The Meaning of Mirrors in Folklore and Superstition

A Time for Reflection: The Meaning of Mirrors in Folklore and Superstition

Mirrors in history and superstition
Since mankind first saw its own reflection, we have been fascinated by surfaces that cast our image back to us. Possibly because of that fascination, there is an incredibly wide variety of superstitions, myths and urban legends surrounding mirrors specifically and reflective bodies in general.


Everyone has heard, for example, that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck. This superstition dates back to the Romans, who believed that life renewed itself every seven years, and that breaking a mirror would thus cause damage to the soul it was reflecting at the time for that duration.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a number of folk remedies for relieving the seven years of bad luck. Early American slaves believed that the bad luck could be washed away by immersing the pieces of the broken mirror in south-flowing water for seven hours. Another tale says that the seven years of bad luck may be kept from taking effect by grinding the shards of the mirror into a fine powder so that they no longer reflect any images at all. Still another says that putting the broken pieces in a bag and burying it will accomplish the same thing.



Mirrors were often used in magical and psychic rituals for scrying – remotely viewing another person or place – and communicating. They could also be used in magical rituals of divination – fortune telling and reading of the future. This was known as catoptromancy or enoptromancy, and was described in an ancient Greek text as being performed by lowering a mirror on a thread until its lower edge touched the surface of a basin of water. The person performing the ritual would then pray to the appropriate god or goddess before gazing into the reflections created by the combination of water and mirror.

Along those same lines, some ancient cultures believe that mirrors reflected the ‘shadow soul,’ and could show the true nature of the person being reflected. This may have contributed to the legends about vampires and demons having no reflections, since they are said to have no souls to reflect. The absence of a reflection thus reveals their true nature.

mirrors covered after death

In the Jewish religion, it is important to cover all mirrors in a house where someone has died while the family is sitting Shivah (the seven-day mourning period). It is said that if the mirrors aren’t covered, the spirit of the deceased may become trapped in one and not be able to move on to the afterlife.

Some cultures took this further, insisting that mirrors should be covered at night and when people in the house are sleeping, to make sure that a dreamer’s wandering soul doesn’t get trapped in one. In Serbo-Croatian culture, a mirror was sometimes buried with the dead, both to prevent the spirit from wandering and to keep evil men from rising.

bloody mary in the mirror

One of the most famous mirror-related urban legends is that of Bloody Mary, a story that could take up an entire article by itself. Most often it involved pre-teens and teenagers who dare a friend to go into a bathroom, close the door and turn off the light, then chant some variation of “Bloody Mary…” several times. There are more variations of the chant than any one person has ever collected, and the number of times the spirit needs to be called out to varies just as widely.

Most times, the person dared will be too afraid of the repercussions to go through with it, and will either bolt out of the room in panic or simply pretend to have done it. Because going through with it has a terrible cost; according to the stories, calling out to this spirit brings her vengeance down upon the person doing so, resulting in anything from simple terrorizing through murder all the way to being dragged into the mirror, never to be seen again. Clive Barker brought this concept to the big screen in his movie Candyman, where the titular spirit is called forth (to do really awful things to his summoner) by saying his name three times while looking in a mirror.

an american werewolf ghost in the mirror

Since mirrors are often considered to be portals in some way, one never knows what might come through when the conditions are right (or wrong, as the case may be). And what could be worse than being in a pitch-black room with a mirror and suddenly hearing something else moving around in the room with you when you know there was nothing there when you came in. If the fright doesn’t kill you, whatever has come through probably will.

Clearly, a mirror in a dark room with no or little light can be a dangerous thing. Viewing a mirror by candlelight also holds many dangers, if myths and legends are to be believed. One legend says that viewing a mirror by nothing but candlelight will show you your reflection – and that of any entities inhabiting your home, be they ghosts or otherwise. Needless to say, once you become aware of them, they also become aware of you…and odds are good that they won’t be friendly.

For proof of some mirrors’ terrifying abilities, read out this harrowing story involving The Dark Mirror, a black scrying glass that has frightened nearly everyone who’s gazed into it, and continues to show people terrible things as it travels across the world. You might want to turn the lights on for this one.


There are more superstitions involving mirrors than can easily be counted, but not all of them are negative. For example:

•    If a new couple first catch sight of each other in a mirror, they will have a happy marriage.
•    To see an image of her future husband, a girl was told to eat an apple while sitting in front of a mirror, then brush her hair. While doing so, an image of the man would appear behind her shoulder.
•    If you feel sorrowful or troubled while home alone, with no one to talk to and no apparent way to control your depression, stand before a mirror and gaze into your eyes. Your anxiety should disappear.
•    Ancient Chinese believed that mirrors frightened away evil spirits who were scared by their own appearance. If the mirror was broken, the protection was lost.

Needless to say, there are a vastly larger number of negative superstitions related to mirrors, including such things as:

•    If a mirror falls and breaks by itself, someone in the house will soon die.
•    Someone seeing their reflection in a room where someone has recently died, will soon die themselves.
•    Actors believe that it is bad luck to see their reflection while looking over the shoulder of another person.
•    Ideally, no mirror should be hung so low that it “cuts off” the tallest household member’s head (doing so may cause headaches).

For myself, I think I’ll continue my habit of keeping my bathroom door closed at night and reaching in to flip the light on before opening the door all the way.

Just in case.

Got a story about a spooky mirror? We want to hear it! Drop us a line on Facebook, tweet us @WeirdHQ, or start a conversation in the comments below!


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  1. Johnny Farnen

    08/27/2012 at 3:48 PM

    I find this timely, given the Louisiana School vs the Lunch room palm scanner media and religion fueled debate going on right now.

    • Spsycho

      02/24/2016 at 4:43 PM

      I try to remember to cover the mirrors in my bedroom at night before going to sleep.
      If I forget to it negatively effects both mine and my husbands sleep…

      Also when I made the mistake of hanging a mirror over the bathroom toilet, so many costly things started happening for several weeks…before realizing it and moving it.
      Sure enough our luck turned around once we got rid of it. If I could I wouldn’t have a mirror in my bedroom at all.
      It’s not uncommon for strange things to appear in photos where mirrors are…
      Yeah they are potentially powerful energy.

  2. Graham

    08/28/2012 at 9:38 AM

    My wife fixed cardboard over a full length mirror which was facing the front door. Why? Well it’s obvious really, to prevent good energy that was entering by the front door from being immediately reflected straight out again. Makes sense?

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  6. michael

    05/31/2013 at 7:45 AM

    My mom use to tell me to never stare at my own reflection because she said mirrors are like gateways and show the opposite you if you stare to long you become the opposite you or the opposite you will reach out and kill you or pull you in the mirror to be trapped there while the bad you assumes your life all these years of believing my moms beliefs has developed into a phobia I can’t don’t even glance at a mirror anymore…

    • keelan270

      01/28/2015 at 5:18 PM

      The phobia of mirrors is called catraptaphobia. If you’re afraid of seeing a spirit in a mirror, that’s spectrophobia. I have that one. ^_^

  7. Robear

    06/13/2013 at 1:38 PM

    What are some of the names of the mythological demon’s that fear their reflection in the mirror? I read about a Babylonian demon that is revealed and weaken by his reflection in a mirror . but lost the book when I moved ?

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  12. Travis

    07/14/2014 at 4:04 PM

    Candyman’s name was said five times..

  13. David

    09/06/2014 at 5:14 AM

    I had this experience quite recently… I had walk into our family room to sit and watch t.v. Right as I was sitting, I had glanced to my right at a mirror in another room and the image I had was odd considering it was looking to my left. For that moment before I stood up I was looking at the back of my own head… No other mirrors or reflective objects were involved. I believe the properties of the phenomenon were astral in nature, and not do to any evil or supernatural effects.

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  15. John Richter

    05/12/2015 at 6:10 AM

    Josh – great article. Thank you so much… Found myself curious about mirror superstition – with possible religion traces – after reading about the Villisca Murders – where an assailant entered the midnight home of an Iowa couple in 1912 and bludgeoned them and 6 children to death with an axe. The aftermath led authorities to discover that mirrors and reflective window panes had been covered with the victims blankets and clothing… The main suspect was a drifter claiming to be a traveling preacher, and who was actually the son of English preachers himself…. I’m thinking he might have endured a psychotic childhood influenced by some sort of religion. I always thought the Jewish tradition of covering mirrors during Shiva was to refrain from vanity, preferring to focus on the deceased. It’s interesting to learn otherwise and it could provide an interesting twist to the suspects psychology. The Serbian-Croatian angle is one worth exploring for this case also, I think… Great job.

  16. Chris

    08/07/2015 at 1:48 AM

    Idk whats going on im my sleep but im like been force into my sleep a night its like something is grabbing me. I said something into the mirror and when I did I started to see things when I was asleep how can I get rid of it?

    • Jeff

      08/30/2015 at 2:24 AM

      Take it out to sunlight and let it sit facing towards the sun. Before dawn get rid of it. Never put a mirror in a room or hallways somewhere narrow.

  17. Louise

    08/18/2015 at 11:24 AM

    I would like to know what it means if a mirror falls off it’s hook all by itself in the middle of the night while everyone is sleeping? It did not break though…… It’s my mirror that my husband hung up in his room. We are recently divorced

    • Jeff

      08/30/2015 at 2:32 AM

      Was it hung up in the bedroom? In the center of the room? What time did this happen? Where was the mirror purchase from?

  18. Marie

    09/26/2015 at 3:41 PM

    Someone once told me that once a mirror is attached to the wall, like nailed in, that you should never remove it. Has anyone heard of this? Or any variation of this?

  19. Alma

    12/08/2015 at 2:42 PM

    Just want to know is it really 7 years of bad luck? Is it a fact for sure! Or is it a bad omen?

  20. Jas

    02/01/2016 at 9:15 AM

    Our bathroom mirror shattered while we were asleep and scared us half to death….im still on egde havebt cleaned the mess up yet what does that mean is this some kind of sign?

  21. Linda Hester Walker

    06/23/2016 at 8:42 PM

    There is a flea market that has a mirror that contains pure evil. I can’t stand to go near it. They have lots of mirrors, it’s only this one in particular that creaps me out.

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