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Parable of touch wood and the Druids 

How a seemingly innocent remark about superstition led to a chat about our pagan ancestors - and the Gospel. By Mark Roques 

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I was enjoying a flat white with my good friend Tim who is a Manchester United fan. We were talking about Wayne Rooney and getting rather noisy about his bicycle kick against Manchester City in 2011. Wow. What a screamer! Tim had an insight. 'I played the game at quite a decent level but I never broke my leg.'

He paused and murmured furtively: 'Touch wood'.

Now I am not one to go suddenly religious but I had a craving to explore this with Tim. 'I didn't know you're a pagan who worships tree gods.'

Tim was clearly befuddled and replied - 'You what?'

I decided to unleash my parable about Druidic blood and gore and see where it would lead.
'Tim, you probably never learnt this in school but the ancient Celts, our ancestors, were superstitious heathens who worshipped and appeased tree gods.'
Tim took a deep slug of his flat white and probed me. 'Sorry chief, but I didn't know that about our great nation. Obviously I know my history. We won the World Cup in 1966 but did we really worship trees in them olden days?'

I unfolded my theme with some juicy historical facts.
'You might have heard of the Druids? They were not the kind of priests you would invite to your grandma's birthday party. They were experts in propitiating river gods, tree gods and sea gods. They dreaded but placated these pagan deities. They would sacrifice people to the sea god by drowning them. They burned folk in huge wicker baskets to appease the sun god. They would hang men in forest glades to please the tree god. They practised divination by ripping their victims' guts out and then auguring the future by examining the bloody mess on the ground.

'Not nice, so I'm intrigued that you are touching wood.'

Tim looked puzzled. 'What on earth has touching wood got to do with our pagan ancestors?'
'Back then if you were alone in a forest and strange noises were scaring you, pagans would touch wood in order to summon a tree spirit to come to their aid.'
Tim began fumbling in his pocket and I thought he was going to pay me back the £20 he owed me but I was taken aback when he brandished a lucky rabbit's foot and asked me to hold it for him while he ordered more coffee.
'Sweet as a nut,' I thought to myself. 'This conversation is getting fruity. I can evangelise Tim without annoying him.'

Tim returned with the flat whites and a cheeky bonus, some unexpected cake, Battenburg to be precise. We gobbled it down. Tim had a spiel. 'Mark, the story behind that will fascinate you. My aunty Ethel left that for me in her will. She told me it had always helped her in difficult times. I carry it in memory of her. Is that so wrong?'
'Well, it depends on how you look at the rabbit's foot. Do you view it as an amulet that can protect you from both physical and spiritual harm?'

Tim was bamboozled.
'Tim, you lack knowledge, so listen and learn. Juju priest, Nana Tolofasito, comes from Ghana and he trusts in the magical power of amulets. Juju is a pagan faith that deploys magic and witchcraft. In 2017 Nana asked a friend to shoot him with a gun so that he could test his 'bullet' amulet.'
Tim choked on his cake: 'You are joking, I hope?'
'Sadly not. Nana's pagan faith didn't work and he sustained serious injuries. The story can be found on the internet.

'Here's the link to your gift from aunty Ethel. What do bullets, acorns, alligator teeth and rabbit feet have in common?'

Tim was listening and drinking in my cut-diamond insights.

'All these and many more are used as charms and amulets by the pagan faithful. Amulets are objects, imbued with occult, supernatural power, that can be trusted to protect you from bullets, ghosts and evil spirits. For some, the right amulet can attract money and make you wealthy. Very popular in Thailand.'

Tim was keen to make a point: 'So these charms can do almost anything?'

'Spot on my chocolate chicken. Egyptian pagans trusted in images of the sacred scarab beetle to ward off evil spirits. Today some depend on their St. Christopher charms as they nervously begin a journey. Napoleon had a lucky coin.

'And your lucky charm? Some gamblers trust in a rabbit's foot as they feverishly play the slot machines. There are those who claim that the left hind foot of the rabbit is particularly 'lucky' and for maximum effect the rabbit should be killed in a cemetery during a full moon by a silver bullet.'

Tim couldn't help himself. 'So are you saying that my sweet aunty Ethel was an uncouth heathen?'

'Don't get me wrong. Many today are superstitious without knowing the sordid pagan background. But believe me if you depend upon the rabbit's foot, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. We are to fear the true God who loves us and not fear the pagan gods who hate us. Jesus told us to trust Him and Him alone. Trusting in amulets and lucky charms completely contradicts the gospel of Christ?'

Tim was floored. 'What on earth do you mean by that?'

'The gospel is the good news that God has defeated death by raising His Son Jesus from the dead. Amulets and charms, like the rabbit's foot, cannot rescue you from death. but Jesus can. My advice is this - chuck the rabbit's foot in a bin and put your faith in Jesus.'

Tim looked rattled. 'Let's go back to the conversation about Wayne Rooney,' he said. 'Do you think he has a rabbit's foot which helps him to score such spectacular goals?'


Image | Fabrizio Verrecchia | Unsplash

Mark Roques preaches in Cragg Hill Baptist Church in Horsforth. He is the director of RealityBites which is part of the Thinking Faith Network based in Leeds.

He is the author of The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking About Christian Faith


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Baptist Times, 27/11/2018
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