It's interesting that the witch in the tale trusts a mirror to tell her the truth given that mirrors lie. They aren't straight-up representations of fact...objects in the mirror (at least some of them) are closer than they appear. It's also flipped — which is why you look strange to yourself in photos.
I recently listened to the four part megasode about mirrors on the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast. This podcast is a regular one in my rotation, and I've mentioned it in a few posts over on creneastle.com — about vampires and sexbots and the source of story ideas. It's one of the ones the helps fill the creative well, as well as educate me. And this series of episodes gave me an idea for my return to urban fantasy after writing scifi under my super secrect pen name Rene Astle.
The earliest mirrors
The first mirrors we know of are old. They go right back to the Ҫatalhöyük site in modern-day Turkey1 (a fascinating site where people access their homes via the roof and buried their dead beneath the floor). Technically these early mirrors were made of glass, in so much as obsidian is glass. But it would be thousands of years before the glass mirror as we know it today had its beginnings.
The Aztec god Tezcatlipoca2 (whose name means Smoking Mirror) sees all in his obsidain mirror. But is his view warped by that smoky, unreliable mirror?
Even when we moved to metal and the earliest metal-coated glass, it's hard to imagine the reflection was very clear. You can understand where some superstitions around mirrors arise if you often get visual echoes.
Through the looking glass
It's not just Alice who finds another world through a mirror. Ancient Chinese myth tells of creatures in the mirror3, waiting to wake and battle our world. The flicker of movement you sometimes see is the army stirring. Goosebumps!
It puts me in mind of some of the beliefs of seeing your soul in the mirror. Besides the common practice of covering mirrors post death (so the soul doesn't linger), there's also a superstition of covering mirrors near sick beds so the soul isn't lured away to the world beyond the mirror.
The science of the mirror
I'm fascinated by the mirror test that it’s suggested tests self-awareness in animals. A handful of animals tentatively pass the test, including some cool corvids, though there's some debate about how many4.
The tidbit about the science — and art — of mirrors from the podcast that I knew but still stuck with me is that when you meet someone's gaze in a mirror, they're looking at you. Keep that in mind if you people watching in a reflective surface...if you meet they're eyes, they're watching you. As in the painting of Venus by Peter Paul Rubens (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).
The magic of the mirror
Curses! Okay, I'm not one to believe in curses or seven years of bad luck, and I'm pretty sure I never tried Bloody Mary in my childhood.
But, in addition to crystal balls and still pools, mirrors are also linked to scrying — as with the witch in the tale.
However, hearing the myths about another world beyond the mirror's surface are what sparked a story idea for me. When a character looks into the mirror what looks back at them? I can't wait to get started!