Don’t you dare
THE present generation, especially the young, is known for the utterance of the incantation — "Touch wood," followed by touching the wood — table, chair or anything else.
It is a reflex action. They seldom pause to ponder that they are being superstitious. In the modern age one expects people to possess a scientific temper and have a logical reason for their actions. A mindless repetition of such actions does not fit into the above concept.
It is often overlooked that there is a difference between conviction and superstition. The former is: strong belief; to carry conviction is to bear the stamp or proof of truth.
defines superstition as fake worship or religion; an ignorant and
irrational belief in a super-natural agency, omen sorcery etc. It is a
deep-rooted, but unfounded, general belief. A rite or practice from
This is how it works in real life. People knock on wood if they meet with a piece of good fortune. The supposed purpose of the incantation is to prevent a change in the good fortune. How often we mouth: "you are in good health. Touch wood." The implication being that you continue to be so in future, too. Touching wood has ensured it. There is no convincing, satisfactory explanation.
Can we abuse our system and ensure good health by touching wood? If touching wood, plus uttering the words "touch wood" could ensure the continuation of good health, many companies in the world selling vitamins and tonics would go bankrupt and the health culture in each and every part of the world would undergo a radical transformation. People would become healthier and happier by just uttering two words. Absurd, if not laughable.
This universally practised superstition, perhaps, originated centuries ago when man nursed the notion that spirits lived in trees. They touched trees when they sought a favour, then thankfully touched again when they thought that favour had been bestowed.
This particular incantation is a gift of the wise, and the so-called sophisticated and the suave.
The gullible cling to the superstition even in times of scientific temper, because they have failed to develop an analytical mind and blindly follow their ancestors who did not have the benefits of education, much less a scientific temper.
One may ask: what is so special about wood? Why not touch something else? A pieceof metal, for example. It is not reason, which comes in the way: it is feebly foolish mind, driven by ignorance and tradition.
Bertrand Russel has said that wood has no particular quality that prevents misfortune. Or brings good one. The prevalence and practice of this superstition mirror our own feelings of uncertainty, and a desire for security. In fact it reveals our ignorance of the elements of nature.
Superstitions, at core, are hypocritical arts of appeasing God, procuring His favour without obeying His laws or getting rid of the infirmities of our own mind. As Bacon says, "The master of superstition is the people, and in all superstition, wise men follow fools."
If you are a compulsive wood-toucher,
replace your incantation with: "I will not touch woods (read trees)
because they are the sentinels of our forests."