Mirrors form a huge part of popular culture, and films like Snow White or Mirror, Mirror play on their magical properties. While it’s beyond the scope of this post, mirrors also play a part in scrying. Here, a practitioner gazes into a dark mirror (often a slice of obsidian). They don’t look for reflections, but rather visions.
But we’re looking at actual reflections, not just mirrors. These reflections often reveal either the truth or the future. Given it’s bad luck to have two mirrors facing one another, what they show is clearly of interest!
So how are reflections important to folklore?
Reflections in Love and Romance
Sometimes superstitions are intended to help followers avoid harm. But there are positive superstitions too. In terms of reflections, new couples that first spot each other in a mirror should have a happy marriage.
And you’ll no doubt have heard the old Halloween advice – young girls should eat an apple in front of the mirror to see the reflection of the man they would marry. Apples are often associated with love magic, so it’s hardly surprising that they’d appear connected with romantic superstitions!
Newlyweds should stand in front of a mirror together after the wedding. This helps their souls find one another in the spirit realm.
On the downside, in Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and wasted away as a result.
Social media selfie fans beware.
Good Luck Reflections?
Have you ever given yourself a fright by spotting movement in a mirror, only to realise it’s your own reflection? Next time, don’t panic. It’s a sign good fortune is on the way!
Some people hang mirrors opposite their front door. It acts as a form of watchdog, reflecting any evil spirits that try to enter. The practice comes from China, where people hung brass mirrors in temples. Evil spirits trying to enter saw their reflections and left in a hurry.
Reflections and the soul
It’s an old custom to cover mirrors following a death to ensure the deceased’s spirit didn’t become trapped in one. That said, some believe the mirrors should be covered so the spirit doesn’t get confused trying to leave the house.
Either way, cover your mirrors, people.
It doesn’t end there. Someone seeing their reflection in a room where someone has recently died, will soon die themselves – giving another excellent reasons to cover up mirrors!
In some cultures, the risk also exists for dreamers. Mirrors should be covered at night to prevent wandering nocturnal souls being trapped.
You also shouldn’t look into a mirror that belonged to someone who died recently. Their soul will take you with them into the underworld. The mirror only becomes safe for reuse after the person’s burial or cremation.
Ghosts reflecting in mirrors reappear in horror films. The Conjuring (2013) used it to good effect, with the dead boy Rory only being seen in the mirror of the music box. He’s also captured through a form of spirit photography, which isn’t really surprising.
After all, photography was often seen as a means of capturing the soul. If mirrors reflect the soul, then both forms of representation could show the dead. I wrote a story, ‘The Professor’, about a figure who appeared in mirrors.
I’ve even heard that newborns shouldn’t look into a mirror until they’re one year old, as some believe the soul is still developing during their first year.
But it explains why vampires would have issues with mirrors.
After all, if mirrors reflect a creature’s soul, then demonic/monstrous beings like vampires would have nothing to reflect.
It puts a neat twist on The Skeleton Key, in which Kate Hudson’s character moves into a rambling Louisiana mansion that has no mirrors.
The mirrors would reflect the true nature of those living in the house, as well as revealing the mansion’s ghosts. Kate’s attempt a hoodoo late in the film ties into a superstition about candlelight and reflections. Viewing your reflection by candlelight won’t just show you your own face. It’ll also show you the otherwise invisible entities sharing your home!
I couldn’t write about reflections and not include Bloody Mary! While she’s more of an urban legend, I do think she’s a part of ‘contemporary folklore’.
While the extent of the legends is too numerous to fully explore here, the basic gist is the same; a dare requires a young person (it’s nearly always a pre-teen or a teenager) to go into a bathroom. They must close the door and switch the light off, while chanting some variation of “Bloody Mary”.
Have you ever tried it? What happened?!
The chant varies in content, as well as repetitions, but in effect, Bloody Mary should appear in the mirror.
Here’s the Bloody Mary scene from the Paranormal Activity 3 trailer. (Which also means you don’t need to waste time watching the rest of the movie!)
According to World of Pop Culture, “Bloody Mary is a soul trapped in a mirror, looking to cause harm to those who invoke her. She’s been harmed herself and looking to bring that pain to others”.
Over to you! Do you know any superstitions about reflections?
Mirrors have long since fascinated me, particularly the idea that a shadow world might exist on the other side, the reverse of our own. It even inspired the tale ‘The Mirror Phase’, which you can find in my free collection, Checkmate: Tales of Speculative Fiction.
Want more folklore in your inbox?
Add your email below and get these posts in your inbox every week.
You'll also get 2 free creepy tales inspired by the folklore of changelings!