Portraits of Superstition: 7 Common Superstitions Christian Women Need to DitchThis seven article series paints seven portraits of superstition — common superstitions that have infiltrated our culture and even our Christianity. Some of these portraits are autobiographical. All of them are worthy of self-reflection.
Before we delve into the fun stuff, I want to answer the question, “What exactly is a superstition?”
A superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.” It is “an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition.”
Plainly, being superstitious is when we believe or do something irrationally out of fear. A superstition is a belief in chance or fate, or an irrational belief in the power of supernatural or mystical beings or forces. Most importantly, a superstition is a form of idolatry because it is a trust in magic instead of a trust in the One True God.
While superstitions and their roots can be fascinating, as the human condition is fascinating in and of itself, it grieves me that Christians (myself included) often, without even realizing it, act like pagans. So much of our culture has borrowed from pagan practice. We too often just do and we don’t think. We throw salt over our shoulder. We spit away spirits. We dangle those good-luck charms from our rear view mirrors. We have our little private rituals. We don’t often stop to reflect on why we do these things or from where they’ve originated. So many of our silly ritualistic habits and traditions are, in fact, practices rooted in pagan efforts to ward off evil spirits or please the gods.
With my Irish-Catholic upbringing, I spent many afternoons hunting for lucky four-leaf clovers and many bed-times praying to Saint Anthony to find my lost such-and-such. Needless to say, superstitions have died hard in my life. In my youth, I relied on these superstitions to bring me peace and free me from fear. As a newly saved adult, I wrongfully continued to add superstitions to my faith as a “plan B,” extra protection in case God didn’t pull through for me. This superstitious attitude revealed my unbelieving heart. Unbelief and idolatry are the root of all superstition, and specifically so for those who knock on wood…
Portrait One: The Obnoxious Knocker
The obnoxious knocker can’t say, “I’ve never been stung by a bee,” or “My kid has never broken a bone,” or (my personal favorite) “We never got the flu this season,” without frantically searching for the nearest wooden object on which to knock. If she can’t find any wood, she may just knock on her own noggin’. But heads up, if that doesn’t suit her, she may just knock on yours!
Knocking on wood is a very common and beloved superstition in our culture. It’s been around for ages, but how did we come up with it?
“Before Christianity… came around to spoil the party with [its] rules about idolatry, many pagan groups… from Ireland to India… worshiped or mythologized trees. Some people used trees as oracles, some incorporated them into worship rituals and some, like the ancient Celts, regarded them as the homes of certain spirits or Gods.” Origins suggest that “some of these tree worshipers laid their hands on a tree when asking for a favor from the spirits/gods that lived inside it.”1
Overtime “knocking on wood” (in England they say “touching wood”) has morphed into a superstitious practice believed to continue a string of good luck or to ward off a potential jinx. While many people today laugh it off as a silly compulsion, this practice, with a deep root of fear, is perpetuated generation after generation.
When a Christian knocks on wood, what is she portraying? I believe it is an outward manifestation of an inner struggle, likely fear of future unknowns. With her actions, this knocker of wood is saying she doesn’t trust God’s providence or goodness in her life, His plan for her future. It illustrates how deeply these superstitions are ingrained. Does this woman truly believe deep down that she possesses some magical spell or control to prevent bad things from happening? Or, is it a mindless habit; laugh it off, nothing to worry about?
No matter what she may think is her motive, this practice denies God’s providence and sovereignty and diminishes His attributes, if only in the knocker’s own mind. Whether intentional or unintentional, the obnoxious knocker is not believing God has her best interests at heart. She is not believing God is sovereign and good. She is putting her faith in magic knocking and not in the Lord.
If you are somebody who still knocks on wood, what do you think this superstition says about what’s going on in your own heart?
What attitudes toward God have you knowingly or unknowingly possessed?
For those of us whose knee-jerk reaction is to knock on wood, we must remember who God really is. He is not some distant, wrathful god, perched on a throne in the clouds, waiting to strike us down with a bolt of lightning over our latest misstep. He does not operate within the realm of jinxes and karma (more on that later.) He is not one who can be manipulated by silly rituals. He is holy, loving, just, providential, sovereign, wise, and good. Read that over a few times. Let it sink in. Look to these verses to help solidify these truths in your heart and mind:
- God’s Holiness: Isaiah 6:3 ; 1 Samuel 2:2 ; Psalm 33:21
- God’s Love: 1 John 4:7-21
- God as Righteous Judge: Psalm 89:1; 1 Peter 1:17
- God’s Providence and Sovereignty: The books of Job and Esther; Job 1:21; Matthew 6:26; Psalm 139
- God’s Wisdom: Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:8-9; Jeremiah 51:15-17
- God’s Goodness: Romans 8:28; Psalm 107:1
To reform simply means to put into practice, to improve your habits and behavior. This is the hard part. Because this practice is so ingrained, so habitual, so deceitful, it takes a concerted effort. When I was kicking this habit, I was still visualizing knocking on wood even when I wasn’t physically doing it. Don’t be like me. God can see your imaginary fist!
When I realized I had to mortify the sin that was happening even in my head, I knew I had to replace the bad habit with something else. So, for a while, whenever I was tempted to knock on wood, I would pray and meditate on these verses:
- “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
- “I am the door” (John 10:9).
I quoted the short snippets of these verses because I want you to be able to easily recall them when you are faced with the temptation to knock on wood. The very idea of knocking should trigger these verses in your mind. However, if you can, try to memorize the whole passage in context – Matthew 7:7-11 and John 10:9-16.
The context for Matthew 7:7-11 is God’s attribute as our loving, good, and generous Abba Father. The context for John 10:9-16 is Christ’s attribute as our protective and highly competent Shepherd and the peace and freedom we have as His chosen sheep. We are no longer slaves to superstitious practices because, under His care, we no longer have to fear. The ways of the world are not our ways.
God offers so much more than what you could ever hope to gain from superstitious knocking. Put off this pagan practice and put on the virtue of praying rightly, going to God with reverence, and trusting Him alone. Don’t knock on wood. Ask, seek, knock! Pray prayers of petition. Trust your Abba Father! Stay in the Word, seek to know Him better. Enter through the door that is Jesus. Rest easy in the care of your Shepherd.
Verses for Further Application
Colossians 2:8-10; 1 Tim 4:6-7; Ex 20:2-4; 1 John 5:21; 1 Cor 10:14; 1 John 5:18; Romans 12:2; 2 Kings 21:2-6; Colossians 2:8
The next article in the Portraits of Superstition series discusses the Portrait of the Pagan Prayer Warrior. Check it out!