Many of us engage in superstitious rituals — like saying “God Bless You” when someone sneezes, or exercising extreme caution around mirrors — without being able to explain why. In the video series ORIGINS: SUPERSTITIONS, filmmaker Ronni Thomas and I explore the origins of some of the most enduring superstitions.
Mitch Horowitz: So I have this creeping suspicion that we decided to collaborate on ORIGINS: SUPERSTITIONS because both of us – rational, hardworking parents – secretively believe that superstitions may be a little bit true. What do you think?
Ronni Thomas: I think i was just trying to avoid doing real work – but you might have a point… It was actually my kid Odie’s idea. We ran into a friend who had just started her own antiques shop and she confessed it was doing well and said, ‘knock wood’. It’s a normal expression, but my 9 year old was utterly confused! Like most parents, I didn’t have the answer to ‘why is the sky blue?’ – so I certainly didn’t have the answer to this one. Then I called you. You should have kept your phone off! Isn’t it funny, though, that even after we researched and found very practical reasons for superstitions, neither of us will dare walk under a ladder? Not sure why that is…
Mitch: I think it’s something healthy. Like many people, we live and work and function in the material world – but we have a scent that something else exists. A part of us clings to the instinct that there is a world beyond the one that we can touch and taste. This binds us to our ancient ancestors, whose lives were intimately tied to seasons, rituals, and symbols. Some people would say that the ‘old beliefs’ are steeped in irrationality, and that we should be glad the era of superstition and taboo is behind us. To me, that misses the point. The possibility of the unseen doesn’t compromise my sense of duty in the present; in a way, it deepens it by reminding me of how fleeting life is, and that what we see isn’t all that there is. I’m proud to believe – a little bit – in superstitions.
Ronni: I think it’s sort of like why we play the lottery: We are fairly certain we are not going to win, but just in case…right? Why screw around with breaking a mirror if you can potentially avoid the bad luck that has been associated with it? Now, as an independent artist who makes short films, as you can imagine, I am just swimming in good luck and fortune and wealth. So why take any chances derailing that!?
Mitch: We also want to tell our kids that they live in a world of possibility: That, just maybe, there is more to life than death and taxes. You once said that you didn’t want to raise a kid in a world that doesn’t allow for the possibility of Bigfoot. I feel the same. I want my kids to go out and perform and do what is necessary in outer life – but never to feel that everything is exactly as it seems.
Ronni Thomas, a filmmaker, and Mitch Horowitz, a historian, frequently collaborate on topics of the damned, despised, and dismissed. And wouldn’t have it any other way.