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 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?