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Luck, Desire, and Flight
- Where is happiness?
- Happiness is in your bones. When you get inside your skeleton and start to feel the marrow of your bones, the marrow of your bones is completely happy. We are happy, completely happy. The thing is that we do not realize it.
Luck refers to those situations in which some capricious events contribute to our happiness or well-being. I will not speak of happiness, because it is too subjective a concept, but of luck, in the sense that it is opposed to misfortune.
My interest lies not in luck as a philosophical state, but rather as something that inhabits the popular imagination and, above all, superstition. Mircea Eliade1 attributes to etymology the power to save a word and restore its original, noble sense. Superstition comes from superstare (superstitio), meaning to ‘stand on or over; to survive’, that is to say, that which persists throughout the endless flow of time. It is not just the idea that survives, but a thought, or ritual, that endures throughout history.
Superstition, being a phenomenon that goes contrary to reason and occurs beyond our control, no matter our will, our intentions or the desired outcome, is given an air of magic and in this sense is an encounter in which desire is endowed the importance of being that which drives our actions.
The necessity or desire to control chance in order to procure luck, using instruments or magical rituals, appears to be an inherent quality of human beings. These ancient beliefs, yet to be proved by scientific evidence, have transcended both time and space. Superstitions do not recognize differences in ethnicity, social class, religion or geographic location.
Superstitions relate to differing spheres of human life, from important events such as marriage and female menstruation, to quotidian acts such as waking up on the ‘wrong’ side of bed. Its influence extends into relations with time, sowing dates in agriculture, the Feast of Saint John on the June solstice, the phases of the moon that influence even the day on which we cut our hair or prune our plants, as much as with the superstitions we place in objects or trivialities, such as the horseshoe and the evil eye; one to summon luck and the other to provide protection.
In this infinite universe of fetishes I have focused my interest on one, namely the wishbone or furcula. This bone belongs only to birds; it holds their heads while at the same time constituting the central axis of the structure that allows them to fly. It is also the bone that unites luck with desire in various cultures.
1 Mircea Eliade, Magical Flight, Madrid: Siruela Editions, 81.
The ritual says that two people make a wish while each pulling one end of the bone, whomever stays with the largest piece of bone when it breaks will have their wish come true.
The custom of the ‘wishbone’ goes back hundreds of years. It is said that the custom has been practiced since the fourth century BC, when the Etruscans of central Italy sacrificed birds in order to summon one of their gods and thus the power to predict the future or solve problems. The forked breastbone of birds, the furcula, was left to dry in the sun. When ready, two people broke the bone, exactly as we do today, and whoever was left with the largest share made a wish. In this bone they perceived the legs of a man, which symbolized life. The Romans adopted the custom, taking it with them to various parts of Europe.
I must make a parenthesis at this point, since I have created various works about birds; I have even created a new species of bird, Pájaro real con cola de trenza (Royal Bird with Tail Braid) (2010-2013), a bird with a long braid for a tail that made it difficult for some to fly, or even prevented them from flying. However, in my own imagination, this bird not only flies but has migrated far and wide with its long, heavy tail. And thus it goes, twisting through the air, growing with all that it drags with it in flight. For this particular species of bird I created a collection of more than ninety images that evidence its existence in different cultures and periods, thus adding it to the list of imaginary birds, like the well-known Phoenix and the Goofus from the imagination of Jorge Luis Borges, a bird that both builds its nest and flies backwards, since it matters not to this bird where it is going nor where it is coming from.2
After exploring flight, I turn my attention to the inside of the bird and encounter the wishbone. In this small item superstition unites luck with desire. To wish for something is to want to change destiny, it is a game in which both chance and desire are mixed.
The association between birds and flight is inevitable. History is filled with fantastic stories that tell of man's desire to fly, like a desire for absolute freedom and the transcendence of the soul. Taoists, alchemists, shamans, sages and the mystics of different cultures have sought celestial flight, a detachment from the earth.
Flight expresses intelligence, an understanding of secret things or metaphysical truths. Thus birds are associated with the soul in symbolic terms. It wears a suit of feathers, like a dress with which it clothes itself, and its bone structure contributes to only 1% of its total weight, since some of the bones are hollow, allowing the air to enter, lightening the body.
Brancusi said, 'All my life I have been seeking to capture the essence of flight. [...] What a marvelous thing flight is!’ There is no need to read books to know that flight is the equivalent of happiness since it symbolizes ascension, transcendence and the overcoming of the human condition. Flight proclaims that gravity has been forgotten, has been rendered an ontological mutation in human beings. The myths, stories and legends that tell of heroes or conjurers that circulate freely between the earth and the sky possess a universal reach. A whole set of avian symbols relates to the spiritual life and, above all, the ecstatic experiences and powers of intelligence are integral to images of birds, wings and flight. The symbolism of flight represents a rupture in the world of everyday experience. The dual purpose of this rupture is clear: it is at one and the same time the transcendence and freedom that is obtained through flight.3
2 Jorge Luis Borges, Handbook of Fantastic Zoology. 26
3 Mircea Eliade, Magical Flight, Madrid: Siruela Editions,