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Early 20th century Halloween greeting card showing the legend of Bloody Mary, whereby a young girl will see her future husband reflected in a mirror. (Public domain)

SCIENCE & TECH: Haunted Mirrors, Bloody Mary and Superstitious Mirror Mythology


A particular genre of mythology has formed around mirrors, made up of traditions and superstitions within cultures throughout the world. Researchers have tried to get to the bottom of these legends, such as those relating to haunted mirrors. From Buddhists to the ancient Greeks, and right up into the present day, these superstitions and traditions have remained with us in many shapes and forms.

Haunted Mirrors, Bloody Mary and Superstition

Probably the most well-known superstition related to mirrors is the one which concerns Bloody Mary. Legend has it that a young girl who climbs the stairs backwards in the dark while holding a mirror and a candle will see her future husband in the moment when she reaches the top of the staircase. It is also said that the appearance of the image of Death as an entity in the mirror means that the girl is going to die before getting married.

Due to this superstition, over time a game known as Bloody Mary developed. The classical variant of the game implies a person standing in front of a mirror in the dark and saying Bloody Mary three times. In the moment of turning on the light, Bloody Mary should supposedly be standing next to the respective person. The person can then ask questions about the future, and Bloody Mary is obliged to answer. It’s said that you should never look directly at Bloody Mary, but only through the mirror, in order to avoid harm or death.

Another belief claims that, during mourning, mirrors must be covered with black cloth due to the fact that the spirit of the deceased sees reality in a different way. To a ghost, a mirror can seem to be a vortex through which it could enter the afterlife, but this is a false impression. If the spirit of the deceased tries to enter through this portal, they will remain trapped inside the mirror until the mirror is broken.

In the case of haunted mirrors, these can reflect faces which are not actually standing in front of the mirror, they can fall off the wall for no reason and cracks can appear on them for no reason. After the process of transformation, the human loses his soul when he becomes a vampire and, because of that, it is said that vampires have no reflection. For protection, Buddhists place small mirrors at the entrance which have the role of capturing evil spirits wanting to enter the house.

Early 20th century Halloween greeting card showing the legend of Bloody Mary, whereby a young girl will see her future husband reflected in a mirror. ( Public domain )

Ancient Rituals Using Mirrors

There are a variety of rituals associated with mirrors. An ancient belief claims that the soul has two reflections out of which the first is the shadow, on which a thrown spear can provoke the death of the individual. The second reflection is associated with several different assertions. While some consider that the mirror reflects, in an exact manner, the soul of the beholder, others claim that, inside the mirror, there is another world in which everything located in front of the mirror is reversed. Even moral characteristics are reversed, therefore a person who is evil in this world is good in the world of the mirror, and vice versa.

The priests of ancient Egypt used to practice spiritual purification rituals with the help of mirrors. Since it was believed that the mirror reflected the spirit of the individual, through special techniques an initiate could end up seeing his degree of spiritual evolution or decadence. In this way, a sinner would see in the mirror a distorted personal image, and he would then move on to the spiritual cleansing phase until he would only see himself reflected in the mirror.

Haunted mirror. (Andrey Burmakin / Adobe Stock)

Haunted mirror. ( Andrey Burmakin / Adobe Stock)

Mirrors to Communicate with Gods and Historic Fears of Doppelgangers

The old civilizations used mirrors in order to obtain messages from the gods. Also with the help of mirrors, John Dee , the magician of Queen Elisabeth I of England , made a prediction in regard to the plot which was to be organized against King James.

Mirrors have also been looked upon with fear, especially in connection to the fear of one’s own double. In this sense, it is said that in the moment an individual sees his identical double that means he is going to die. In the territory of Germany, the individual double bears the name of Doppelganger and the belief regarding meetings with it is a very widespread one.

The negative aspect of the individual double did not exist in ancient Egypt, where the dedublation practice was widespread. Through this technique the spirit could be temporarily detached from the body and able to visit any place on the globe or in other worlds. The Egyptian goddess Hathor had a crown with a solar disk placed between two cow horns with the help of which she could gaze through the eye of Ra therefore holding knowledge about things happening in water, in the skies, on Earth and inside the human soul. For this reason, the shield which reflected the true form of things has become the representative symbol of the goddess.

In this way, starting from an object of daily use, numerous beliefs and superstitions have begun to appear. Throughout history, until mirrors appeared, all surfaces with the characteristic of reflection were associated with divination and magic powers were connected to them. As it is believed that mirrors can also deceive, a superstition claims that people who look at themselves in the mirror too much can partially lose their soul, the mirror having the ability of absorbing spiritual energy.

From Superstition to Witchcraft: Beliefs Related to Mirrors

It is said that mirrors do not lie. Therefore, a very well-known superstition claims that when something which does not exist is reflected in front of the mirror, it is a bad sign. Newborn children must not see themselves in the mirror until they reach the age of one. In the respective time interval, the soul is undergoing development and the child would end up dying should he be reflected in a mirror.

Among the most well-known superstitions about mirrors is the famed idea that seven years of bad luck can be caused by accidentally or intentionally breaking a mirror. This follows from the belief that the soul is reflected on the surface of the mirror, and therefore in the moment of reflection, a part of the soul is captured by the mirror which results in the emergence of a spiritual imbalance should the mirror be broken.

The spirit has the property of regeneration once at every seven years, but there are also other methods of escaping the resultant bad luck. For one, the pieces of the broken mirror must be buried, a shard can be hit seven times against a tombstone or all the pieces of the broken mirror can be minced until they become a very soft dust. The methods must be applied individually. For example, if the first two methods are applied together, the bad luck is not removed and, in order to get rid of it, one should dig up the shards and mince them.

Mirrors were also used in witchcraft rituals as a way to see what someone was doing at a great distance or to influence the actions of a particular person. In order to get revenge on someone, a personal possession belonging to that person was taken and submerged in a bowl of water, in order to enact a specific ritual. The water, which can reflect images like a mirror, would show the image of the respective individual, an image which had to be stung by the one wanting revenge.

One of the most famous superstitions related to mirrors is the idea that breaking a mirror can be the cause of seven years of bad luck. (vinitdeekhanu / Adobe Stock)

One of the most famous superstitions related to mirrors is the idea that breaking a mirror can be the cause of seven years of bad luck. ( vinitdeekhanu / Adobe Stock)

The Influence of Mirrors on the Spirit World

In Voodoo, placing a mirror in the kitchen would help with the feeding of ghosts, because of their ability to consume the food reflected in the mirror, leaving them satisfied. Numerous Voodoo rituals offer meals to the spirits of those deceased in order to appease them or to request they perform a certain action.

In addition, when the living are bothered by a ghost haunting them, this ghost can be caught and trapped in a special vessel or inside a large mirror where it will only be able to haunt the world from inside. To get rid of the ghosts that haunt a certain place, the individual could look into the mirror in a focused and persistent manner until the reflection of the ghost appears, and immediately break the mirror. This action results in locking the ghost inside a different dimension, where they will haunt without bothering the living.

On receiving a mirror as a gift, a person can become convinced that it is haunted. In this case they could perform a ritual to find out whether it is haunted or not. The ritual involves placing two lit white candles in front of the respective mirror at midnight. On gazing at the mirror between the two candles, if it is in fact a haunted mirror, the reflection of a ghost will be visible.

As mirrors cannot lie, by candlelight everything in the room will appear reflected on the surface of the mirror, including any ghosts haunting the space being reflected. According to some beliefs, the spirits of the dead can be captured inside the alternative reality reflected in the mirror and they cannot escape that place until after the mirror has been broken.

When a mirror falls off the wall, seemingly without any cause, the trapped spirit within it is attempting to escape the dimension where it is captive. In order that these captive spirits not escape, when a lightning and thunder storm takes place outside, mirrors which are known to be haunted should be covered up in order to avoid ghosts escaping.

Meditation with Mirrors

In ancient Greece there was a practice which implied entering a trance in order to have visions and to see apparitions. In Mexico, mirrors are regarded as supernatural portals connected to the Moon and the Sun, while it is assumed that fire had the initial form of a mirror. For this reason, during divination meetings, round mirrors are used.

For the Aztecs, mirrors had a dual meaning which indicated, in a subtle way, the water-fire connection as a symbol of war. Another use of mirrors is that of ornament, but one could not rule out their use as amulets. Two were worn around the neck, in the front and in the back in order to protect their user from the negative energies coming from all directions through rejection or absorption.

When they came out of the water and sat on a rock, mermaids used to look at their reflection which was formed on the surface of the water and they combed their hair. The legends which talk about elemental spirits tell how they come out in the morning to see their reflections in the dew drops on leaves. The mirrors of the elves are silver trays in which water is poured for images to be able to reflect.

The psychomanteum is known as a cabin of apparitions. In fact, it is a room with walls covered entirely by mirrors used for the purpose of meditation. In the past, this type of room was used to aid in connecting with the world beyond during meditation. But it wasn’t only mirrors which were capable of making this connection, blood and water were also capable of establishing the link with the other world.

Legend and Symbolism in Relation to Mirrors

In art, mirrors have always represented infinity and illusion. According to legend, they have hidden powers which can be harnessed by their owners. Even Merlin is said to have bewitched a mirror to reflect like an all-seeing eye all that was going throughout King Arthur’s kingdom.

Infernal legends say that in Pandemonium, the capital of Hell or Ocularis Infernum , is located the all-seeing eye which can show anything from Earth, Hell or Heavens, regardless of whether it is from the past, present or future. Medusa is defeated by Perseus with the help of a well-polished shield in which her image is reflected turning her to stone.

Other legends consider that the Devil had been the one who created mirrors in order to induce error and trap the spirits of the deceased in the dimension from the mirror so that they would be unable to enter the afterlife.

In the beginning, the term of “mirror” could define any surface or metal which had been well polished to allow the formation of a reflection. The most appreciated and costly ancient mirrors were the ones that had been made from silver and superstitions surrounding them didn’t take long to appear. These days there is a vast world of mythology surrounding the mirrors in different cultures around the world.

Top image: There is a myriad of mythology surrounding mirrors. Source: MiaStendal / Adobe Stock

By Zaya Vald

References

Andrus, A. 2019. Bloody Mary: Ghost of a Queen? Capstone Press: North Mankato.

Bruce, S. G. 2019. The Penguin Book of Hell. Penguin Books: London.

Ehrman, B. 2021. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. Simon & Schuster.

Tyldesley, J. 2012. The Penguin Book of Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt. Penguin Books: London.

Melchoir-Bonnet, S. 2002. The Mirror: A History. Taylor & Francis: London.

Turner, A. K. 1995. The History of Hell. Mariner Books: San Diego.



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