Mirrors in Magic

Mirrors have a historical starring role in magic shows. Illusionists use them to create their spellbinding, entertaining deceptions, making things like an elephant disappear or levitate. Of course, all but the more basic of tricks are carefully guarded secrets. What fun is a magic trick if you already know how it is done? Don’t worry. I’m not going to give away much. Mostly because I can’t! Instead, I’ll just share a brief introduction of mirrors in magic.

Mirrors can strategically bounce light in different directions and make one think one is seeing what he or she isn’t. Mirrors can also conceal what is hidden behind them. Add controlled light to the mix, and you have the ability to fool the eye and convince the mind of all kinds of things.

Magicians aren’t the only…um…magicians who use mirrors. Mirrors are used in theatre and film (and increasingly in art) for special effects as well. To get a taste of what they can do, check out this brief video introducing mirror magic and this link of surprising mirror art.

If you do want to know more about how a couple of traditional mirror tricks were done (and are still done), check out this cool link or this one.

As far as Mirror Spiritus is concerned, it’s all light and mirrors. The world we see around us, the life we live, is the grandest illusion of all.

The Chinese Magic Mirror

I’d never seen or heard of a Chinese magic mirror, not until investigating the use of mirrors in magic for this site. I didn’t get far in my research, because I became fascinated with this ancient art. When I first read about it, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept. Seeing was believing; this video made it quite clear:

The magic mirror dates back to the Han Dynasty of China (that’s about 206 BC to 24 AD). They are made of polished bronze on one side and an intricate design on the other. When one holds up the polished side to a light source, the symbols on the back side are projected mysteriously, as if the whole thing is transparent.

Apparently, some mirrors exist that actually project an entirely different or secret image than the one carved into the back of the mirror. Fascinating! Now I want one!

The Sun King & His Hall of Mirrors

sunThe French king, Louie the XIV unveiled for us the immensely beautiful Hall of Mirrors (also known as the Galerie des Glaces) in his palace at Versailles in 1684. This hallway was a tribute to light, decorated with 17 grand windows opposite 17  mirrored arches with dazzling chandeliers dripping from the ceiling and gleaming silver furniture. There are actually 578 total mirrors in the room. Can you imagine? Some components of the hall were sold to help finance the war in 1689, but much of it remains intact for lucky visitors today.

The hall was constructed to signify France as a powerful cultural and economic center, but it also served to magnify life in court. Mirrors were a symbol of wealth, and not just because of their great expense. They radiated light. Indeed, Versailles was a symbol of the center of the Universe from which all power emanated outward. It was Louie himself who chose the symbol of the sun to represent him, thus staking claim to his nickname, The Sun King. The hallway was used regularly for family and court functions and as a daily passageway. What would Feng Shui have to say about that!? And could we please all meet for a mirror meditation there?

Interestingly, the Hall of Mirrors is located between the Hall of War and the Hall of Peace, in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed many years later, bringing an end to the first world war in 1918.

To learn more about this lavish and fascinating building and time in French history, visit The Chateau Versailles.

Mirror Superstitions

Many of us know that if we break a mirror, it is considered to be 7 years bad luck, but I’ve never met anyone who could tell me why. Fortunately, I’ve never had the misfortune. Have you? Even if you have, I’m pretty sure you can relax and lay to rest the age-old superstition which dates back (at least) to our Roman ancestors. (I say at least because there were many ancient cultures with similar beliefs about the mirror and it’s ability to reveal the soul.) The idea stemmed from a belief they held that A) mirrors did indeed reflect the soul and B) life renewed every seven years. To break a mirror would damage the soul that was reflected in it at the time. Mirror Spiritus suspects our souls are a lot more resilient!

mirrorpieces
Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Orin Optiglot

Still, this superstition really got around. Early American slaves were not immune. In their case, they had the perfect antidote. You could wash away those 7 years with 7 hours of soaking the shards in a river heading south.

The superstitions surrounding mirrors involve more than broken pieces however. Some believe death is close by when a mirror falls and breaks by itself. Others are fearful of mirrors in a room where someone has died, lest they catch a glimpse of themselves, as this portends another visit from the angel of death…for the viewer! In Feng Shui, mirrors should be hung at the perfect height to avoid headaches which can occur if the top of one’s head is cut off in the mirror. I have to wonder if that’s superstition or just common sense. And for all you thespians out there, you might be familiar with the belief that looking into a mirror over someone else’s shoulder is likely to bring about some bad luck of your own.

Did you know that mirrors in Feng Shui are believed to absorb the negative energy in a room? That mirrors are used to contact the “other side” and tell the future? And did you know you should cover your mirrors at night lest your soul wander and get trapped on the other side? Did you know that a marriage will be happy if the newlyweds see each other in a mirror? Did you ever hear that burying pieces of a broken mirror could save you the years of bad luck? Or that a girl could catch a glimpse of her future mate by eating an apple and brushing her hair in front of the mirror?

The list of mirror superstitions goes on and on. One can’t help but wonder at the truth that is buried beneath all the fear. Could it be that mirrors really do hold some mystical, other-worldly power over man?

N…yeah, we don’t believe it either. Not because a mirror is an inanimate object with no mystical properties but because the stories and ideas of these properties has been blown so out of proportion with the truth. Take, for example, movies such as Oculus or Poltergeist, which have made mirrors symbols of horror.

We assert that the power remains in the one who uses the mirror as a tool…not within the mirror itself and definitely not with some “other side”. That isn’t to say they can’t help improve an environment or reveal some deeper truth to what they reflect. In fact, mirrors are just as equally symbols of self-knowledge, deep wisdom, and purity in literature and art. At Mirror Spiritus, we lean in this direction and away from fear-based superstitious nonsense. In the end, mirrors may indeed reflect the soul, and that is something to be embraced, not feared…unless you’re a vampire! ; )

 

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The Obsidian Mirror

“He said, ‘I am the Smokey Mirror, because I am looking at myself in all of you, but we don’t recognize each other because of the smoke in-between us. That smoke is the Dream, and the mirror is you, the dreamer.'”

~from a story by Don Miguel Ruiz

In ancient Mexico, mirrors were made out of polished iron pyrites and obsidian. Some say that the ancient people of Mexico used these polished mirrors, known as tezcatl, as tools of black magic. Um…black? Are they being literal? Because while it may have been used for magic, I doubt it was used exclusively for dark purposes. (Oh, the Western mind! Is there any hope for it.)  Just because the shamans used mirrors to travel and communicate with other realms hardly qualifies as black magic. These tezcatl were understood to be portals into other realms and likely used for healing, divination, burial ritual, and yes, in the wrong hands, for dark purposes. But put anything into the wrong hands and said humans will find a way to misuse it.

obsidianmirror
Image Source: Flickr Photo by: rvacapinta

The Mexican god, Tezcatlipoca, or “Smokey Mirror”, is often depicted with an obsidian mirror, sometimes replacing his right foot, sometimes at his head or chest. He is said to be the Lord of Sorcery, King of Rulers, and Lord of the Night, and through his mirror, he could see the true thoughts and motivations of man. For a whole new light on the dark lord of Tezcatlipoca, check out this beautiful story written by author of The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz. In it, Don Miguel weaves of tale of Smokey Mirror‘s awakening from the dream of the planet to discover the oneness of life. Though he attempted to share his new-found revelations with others, it was only to be misunderstood. Everyone else was still caught within the smoke…the dream of the planet that separates us from our truth. He knew he too would fall back into this dream state.

A Mexica (Meh-she-ka) mirror was one of several reflective objects used by 15/16th century astrologer and magician John Dee for divination practices. He had a fascination with mirrors as well as with supernatural and psychic phenomena. With the help of medium, Edward Kelly, Dee would transcribe messages that Kelly perceived “through the looking glass”. This mirror currently resides in the British Museum and is made of volcanic glass (obsidian).

To learn more about obsidian mirrors, check out these links:

The Getty Research Institute: Obsidian Mirror Travels

Mirrors in MesoAmerican Culture (most excellent and fascinating tidbits)

To read more of the myths of Tezcatlipoca:

Tezcatlipoca: Aztec God of Night, the North, and Sorcery

Tezcatlipoca on Wikipedia

 

Mirrors in Feng Shui

Ludwig von Langenmantel’s Woman in a Blue DressThere is an art to using Mirrors in Feng Shui and for good reason. They reflect the beauty around you (assuming you are indeed surrounded by beauty), put eyes in the back of your head (I loved my over-the-stove mirror that let me see what was happening behind me in my kitchen), and magnify the light, pushing or pulling chi. They have a reputation of being a cure-all, but as you’ll see from this blog, there are right ways and wrong ways to use mirrors inside your home.

We don’t often pay attention to what the mirrors in our homes are reflecting. Mirrors are typically meant to serve either a functional or simply decorative purpose, perhaps making a small room feel larger. But when we become more conscious of how we are using our mirrors, maybe some of that good-old Feng Shui luck and prosperity can come our way. If we don’t, we may end up with bad Feng Shui and bad luck! I remember looking at an apartment once. As soon as I opened the door, I suffered the shock of someone standing right at the door as I entered. Even if it was only my reflection, it made me jump. Not a good mirror placement and for more than one reason! This blog gives some very good tips about mirror placement.

Mirrors have fascinating qualities, not just expanding a room, as this blog reveals. They carry water energy and can help us stay in the flow. They can help us awaken and access our creativity, and they can repel the “bad energies” that come at us from all directions. But it isn’t just where the mirror is placed. There is also the consideration of the quality and condition of the mirror to ponder. Is it dirty, cracked, peeling? Such conditions can create or magnify problems for us as this blog shares.

Finally, one should also think about how a mirror is hung. Is it too high? Too low? This blog offers some good tips not only on hanging mirrors according to “good Feng Shui”, it also gives ideas on how to use mirrors to magnify your dreams and personal affirmations (what Mirror Spiritus is all about!).

Have you found a really cool way to use a mirror in your own home or life?

 

 

 

Mirrors and Traditions

The ways in which mirrors have been used throughout the centuries are fascinating. Surely, their importance in various world-wide traditions points to something quite archetypal regarding our reflection. Did our ancestors understand something we have forgotten? There are, of course, myriad superstitions regarding mirrors around the globe as well, but I’ll save those up for another post. Here, I focus on a few tidbits of mirrors and traditions.

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: dakinewavamon
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: dakinewavamon

THE CELTS

The Celts were an artistic people with a love of metalwork and incidently, mirrors made of bronze, iron, or a combination of the two. Theses mirrors were decorated with the motifs of Celtic art frequently reproduced today and have often been recovered from graves begging the question, “What was their significance?” They are generally regarded as “status symbols” among wealthy women, but was there perhaps a more mystical purpose? Very few Celtic mirrors survive intact, and this wonderful website created by Stephen Markoff, has a collection of fascinating resources and pictures for you to peruse.

JEWISH CULTURE

In the Jewish religion, when a loved one passes, the mirrors of the home are covered while the family sits in mourning for a seven-day period in order to facilitate the transition of the departed from this world to the next. If the mirrors were not covered, it is believed the soul could become entrapped in this realm unable to transition to the “afterlife”. Of course, the more popular version of the meaning is that the bereaved should not be at all concerned with their appearance during mourning but should rather reflect inward. You can read more about the touching customs of Shiva here.

SERBO-CROATIAN CULTURE

Yet another culture that buries their dead with mirrors. Perhaps this Serbo-Croation tradition gives us insight into the significance of burial mirrors in the Celtic tradition. The purpose was two-fold: one) it was thought to prevent one’s spirit from wandering and two) it kept evil spirits from rising up, perhaps by providing them with a means of self-fascination in the grave.

MESOAMERICAN CULTURE

Status symbols of the elite and instruments of sorcerers, ancient mirrors have also been excavated from Maya tombs. Typically fashioned of iron or obsidian (volcanic glass), such mirrors have been found placed near the body (specifically the head, the chest, lower back, groin or feet) or at some distance from the body. Interestingly, the Mexican god, Tezcatlipoca, is often depicted with an obsidian mirror at his head, chest, or foot. What was the significance of these burial mirrors? Were they merely prized possessions for their beauty or reflective qualities or were they viewed as portals into other realms?

Do you know of any interesting cultural uses of mirrors?

 

Shisha Embroidery

shishaDid you know? Shisha embroidery is the craft of sewing tiny mirroring objects to fabric. It originated in 17th century India (supposedly with the wife of Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal in her honor) eventually spreading throughout Asia and the Middle East. Interestingly, Native Americans are also known to have used mirrors to decorate their dress supposedly seeing them as symbols of wealth and prestige (though Mirror Spiritus has a much more spiritual theory on their usage by tribal cultures). Whether sewn on clothing or into domestic fabrics such as tablecloths and hangings, shisha is used in some cultures to throw off the “evil eye”, whether this was believed to happen because it reflected the evil away or because it dazzled and distracted, one cannot say. Mirror Spiritus finds shisha a delightful means of bringing more light into our world. (And the “evil eye” protection can’t hurt!) We feature some shisha throw pillows in our store and are keeping our eyes peeled for other exceptional products out there to feature in the future.

The mirrors most often represent the center of flowers or the eyes of animals. In wall hangings, they sometimes represent the ears of the Sun God or the breasts of Radha, so they aren’t random decoration traditionally. The video above demonstrates (in a rather meditative fashion) how the mirrors are affixed to fabric.

For those of you who have never had the privilege of seeing the Native American “Jingle Dance” live, take a look at this video. Though it is not related to Shisha in an obvious way, Mirror Spiritus would speculate that the numerous rows of shiny metal bells perform a similar function…to bring in more light and cast out darkness. What do you think?

More on Osho & Mirror Meditation

When we look into the mirror during mirror meditation, what do we see?

Spiritual teacher, Mooji, has an awesome youtube meditation in which he has you visualize yourself standing on a scale removing everything that is not natural to you. In other words, you remove your clothes, your dental fillings, and your nail polish, and once that is through, you remove the memories and thoughts which did not exist for you when you were born. In other words, it is a stripping away of all that is unnatural to our being. When we practice this, we get a sense of just how light our actual being is. Osho, another spiritual teacher, defines meditation as “the art of cleaning your mirror from all the dust that the society, the religion, the educational system has poured on you, to take away everything that has not been born with you, to bring you to your absolute innocence as you were born as a child”.

When Osho was asked why during mirror meditation, one meditator felt like he wasn’t looking at or seeing himself, Osho explained that this is absolutely correct! The reflection we see isn’t us. We are what is perceiving the reflection. He says, “if you think you are mirrored in the mirror, that is a lie…” It just happens to be one we all agree upon, and therefore it seems logical and real. He goes on to say, “Your consciousness cannot be reflected by the mirror,” unless, he says, that mirror is love.

oshoOsho’s teaching on this is so profoundly beautiful. He explains how lovers can sometimes mirror each other through their deep intimacy. The personalities disappear and only love remains. The experience is akin to two mirrors reflecting one another thus reflecting infinity. That’s what two clear mirrors do when they face each other. They create infinity. This is one of the reasons why practicing mirror meditation with someone you love (being one another’s mirror) can be so profound.

When you are practicing mirror meditation alone, do the practice, whatever the focus, and engage with yourself, but always try to keep in the back of your mind that what you see is NOT you. Always bring any mirror meditation session to a close by being still and empty, practicing the recognition that you are the pure consciousness aware of the reflection and not what is being reflected.

Source: God’s Got a Thing About You, Chapter 17 – Osho

Meet Artist & Lighting Designer Jill Mulholland

“Color and light are the strongest elicitors of beauty.”

I love how I met artist and lighting designer, Jill Mulholland. I had gone to a Temazcal or Mexican sweatlodge in Albuquerque. The woman running it just happened to be talking about a woman she knew who had done some research on how mirrors were used by “avisadores” to communicate with light signals across long distances. Having been working on Mirror Spiritus for several weeks prior, my little ears perked up. I begged for an introduction.

Jill was very accommodating and willing to meet with me not knowing if I was some kind of crazy person or not. She invited me to her home and without even having to explain what I was up to, she told me all about herself and her work. She had so many interesting things to share about mirrors and light. I was enthralled.

Then she showed me her Light Confetti. I was immediately taken back to a scene from the movie, Pollyanna, when the children discover “rainbow makers” or chandelier crystals at the house of the grumpy old man. Only Jill’s Light Confetti was about 10x more enchanting than any crystal light show I’ve seen. This art was casting a sun-lit constellation of stars all over her room! It was breathtakingly beautiful.

I downloaded a copy of Jill’s dissertation, Light Celebrating Place, West Texas Road Trip, and started reading it. It isn’t as dry as one might expect. Instead, it is a poetic and inspiring work that details her fascination with light, shadow, reflection, glow and color; reading about it fascinates the reader in turn…at least it did me. It’s right up the Mirror Spiritus alley, so to speak. Confetti-1-2-300x103

She writes:

“For me, reflections let me enter that place inside myself where it is quiet and non-verbal.”

She also talks about the depth of information contained in a shadow and that while reflection “bounces off”, glow “passes through”. Without knowing anything about mirror meditation, Jill has somehow managed to describe what it is, how it works, and what can be achieved through its practice!

I have two of these delightful, glistening pieces in my home now. I definitely want more!!! I hope to add some more photos of Light Confetti soon, so stay tuned.


Jill Mulholland received a B.A. in Maya Archaeology from Rutgers College, worked as an archaeologist in Belize, and as a contract archaeologist in California, Montana, Oregon and New Jersey. She learned light as a three-dimensional art form in the theater and received a Masters in Interior Architecture from the University of Oregon. Jill practiced as an architectural lighting designer in San Francisco, Portland, OR, and Princeton. She received a PhD. in Architecture from Texas A&M University, where she taught design studios in the Architecture and Visualization Departments. Her dissertation, Light Celebrating Place, resulted in four works of light art, one of which was temporarily installed in Big Bend National Park. This installation brought her work full circle back to the archaeology of the Mesoamerica and the Southwest.

Jill was the recipient of the Baker Chair, a position of merit that brings distinguished faculty to the University of Oregon in 2011. Later in 2011 she was a visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma. Currently she coordinates an all-volunteer non-profit board for the International Association of Lighting Designers that furthers architectural lighting education. Jill recently moved to Albuquerque to start a light art studio.

 

 

 

Mirrors in Art

lookingInMirrorThere are some seriously beautiful installations out there that feature mirrors. Check out these “mindmelting” amazing mirrors in art. These images are not to be missed!!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/mind-melting-artworks-made-with-mirrors#t7qhwl

http://beautifuldecay.com/2013/11/29/dan-graham-four-artists-use-mirrors-artwork/

Daniel Rozen, mirror artist

 http://www.smoothware.com/danny/

Mirror Cubes

http://twistedsifter.com/2013/12/light-bending-cube-of-one-way-mirrors-numen-for-use/

Here also is a fabulous blog post, How Mirrors Changed Art, from Thinking About Art that talks about some of the earliest mirrors and includes links to some interesting videos as well as some additional resources (though some of the links no longer function).

A Brief History of Scrying

Ever wish you could just look into a crystal ball and see into your future? Would it be a blessing or a curse to have such vision?

The art of scrying, the practice of gazing into a reflective surface and becoming focused on a single point to remotely view another person, place or time, has been around as long as the human desire to foretell the future.  The ancient Greeks and Celts practiced scrying as did the “wizards” of Mesopotamian and Mesoamerican cultures, the latter known for using polished obsidian.

In more recent culture, we see scrying in the Wizard of Oz, first when the fortune teller Dorothy meets after she runs away from home uses a crystal ball to focus in on her Auntie Em and again when the wicked witch uses one to follow Dorothy’s movements. We also see it in Snow White, when the evil queen uses the mirror to confirm her identity as the fairest in the land. And of course, it appears in even more recently in the Harry Potter series.

waterhouseAny smooth and reflective surface will do…a bowl of water, a mirror, glass, or a candle. Nostradamus, in fact, used a bowl of water to see into the future while in a trance state, making it possible for him to to perceive and then interpret images that appeared through ripples, waves, and reflections upon and within the water.

At Mirror Spiritus, we aren’t so much interested in the practice of scrying as an end unto itself. It is neither something we practice nor teach, though it can spontaneously occur during mirror meditation for those with such proclivities. Certainly, when we quiet the mind and become focused on a single object, we open ourselves to deep relaxation and can receive messages from deep within. If you are interested in learning more about it, check out this short course in scrying from Hermetic.com.

 

 

Rumi & the Mirror

Rumi & the Mirror

Contemplate these beautiful quotes from Sufi poet, Rumi, during your mirror meditations.
rumi

~~“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me.”

~~“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

~~“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

~~”We are pain and what cures pain, both. We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours. I want to hold you close like a lute, so that we can cry out with loving. Would you rather throw stones at a mirror? I am your mirror and here are the stones.”

~~”Between the mirror and the heart is this single difference: the heart conceals secrets, while the mirror does not”

~~”If you could get rid of yourself just once, the secret of secrets would open to you. The face of the unknown,
hidden beyond the universe would appear on the mirror of your perception.”

~~”Let go of your worries and be completely clear-hearted, like the face of a mirror that contains no images. If you want a clear mirror, behold yourself and see the shameless truth, which the mirror reflects. If metal can be polished to a mirror-like finish, what polishing might the mirror of the heart require? Between the mirror and the heart is this single difference: the heart conceals secrets, while the mirror does not.”

~~”Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror up to where you’re bravely working. Expecting the worst, you look, and instead here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see. Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you’d be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.”

~~”When the mirror of the heart becomes pure and clear, impressions of the other world will become manifest. The image and the image-maker will become visible, like the carpet and the carpet-spreader.”

Mirrors in Poetry

Mirrors frequently appear in poetry. Here is a selection of poems featuring the mirror that seem to capture the mysterious and compelling qualities inherent in reflection. Rumi has also used mirror symbolism in his poems.

 

Lady at a Mirror by Rainer Maria Rilke

rilke

As in sleeping-drink spices
softly she loosens in the liquid-clear
mirror her fatigued demeanor;
and she puts her smile deep inside.

And she waits while the liquid
rises from it; then she pours her hair
into the mirror, and, lifting one
wondrous shoulder from the evening gown,

she drinks quietly from her image. She drinks
what a lover would drink feeling dazed,
searching it, full of mistrust; and she only

beckons to her maid when at the bottom
of her mirror she finds candles, wardrobes,
and the cloudy dregs of a late hour.

Translated by Edward Snow

 

Telling You All  by Rainer Maria Wilke

Telling you all would take too long.

Besides, we read in the Bible
how the good is harmful
and how misfortune is good.
Let’s invite something new
by unifying our silences;
if, then and there, we advance,
we’ll know it soon enough.
And yet towards evening,
when his memory is persistent,
one belated curiousity
stops him before the mirror.
We don’t know if he is frightened.

But he stays, he is engrossed,
and, facing his reflection,
transports himself somewhere else.

 

The Muses Mirror by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

EARLY one day, the Muse, when eagerly bent on adornment,
Follow’d a swift-running streamlet, the quietest nook by it seeking.

Quickly and noisily flowing, the changeful surface distorted
Ever her moving form; the goddess departed in anger.

Yet the stream call’d mockingly after her, saying: “What, truly!
Wilt thou not view, then, the truth, in my mirror so clearly depicted?”
But she already was far away, on the brink of the ocean,
In her figure rejoicing, and duly arranging her garland.