SUPERSTITION – A Performance Take

2020   Myth and Theatre Festival

 June 23 to July 5              Malérargues, Southern France


Enrique Pardo

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Information on the 2020 Festival
History of the Festival since 1986
Inscribe to Pantheatre’s Newsletter.

Notes and footnotes will be developed further 
prior to and during the festival
along with other preparatory articles.

A performance take

Anubis, extract from festival image.

In the festival image, the paraphernalia and pandemonium of superstition is guarded by Anubis, the Egyptian jackal god, guardian of the passage to death: a divinely alert presence (what ears!). He will be the god of superstition for the purposes of our “performance take”.      SEE FULL IMAGE


Superstition has been spurned and banished from ‘serious’ Western thinking for some centuries[1], but its exile is being questioned by contemporary ethnographers and artists, who see the anathema as yet one more colonial layer to peel off our anthropological convictions and religious creeds. Ethnographers have faced superstition on the field long enough to acknowledge their own prejudices[2]. Word is out: superstition is whatever does not comply with Western rationality and, above all, with the model of Judeo-Christian spirituality[3]. Superstition is a ‘godsend’ for artists, who, for well over a century, have been trying instinctively, sometimes desperately, sometimes foolishly, to break away from the straightjackets of rational and religious narratives[4]. Anthropological paradigms are shifting towards broader, freer, more complex and more inclusive overviews. Not an easy move though: prejudices are well entrenched, sometimes fanatically so.

An overview is the main corollary of superstition, which, etymologically, simply points to a higher position: super stare, situated above – originally the realm of bird, stars and spirits, who do have a better view and therefore know better. Disparagers take all this as primitive delusion: fiction, fake and false. “Under-standing”, mind you, is also a point of view – one below and presumably also looking up. Apparently, C.G. Jung once quipped: “the need to understand is a need for mother”[5].

I see superstition as a performance take: a highly perceptive attitude, alert, shrewd and cautious when engaging with signs. Its outcome: sagacious moves and canny risks. Superstition is the first psycho-semantic filter of perception: a landing platform[6] for poetic connections and serendipities[7], a gate, open to premonitions, daemons and quirky moves. It is a way of letting the spirits in: INSPIRATION. It steers the performer’s intuition towards figuring out images, or, at least, gambling on making sense. I once described superstition as “the ecology of the imagination”[8]: contextual networks that ground and connect signs, images, emotions, ideas. An interactive craft (poiesis) that weaves together gestures, music and texts (choreographic theatre[9]).

Writer and mythologist Ginette Paris[10] wrote back saying she had always understood superstition to be “the cemetery of imagination”: images mummified in symbolic niches, archived in a rigor mortis dictionary[11]. One thing for certain: superstition ‘makes a living’ from humanity’s fear of death, and from the desperate greed it produces[12]. But, at the same time, it seems to me that it is in these superstitious ‘temples’ (i.e. performance laboratories) where we find some of the liveliest and most manifest mirrors in which to con-template and con-sider the polytheistic lore and drama – and wisdom – of superstition.

An anthology of brief notes

  • Anubis’ ears are superstitious not because finer or bigger, but because they tune in and gage inherent voices – or call them spirits, or daimons[13]. And with what acuteness! What poise! What gravity! Here, and especially for voice performance fans like me, I quote again Giorgio Agamben: “Listening to the voice in speech, is what thinking is all about”[14]. Agamben’s is, to me, a superstitious take: keen and discerning.
  • For the Egyptians, animals were the original divine presences. This is clear from the very first anthropomorphic figurations: gods and goddesses were originally animals. Such theological realizations make for the grandest of superstitions: the foundations of our original fictions, religions.
  • I often claim that the aim of our performance laboratories is “to develop the instinct of image”. Performers as instinctive agents, insiders of image-making: like animals of image. The sagacity of superstition, its forewarnings, can lead to inventio and clairvoyance. Hence the training: physical, emotional and cultural. It starts with Anubis’ ears, listening, picking up the messages, artfully speculating on their meaning. “The more references, the better” (a personal performance adage).
  • Superstition demands adult reactions, not naïve and gullible trusts or beliefs. Beware of Anubis’ sharp canine teeth! Jackals, like coyotes, are scavengers, and as such divinely dangerous: lethal tricksters. Anubis happens also to be the god of mummification.
  • A final word on this avowedly baroque “performance take”. It has been deeply influenced and ‘animated’ by James Hillman’s proposal: “Death is the ultimate metaphor”[15].
  • A final (and extraordinary) image. The day of our final judgement, Anubis will weigh our hearts against a feather of the goddess of justice. Just how just was your performance? Is your heart as light and spiritual as a metaphor?

Anubis weighs a heart against a feather of the Goddess of balance and justice, Maat.


Notes and footnotes will be developed further prior to and during the festival. Some are only markers at present. Make sure you inscribe to Pantheatre’s Newsletter.

[1] A brief history of superstition.

[2] Re. the articles of French ethnologist Jean Bazin and what he terms “les choses-dieux” and their thought-proking similarities with the work on object-metaphor in what we call The Academy of Boredom.

[3] A crucial article : J. Brent Crosson, The Politics of Spirituality and Secularization in Western Modernity. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford University Press. Article published February 2019 : . It includes an overview of the Protestant Reformation indictment of Catholicism as superstitious, especially regarding the two foundations of our work: theatre and images.

[4] Zurich 1918: Dada and Surrealism – The Red Book, C.G. Jung. André Breton’s visit to Freud. Alfred Wolfsohn and Jung.

[5] It is James Hillman’s follow-up on Jung’s ideas, sometimes at variance, which I value so much, and precisely on this count: the status he gives image and imagination. I recently elaborated on my appreciation in a lecture titled: The Story of a Sympathy, at a Convention of the Italian Jungian Society titled Psyche in Scena, Catania, October 2019 – (to be made available soon.)
Another inspirational figure : Xavier Papaïs, French philosopher, whose bête noire is Claude Levi-Strauss and who lectured on a reappraisal of David Hume – especially in terms of  politics and magic (precisely: simpatheia.)

[6] John Cage described Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings as “airports”.

[7] Serendipity and Synchronicity : the two great ‘nannies’ of LUCK (2019 Myth and Theatre Festival.)

[8] Notes on superstition, from the 2000 millennial Myth and Theatre Festival in Rome. The Vatican is built on a pagan oracular (vaticination) hill, a district supposed to have housed an ancient vates, a prophesy bard.

[9] Pantheatre’s training I describe as a School of Genius.

[10] Ginette Paris. Presentation and bibliography.

[11] The folklore of theatre is full of superstitions – because live performance is hazardous. The best ‘warm-ups’ are superstitious rituals and, yes, preparation prayers.

[12] Milan’s main cemetery: Il Monumentale. With the wonderful and unabashed sentimentality of its late 19th c. funerary sculptures. Well worth a visit.

[13] On Socrates’ daimon: “It speaks in a peculiarly non-statistical unscientific manner — anecdotally, superstitiously, symptomatically with omens and hints and whispers; even by bodily events like sneezes, yawns and hiccoughs.”  James Hillman, in The Virtues of Caution. Also: “… the daimon of Socrates who indicates only what not to do.” In Resurgence Magazine, 2002.

[14] Giorgio Agamben, Italian philosopher, reported by French musician philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy.

[15] The Dream and the Underworld, 1975: Pantheatre’s foundational ideas. I am not sure the quote is in Hillman’s book, but I heard him say it in one of our theatre laboratories.

2 réflexions sur “SUPERSTITION – A Performance Take

  1. Pingback: La SUPERSTICIÓN  ¡Que performance! | Enrique Pardo

  2. Pingback: SUPERSTITION – Performance Comprise | Enrique Pardo

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