The Ghost in the Mirror: Phantoms or Psychological Illusions?on October 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm
Do you remember playing “Bloody Mary” when you were a child? You know, the game where you stared into a mirror and chanted the name of the blood-witch mentioned above three times, with the eminent risk that a devilish ghost would emerge from the reflective surface and rip your face off?
In all likelihood, you did play this game, but failed to see a bloody witch glaring back at you. Still, many have professed an interest in the legend of Bloody Mary over the years, variously referred to as Mary Worth, Hell Mary, Mary Jones, and a host of other names. According to Snopes.com, Bloody Mary research began around 1978 in an essay published by folklorist Janet Langlois, at which time belief in summoning the mirror-witch was still widespread. “Mary is summoned whenever squealing girls get together for a sleepover,” Snopes says. “We typically performed the ‘ritual’ in bathrooms, because the bathrooms of our suburban homes had large mirrors and were easily darkened even during the day since they had no windows.” Typically, when the Bloody Mary ritual is performed correctly, a murderous ghost is said to emerge from the mirror, often attacking the individual who summoned her.
There is indeed a bit of history associated with the notion that ghostly images appear in mirrored surfaces. One early 20th century rhyme featured on Halloween post cards read, “On Halloween look in the glass, your future husband’s face will pass” (see image at right). Although this reference certainly pre-dates Langlois’ 1978 research into the phenomenon, even earlier references to magical arts like mirror-gazing and the use of “shew stones” dates back to ancient Egypt, where black obsidian mirrors were sometimes used in the process of divination known as “scrying.”
According to Raymond Moody M.D., the ancient Greeks used a similar process with the specific intention of contacting the dead, which they called the psychomanteum. In modern times, this environment (sometimes called a “spirit booth”) is used in a fashion similar to that of the Ganzfeld Technique, in that it is a form of sensory deprivation (staring into the optical depth of a mirror in a darkened room). Moody says the effect that produces “apparitions” is purely psychological—but it also causes one to consider whether, if the appearance of the dead in psychological studies can be achieved, the same might have occurred in other, less formal situations.
Ghosts in mirrors have indeed become an item of fascination. Various different takes on this theme include everything from the popular Candyman films to widely-circulated videos such as the one below, purported to show a young girl’s deceased sister staring back at her from a mirror as she turns her head back towards the camera.
Similarly, many parapsychologists have suggested that ghosts may become visible in reflective surfaces due to the way that mirrors, while maintaining an optical reversal of their surroundings, nonetheless reflect one of the most common forms of electromagnetic energy: light. Thus, a variety of images purported to show ghostly manifestations in haunted locations achieve their affect by aiming the lens of a camera diagonally into mirrors and reflective surfaces.
Have you ever seen a ghost in a mirror? If so, was it an apparition you recognized, or did you instead witness some strange aspect of the neither realms too horrifying to judge apart from a nightmare? Email your stories to email@example.com.
UPDATE: Sheridan Walker of San Antonio, TX sent along the following response to this story:
A friend in England, Dr. Harry Oldfield, has been interested in ghost research for many years. At the request of a friend who believed her house was haunted, Harry visited to take photos with his specially equipped camera. He and the friend stood in the doorway of the bedroom where a lot of activity had been happening and he snapped a quick photo when he saw a flash of motion–neither could say at the moment what it could have been. The wall opposite the door contained a bureau and mirror. When the photos came back there was one( the one with the mirror) that showed 3 people in medieval dress with shocked looks on their faces, one reaching his hand out as if to bravely try to touch the unknown room they were seeing. These people were within the mirror. The mirror also reflected back a small table with some things on it–a table not in the physical room. The house was of an age to date back to the time that these other people might have lived. I always got the feeling that perhaps the location of the mirror was a portal of some sort–and these folks were not ghosts. Very intriguing!