Someone I know broke a mirror the other day. Being the grounded, rational person I am, my first through was, ‘Tsk, tsk, seven years bad luck for you, laddie.’ Then I paused and wondered how luck, or more precisely lack of it, could be linked with breaking a piece of silvered glass. Granted, it makes sense that the symbolism of shattering one’s own image might make one a tad uncomfortable—but seven years bad luck? Where does seven come into it?
Twenty minutes of Internet research later, I had my answer. :-)
The superstition was born long before the modern glass mirror. In days of yore, folks who wanted to check their appearance didn’t pause by the hall mirror on their way to the front door, they found a convenient puddle to check their reflection. If the image in the water was distorted this portended the viewer’s death. (Moral of this story is obviously don’t look at your reflection when it’s raining!)
With the advent of the glass mirror, beliefs modified. People imagined the reflection was an image of their soul. Ergo, if the mirror shattered, so did their soul, and the person would die. (Interesting aside; vampires where thought to have no reflection because they have no soul.)
The Romans seemingly commuted the death sentence for shattering one’s soul to seven years bad luck because they believed it took seven years for life to renew itself. And of course, the Romans being the Romans, they devised a solution to the bad luck problem. Bury the broken pieces of the mirror deep in the earth and all will be well.
The mirror seems to be the focus of many other superstitions. Here are a few of the stranger ones:
When someone dies, all mirrors in the house should be covered to prevent the soul from getting trapped in a mirror. (Some think the Devil created mirrors for this very purpose.)
If a mirror falls from a wall it means someone will die.
The Ancient Chinese believed mirrors frighten away evil spirits who get scared when they see themselves.
If a woman sits in front of a mirror and eats an apple before brushing her hair, she’ll see an image of her future husband behind her shoulder.
Mirrors and reflective surfaces such as water and polished metal have long been associated with magic, often used for scrying. Throw in dark mirrors, mirrors as windows on the past, future, and alternate realities—the story possibilities are endless!