What does it mean to touch wood and where does the superstition come from? | The Sun

WE'VE all been there – scrambling to ''touch wood'' in a bid to avoid any bad luck after tempting fate.

The expression is used by many across the globe – but where does it come from and what does it mean? Here's everything you need to know.

What does it mean to touch wood?

To ''touch wood'' is a superstitious action to ward off bad luck in some countries.

Many use the phrase for different reasons – perhaps because of some recent action you’ve taken or something you may have said.

For example, maybe you've made a worrying prediction or tempted fate.

According to the superstition – simply touching wood can reverse any bad luck you may have brought upon yourself or others.

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Does touching wood bring good luck?

As well as sending off any bad luck, the superstition is also believed to bring good luck to those using it.

In India, the phrase is used to promote continued good luck and prevent bad omens.

In countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and Serbia, there is also the habit of touching wood when saying something positive or affirmative about someone or something and not wanting that to change. 

Many in Egypt also use when mentioning either good luck one has had in the past or hopes one has for the future. 

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Other countries such as Iran, Israel, Spain, and Vietnam also believe touching wood can bring good luck.

Where does the superstition come from?

The oldest citation for the British version of the phrase ‘touch wood’ has been traced back to the 17th century.

However, it is not known exactly where the phrase came from – but there are many theories as to how it came about.

Some say it has its roots in ancient pagan cultures who worshipped and mythologised trees.

Some pagan cultures would chase evil spirits away by knocking on trees, thereby preventing them from ruining someone’s good luck.

The Celts, on the other hand, believed this was how you thanked the spirits, or leprechauns, for any good luck you had received.

According to Stefan Bechtel’s The Good Luck Book, the chasing away of spirits probably developed into a superstitious knock over time, which conveys gratitude for any good luck received, and acknowledges the spirits’ part in it.

Another theory is that Christianity co-opted an old pagan ritual and incorporated Christian icons –  the wood becomes the cross Jesus Christ was crucified on.

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When you knock or touch the wood, you are invoking Christ’s protection.

A more modern theory from folklore researcher Steve Roud suggests it derives from a form of tag called "Tiggy Touchwood" in which players are safe from being tagged if they are touching wood.

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