13 grim things and superstitions about mirrors

A screaming face in a broken mirror

The belief that there’s a link between a mirror and the soul has led to a wide range of urban legends and fears of mirrors. Mirrors have been used for everything from divination to scrying and seeing glimpses of the future to enabling vanity and so much in-between… Here are some grim superstitions surrounding them.

  1. You could see something you’re not expecting

… or someONE. The fear of mirrors is known as catoptrophobia. Many people across the world are afraid of mirrors… especially in the middle of the night when they get up in the dark to use the toilet. Some people don’t have a single mirror in their home while others keep their mirrors covered up when they’re not in use.

A girls' hand reaching out of a mirror
Source unknown

The most common fear relates to the mirror’s potential link with the supernatural and that a ghostly, or even bloody, face will pop up in the mirror as they look into the glass.

Seeing a reflection that shouldn’t exist is said to be a bad omen and superstitions state that it is bad luck to see your face in a mirror by candlelight because you might see the spirit of a loved person who has died.

  1. Even worse, you could see the Devil

Folklore stories tell that if you take a handheld mirror to an unlit room at midnight and walk backwards around the room while holding up the mirror, by the third trip around the room you will see the face of the Devil reflected in the mirror.

Other folk stories will tell you that if you spend too much time making faces in front of the mirror, the Devil will soon come and stand behind you. Some believe that this story was created to discourage vanity, but unless you want to watch yourself pulling faces for a few hours and tell us what happens, we can’t say…

  1. They’re linked to religious rituals and witchcraft

Mirrors have long been linked to religious rituals and superstitions.

Many cultures believe that mirrors or reflections in the water will show us our souls. This has led to the belief that mirrors are incredibly dangerous in the magical realm where dark spells could be performed on mirrors that hold the image of the intended victim.

  1. You could get seven years of bad luck if you break one

An ancient belief states that a mirror reflects a person’s soul. This is why the ‘seven years of bad luck’ belief is a saying. According to the belief which is believed to date back as far as the time of Ancient Romans, the soul regenerates every seven years. Therefore, breaking a mirror breaks a piece of the soul, causing seven years of bad luck.

The Ancient Romans would bury the pieces of broken glass deep in the ground in an attempt to reverse the bad luck.

  1. They could trap a soul

In Victorian times, when the dead were laid out before their funerals, families would cover the mirrors with veils or cloth in a newly deceased person’s home to avoid the mirrors trapping the deceased person’s soul behind the glass.

This was practised across the world including in England, Scotland, America, China, Madagascar, the Crimea and Bombay and it is still practised as a tradition today in many countries and cultures, such as when Jewish families sit shiva.

This belief stemmed from the idea that the deceased would hang around in hopes of finding a body to possess in order to resolve their unfinished business so they could move on. Other beliefs include that the trapped soul will haunt the house in which the mirror resides.

One superstition states that the Devil invented mirrors for this very purpose: to trap souls in a perpetual state of ‘hell on earth’.

Other stories about why mirrors should be covered include that if someone sees their reflection in a room where someone has recently died, will soon die themselves.

Whatever the reason, the dead person’s mirror is unsafe for use until they have been buried or cremated.

  1. They could be a portal between worlds

Some superstitious legends say that a mirror serves as a portal between this world and the next, such as an alternate or parallel dimension. So why do professional mediums cover up their mirrors before helping customers to communicate with loved ones? Well, the risk of evil spirits coming through the portal with the deceased relative or friend is too grim to risk.

It’s believed by some that mirrors can even be used to communicate with the dead.

  1. Mirrors could break on their own
A woman's reflection in a broken mirror

… and if they do, it means someone is going to die. Basically, If a mirror in the house falls from a wall and breaks on its own, it’s a REALLY bad omen. And if a mirror breaks for no reason whatsoever, you could be about to lose your best friend.

It’s not all grim, though. If a mirror drops to the floor and doesn’t break, you’re in for some good fortune.

  1. Some people play ‘games’ with them

A children’s ‘game’ called Bloody Mary involves spinning around in the dark and then calling out to Mary three times. Ever played it? Don’t. It allegedly summons an evil entity through a bathroom mirror. And knowing that your child could have been dared to try to summon a bloody ghost through a dimly-lit mirror is just grim. If you don’t believe there’s anything to it, try it, but don’t blame me if you see something grim.

… Seriously though, don’t try it.

  1. No reflection = no soul?

It’s believed in ancient superstitions that vampires, witches and demons don’t show a reflection in mirrors because they have no souls and, as I’ve explained above, mirrors are believed to reflect our own souls – our true nature – back to us. But, my question is this: has anyone actually witnessed this? Has anyone ever walked past a mirror and onlookers have seen no reflection? Is this actually a thing?

An image from Van Helsing, 2004, which shows a woman dancing with a man with no reflection
Source: Van Helsing, 2004

“According to Elibori they cast no reflected image. Thus, for example, one cannot see them, nor can they see themselves, in a mirror. Nor in any other object serving the same purpose…like water, windowpanes, etc.” – Alfred, The Fearless Vampire Killers

Many people believe that this superstition was actually begun by inhuman creatures, to throw us off the scent. “Oh they have a reflection, they must be a normal person! They can’t be a witch like we thought! How wrong we were.”

  1. Hide your mirrors from your baby

Mirrors are so dangerous when you think about it. One knock and they could smash and that’s really not a risk you want to take around your newborn baby or your pets. But in some cultures, it’s believed that a baby should never be shown its own reflection before it is a year old or else it will die.

Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be much to it because people take selfies with their newborns every day…

  1. Sleeping with mirrors = a big no

It’s believed to be bad feng shui to have a mirror above your bed. And the reason for this? There’s a belief that your body and spirit go through a ‘repairing’ process while you sleep, and it is damaging to have the negative energy which your body releases during sleep reflected back at you.

Other beliefs about sleeping in front of, or underneath, a mirror is bad luck because of the supernatural entities on the other side. The spirits can freely watch you as you rest and, from the  spirit world, they may be able to suck out your soul through the mirror while you are asleep and unprotected.

  1. Vanity could come at a cost

An ancient story tells that you should avoid gazing into a mirror for too long if you are unwell because the spirits will find it easy to steal away your soul since your body is weaker than usual.

  1. Some actors have a superstition about mirrors

Some actors believe that it is bad luck to see their reflection in a mirror while looking over another person’s shoulder.

  • It ain’t so grim, but it’s an honourable mention

Modern mirrors are generally made using aluminium powder, but did you know that the Egyptians used polished copper? Copper was associated with Hathor, an ancient Egyptian goddess who was believed to preside over beauty, love, sex, fertility, cosmetics and magic.

Aztec mirrors were made from Obsidian crystal and the Aztecs associated mirrors with Tezcatlipoca, a deity whose name translates to ‘Smoking Mirror’. Tezcatlipoca was the Lord of the Night and used mirrors to cross between our earthly realm and the underworld.

The links between Hathor, Tezcatlipoca and magic might explain the superstitious background of mirrors.

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