Mirror Images

mirror broken

(This is a post that has previously appeared here, however now with four brand new illustrations by Susanne Rempt).

All mirrors are inherently mysterious and magical. The moment when Narcissus looked into the lake and realised 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 that 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.

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)voodoo mirror

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’.mirror hand

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. _20180102_164940 (1)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.

34 thoughts on “Mirror Images

  1. I love using mirrors around the place, they are so other worldly. I totally agree with you that it would be pretty hard to beat the literary impact of Alice entering the other side of the mirror and Tenniel’s paired drawings of her on the mantelpiece are unforgettable.
    I live in a solar powered house so I have positioned mirrors to reflect the night lights. I like to put old mirrors on the sheds and through the garden to give beautiful images of the trees and ochre clays and bright blue skies as I wander past them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We both included the traditional references of Narcissus, Alice, and Snow White, but did different things with them, which made your article particularly fascinating to read (i.e. there was a basis for comparison). Thanks for the link!

    The Gnostic sects’ argument reminded me of Milton’s arguments in *Paradise Lost* where the Fall was essentially necessary to prove that free will existed. Of course the Fall is just knowledge, and mirrors are the essence of self-knowledge (self-consciousness), which in turn reminded me of metafiction and Magritte’s “Not to be Reproduced”. (Also favourite topic of mine; https://quiverquotes.com/2018/02/02/writing-metafiction-when-you-see-the-back-of-your-head/)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting as always. Just now I see that I don’t always put my best forward and that is devaluing myself. Yet if I were to stand infront of a mirror I couldn’t say that… If that makes sense. Oh I love the mirror that speaks truth in Harry Potter. Thanks for this lunch time treat.

    Liked by 1 person

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