One object in particular that seems to have been the focus of much folklore and myth over the years is the mirror. Nowadays we use them for practical purposes like doing our hair or checking our outfits, but in the past they’ve been used for much more bizarre purposes, from telling the future to performing magic tricks. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the mirror was once seen to be greatly symbolic and mystical.
Because we like to talk about mirrors – and because Halloween is so close – we decided to investigate the surreal, sometimes spooky history of this now everyday object, and found that the origins behind the various myths and superstitions are really quite interesting.
7 years bad luck
If you’ve ever broken a mirror, did you worry about the sudden onslaught of bad luck you might have to face? Did you notice things starting to go wrong suddenly? Or perhaps you just saw the inconvenience of having to clean up all that broken glass. Either way, throughout history the connotations of breaking a mirror have divided many cultures and religions.
It was the ancient Romans who first suggested the idea of a broken mirror bringing seven years bad luck. This stems from another piece of Roman lore stating that every seven years life would renew itself and any broken parts of your life – such as health issues – would be fixed. So, if a mirror smashed and your image was the final thing it reflected, then you’d have to endure seven long years of misfortune before the curse ended and good luck was renewed.
There were measures that could be taken to prevent this bad luck though. You could take the shattered pieces and bury them by the light of the moon, for example, or take a fragment to a graveyard and touch it against a tombstone. In this day and age, however, we’d suggest that none of these options is advisable. If do break a mirror, you’ll probably be ok to just sweep up the pieces. We reckon if you were unlucky enough to smash one in the first place then you’ve had your fair share of bad luck already.
A window to the soul?
Fragments of highly polished obsidian found in Turkey have been dated back to 6000BC and are believed to be some of the first examples of man-made mirrors. Back then, if a person glimpsed their reflection, they believed that they were actually seeing their soul staring back at them. To cause any damage to the reflection, then, would be to damage the soul.
If you know anything about vampire legends, you’ll probably already know about their aversion to garlic and their nocturnal habits. Along with those myths though, people also believed that vampires had no reflection, linking to some cultures’ beliefs in the idea of the mirror reflecting the ‘shadow soul’- the true nature of a person. Because vampires were thought to be so evil, it was said that they had no soul, and therefore nothing to reflect in a mirror.
Some religions and cultures took the suggestion that the mirror was linked with the soul quite seriously, and still do today. In Judaism, if someone dies, all of the mirrors in their house are covered throughout the mourning period to prevent the spirit of the body getting trapped inside and not reaching the afterlife. Some cultures even go as far as to bury their dead with mirrors, to stop the spirits rising from the grave.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, some old wives tales tell of mirrors actually bringing good luck. In ancient China, mirrors were powerful talismans used to ward off evil spirits, and other cultures believed that they could bring love and prosperity. If a couple first saw each other reflected through a mirror, for example, then then they were destined for a long and happy relationship.
It’s difficult to imagine that mirrors were once the source of so much intrigue and myth when in the 21st century they’re simply considered necessary household objects. They may not really ward off evil spirits or reflect your soul, but perhaps a different kind of magic can be found in seeing your newly installed illuminated mirror for the first time!