Catoptromancy

There may be more than Bloody Mary lurking behind your mirror. Mirrors and reflections seem to have always entranced people. In fact, the word 'mirror' comes from the Latin word ‘mirare’ which means "to wonder at." So, it should come as no surprise that there is a sect of divination specifically to do with mirrors. It’s called Catoptromancy, but is also known as mirror-gazing.

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Instead of simply being reflections of our present, there was a belief that mirrors could reveal the future as well. Catoptromancy is a form of scrying, and if you don’t know what scrying is it’s a way to tell the future using a reflective object or surface (typically a crystal ball). Catoptromancy is specifically using a mirror. 

The practice dates back to Ancient Greece and was recorded by Pausanias, a Greek geographer. He wrote, “Before the Temple of Ceres at Patras, there was a fountain, separated from the temple by a wall, and there was an oracle, very truthful, not for all events, but for the sick only. The sick person let down a mirror, suspended by a thread till its based touched the surface of the water, having first prayed to the goddess and offered incense. Then looking in the mirror, he saw the presage of death or recovery, according as the face appeared fresh and healthy, or of a ghastly aspect.”

Typically, to begin a Catoptromancy you can go one of two ways. First, you can position a mirror in a scrying plate fashion at a 90-degree angle on a table. Then, add a flame or small light near the mirror which allows the light to reflect back onto the scrying mirror. From there, the scryer would interpret messages or discern answers to questions from the reflection of the light in the mirror and the perceived images that may dance upon the mirror. As a second way, if you are alone, you can look into a mirror in a dimly lit room. Try to look through the surface of the mirror instead of just your own reflection. After some time, images and color will begin to appear and you begin your question and answer section. Because the requirement to discern images and colors that appear in a mirror, the practice has often been compared to dream interpretation. 

As a note, as mentioned in our Bloody Mary blog post “staring too long at a reflective surface, like a mirror or a crystal, in a dimly lit room could lead to hallucinations, visual distortion, and, in layman's terms, your eyes playing tricks on you.”



The blog header image is of ‘Claude Lorrain mirror in shark skin case, believed at one time to be John Dee's scrying mirror. Front three quarter view. Case open. Graduated grey background’. Image is coursey of the Wellcome Collection