Knock On Wood And Other Scandinavian Superstitions

We are coming upon two seasonal times that are filled with superstitions and traditions – which for some people are interchangeable.

October 31st, is All Hallows Day/Eve and in the northern hemisphere it is the day for recognizing the coming of winter. It was believed that all the evil spirits, goblins and imps ran away to the depths of the earth at midnight on Oct. 31 to escape the cold, much the same way in the United States we run to Florida and Arizona rather than the depths of earth.  During the last night, before they catch the redeye to the depths of earth, much mischief-making is done by these evil spirits, goblins and imps on people to make up for the cold months when they will be in hiding. I guess that’s why when they appear at your door you give them a treat so they won’t play a trick on you.

During December nisses and tomtes start to appear. Superstition has it that these sprites are responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead and its buildings. Their only demand is for the respect and trust of the farmer and a bowl of julegrøt (Christmas porridge) with butter on Christmas Eve. These spirits will not remain in a home where respect and/or julegrøt is lacking and the farm will not thrive and the farmer will be reduced to poverty.

There are many superstitions that we know about in the United States but there are some fascinating and peculiar superstitions that are well-known in the Nordic countries.

Norway

  • Saying ’tvi, tvi’ will give someone good luck. Oddly, this expression can be used to put a curse on someone that you liked but if somebody had already said it to you then the evil spirits had no reason to bother you. Nowadays the expression is used when wishing someone good luck before they go on stage.  Instead of saying ‘break a leg’ in Norway you say ‘tvi, tvi.’
  • Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash

    If a black cat crosses your path, you have to spit three times to ward off evil spirits. or say ‘tvi-tvi-tvi’ over your shoulder instead.

  • A Norwegian woman should not knit a sweater for her boyfriend, because then he will leave her. No indication that is will work if you knit a sweater for some guy you wish would leave you – maybe it depends on the sweater.
  • Don’t whistle towards the sun because that will cause rain.

Sweden

  • To prevent something horrid from happening knock on wood while reciting “Pepper, pepper touch wood” (“peppar, peppar ta i trä”) so you are not jinxed. The knock on wood/touch wood superstition has pagan origins, from the spirits and creatures who inhabited the woods – knocking on tree trunks would awaken them for protection.
  • Besides spreading disease, sneezing means that your enemy has mentioned your name and Swedes combat such terrible luck by saying “prosit”.
  • Swedish superstition says that heather brings death! So if you think a nice bunch of heather would brighten up your home, it won’t.
  • Leaving your keys on a table in Sweden is bad luck. The basis of this superstition is that, back in the day, prostitutes would indicate their “availability” by putting their keys on the table. Eventually it became bad luck to do so because people didn’t want to be seen as prostitutes. Even today, a Swede will hand you back your keys if you place them on the dining table and now you know why.
  • On Friday the thirteenth, there is a quiet and spooky whisper heard in the streets of Sweden warning not step on a crack in the street. If you do it will bring terrible, irrevocable misfortunes.
  • For Swedes, walking under a ladder is told to bring exactly three weeks of bad luck.
  • In Sweden, if someone cuts a cake and piece of cake falls to the side as you accept it, you’ll never get married.
Photo by Izzy Rivi on Unsplash

Finland

  • If a bubble forms on the surface of your coffee after it has been poured into a cup and the bubble moves towards the drinker it means more money – if the bubble moves away from the drinker it means the loss of money.
  • Someone is thinking of you when your nose tickles or when you turn red. Someone is also thinking of you if a piece of unnecessary thread is on your clothes.
  • After you’ve seen 99 red cars, the license plate of the 100th car has the initial of your future lover.
  • On St. John’s night (aka Midsummer), if you put seven different kinds of flowers under your pillow the identity of your future lover will be shown in your dreams.
  • Finland also has a sneezing superstition: the first sneeze is good, the second is bad, the third represents fortune, and the fourth (and I imagine any sneezes after it) means your sick!
  • If you kill a spider it will bring rain the next day (a lot of spiders must have been killed this past summer)
  • Leaving an open book upside down is said to make the information inside it disappear.

Denmark

  • People save old and broken dishes throughout the year to be thrown on their friends and families doors on New Year’s Eve. It is considered good luck to find thrown dishes on your doorstep New Year’s morning.
  • In Denmark, if a slice of cake falls on its side as it is being served to you, you will end up with a crazy mother-in-law.
  • If you’ve said something to tempt fate, knock three times under the table, never on top of the table, and say the numbers seven-nine-thirteen (‘syv-ni-tretten’) – one number per knock. The mix of numbers is believed to be a way to play it safe. The number seven is thought to be lucky, nine is the number of worlds in old Norse mythology, and thirteen is generally considered unlucky.
  • The Danish flag is not allowed to touch the ground because it came from heaven.
  • The Danish flag is also not allowed to be raised at night, because it is believed that to do so is to salute the Devil.
  • If you see a black and white crow flying towards the sea, your future lover will come from the sea.

Iceland

  • According to national polls many Icelanders still believe that they co-exist with a race of hidden people on the island, some even claiming to have seen the hidden people.
  • If you move to a new house, do so on a rainy day because it will bring you wealth.
  • And more sneezing superstitions – if you sneeze three times before breakfast on a Sunday, you will get some reward that week.
  • If the first calf born during the winter is white, the winter will be a bad one.
  • If you look at the cows and they are licking trees, it will be raining soon.
  • It is forbidden in late winter to knit on the doorstep because it will lengthen the winter. [I hope Minnesota knitters will pay attention to this!!!!!]
  • If sheep gnash their teeth during round-up in the autumn the winter will be harsh. Actually, if sheep gnash their teeth any other time or season, it still equates awful weather! So basically sheep gnashing their teeth isn’t good.

Superstitions have been known to cripple some people but basically it is good fun and interesting to talk about. And let’s not forget, superstition is one of the best songs ever!!!

Much of this information came from the website of ScandiKitchen and Europe’s Not Dead