Any smooth or polished object whose surface reflects light and images; a polished surface made of glass backed with silver or mercury, which reflects light, therefore allowing images to be seen.
Since ancient times, mirrors as well as all smooth, reflective surfaces have been used for divination, magic, and repelling evil; they also have been greatly feared for their power to steal the soul. In recent times, mirrors have been used as tools in psychic development to increase clairvoyance and gain knowledge of so-called past lives.
Divination with mirrors is called Crystalomancy, Catoptromancy, and Scrying. In the West, magic mirrors were particularly popular from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. They were use by all classes of society, but especially by magicians, witches, sorcerers, and cunning men and women.
In a barely known method of mirror gazing, steam can also provide divinatory responses. This requires the mirror to be hung on a wall and a low table placed before it. After filling a large pot with water and heating it to a boil, the diviner places it on the table in front of the mirror. As the steam rises, the mirror gets cloudy. The inquirer could either gaze into the mirror's surface and interpreted the shapes formed, or wait for the steam to condense and drip down the mirror's silvered face, forming wet shapes, that would then be divinely deciphered.
Catherine de Medici is said to have often consult a magic mirror that enabled her to see the future for herself and for France. Dr. John Dee, the royal magician to Queen Elizabeth I, used a crystal egg and a black obsidian mirror for divination.
Pére Cotton, the confessor to King Henri IV of France, allegedly had a magic mirror that revealed to him the plots against the king. In ancient Greece, the witches of Thessaly reputedly wrote their oracles in human blood upon mirrors. Pythagoras was said to have a magic mirror that he held up to the moon to see the future in it.
The Romans were also skilled in mirror reading. They called these special divinatory mirrors specularii. In their religious legends, ancient Mexicans taught that their god Tezcatlipoca had a magic mirror in which he saw everything that happened in the world. The Achaeans, as Pausanias relates, frequently used a mirror to divine diseases or to learn whether there was danger of sudden death.
In more recent times, mirrors as magic tools have fallen out of widespread popular fashion, but are still used by diviners, psychics, and students of psychism.
Mirrors are more commonly used for divination in the East than in the West. In parts of India, preparation for mirror divination involves rituals of fasting, prayer, and perfuming of the mirrors. In many tribal societies, the reflection is believed to be the soul. Exposing the soul in a mirror or a reflecting surface makes it vulnerable to danger and death.
Johannes Hartlieb, in his account of mirror scrying, says that he have seen masters who maintain that they can prepare mirrors in such way that any man or woman can see in them what they will. He also says that other reflecting surfaces can be used, and there are even priests who will use the very paten that serves at mass to hold the host, believing that only angels and not demons can appear on such a consecrated object.
A common belief in many cultures holds that a person who sees his or her reflection will soon die. This is the basis for the Greek myth of Narcissus, who looked upon his reflection in the water and pined and died. The ancient Greeks also believed that dreaming of seeing one's reflection was an omen of death. A worldwide folklore custom is the removal of mirrors from sick rooms, lest the mirror draw out the soul of weakened persons, and the turning or removal of mirrors upon a death in the house. According to superstition whoever looks into a mirror following a death will also die. Mirrors are associated with evil. In Russian folklore they are the invention of the Devil and will draw souls out of bodies.
In other superstitions, if one looks into the mirror long enough at night or by candlelight, one will see the Devil; thus it is advisable, to cover up mirrors in the bedroom at night. The candlelight is not advisable because fire is the element of spirit, and attracts the unseen. Witches and vampires cast no reflections in mirrors. The look of the evil eye will shatter a mirror or poison its surface.
Conversely, mirrors may be used to protect against evil. They can reflect the evil eye; in the seventeenth century, it was fashionable in Europe to wear small mirrors in hats. Numerous superstitions surround mirrors. Breaking one means bad luck for seven years, or disaster or death; a mirror that falls and breaks of its own accord is an omen of impending death in the house. A girl who gazes at the moon's reflection in a mirror will learn her wedding day; if performed on Halloween, the ritual will reveal a vision of her future husband.
Students of the occult use mirrors to look into the world of spirits. Gazing into one supposedly reveals visions of spirit guides and helps one gain auric sight, the ability to see the aura. Some believe that the face changes seen by staring into a mirror are images of past lives. Mirrors painted black on the convex side are considered an excellent tool for developing clairvoyance.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Pickover, Clifford A., Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction, Prometheus Books; (4) Guiley, Rosemary Ellen and Kraig, Donald Michael, Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy, Checkmark Books Publishing; (5) Dunwich, Gerina, A Wiccan's Guide to Prophecy and Divination, Carol Publishing Group.
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