History of Mirrors

make a difference In The Mirror: A History (2001), Melchior-Bonnet believed that “The mirror, ‘matrix of the symbolic,’ accompanies the human quest for identity” (p. 4). Others had a similar view, “A history of the mirror is really the history of looking, and what we perceive in these magical surfaces can tell us a great deal about ourselves – whence we have come, what we imagine, how we think, and what we yearn for. The mirror appears throughout the human drama as a means of self-knowledge or self-delusion” (Pendergast, 2003, p. ix).

Mirrors have been featured in folklore, religion, magic, science, art, and literature. They have appeared in a myriad of forms and usage that have included revealing, hiding or distorting reality, as a communication device, weapons of war, to search the stars, to ward off evil spirits, for divination, or as a treasured possession in the after-life (Giles & Joy, 2007; Melchior-Bonnet, 2001; Pendergast, 2003). The ability to recognize oneself in the mirror correlates with self-awareness and the development of other human traits such as “…. logic, creativity, curiosity, the appreciation of beauty, and empathy, leading directly to tool use, scientific experiments, story-telling, poetry, art, theatre, law-making, philosophy, religion and a sense of humor” (Pendergast, 2007, p. 10).

In literature, Ovid (1986) warned of the danger of exclusive preoccupation of oneself at the expense of others in the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. The tale of Perseus illustrated the power of the reflected image when he killed the Gorgon Medusa as she looked at her image in his mirrored. The mirror’s metaphysical qualities was explored in Lewis Carroll’s (1982) alternate reality in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, in the story of Snow White (Grimm & Grimm, 2003) the magic talking mirror saw all that was happening in the kingdom, and the Mirror of Erised (Rowling, 2008), reflected the image of what the heart desired most. For Harry Potter, it was the sight of his deceased family.


Carroll, L. (1982). Through the looking-glass, and what Alice found there. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Giles, M., & Joy, J. (2007). Mirrors in the British bronze age. In M. Anderson (Ed.). , The book  of the mirror: An interdisciplinary collection exploring the cultural story of the mirror (pp. 16-31). Newcastle, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Grimm, J., & W. Grimm. (2003). The complete fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (J. Zipes, Trans.). New York, NY: Bantam Classic Series.

Melchior-Bonnet, S. (2001). The mirror: A history (Katherine H. Jewett, Trans.). New York, NY: Routledge. (Reprinted from Histoire du Miroir, by Éditions Imago, 1994, France).

Ovid. (1986). Metamorphoses (A.D. Melville, Trans.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Pendergrast, M. (2003). Mirror: A history of the human love affair with reflection. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Pendergrast, M. (2007). Mirror mirror: A historical and psychological overview. In M. Anderson (Ed.). , The book of the mirror: An interdisciplinary collection exploring the cultural story of the mirror (pp. 16-31). Newcastle, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Rowling, J. K. (2008). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.