October 27, 2013
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall…Please Don’t Fall
For the next installment to my superstitions blogs as a celebration of Halloween, I want to talk about the dreaded broken mirror. This superstitious myth is one that enters our lives in the earliest of days. I can remember receiving my first handheld mirror at age four. I had watched my mother use one every morning, so I wanted one, too. I received one as a present and thought I was the most special girl in the world. Then my mother said the infamous words that I would hear (and continue to hear) over and over again: “Don’t break that mirror or else you’ll have seven years bad luck.” Then she winked at me and walked away.
I remember being suspicious about this saying. I could not understand why a broken mirror would bring bad luck. I turned the little pink mirror over in my hands trying to see the magic that gave it such power. This memory is now one of my fondest, but I still do not understand the myth.
So, what is its origins? Well, according to Women’s Day, “The belief that you’ll have seven years’ bad luck if you break a mirror is said to come from the Romans, who were the first to create glass mirrors. But long ago many cultures, including Greek, Chinese, African and Indian, believed that a mirror had the power to confiscate part of the user’s soul. The thinking was that if the mirror was broken, the person’s soul would be trapped inside.”
Okay, that seems reasonable. I mean, many cultures believe that the mirror is like the eyes in that both act as windows to our souls. I can’t help but to think about “Snow White.” The magic mirror in the story not only tells the Dark Queen that Snow White is the fairest of all, but it also tells the Queen about the huntsman’s deceit and holds the Queen’s power. In one play version I found on Google Books, the Dark Queen actually shatters the mirror, at which point Snow White awakens and the Dark Queen feels the bitter taste of her defeat and complete obliteration.
So, destroying a mirror leads to the triumph of good here. Yet we still hold to the superstition that broken mirrors bring seven years of bad luck. Psychic Library.com further explains the origins: “Almost universally, this superstition includes that the bad luck would last for seven years. The origin of this belief stems from an early interpretation in Roman Times that each person’s body undergoes a physical regeneration every seven years. A broken mirror signified a break in the person’s health and well-being, going back to the theory of the mirror being the reflection of the soul.”
Thus, the broken mirror superstition has roots reaching back to the years of Roman conquest, dominance, and control. I would say that makes this a pretty prevalent superstition.
The most common mirror superstition is the seven years of bad luck. However, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry lists other superstitions related to the mirror:
- To see your reflection in a mirror is to see your own soul, which is why vampires, who are without a soul, have no reflection.
- If a couple first catch sight of each other in a mirror, they will have a happy marriage.
- If a mirror falls and breaks by itself, someone in the house will soon die.
- Any mirrors in a room where someone has recently died, must be covered so that the dead person’s soul does not get trapped behind the glass. Superstition has it that the Devil invented mirrors for this very purpose.
- It is bad luck to see your face in a mirror when sitting by candlelight.
- Before mirrors, in ancient societies, if you caught sight of your reflection or dreamt of it, you would soon die.
- Someone seeing their reflection in a room where someone has recently died will soon die themselves.
- Babies should not look into a mirror for the first year of their lives.
- Actors believe that it is bad luck to see their reflection while looking over the shoulder of another person.
- To see an image of her future husband, a woman is told to eat an apple while sitting in front of a mirror and then brush her hair. An image of the man will appear behind her shoulder.
I must end with my understanding of the broken mirror superstition. As a child, I quickly decided that the whole reason my mother had told me about the potential for seven years of bad luck if I broke my mirror was less preternatural and more practical; she simply did not want to have to clean up shards of broken glass. A broken mirror leads to one, big mess!
Image Credit: OLEKSANDR ROZDOBUDKO / Shutterstock