Through the Looking Glass: An Exploration of Mirrors
Since the invention of mirrors, this tool has ranked high as an
object of magical and spiritual power. After all, mirrors allow us to do
something that no human being can do without assistance--see our own
From the familiar silvered glass to the mystery of tinted decoratives
and the subtle murk of polished obsidian, mirrors capture our interest
just as they were once believed to capture souls. In addition to their
history they remain a popular altar tool today.
The Background of the Mirror
Our ancestors had to content themselves with imperfect reflectors.
Clear mirrors were not portable, and the portable ones were not clear.
People could see themselves in still, dark water. Sometimes a piece of
stone or wood could be rubbed smooth to produce a vague picture. And that
was it, for millennia.
Because people considered the reflection to represent their soul or
other self, they believed that any injury to it could impact them--hence
the dire predictions of bad luck upon the dropping or breaking of a
Later, smiths hammered metal into flat sheets. There were more
reflective as mirrors, but the readily available metal sheets--in
copper--gave a noticeable tint to the image. Silver gave the truest
reflection, but few could afford that metal. The Bible cites mirrors
made from brass, and papyrus records mention silver ones in Egypt. In the
late Middle Ages came a new style of mirror based on tin, and dressed with
silver nitrate and mercury, which improved image quality a great deal.
The modern mirror, made from clear glass with a very thin silvery
backing, was invented in Vienna during the late seventeenth century. It
quickly spread throughout Europe despite its expense. Small mirrors soon
became favored trade items in far-off lands.
Mirrors and Divinity
Cultures around the world consider the mirror a symbol of feminine
power, especially divine power. Many goddesses appear with a mirror as
of their regalia, and mirrors are popular artifacts for temples,
shrines, and altars. The round, shimmery surface of a mirror suggests its
connection to the Moon and to the element of water.
For example, the Tibetans represent their goddess Laysa with a
mirror. Laysa oversees matters of beauty and the Moon. In central
Moon is the mirror that reflects everything in the world. Indian mythology
refers to the great goddess as the "Mirror of the Abyss," who holds the
reflection of Shiva. In the Egyptian language, the word for "mirror"
is one and the same. Also the ankh is sometimes seen as representing a
mirror. The "Mirror of Hathor" appears in temple paintings and
statuary as an
emblem of that goddess.
In Greece, the goddess Venus rules the vagaries of love and beauty.
Her special metal is copper, and copper mirrors adorned her shrines. In
fact, the familiar circle-and-cross emblem of Venus and femininity is also
the alchemical symbol for copper. People still use copper mirrors as the
preferred type for love magic, or for divination on Friday, the day
ruled by Venus.
The Afro-Caribbean goddess Yemaya is traditionally depicted holding a
mirror as she rides the ocean waves on her twin fishtails. Many mermaid
legends involve a mirror. Sometimes this merely represents the creature's
vanity, but more often it embodies her magical power. If a man steals a
mermaid's mirror, he can force her to stay with him as his wife--at
she finds her missing artifact and returns to the sea.
The most popular use of a magic mirror is for scrying. Scholars
refer to this as crystallomancy or catoptromancy, and Romans called
readers specularii. Techniques include viewing distant scenes in the
gazing into the past or the future, and summoning symbolic visions.
Many occult shops sell mirrors for this purpose--often expensive ones made
from black glass, obsidian, or onyx--but you can also make your own.
Different types suit different objectives. For instance, use a mirror
on only three sides to see over long distances.
Whether made for the purpose or appropriated from a cosmetic counter,
a mirror should be prepared before magical use. These processes vary
from simple to complex, depending on the source you consult. Most include
several common elements: washing the mirror in water, exposing it to
moonlight, and storing it in a bag to protect it. Many Pagans
believe that you should never allow sunlight to fall on your magic mirror,
especially if you use it for scrying. Instead, scrye at night, or in a
room lit by candles.
A scrying mirror may reveal such things as a lover's illicit affair,
good or bad news from afar, preventable or inevitable misfortune to come,
the history of events or objects, messages from spirits or patron
deities, the face of a future spouse, whether a sick person will live or
die, the veracity of statements made before it, and so forth. The
immorality of the power largely depends on the user's actions.
Other Magical and Spiritual Uses
The mirror is generally regarded as a window or door to other
realms. Most mirrors are flat, but some are concave (good for catching
convex (good for repelling things). Mirror applications include astral
projection, conjuring spirits, viewing past lives, capturing souls,
with distant persons. Indeed, the realm of the dead is sometimes known
as "the Hall of Mirrors."
Some of these uses suggest the reason behind the custom of covering
any mirrors in a room where someone is ill or has died. That is, this
practice prevents the mirror from trapping the person's soul, or
conduit for other spirits to enter the room. Celtic women were buried with
their personal mirrors, as they believed these objects carried their
Because of their constant association with personal appearance,
mirrors play a role in some love spells. They can enhance beauty and
abilities, but they can also encourage vanity. If you have the
strength of will
to face your flaws honestly, however, the mirror can be a powerful tool
Another aspect of mirrors is their ability to reflect and turn things
back the way they came--hence their use as protective talismans. One
popular binding involves fastening the photograph of a harasser
mirrors placed face-to-face. Another is to put an object symbolic of the
problem into a "mirror box," which is exactly what it sounds like: a
entirely with mirrors. All harm thus reflects back on itself.
The oriental art of feng shui takes these principles to a
sophisticated level, using many types of mirrors and other reflective
These mirrors can attract positive energy, repel or redirect negative
energy, duplicate prodoerity, and compensate for inauspicious features
room or building. The eight-sided bagua mirror brings harmony, abundance,
and protection. Its sides embody attributes of marriage, fame, wealth,
family, career, new knowledge, and children.
The magic mirror still holds a place of honor among contemporary
practitioners, and is well worth acquiring. However, mirrors can
prove tricky to handle, so they may be best reserved for intermediate to
advanced practitioners. Novices might find themselves facing more than
know how to deal with.
The most important warning, of course, is the one that applies to all
types of divination. Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer
by Elizabeth Barrette