Graveyard Shift The Strange History Of Mirrors, From Phobias To Folklore  

Erin McCann
15.6k views 12 items

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.

The Fear Of Seeing Yourself In... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Strange History Of Mirrors, From Phobias To Folklore
Photo:  The Shining/Warner Bros.
The Fear Of Seeing Yourself In A Mirror Is Called Eisoptrophobia

The medical term for a fear of seeing yourself in a mirror is eisoptrophobia, though it is often interchanged with catoptrophobia and an aversion of mirrors in general. Eisoptrophobia comes from the Greek words for "into" (eis) and "vision" (optikos). Usually, people who have eisoptrophobia are afraid of the image they see reflected, not the physical mirror.

Like all phobias, the condition involves an intense fear that disrupts a person's life. Symptoms can include rapid heartbeat, anxiety, and shortness of breath. People living with Eisoptrophobia may avoid mirrors or cover them up. Scientists don't have a concrete reason as to why this phobia occurs, but they believe an external event like a traumatic experience could be a factor.

An Irrational Fear Of Mirrors Is Known As Catoptrophobia

Though sometimes interchanged with eisoptrophobia, the fear of mirrors is medically known as catoptrophobia. Catropto is the Greek word for mirrors, from which the term originates. This irrational fear of the physical mirror can cause anxiety attacks and physical symptoms, including shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat.

Catoptrophobia can manifest at the same time as other phobias, such as scoptophobia, the fear of being watched, to make the act of seeing one's reflection even more terrifying. Scientists are unsure what causes catoptrophobia, but therapy can help those who have it.

Spectrophobia, The Fear Of Gho... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Strange History Of Mirrors, From Phobias To Folklore
Photo:  An American Werewolf in London/Universal Pictures
Spectrophobia, The Fear Of Ghosts, Often Goes Along With A Fear Of Mirrors

Eisoptrophobia and catoptrophobia can simultaneously exist with spectrophobia, the extreme fear of spirits or ghosts. The term comes from the Greek translation of "fear" and the Latin word spectrum, which means "apparition." Thanks to urban legends, superstition, and horror movie tropes involving supernatural beings suddenly appearing in mirrors, it's not hard to see why this phobia pairs well with the fear of mirrors.

In addition to mirrors, spectrophobia sufferers may fear and avoid dark places, empty houses, and heavily wooded areas. Spectrophobia, also known as phasmophobia, can cause the same symptoms of anxiety similar to other phobias.

The Bloody Mary Game Could Make Anyone Deathly Afraid Of Mirrors

Bloody Mary, a popular pastime at many sleepovers, has done great damage to the reputation of mirrors. This children's game entails a person standing in front of a mirror, gazing at their reflection, and saying "Bloody Mary" three times. Doing so supposedly leads to terrible consequences: Mary might appear as summoned, or the mirror may swallow the chanter or rip out their eyes.

Numerous theories exist about Mary's identity. Some believe the game refers to a woman named Mary Worth, a suspected witch who was executed over 100 years ago. Others say it's a lady who died in a horrible car accident, or that it could allude to Mary Tudor, Queen of England, dubbed "Bloody Mary" due to her extreme ending.