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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Knock Wood Over

We've had a scary couple of days. We had to have a tree removed. The tree was in a tiny walkway on the side of the house with our windows and the neighbor's windows all around. It was a giant rubber tree, which always sort of made me laugh from my years in the Midwest where people have a little rubber plant on their desk and struggle to keep it alive. Ours was a full two stories high and growing.

I can't tell you how may times we've attempted to cut this tree down. It grew back bigger every time, just like when the Mexican women shave their baby sons' heads so they'll have thick hair. It was weighing on the roof and knocking over the wall.

I had to have a talk with Jose, who came with another man to cut it down, about the proximity of all the windows. I forgot to mention the roof. Jose parked his truck in the front of the house and dragged tree parts across the roof and threw them off the roof and into his truck. Our roof can't really bear the weight of Jose and his friend and tree parts. I could stand in the hallway and watch the roof bend with each step. I made Jose promise to walk along the wall seams. And to watch out for all the windows. Eventually the whole shebang was so scary, we took Sister Mary Fiacre and the three of us stood cowering outside on the deck, pretending we didn't hear the cracking, crunching, thumping and chain saws. Not a good day for contemplative prayer.

Jose was very nice, though. He's coming back Monday to fix the window. He had gotten all the way through the job with the last of the stump flipped over as they were picking it up to remove it and bashed in the window.

I should have knocked wood:

Sister, Could you elaborate on the "knock wood" tradition coming from the rosary? Never heard that before, and love those kinds of stories!

I could elaborate on that, but I would probably be wrong. Again.

I had read in a book that I like very much, The Rosary, by Kevin Orlin Johnson, that the term "knock wood" came about during the English persecution of the Irish Catholics. The Irish had to hide everything. Practicing Catholicism was illegal, priests were hauled off and killed.


So people hid to practice Catholic devotions. If someone was coming and there was danger of being caught the faithful would rattle their rosaries as a warning sound. There you have it. "Knocking wood" actually caused good 'luck'.

As I said, this information was in one of my favorite books. I can't think that it had a footnote as to where the author came up with this information. I can't go look at the book because if I have a copy, I always give it away. I can't find any reference to Irish Catholics rattling their rosaries anywhere else.

It's a great story, isn't it?

Although, I did find a source that said knocking on wood for luck had something to do with some ancient game of tag (with a tree as 'home base'),many sources at least agree that knocking wood has something to do with being Catholic. The tradition dates all the way back to the Emperor Constantine (who made it illegal to be pagan), lover of the Cross that he was. People would touch or tap the Cross as it made its way through processions.

I also found this:
A Jewish version traces the origin to the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century. At the time, persecuted Jews fled to synagogues built of wood, and they devised a coded knock to gain admission. Since this practice spared countless lives, it became common to "knock on wood" for good luck.

Unpleasant. Happily, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Inquisition a while back.


Anonymous said...

This is Kevin Orlin Johnson, author of Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads. No such passage occurs in my book, to the best of my knowledge! Please either cite the page number or remove this false reference! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere, a while ago, that "knock wood" came from a pagan belief that trees had spirits. When something lucky happened, or you talked about something good, you needed to acknowledge the tree spirits. Otherwise, they might think you were getting cocky and ignoring them, and they could be pretty vendictive when miffed. So knocking on a tree was a way of letting them know you respected their presence. The business about rosaries sounds, frankly, like an attempt to bend a Christian theme around a pagan practice people didn't want to give up. (Like Christmas, halloween, etc.) Sorry I can't give you any attestation for this. It's just some book I read when I was 10, and it debunked many superstitions.


Shig said...

I don't know about the Jews. Every Jewish person I know tells me that you don't knock wood when you're Jewish.

Anonymous said...

I always heard it was to call upon the power of the cross, which was wood.

And that might be why Jews don't do it (My Jewish friends tell me the same thing: Jews don't knock wood)