© 2004 Bobette Bryan
Throughout history, a number of myths or
superstitions have been born of mirrors and reflections.
One of the superstitions we've all heard of is the direness
of breaking a mirror, which is suppose to give the careless
person seven years of bad luck. But perhaps even more
alarming is the connection that mirrors have to the human soul.
It's thought that since mirrors hold one's
reflection, that they also hold a bit of one's spirit,
and in some cultures, mirrors actually reflect the presence
of a person's soul.
Doubtlessly, such beliefs have given
rise to many superstitions and customs. Some of these
beliefs probably came about because mirrors were scarce and of
inferior quality in pre-industrial Europe, thus presenting
the bearer with a grossly distorted image. In fact, many cultures believe that
the reflection in a mirror represents another world or
dimension that leads to the spirit world. Basically everything
in our world exists in reverse there; black is light, good is evil,
day is night, etc.
Unsurprisingly, it's thought that souls
on the other side seek to return to this dimension using a mirror's reflection as a gate.
Throughout Europe, it has been customary
to turn mirrors around to face the wall when someone in
the household dies. It's thought that if the spirit sees
its reflection that it can return to animate the body.
In some areas of Europe, it's even customary to empty
all water containers, since the
liquid holds a reflection that the bodiless soul can use. This
custom is taken a step further in Romania where all water containers
are covered at night, because it's believed that the spirit wanders
about then and can fall into the water and drown. Along the lines of the wandering spirit philosophy, Romanians also believe that
it's helpful to open the doors and windows at the time of a loved-one's death so that the spirit will
depart this world for the next one.
In contrast, the people of Macedonia purposely
place a container of water at gravesides in order to trap a bad spirit that
may be in the grave, and thus prevent it from tormenting others
All these myths give rise to the belief that water and evil doesn't mix
well--perhaps the reason why the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz was defeated with water.
But the reflection of water and mirrors wasn't the only worry for the superstitious.
The eyes could also hold a reflection and were thus capable of capturing
souls. This belief gave rise to the practice of avoiding the gaze
of the dead. It was thought that since death was reflected in the eyes of
a corpse that it would somehow be transmitted to the observers, bringing upon
them certain and eminent death.
Tales of vampires play heavily into this scheme of
things. Of course a vampire's reflection isn't suppose
to be visible in a mirror, because a vampire's soul is suppose
to be wandering, its body functioning on empty. Despite this loss of the soul, vampires still have the power of the gaze and can unnerve their victims with a hypnotic stare.
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