The Mirror That Reflects the Moon

My personal mirror, belonged to my great great grandmother and passed along down to me.  It used to be hinged in a huge dresser but the dresser is in storage while the mirror remains with me.  It has seen death.  It has been bloodied and lost and witness to many lives.  It sits across from my bed.  I have no taboos about the mirror regarding its use in my work- it's part of my family and part of our sentiment and superstition, so it watches me... covered behind a curtain. 
the art of the reflective diviner, the love fortune-teller, the illuminated healer...
and the unlucky.

As Samhain approaches, mystics, occultists, witches and wanderers start unpacking their arsenal of divination tools, hoping to catch that wisdom in the ether. Some witches only whip out the big guns for the holiday.  Usually, this means oracles, spirit boards and ouji.  For me, this time of year is for the mirror, the Nichols Mirror.  My family mirror is more than just a little spirited.  It's watched so much death and magic, it sits unused and covered by iron chains and necklaces most of the year.  Then Samhain comes and this tool of which I am weary comes out to speak.

A little about mirror folklore...

The magic of mirrors was beheld by our ancient ancestors since time unknown, long before the Roman specularii, even in the hands of the famed and powerful like Pythagoras, Catherine di Medici and John D (who's mirror was a polished slab of black obsidian).  They can become haunted like those of the Myrtles Plantation or St. Mathias Mission House, and they are even inhabited by their own court of legendary demons like Bloody Mary, Doppelganger and the Black Madam.  A black mirror is said to be specifically for skrying; for seeing beyond what we perceive with the eye.  Clear mirrors were believed to be able to act as portals and summon demons.  Hand mirrors were a tool of love while wall mirrors were a source of fearful superstition as they were believed to be able to capture the souls of those passing near it regularly.   The most dangerous kind of mirror according to folklore, is that of water.  The mirror of water was often associated with enchantment and death, leading people to their demise in its depths.  However, wells as a type of mirror were utilized in their own manner by method of one looking at well water through the reflection from a hand mirror.  This double portal was supposed to show the future.  This kind of well-mirror magic survived in American regional folklore. 

"Mirrors train the inner eye to perceive the unseen.  Throughout history, mirror gazing has been used to look into the future, aid in healing, answer questions, solve problems, find lost objects and people, and identify or find thieves and criminals."
- Rosemary Guiley, Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy

The power of the mirror sometimes appears to lie in protecting oneself and home from mirrors, rather than using the mirror actively.  It is a passive tool, one that is gazed upon or manipulated by smoke, light and water in order to distort the world and give us visions of the world in between the realities we accept.  Smoke and mirrors with candle-light is a well known divination aid that alters the way we read palms, cards or spirit-boards; it's more than parlor tricks to trick the eye, when those involved know exactly what's going on, the manipulations become a tool of reflection, a path to distinguishing the eye from the inner eye. 


  • fortune and misfortune
  • apples and love
  • water and blood
  • voodoo dolls
  • necromancy
  • healing
  • divination (catoptromancy)
In love charms, the light of the moon becomes the method by which the world of the mirror is altered, the mind becomes transfixed and visions are obtained.  Water used upon the mirror was supposed to open a portal between worlds, allowing spirits or otherworldly things to birth into our world.  Blood, was a message, sent to the spirits as both sacrifice and query. 

"Hold a mirror face downwards over the center of the well and your future husband will appear in the glass,"
- Cora Linn DanielsEncyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World  Vol I-III (p.66)

Primary attributes in folklore are love charms; specifically spells by women to obtain faithful husbands, the prediction of death omens and to speak with the spirits of the dead or demons themselves, to contact the devils directly, or in some cases, to bind spirits from a place or even heal the grief-stricken.  In terms of love magic, the mirror served as a portal by which one could see the image of their future lover, it reflected a possibility which had to be observed in darkness and with an offering of some sensuous food- specifically the apple.  

"In Scotland the lassy slips alone and unperceived to a dark room containing a mirror where a moonbeam falls.  She stands before the mirror eating an apple, and intently regarding the mirror in which soon appears the reflection of the face of her future husband."
- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World  Vol I-III (p.66)

"Some of the maidens waited for the pagan feast of Samhain to learn their lovers identities.  To learn whether love lay ahead, young people would cut an apple into nine pieces at midnight on Halloween while standing before a mirror.  The spell required each piece to be speared with a knife of silver and held over the left shoulder, one piece at a time.  Upon stabbing the ninth piece, the intended's reflection appeared."
-Rosemary Guiley, Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy

The apple, its fruit and blossoms, its bark and leaves, each are component to Venusian magic and ever associated with lust, femininity and desire.  Apple blossom saining or holy water is used as fertility baths during the rites of spring and other solar festivals in contemporary pagan traditions.  Mirrors happen to also be one of the image attributes of Glittering Venus (The Picatrix), just as shells and combs are always featured with Venus, so is a hand mirror, and this symbolism carried on through time and across the world, influencing love rituals and glamour magic alike, and most notably, the apple always seems to make an appearance where Venus and Aphrodite's invocation and artistic images are concerned.

"On the last night of October place a mirror and a clock in a room that has not been used for some time, and at a quarter to twelve take a lighted candle and an apple, and finish eating the apple just as the clock strikes twelve and then look in the mirror and you will see your future husband."
- Alabama Folklore, Memoirs of the American Folk-lore Society

The curse of beauty, desire and the pursuit of love/lust is the legacy of Paris and that apple he chose from the most beautiful of the goddesses.  He could have had wisdom, he could have known victory; he made the same choice I'd have made.  I chose the golden apple of Pandemos and never once looked back.  The apple and mirror are a duet in the poetic romance of love magic.

"Look in a mirror at midnight on St. Agnes Eve, stick a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of the man you will marry."
-Thomas G. Manning & Ambrose N. Burton,  A Collection of Folklore By Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University (1966)

Water- including "magnatized water" like that of the Magnetic Mirror, human blood, candles, moonlight, cloth and apples are all tools used in conjunction with mirrors in order to obtain some mystical goal.  In the case of Pythagoras, he is said to have, according to Agrippa, foretell by moonlight and mirror, the exact method is subject to some debate- the legend also says it was witches from the famed Thessaly line who taught him to divine this way, where they themselves used blood to write their oracles.  Water is the elemental association with mirrors, and its rulership falls under Luna.  Its associated stones are obsidian, onyx and hematite, its herbs are mugwort, wormwood and vervain, its time is midnight and dominion is the full moon.

"Magic mirrors, which were used for scrying aid to communicate with spirits; the most ancient of these is the surface of a liquid such as water, oil or ink." 
-Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy

There is a good deal of stigma and fear surrounding mirrors and their powers, much of it derived from the fear of being captured in time or a fear of doorways between the sacred and mundane.  According the funereal folklore of New England and the Midwest:

"Mirrors must be covered or turned to the wall: looking into a mirror while the corpse still lies in the house will bring another death within the year and at the same time and on the same day that the looking occurred."
-Duncan Emrich, Folklore on the American Land (1972)

On the one hand, the mirror can be a portal through which desires are gleaned, on the other, it was regarded as a portal between worlds through which spirits- even demons- may contact or watch over us. 

"Look in a mirror at a glass on a table behind you-- a glass in which a ring has been placed, and you will see your future mate."
-Frank C. Brown, North Carolina Folklore Collection

Like nearly all magics associated with love, the mirror is equally a tool of the necromancer and is part of the fabric of folklore related to haunting.

"Pausanias says, that this method of divination was in use among the Achaians; where those who were sick, and in danger of death, let down a mirror, or looking glass, fastened by a thread, into a fountain before the temple of Ceres; then looking in the glass if they saw a ghastly disfigured face, they took it as a sure sign of death; but. on the contrary, if the face appeared fresh and healthy, it was a token of recovery."
- J. S. Forsyth, Demonologia, Or, Natural Knowledge Revealed: Being an Exposé of Ancient and Modern Superstition (1831)

"He who looks in the mirror at night sees the devil there."
- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World  Vol I-III (p.66)

In terms of taboos regarding the mirror and its inherent power, there exists a great deal all over the world,  the most common prohibitions being:

  • Looking at a mirror at night- ill fortune; sometimes this was said to be most dangerous at midnight or in the light of a candle- with the exception of certain love charms which may require it: "When darkness has begun to overspread the earth, go into a vacant room and stick nine pins, one above the other, into a new candle; light it, and wait until, as it burns down, the last one falls.  Probably a form will slowly define itself in the air, or the wished-for face look out from a mirror."- Journal of American Folklore.
  • Making faces in the mirror- was said to conjure the devil and his court.
  • Sleeping across from a mirror- ill omen, however sleeping with a mirror under the pillow was encouraged in love magic,"If you put the mirror under your pillow for three successive nights, you will dream of your future husband."- Cora Linn Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World  Vol I-III (p.66)
  • Breaking a mirror- bad fortune in general, unless the mirror is clothed and then shattered due to possession.
  • Candle-light before a mirror- ill omen when done at night.
  • Moonlight- shows death or reveals the future, depends on your perspective- it was used in Western European charms to reveal the identities of lovers simply by gazing during the night(Daniels, Cora L.), often while eating or distributing an apple, however it was also said to reveal the faces of those to die in Southern folklore, which is why they were to be covered after someone dies- for fear of spirit possession and entrapment (Brown, Frank C.).   The mirror was also an instrument of the sun, and was also used in the luminous magic of Solar light to cast out doubts, to heal, to reveal, to honor the gods and to reveal hidden things and they were also believed in Afro American folklore to attract lightning, necessitating being covered during storms. 
Reading and references...

  • The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore by Frank C. Brown
  • Encyclopedia of Occult Scienses Vol.VI by Maffeo Poinsot
  • Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World  Vol I-III by Cora Linn Daniels
  • Drawing Down the Sun: Rekindle the Magick of the Solar Goddesses by Stephanie Woodfield
  • Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy by Rosemary Guiley
  • Folklore on the American Land by Duncan Emrich
  • A Collection of Folklore By Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University (1966) by Thomas G. Manning & Ambrose N. Burton

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