into that whole story, of which I will at a later date, the important thing here is that in order to question a belief you need information.

Information, just what is that, really?  Well, it may be anything you see printed on the internet or a book or a conversation with another person or your own personal thoughts as you think about something. The best kind of information is empirical information. Objective facts. The more objective facts you have the better chance you have at getting to the truth. The complete truth can’t always be arrived at because we as human beings tend to be fallible. But, you can eliminate the percentage of fallibility by seeking empirical information by as many objective sources as you can.

It’s fun, believe me.

Now, with that said, just what is this superstition called Knocking On Wood?  Without getting too complicated I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s definition as the following:

Knocking on wood, or to touch wood, refers to the apotropaic tradition in western folklore[citation needed] of literally touching, tapping, or knocking on wood, or merely stating that you are doing or intend same, in order to avoid “tempting fate” after making a favorable observation, a boast, or declaration concerning one’s own death or other unfavorable situation beyond one’s control. The origin of this may be in germanic folklore, wherein dryads are thought to live in trees, and can be invoked for protection.”

Okay, so this is sort of an encapsulation of the belief in the age old practice of “Knocking on wood” as it is practiced in many cultures.  When I see a person do this it really annoys me. Not because its a strange belief for the reason I mentioned above but because its a misunderstood habit that many people practice without knowing what it means.

Now, the first sentence has a rather odd term. Let’s look at that for a moment. “Apotropaic”.  Doesn’t that sound Greek to you?  Well, it is. Apotropaic is an adjective modifying the word tradition referring o what ancient Greeks understood as a type of magic practiced to ward off evil spirits. So, this is something that was inherited by Western culture like a lot of things we’ve gotten from the Greek civilization. I’m not going to go into the history of that right now.  What I’d like to talk about is the definition’s reference to “tempting fate”.  Let’s sink our teeth into this….shall we?  For I feel that this is in direct reference to the idea of fear that I believe lies at the heart of any superstition.

So, the idea behind curling up your hand into a fist and using your knuckles to hit a bare piece of wood is that you avoid temping fate. Why don’t we want to tempt fate? Fate has to do with what lies in store for you in the future, right?  The very idea that you don’t want to tempt fate must mean that you have some control over whether or not that bad thing will happen to you. But, then it starts to get a little murky here about what fate is and what will happen.  Your assumption that what fate holds in store for you that you’re trying to avoid by knocking on wood could very well be flawed. It may not be so bad after all.

But, that’s not going to be very persuasive to you, now is it?  Because, there’s two things you’re probably afraid of here. One, of some unfortunate event happening to you whether it be your own death, someone close to you, losing all your money or perhaps a physical injury or a thousand possible outcomes. The second and most likely thing that is going on here is that you’re afraid of change.

Nobody likes change. I don’t like it. I’m a cancer. I like things to be just the way they are. But, over the years I’ve found that being that way with everything doesn’t serve me very well. Sometimes its fun to do something different, out of the norm. Times change. Fads die and new ones are born. Society changes and there are those on the bleeding edge of it calling for everyone to get on board and there’s others who don’t want to.

When computers first came out I didn’t know a damn thing about them. Then I realized all of the things you could do with them to make life easier. I was slow to get on board with cell phones, for years thinking that using cell phones was mainly for emergency and not like their used today as your pocket computer or your virtual wallet. I still have a flip phone because I think the cell phone company’s rip you off with yearly contracts and I just don’t have the money to help finance these people who work for me and all of their risky business ventures. I’m still waiting for that useless smartphone I spoke about before that changes into everything. I’ll probably get one of those.

So, to sum this up, it is my assumption that most people knock on wood as a way to keep fear of the unknown at bay.  But, there’s better ways, I’m sure, of eliminating fear without wearing out your knuckles. And in a future article I’ll talk more about the options that you have for doing that.

Until then, keep smiling and keep the mail coming.



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