All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realized that what he saw reflected was at one and the same time the self and an image was the moment of a great divide, a second Fall, but as certain Gnostic sects argued about the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden this recognition was a necessary loss of Innocence.  It was the first experience of a mediated reality. All was needed was the technical expertise to manufacture mirrors to disseminate this heightened self-awareness to every individual. And from mirrors it was only a matter of time before the camera and then film which led to the media landscape that envelops and dominates our perception today.

Voodoo mirror 2

Mirrors are mentioned frequently in myth, folk-lore and religion; not to mention in art and literature. In Corinthians Paul says of our knowledge of the divine ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known’. In Vodou, the syncretic religion practised widely in Haiti that combines elements of West African spirit religion, Catholicism and arguably Mesoamerican traditions, the altars of hounfours (temples) are decorated with mirrors as they are  conduits that the houngan use to contact the spirit world. Many cultures at many times held the tradition of covering all mirrors in the house when in mourning, this custom persists today in Judaism. In connection with a heresy held by one of the numerous Gnostic sects Borges states ‘Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men.’

In libertine fiction mirrors play a large part as they increase the pleasure of the moment and enables the libertine to view the erotic scene which they are  actively participating in. In the sparkling sophisticated jewel of a tale Point de lendemain (No Tomorrow) by Vivant Denon the artful heroine describes to her paramour the delights of her chamber with its reflective glass covering every wall, when he enters he is enchanted to find a ‘a vast cage of mirrors’ and then states that, ‘Desires are reproduced through their image’.

One of the most memorable mentions in fairy-tales of the deceptive nature of the looking-glass is the Magic Mirror of the Evil Queen in Snow White, which is a good illustration of William Blake’s quote  ‘A truth told with evil intent beats any lie you could invent.’

However for me the supreme moment for the mirror in literature is when Alice steps through to the other side of the looking glass. Ever since the phrase has been used to describe many different and varying experiences; the transfigured absolute reality glimpsed in insanity; the shifting contours of the nightly dreamscape, the heavens and hells of drug use (the John Tenniel illustration was reproduced on LSD blotters in the sixties) the transcendence achieved in sexual ecstasy, and ultimately death, that unknowing inevitable frontier where we hope that the outward appearance will vanish to be replaced for all eternity by our fundamental essence. For although mirrors are just surface and can deceive, distort and warp, they also always reveal something other than just ourselves.



59 thoughts on “Mirror||rorriM

  1. I enjoyed reading this reflection and I had a thought. You said that mirrors “also always reveal something other than just ourselves.” I remember my sister, as a child, seating herself in front of a mirror to check her pose while having meals. Ten years later, she was in the social pages. I think that in a mundane sense, her interaction with the mirror revealed her character, so I agree with your main philosophical point. I appreciate the example of Alice you gave. Definitely motivates me to give the story another read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. i am a big alice fan of course…the surrealists were big fans…my key experience was when I was twelve and I was in the bath and it was edged with a mirror I caught my reflection and I disassociated…I had no idea who was reflected…it wasnt myself anyway

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you I was unaware of this series of paintings…I couldn’t possibly begin to cover all references and that leads to a bias to what fitted my own vague theories regarding mirrors which I love by the way…I am not sure that the mediated reality came through enough but it is one of my better posts (it certainly was one of the longest to write) I think

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  2. Fascinating. Mirrors draw the eye. Whether we consciously recognize ourselves in the reflection or not, something within makes us look. The religious/cultural associations are so intriguing too – so universal. Enjoyed this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, it is an older post but it was buried deep in the archives being (in my biased opinion) unjustly neglected. I have a thing for mirrors, I really think that they are magical and mysterious. Glad you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Mirror||rorriM”, is a fascinating and thought-provoking post. Mirrors are spectacular, I noticed in the comments about your experience as a boy, amazing what the eye will catch in a mirror at times, it can be quite a revelation.

    The Blake quote, wicked good. Now I see that you are able to reference Alice quite a bit, wonderful. I want to believe that it’s everyone’s fantasy to step through a mirror, into a room of opposites.

    I’m delighted that you invited me here, surprisingly, I’m currently working on an effort that makes reference to a mirror. The Universe can be mysterious. Have a lovely Wednesday Mr. Cake. ~ Mia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your careful reading, the universe can be indeed be mysterious, but then most illusions are by definite mysterious until the conjurer reveals the trick behind it all. I like Wednesday’s though I am wary of them, it’s anything can happen day.

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      1. As I am fond of saying when the apocalypse comes I hope in happens on a Wednesday so that it breaks up the week! Plus it is Odin’s day and he was the one that obtained knowledge of Ragnarok from the Volva. Sorry I see connections where there aren’t probably any.

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  4. Interesting compilation. Mirrors are quite mystical and magical. I’ve also been surprised by mirrors, tricked by mirrors, fooled into thinking a space goes through where there is no space, or stuck in places where you have no choice but to see your own reflection when you don’t want to, etc. Gets me thinking about the hypotheses that our existence is one big hologram, just what is real and what isn’t? I also love the quotes, Borges’ is something else!

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    1. I think this is one of my best pieces, certainly I think I manage to come up with a quite original theory regarding civilisation and the mediation of reality in a few paragraphs and that is readable. A bit of philosophy with your cake? The Borges quote is excellent, something you could imagine a heresiarch saying

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      1. I remember being in the Prado one year (1986?) when they placed Las Meninas (Velasquez) opposite a mirror of identical size and you couldn’t tell which was the painting and which the reflection until you saw yourself as a mirror image in the non-painting. That was very different: quite the optical illusion and very disorientating.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post !:star:
    How interesting that the mirror as symbol was even included in the Bible.
    From a more “erotic” perspective: “No Tomorrow” by Denon sounds intriguing and I´ll try to find it online.
    I like both Borges and Blake´s quotes!.
    The fact that you quoted Borges here speaks volumes of your good (not disorted) “self” 😉
    Last but not least: Narcissus: I think he is probably the key figure in this post.
    Narcissus is merely an image (in the platonic sense). Since his body rejects any contact with the other and because he is not intended to embrace an impalpable image of his own reflection, he is just an illusion.
    | This is post on my blog about Narcissus & Echo: https://goo.gl/F9Rb4L |

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your careful reading of the piece and your thoughtful comments. Obviously I have a fascination with mirrors that probably points to my own narcissism. I tried to convey in this piece the profound importance of the discovery of the self as an image that has led, through many twists and turns to our current mediated reality. I could possibly be way off on this idea, but it worth thinking about anyway. I certainly recommend No Tomorrow… it is indeed a sparkling jewel of a story. I came across something similar in De Sade Philosophy in the Bedroom (I recently posted about that book) but Denon serves just as well. You are of course right Narcissus is the key figure and is mentioned at the very beginning. I look forward to reading your post and will comment shortly. Once again thanks for your time and thoughtfulness, this is one of my personal favourites so I am glad you enjoyed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post! I too love mirrors. They can represent our greatest vanity but also our greatest truths. Alice sure found a lot of strange stuff! You know, the mermaid is a universal myth, contained in every culture, every part of the world — and she always carries a mirror. Obsidian mirrors are used for scrying, like a crystal ball. There is definite mysticism to the mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well in other animals the reality is immediate, they lack self consciousness (as far as we know) and they will do whatever their instincts command. A cat will always pounce in something that glitters regardless of how hungry they are or are not. Humans though possess self aware, they are aware of choices, their actions are mediated by their self consciousness, so we may not act according to our instincts. Also as technology has progressed our view of reality has been shaped and formed and mediated by various forms of media.l, television, art, computers etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see. Thank you for the explanation. So because we have self-consciousness we can also sort of tell ourselves what is reality, whether it is or not. And who knows really. Like the verse in a song I like, “Maybe you see white the way that I see blue.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. True… and a television programme could conceivably convince us that White is blue and that 2+2=5. Self awareness is the key, we hold an image in our head of what we are that may not correspond to reality. The image acts an mediator… sorry if this is clear as mud. Now every time you look in the mirror you will think it is a profound existential exercise, like I do.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh I do already. I have often thought that the mirror only reflects what someone wants to see even if the reality is vastly different. What we tell ourselves very much alters our own reality.

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