THE WITCHING HOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
Model: Kassi Stein Gown: El Costurero Real
She was raised knowing what decadence was. It surrounded her in the form of beautiful things—satin sheets and silk drapes and couches covered with brocade, gowns designed especially for her and jewels that sparkled like so many stars around her neck. As she gazed upon her reflection in a gold-framed mirror that hung in her room, she tucked a stray curl back into place and smiled. The mirror reflected a life of ease, and reminded her of what beauty was.
Every year on her birthday, a ball was held in her honor. Presents wrapped in ribbons and glittering paper lay in heaps on the floor while her favorite cakes and custards shone from lavish banquet tables. Guests held their glasses filled with champagne high as they toasted the girl who was more beautiful than any other in their midst. And she knew it to be true because the mirror, which hung in the grand ballroom and reflected the grandeur of the affair, told her so.
It was tradition for the girl, on the eve of her birthday, once the guests had departed, to walk the manicured grounds of her home and reflect upon the perfection that was her world. She was in no hurry. Winter’s chill was never a bother since she could afford a warm cloak that protected her from the uncomfortable realities of nature. She stood for a moment as the breeze began to stir and admired the land she knew she deserved. And as she pulled from her pocket a compact with a tortoiseshell case to smooth a falling curl back into place, its tiny mirror reflected the flickering glow of the manor house, and she knew that hope was a provincial emotion only experienced by those who did not have it all—the mirror showed her that.
But as she tucked the compact back into her pocket, she heard a sound like a tinkle of a bell that was far too enticing to be ignored from within the neighboring wood. She did something she had never done before—she stepped away from the safety of her manicured ground and found herself in untamed land. The forest in winter is full of impish spirits waiting to take advantage of passersby. But the child that sat cross-legged against the trunk of an ancient tree did not seem to be a threat.
“Happy Birthday.” The child-like spirit smiled.
The girl nodded and a smile played at her lips. People like her rarely engaged in conversation with the creatures known to inhabit trees.
“Don’t you talk?” the imp asked.
The girl cleared her throat and spoke in a manner suiting one of her status. “Of course, I can talk,” she said. “What is it that you want of me?”
“Nothing more than to give you a gift.” The impish sprite giggled and held up a gift wrapped in moss and tied neatly with stalks of long field grass. “You like presents, don’t you?”
It was true that she loved to receive gifts. And even though she already had everything her heart desired, maybe it was because she loved to be the center of attention that she reached out her hands.
The spirit that inhabited the forest pulled the present away. “Before I give you my gift, you must agree to one thing, my dear.”
The girl rolled her eyes. “And what could you give me that is so grand that you would have me bargain for it?”
“A gift more valuable than gold, my dear.” She was curious.
“What is it that you would have me agree to?”
The spirit smiled, looking more mischievous than it had before.
“An exchange. You must give me your pretty little compact with the tortoiseshell case.” That was easy enough. She had many compacts far more opulent than the one she carried in her pocket. Silly, impish spirit, she thought as she nodded. She pulled the delicate compact from her pocket and handed it to the spirit of the wood, whose face softened as it surrendered the simply wrapped gift.
She tore the wrap and tossed it on the mossy forest floor—anger flickered behind her eyes as she examined what seemed to be just another mirror. “You tricked me,” she said. “It’s just a mirror, far less opulent than any I have. Plus,” she said, noticing that the reflective surface was black, “it doesn’t reflect anything.” She tossed the mirror to the ground and crossed her arms. “I should have known better than to trust an imp.”
“Most mirrors lie,” the spirit said. “They only show us what we want to see. But the mirror of black tells only truth.” The spirit motioned to the discarded gift. “Go ahead, take a look.”
The girl reluctantly picked up the mirror and gazed into its darkened surface. “I see nothing,” she said, impatiently.
“You must look with the eyes of your soul, silly human,” the spirit shot back. “Look harder.”
To the girl’s amazement, the mirror’s dark reflection seemed to become fluid. Images began to form within the movement. But they did not reflect back to her the beauty of her perfectly decadent world but that of a girl much like her who was humble and thankful for the simple pleasures life offered up. This girl in the black mirror smiled at passersby and found joy in her work. She enjoyed her garden and the simple meals it provided. She shifted her focus to the childlike spirit who smiled gently and then said, “Dear girl, don’t you know that mirrors with their silver sheen bind you to a fantasy ideal?” The spirit of the wood crumbled the compact within its hand and motioned for her to once again look into the black mirror. “You are so much more than that of a mirror’s silver masquerade.”
She looked deep into the mirror’s black depths as images of herself as an old woman staring into a silver mirror was revealed. In the vision, she sat in a chair surrounded by the crumbling remains of a tiny cottage, as the mirror reflected back her fantasy of youth and opulence.
The girl gasped. “Is it too late?” She put her hands to her face to reassure herself of the plumpness of her cheeks and smoothness of her skin.
The imp laughed. “Do not worry, you have not yet wasted your years. Now go. Go back and rediscover the decadence of simple things—the wind against your face, birds singing before dawn, the taste of honey on bread. And most of all, the beauty within you.” The childlike spirit pointed to the girl’s heart.
The girl nodded, then pulled tight her cloak that was mended and worn and walked to the edge of the woods where the flickering flames of candles danced along her cottage’s windowpanes. And within her burned hope: The world offered so much more beauty than what was reflected in her mirror.
“Mirror, mirror, in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land?” Our fascination with mirrors came not only because of a mirror’s practical use but also because of the deeply ingrained belief that a mirror’s reflection can reveal to us what is in our soul.
Many popular myths and stories about mirrors are cautionary tales about vanity. From the Brothers Grimm tale of Snow White, where the evil queen uses a mirror to communicate with a spirit that can never lie and finds herself willing to take the life of her stepdaughter out of envy, to the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, who became enamored with his own image reflected in a pool of water, these tales of the power of reflection are relatable because in one way or another, we are all drawn to the image of ourselves captured in silver or water or glass. But as
the saying goes, “Mirrors cannot be trusted.” The reflection is a reversal of our own true image, never really revealing to us the truth of how others see us.
But not all mirror tales are allegories for narcissism. Some reflect the mirror’s history as a tool for seeing what might be. In Egyptian mythology, the goddess Hathor carried a shield that could reflect back all things in their true light. From this shield, it is said, she fashioned the first magic mirror to see. Nostradamus is believed to have employed a small bowl of water as a scrying tool into which he gazed and received images of future events. In older versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty uses a mirror to watch over her family, and Lewis Carroll used a mirror as a magical portal in his novel Through the Looking Glass.
Scrying is a form of divination using transparent or light-catching surfaces and has been practiced since ancient times to penetrate the veil between worlds, talk to the dead, reveal the future, and unveil the truth. But black mirror scrying (typically polished obsidian) is by far the most used historically and is still used by many modern seers and magical practitioners. You can easily find an obsidian mirror online or in many metaphysical shops, but making your own black mirror is not only inexpensive but imbues your divinatory tool with your own personal power.
Make A Black Scrying Mirror
On those deliciously decadent nights of winter, blanketed with a dark velvety sky spattered with stars, light a few candles and turn out the lights. This is the perfect time to look deep within your soul by use of a scrying mirror. What does the mirror have to say to you?
You will need:
• An inexpensive picture frame (round is nice, but pick one that calls to you)
• 1 or 2 cans of black matte spray paint (depending on your frame size)
Remove the glass from the frame and clean both sides of the glass thoroughly. When dry, spray one side only of your glass carefully—holding the can approximately 12 inches from the glass and moving side to side. Do this in thin layers, allowing each layer to dry before starting the next until you can no longer see light through the glass. If you want to paint the frame, do so while waiting for the glass to dry.
Put the glass back into the frame. Make sure that the unpainted side of the glass is facing toward you. Before using your scrying mirror, cleanse it with water steeped in a little mugwort (for psychic abilities). Remember, only use your scrying mirror for your own personal divinatory practices.