• Graveyard Shift

The Strange History Of Mirrors, From Phobias To Folklore

If you have eisoptrophobia or catoptrophobia, you won't be querying a mirror on the wall - or a mirror anywhere - about fairness. Both of these phobias involve a fear of mirrors, and though this rare condition may seem strange, it's not hard to argue that mirrors are inherently mysterious - we assign them meaning beyond their role as an object that's used to check if our hair or outfit looks good.

The history of mirrors dates back to the time when ancient people gazed at their reflections in the water. Later, they peered at themselves via polished stones until the advent of modern glass mirrors. In addition to allowing people to look at themselves, mirrors became metaphors for the soul, serving as a reflection of one's inner and exterior qualities. Along with this idea came the notion that people's souls can get trapped inside these objects, which might become portals to the spirit world where the spirits aren't always friendly.

The spooky game called Bloody Mary, as well as many horror movies and stories, take advantage of our superstitions about mirrors. Scientists may not be able to pinpoint why people are afraid of mirrors, but these phobia facts suggest our reflections could have fascinating associations.

  • Covering Mirrors After A Person Has Passed Is A Tradition In Some Cultures 

    Historically, people in some cultures might have draped cloths over mirrors in a home after a friend or family member has perished. In Victorian times, whether people covered the mirrors completely or wrapped them in black fabric around the edges, they considered the decoration a status symbol.

    Long before then, Germans reportedly feared that looking in a mirror after someone passed would bring the same fate to the gazer. In China, people turned mirrors over after someone departed so that their loved one's spirit wouldn't accidentally see their reflection and realize they were a ghost. People in other cultures might have covered mirrors after a loss because they believed the reflective surface could absorb the energy of a spirit who came by, bringing evil and bad luck to the mirror's owner.

    Some Jewish people may still practice this tradition, not only to help their loved one's spirit move on and avoid being trapped in the mirror, but also to help the living focus on the deceased's image rather than their personal reflection.

  • Some People Believe Mirrors Are A Link To The Supernatural World

    Superstitions about mirrors mainly derive from the belief that they are connected to and serve as a portal to the supernatural world. In some horror movies, for example, ghosts, evil spirits, and other beings appear in or emerge from mirrors once a portal is opened.

    Other people believe souls can get trapped inside mirrors. Often, these souls are evil and can bring harm to anyone who gazes into the same mirror. The evil energy trapped in the mirror would be proportional to the evil that dwelled in the deceased person when they were alive. Those who hold these beliefs say people should cover, destroy, bless, or bury haunted mirrors.

  • Breaking A Mirror Might Bring Bad Luck 

    In addition to walking under ladders and crossing the path of black cats, breaking a mirror is one of the most well-known superstitious beliefs thought to bring bad luck. People in ancient times thought reflections were the result of being able to see one's soul. Since they also believed it takes seven years for a soul to regenerate itself, breaking a mirror would supposedly bring a person bad luck for that many years.

    The same concept applies to reflections in water. According to some folktales, people reportedly experienced bad things after ripples or waves disturbed their reflection. 

  • Mirrors Are Often Used In Divination And Other Psychic Rituals 

    Some people use mirrors to query those in the spirit world or learn about the future. Ancient Greeks might have built psychomanteums - mirrored rooms in which they would sit, gaze at their reflections, and connect to the spirit world. Greeks also allegedly dipped mirrors in water to double the power of their reflection and communication. Black magic practitioners in ancient times could have used this double reflection plus water to predict if people would perish.

    Those who practice scrying - seeking answers and hidden meanings in a reflective surface - may use crystal balls or mirrors.