Mirrors are not to be trifled with. Once, there were many taboos associated with mirrors. The taboos became superstitions and the superstitions began to fade. Some remain in present times. But once, even children knew that one should never turn one’s back on a mirror. Even children knew that one should keep a candle or torch nearby when looking in a mirror, even during the daylight. That one should never crack or break a mirror, and if a mirror should break, one should cover it quickly, gather the pieces and bury them in the ground. If the mirror was too big for that, then one should flee or else be ready for a terrible battle with a terrible enemy.
And only those skilled in sorcery could dare such a battle.
Mirrors could bring both ill fortune and good fortune. Any two people who first saw each other in a mirror’s reflection rather than face-to-face were destined to become great friends, and in some cases, great lovers. Those who looked upon a mirror and gazed into their own eyes could instill calm and comfort in themselves in trying times, for it was their soul they looked upon. Sailors of old would always bring a mirror aboard ship, a small one so that it would not break. In present times, the mirrors are meant for shaving and grooming. But in the old days, they were meant as traps for evil things. Mirrors were taken into haunted places for the same reason. Long ago, so the tales say, some even learned to see the past or the future in the face of a mirror.
According to legend, the first mirror was invented by the water-folk, the beings who lived in seas, rivers, and the other waters of the world. The mirror was given as a gift, an offering of peace and solidarity to those who lived upon the earth.
In those days, the only way for men and women to see themselves was to look upon their reflections in pools of water. This some did often, for most earth-folk were curious and some could be quite vain. The lord of all demons, who ruled the miserable nether world, coveted souls to fill his barren and bleak realm. Most of all he coveted the bright and vivid souls of earth-folk. He noted their curiosity and vanity about their reflections. He was as clever as he was miserable, and he devised a means to capture more souls and subjects for his realm, into which none came willingly.
The realm of waters was changeable and therefore one that the demon lord and his underlings could enter. The lord of all demons sent his underlings to haunt the waters of the world. Whenever an unwitting person would bend over a lake or a pool to gaze upon his reflection, a demon would change its shape to resemble the reflection, copying the person’s movements until he bent a little too far forward. Then the demon’s clawed hands would come bursting from the water’s surface and seize the person and pull him into the water to drown him. People who died in this manner were said to be doomed to wander in torment in the demon lord’s nightmare realm, reliving the terror and pain of their dying moments.
Word spread among the different lands of the earth-folk and people tried to protect themselves, to shun their reflections, even to stop traveling upon the seas and oceans. The demon lord was thwarted for a while. But soon enough, the earth-folk returned to the ways of sailing and swimming and bathing. Water was life. It could not be avoided forever. And the earth-folk forgot the evil that could lurk beneath its surface. So the demon lord began again to send out his underlings to collect the souls of the vain and the curious who dared to look upon their reflections.
The earth-folk cried out to their lords and queens and emperors to wage war against the realm of waters, seeing only monsters and demons there, forgetting that peaceful creatures lived within the waters of the world. One of those peaceful peoples were the nymphs. They were as enraged at and frightened of the demon invasion of their realm as the earth-folk.
One day a beautiful conch shell was found on the shores of a sea kingdom. The conch was the size of a small child and was adorned with pearls of every hue. On the shell was inscribed a message addressed to the leaders of all those who dwelt upon the earth. It was signed by the Sovereign of the Seas, the Lady of the Fountains, the Empress of the Waves and the King of Lakes and Rivers. They were the leaders of all those who dwelt within the waters of the world.
The shell asked permission to send a messenger bearing both a message and a gift to help the earth-folk. The earth-folk were ruled by wise rulers in those days. They sent back their reply and bid the messenger to come to the palace of the sea kingdom where all would gather to hear the message and receive the gift. Word of the messenger’s arrival spread through the kingdom. A cautious hope filled the hearts of the earth-folk.
On the third day, as the leaders of the earth-folk waited in the main hall of the seaside palace, a figure in a watery blue cloak stepped forth, threw back her hood, and revealed herself.
“I am Liriope,” she said, “nymph of the rivers and messenger of the water-folk.”
Her speech had a strange cadence and sounded as if two or three voices spoke in harmony. A steady gaze came from eyes the color of a river stone. She had slits at the sides of her throat, like a fish’s. Her blue-gray hair seemed to flow and trickle even when she stood still.
She bowed to the assembled leaders. The message she bore was one of entreaty and friendship from the water-folk. It was not their doing that the earth-folk drowned after falling prey to the demons of the nether world. Nevertheless, the water-folk had a gift to give that could help both their peoples to drive back the demon lord and his underlings.
She brought forth from under her cloak an object. It seemed to be a picture-frame, made of coral and pearl. The frame contained no picture, but a piece of smooth glass like none ever seen on the earth before. The glass flashed and glinted in the sun like a precious stone and when the nymph turned it toward the assembled leaders, they gasped and recoiled, for it was no still picture they saw, but a moving image of themselves. A reflection.
“It is called a ‘mirror,’” Liriope said.
The mirror reflected a clear and crisp image without the rippling of water, the haziness in metal, or the ghostliness of window-glass. The nymph explained that if turned toward a demon, the mirror could capture the demon and by the proper rites and ceremonies, send the demon back to its own realm.
Liriope expected that there would be questions from the cautious but curious earth-folk.
The reflections in water, in window-glass, and metal were unclear and the earth-folk had spent so long avoiding them that the image in the mirror seemed as some sort of enchantment to them. They eyed the mirror with suspicion and fascination.
“Does the mirror show a lie?” someone asked at last. “Or does it show the truth?”
“Both.” Liriope held up the mirror for all to see. “A mirror shows the truth, for it shows you what you really do, not what you think you do or wish you do or tell others you do.” The nymph smiled. “But a mirror shows a lie as well, for it is not you yourself upon the mirror. It is your mimic.”
“Ah, as it is with all reflections,” one of the assembled leaders said. “Then the demon lord will be able to use mirrors, as he has used waters, to enter our world and steal us for his own. That mirror is an evil!”
An argument began amongst the gathered leaders then, and a murmuring amongst the people in the hall. The nymph waited patiently for the return of silence before she replied.
“A mirror of itself is neither good nor evil. It can be used for both. It can be used by both. Mirrors are not changeable as waters are. Demons can enter a mirror from their realm. But they cannot pass through an unbroken mirror into this realm. They remain stuck. But the demon lord can use the lie of a mirror to deceive you. He can send his underlings to mimic you in the mirror and try to trick you into breaking it. That is why you must never turn your back against a mirror, lest you miss seeing the demon’s transformation from its own form to yours. But even as the demon lord can use the lie of the mirror against you, you can use the truth of a mirror to thwart him.”
“Pray, tell us. How?”
“Light,” the nymph said. “Shine a light into the mirror. If the reflection is your own, the light will not bother it. But if the reflection is a demon in disguise, it will be draw back from the light. Then you will know that you have trapped a demon in your mirror.”
Liriope further instructed the people in how to make their own mirrors. She taught them the ways to trap demons by luring them into the waters and turning a mirror against them. And she trained them in the ceremonies and rites to perform to send the demons back to the nether world, back to their lord master.
This was how the earth-folk and the water-folk waged war upon the demon lord and his underlings. There were dangers. The demons could not pass through mirrors as they could through water, but they tried, and in the violence of their trying, they sometimes caused mirrors to fall and break. And if they could manage that, they could escape the mirror and strike out at whomever was close by, before being pulled back down to the nether world.
The nymph stayed with the earth-folk while they drove the demons back to the nether world. She rejoiced with them when they had made their homes and the waters safe from demons.
Before she returned to her home in the rivers, Liriope warned the earth-folk that the demon lord was clever and would find a way to one day use mirrors as he had used waters, to pass into the realm of the earth-folk. The mirrors that were their weapons would be their weakness. The demon lord’s vengeance would be without mercy. And so the earth-folk must remain ever-watchful, ever-mindful of the truth.
And they should always be careful of mirrors.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.