Popular Superstitions

Pooh pooh pooh!

Print this page Print this page

Placing Salt in Pockets and Corners of the Room

Demons and similar creatures were known to reside in new houses and cause such chaos that people were actually paid to live in them before the arrival of their intended occupants. Because salt was generally regarded as having superb powers against evil spirits, it was often placed in the corners of a room where these creatures hid. The same reasoning applied to new clothes, where smaller goblins and elves could secret themselves in pockets. By placing a small amount of salt in the pockets, the owner of the clothing hoped to drive these beings away and foil their evil designs.

Wearing a Metal Pin on Clothes When Embarking on a Trip

In some communities, a safety or straight pin is attached out of sight under a shirt collar or on a sleeve before taking a journey. Metal was thought to be a powerful protective substance. According to the renowned Eleazer of Worms (a leader of the pietistic Hasidei Ashkenaz of the medieval period), metals were the products of civilization and thus could successfully attack and repel the evil spirits of a less sophisticated society.

The protective power of metal also can be derived from the biblical discussion of the first plague, in which God states that all water stored "in vessels of wood and stone" (Exod. 7:19) will turn to blood. According to this, metal receptacles are not mentioned because they must have protected the water from changing. Another explanation is that metal means luck, since "barzel" (the Hebrew word for iron) is an acronym for the names of four of the mothers of the Children of Israel (Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah), who could ward off all dangers to their progeny.

Knocking on Wood

Knocking on wood to protect from evil is a non-Jewish practice, even though many Jews do it. Many connect this action to Christian beliefs that relate wood to slivers of the cross, which were believed to bring good luck. However, this practice has a more universal, pantheistic origin. Long before the time of Jesus, some cultures regarded trees as gods; believers were convinced that touching (or knocking on) wood could produce magical results.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Ronald L. Eisenberg

Ronald L. Eisenberg, a radiologist and non-practicing attorney, is the author of numerous books, including The Jewish World in Stamps.