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THE SOUL AS REFLECTION
The belief that the soul projects out of the body and into mirrors in the form of reflection underlies perhaps the most widely known mirror superstition: that breaking a mirror brings seven years' bad luck. Many believed that breaking a mirror also broke the soul of the one who broke it. The soul, so angered at being hurt, exacted seven years of bad luck in payment for such carelessness. The Romans, who were the first to make glass mirrors, attributed the seven years' bad luck to their belief that life renewed itself every seven years. To break a mirror meant to break one's health, and this "broken health" would not be remedied for seven years. The bad luck could be averted, though, by grinding the mirror shards to dust so that no shattered reflections could again be seen in them. The early American slaves adopted a less grueling way to deal with this kind of ill luck: submerge the broken mirror pieces in a stream of south-running water, and the bad luck would be washed away in seven hours.
In some cultures, the breaking of a mirror was thought to presage a death in the family within the year. This association of mirrors with death is common in folklore, and stems from the belief that the soul could become trapped in the mirror, causing death. For this reason, young children were often not allowed to look in a mirror until they were at least a year old. Mirrors were covered during sleep or illness so that the soul, in its wanderings, would not become trapped and unable to return to the body. After a death in the family, mirrors were also covered or turned to the wall to prevent the soul of the newly departed from becoming caught in the mirror, delaying its journey to the afterlife. In Bulgaria, this practice warded off more sinister intentions -- that the soul of the dead person, lingering about its former home until the burial of its body, would carry off the soul of a living person whose reflection appeared in a mirror. Mirrors appear commonly as grave goods in Serbo-Croatia, particularly for those who die prematurely. These are the most "dangerous" dead, apt to roam from their graves and harry the living. Mirrors are believed to trap the soul of the deceased at the gravesite where it belongs.
The belief that the soul could be caught and trapped in a mirror appears in many other ways. The peoples of northern India considered it dangerous to look into a mirror that belonged to someone else. It was especially so to look into the mirrors of a house you were visiting: when you left, you would leave part of your soul behind trapped in the mirrors, which could then be manipulated by your host to his advantage. In 18th century India, women were seen to wave mirrors before the image of death goddess Kali, apparently to appease her need for human sacrifice with the reflection of a person rather than the sacrifice of a real human being.
by Myrriah Lavin
November 7th, 2012
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