In Chicago’s Millennium Park is one of the city’s favorite tourist destinations…the Cloud Gate sculpture, or more commonly called the “Bean”. It is a huge mirror-polished, stainless steel…bean…that mirrors the city’s skyline. It is a must see for any visitor to Chicago. Its like one giant funhouse mirror! And the best part is beneath the Bean. Below is a picture I took underneath the Bean looking upwards. It must be what it feels like to view the 3rd dimension from a higher dimension. Notice the flash of my camera as it sparks around the reflective surface.
What about mirrors? The humble mirror has considerable mystical significance. We all know that breaking a mirror is supposed to be bad luck. Why is that? What is the folklore behind the mirror and the power of our reflection?
In the distant past, still pools or bowls filled with water were used for divination. This was called catoptromancy. Remember the scene from the Lord of the Rings movie, where Galadriel showed Frodo possible futures in a bowl of sacred water. That scene was inspired by the actual use of reflective surfaces for scrying by ancient Greek and Roman oracles. If for some reason this bowl of water fell and broke during the scrying, it was considered an act of fate and an omen of doom. From this came the common superstition that a broken mirror is bad luck. The use of a scrying mirror or crystal ball is still a common means of divination today. Using a scrying mirror for inducing a trance to contact higher dimensions remains a very powerful tool for the modern occultist.
Also contributing to the idea of a broken mirror being bad luck is the belief that our reflections contain part of our soul. This idea is also very old. Breaking our reflection would be like breaking our spirit. There are tribes that refused to let their picture be taken, since they thought the picture will steal part of their spirit, or that the image could be used against them with black magic.
In the past in parts of Europe, when someone in the household died, the mirrors of the home were covered or turned around facing the wall. It was felt that when the body was to be taken away, they did not want the dead to see their reflection and decide to stay to haunt the household. Even bowls of open water would be emptied or covered for the same reason…the power of the reflection. The eyes of the dead were considered dangerous and those eyes had to be closed or the head covered. Our eyes are our mirrors to the soul, and see one’s own reflection in the eyes of the dead was thought to be bad mojo.
Interestingly, the idea that our reflection could be potentially harmful has gone away with the arrival of photography. The best example of this was the emergence of the post-mortem mourning and memorial image. This sad, macabre practice of photographing the dead had its day in the Victorian era when photography arrived. The dead were often dressed and posed to look like they were sleeping. No more turning mirrors around, now we took pictures and displayed them! It shows how belief systems can really change. The first type of camera was the daguerreotype. With the daguerreotype an image was embedded into a mirror-polished metal surface coated with chemicals. It is ironic that now the mirror was used to literally capture the reflection of the dead.
Yet beliefs have not really changed entirely. With the beginning of photography emerged spiritualist photography. Capturing images of spirits became a fad. Most of these photos were fake or double exposures. Yet people still believe that a “mirror” could really capture the spirits of the dead. Even today, the idea of the mirror, the reflection, could capture a spirit still remains. It is called ghost hunting! Here is my own possible ghost picture from an early post of mine. Real or not? You judge. http://occultview.com/2009/01/29/apparition-and-orbs-at-hotel-bar/
Mirrors have been used for stage illusions. As the saying goes, “smoke and mirrors.” There is the magic mirror of fairy tales, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of them all.” The magical mirror is also an important tool for real magick. In a future post I will go into detail about some of the methods for using the scrying mirror and crystal ball for clairvoyance.