Mirrors allow us to glimpse a living picture of how we look to the eyes of others. We trust them to accurately reflect ourselves and our surroundings. In some cases, we utilize mirrors as a safety measure, such as rearview and side mirrors on vehicles. Humans have used mirrors for other purposes throughout time, however. Sometimes they reveal reflections that betray what our eyes would normally behold and sometimes they open doorways we would prefer to leave closed.
Mirrors have been used for divining and conjuring; from scrying for messages to summoning blood-covered entities. Such stories take careful measure, of course. All of that will be revealed in time. For now, though, please sit and enjoy some death-centered mirror lore from the hills of Appalachia:
When someone is near death, there are a few ways to prepare the home to help facilitate their passage to the other side. For example, it is customary to open the windows so that the spirit has the ability to leave the house. Be mindful, too, while saying final goodbyes, to avoid being at the foot of the bed so the spirit has a clear exit from the body. Likewise, mirrors should be covered. This act serves a couple of purposes. First, it prevents the newly departed soul from getting trapped in the mirror. Catching a glimpse of themselves in the mirror's reflective surface could prevent them from passing over appropriately. While uncovered, the mirror reveals the state of the dead and those mourning in the room, which could certainly also cause unnecessary alarm to the newly departed! Second, there was a belief that if the mirror remains uncovered, the spirit would be made aware that it has departed. After this occurs, the first living person to see their own reflection will soon follow in death. It is best, therefore, to prevent anyone from peering into the mirror: dead or alive.
The fear of following the departed before one's time was strong enough to suggest that mirrors should remain covered until after the first meal that follows the funeral. This meal should be eaten at a table that has a place prepared for the deceased so that they can have proper sustenance for their journey to the other side. Failure to do so could endanger their ability to pass through the veil. However, with successful completion of these steps, the mirrors can comfortably be uncovered with the knowledge that your loved one has moved on without issue.
There are other beliefs found in Appalachian mirror lore, of course. For example, one should not allow a baby to look into a mirror until it is six months old or misfortune will follow. Likewise, if you ever look into the mirror and cannot see your own reflection, this is an omen that you are not long for this world.
Mirrors play a role in ghost lore as well, but that is a story for another day. In the meantime, how do you suppose you would behave if you were to look in your rearview mirror only to see that your backseat passenger has suddenly vanished?
Until next time!
Appalachian Folklore: Omens, Signs, and Superstitions by Nancy Richmond and Murray Walkup
Appalachian Magazine's Mountain Superstitions, Ghost Stories & Haint Tales