I found this this interesting piece on the Mysterious Universe site the other day. The article is mostly about the prevalence of mirrors in ghost stories and other horror memes and posits that mirrors give us the “willies” because they are about the only place where we can see our faces. I must confess that I found the argument in the piece rather vague but there was some interesting information provided nonetheless.
The author of the article mentions that mirrors were used in divination but does not go too deeply into the subject. This tendency to skip over magical knowledge when looking at paranormal phenomenon is one of the frustrations of my life and part of the reason that I started this blog. Make no mistake, folks, divination, done properly, is a magical discipline and this magical discipline is one that can give us some answers as to why mirrors give us the “willies”.
We can simplify what we are talking about by using the term that many magicians use for divination with a mirror: scrying. There are as many forms of scrying as there are magical types who use the practice but they all boil down to the idea of enhancing one’s psychic abilities, particularly clairvoyance, by the use of ritual gazing into a (usually) specially prepared mirror. The idea is to disconnect yourself from the daily, monkey mind and allow yourself access to your inner self, the part of you that is connected to the web of life, if you will, and able to read the strands of that web.
Information from scrying may come in many forms ranging from visions to strong intuition (“I just knew it!”) and, as with most psychic skills, some people are better at it than others. I find that the information that I get via scrying is somewhat dream-like in nature and requires a lot of interpretation so I don’t spend a lot of time mirror gazing. Other magicians, though, derive very specific and useful information from the practice and use it as others might use the runes or Tarot.
Now, if we look at the word divination, we may begin to get some hints about the “willies” effect of mirrors. Divination can be rightly understood as seeking the will of the gods in a matter. The most famous example of divination from classical times would likely be the Oracles of Delphi and Dodonna, mouthpieces of the gods Apollo and Zeus respectively. Over time though, magicians have come to realize that a number of different types of spirits may also assist in the divinatory process since their perceptions are not so limited to the physical plane. Mages have worked with everything from angels to daemons in divination, and often these spirits are contacted and visioned via, you guessed it, a mirror.
I have never heard a clear explanation of why magical types started using mirrors for this purpose but I can conjecture. In Celtic lands, the Veil between the worlds was known to be thinnest in borderland places, such as the shore of a lake or river where one stood at the border between earth and water with the sky overhead. Standing in such a place, with the water before you, it was sometimes possible to see your reflection in the water. Such reflections would have been the first mirrors and, no doubt, they were used for magical purposes even then.
Anyone who has sat next to a body of water and watched the play of wind and sun across the surface knows the trance inducing effect of such a vigil. Trance, of varying depths, is what makes scrying possible and, in fact, some scrying disciplines are still carried out with a bowl of water rather than a mirror. I imagine that some magician of the past realized that they could get much the same effect with a mirror or other reflective surface and the right sort of lighting (usually candle light) and thus scrying was born. By the law of association, if the reflective surface of water could be used to induce trance and commune with the inner self or with spirits then so, too, could the reflective surface of a mirror.
I would also note that, in some ceremonial styles of evocation, the spirit being summoned is commanded to appear in what is called a Triangle of Art and that the Triangle may actually have a mirror in it through which the spirit may manifest. So we have some evidence that, in magical thought, the mirror came to be viewed as not just a tool for opening the psychic senses but an actual portal through which beings might manifest. Thinking on this gives the “willies” phenomenon a whole new level of meaning.
Now certainly, much of what scares us about mirrors is that fear, developed from too much exposure to the media, that we will see someone or something creeping up on us from behind. But I believe that the part of us that is more attuned to the Otherside also recognizes that, under the right conditions, mirrors can act as portals and, where there are portals, there may be Intruders. We see a pale reflection of this portal opening power in the Bloody Mary urban legend.
My advice – mirrors are potential portals. Never do anything that could actually turn them into a means for accessing your area:
1) Use them for what they are designed for, in bright light when possible.
2) Do not spend a lot of time staring into them (even if you have a blemish).
3) Do not talk to your reflection in the mirror, or, if you do so for psychological purposes, do not make the talk into a mantra (repeating the same thing over and over and inducing trance).
4) If you buy a used mirror of any type, know the provenance (I would say the same of any used furniture) and be prepared to banish if you can not determine where the mirror came from.
5) Beware of mirrors given as gifts especially if the source of the gift has issues with you or might want to try to bind you to them (a lot of coercive magic such as love spells can be done with a mirror).