Magical Thinking: A Good Thing

An article in the New York Times this week, “In Defense of Superstition” by Matthew Huttson, concluded that there is no downside to magical thinking. To that I say, “Well heck, yeah!”

The timing couldn’t have been better. Here we are at Easter, Passover, Spring ritual time and up to our shoulders in some fantastical beliefs. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, spent a couple decades in the Episcopal and now pursue my own individualistic belief system. Religion gives many of us a place to anchor ourselves in an uncertain world. It requires that we accept some fairly sketchy stories. One of my favorite Episcopal priests, the late  Rev. Alfred Starratt, PHD, a rector for many years at Emmanuel Episcopal in Baltimore, used to refer to the “folklore” of religion.

Many of my friends are attending Seders this weekend. Many are baking hams and filling baskets with chocolate. The Pagans among us recognized the Spring Equinox a few weeks back. Celebrations in Sweden and Finland go back centuries to witches, Paskkarringar, which translates as Easter hags. These witches flew on brooms, rakes and sometimes astride bewitched cows and hogs. When pigs fly?

Not religious in the least? What about that mega-lottery ticket you bought last week? Do you buy your tickets based on your girlfriend’s birthday? The numeric translation of your pet’s name? Or how about Sox fans who wear the same cap for every game–to keep the team on a winning streak? If you’re a student, do you have a good-luck ritual before taking a test?

I have a ring, passed down through my family from my great-grandmother, that I wear when I need power from beyond. I also still talk to my mother, who passed away 16 years ago, when life gets burdensome. After an extended one-sided conversation while driving to work, I pulled into the parking garage, wondering if she had been listening. As I switched off the ignition, a feather drifted down and landed on the windshield in front of me. I admit, I watch for signs.

Writers need magical thinking. We need the connections that stitch a story together. From the imagined universe of JRR Tolkien to the seductive realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and everything over, under and around the world of pretend, storytelling thrives on magical thinking.

Writers get a free pass on the magical thinking — as should we all.

2 thoughts on “Magical Thinking: A Good Thing

  1. Thanks, Betsy, for this reflection. For me, it’s not a question of demanding a sign; I believe the signs surround us all the time. It’s a matter of our recognizing them; of us letting our noisy lives hush for a second or two so we can see beyond them.

  2. Great blog! And it hit close to home. When I speak with departed loved ones, I DEMAND a sign. My cousin Susie just passed and I gave her a message and asked for the requisite sign that it was received. A hawk-size all black bird with a white head flew directly across our lawn as I looked out the dining room window. Minutes later, as I was waiting in line at the bank drive-thru, the same bird flew 15 feet away from my windshield. I whispered, “Susie? If that’s you, come by a third time.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the shadow of a large hawk-size bird pass overhead.

    Now she’s just showing off! It’s all magical.

Leave a Reply