The Book of Possibilities is about the wonders of the world we live in. Come explore it with me!
Ever wondered why you knock on wood when you've made a hopeful statement?
Many cultures have traditions dating back to ancient times that trees are inhabited by spirits. In Greek legends, they were called dryads, and each trees was supposed to have one living inside it that prospered or ailed as the tree did, and died if the tree was cut down.
In Britain, the story became that fairies hidden in trees, looking for ways to make mischief, might overhear you talking about your good luck or your wishes and foil your hopes or dreams for fun.
If you realized you had said something a fairy might like to interfere with, you would knock on the tree nearest you to confuse the spirit in hopes it would forget.
The most famous of the mischievous sprites has to be Shakespeare's Puck of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Puck's tricks are mostly calculated to annoy or embarrass humans -- like pretending to be a stool up until the moment someone tries to sit on it, or taking on the shape of a crab in a bowl of soup and biting the lip of the unsuspecting diner.
But a lot of fairy tricks in stories and legend are more wicked.
The concept of a changeling child reveals a lot about the frailty of human fears.
A changeling was left by a fairy who stole a human child, a fairy in the shape of the child but who would sicken and die, or vanish, or simply prove itself to be not the true child of its parents by its behavior.
It was a way of explaining a child that didn't resemble its parents, or to rationalize away the sorrow of losing a baby to illness.
More insidiously, it was a way to deny the parentage of a child that was too unusual in behavior or predispositions.
To expose a changeling for what it was, it was necessary to trick it into revealing its true nature.
One way, captured in an old tale, involves a mother who believed her baby had been stolen by the fairies. She was advised to put empty egg shells by the hearth, and fill them with water to boil.
She did, and the baby in the cradle nearby began to cackle, saying "In all my five hundred years, I've never seen anything so ridiculous!"