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The magical properties of mirrors

Posted in Historical articles, Magic, Superstition on Friday, 28 June 2013

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This edited article about popular superstitions originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 307 published on 2 December 1967.

Snow White, picture, image, illustration

Snow White's stepmother has a magic mirror which tells the Queen something she does not want to hear, by Ron Embleton

Primitive people believe that their souls can be harmlessly separated from their living bodies and seen as shadows, or reflections in a still pool – but that if anything disturbs that reflection, they will die. Some African people still believe that crocodiles can kill a man by snapping at his reflection in the water, and that it is dangerous to gaze into a dark pool in case the spirit of the pool should seize the reflection and so bear the man’s soul away.

Long after civilised man ceased to believe that his soul was ‘detachable’, the same fears lingered on in other forms – such as the belief that to shatter a mirror (and therefore the reflection), was unlucky. The seven-year limit to the ill-luck probably derived from the fact that the number seven possesses its own magic.

Mothers will sometimes not allow a baby – whose soul is supposed not yet to be ‘secure’ in its body – to see itself in a looking-glass. (The truth is probably that they just don’t trust tiny fingers with glass!)

Mirrors are often still veiled after a death, to prevent other people seeing their reflections. To the superstitious, anyone who does so will die soon, or bring death to someone near.

Before a wedding ceremony, a bride avoids seeing herself in a mirror wearing her wedding-dress for fear that something may happen to prevent the marriage; but after the ceremony it is thought to be lucky for the newlyweds to catch sight of themselves, side-by-side, in a mirror.

Actors, who are notoriously superstitious people, avoid looking into a dressing-room mirror over someone-else’s shoulder, as this is supposed to bring bad luck to the one ‘overlooked’.

The worst mirror-omen is for someone to look into one and see – no reflection at all! This means that the soul has already left his body, and that death is very near . . .

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