If you live in a culture with heavy superstitions, you have definitely heard them all before. Step on a crack, and you’ll break your mother’s back, spill the salt, and you’ve got to throw some over your shoulder quickly, and another old favorite: break a mirror, and you just bought yourself seven years of bad luck.
Where do these superstitions about mirrors come from? Do many cultures have them, and if so, why? Will you actually suffer negative consequences from breaking a mirror? And what are you supposed to do with a broken mirror anyway? If you keep reading, you’ll learn all that and more.
The History of the Broken Mirror
Even leaving aside curses and superstitions, the broken mirror in and of itself is a striking image (no pun intended). Many cultures throughout history have regarded a broken mirror as a bad omen.
But why a mirror? Why doesn’t a broken vase or drinking glass elicit the same horror as a shattered mirror? It’s because no other glass objects clearly reflect your image and are solely intended to do so. As such, damage to your reflection can be seen as damage to you as a person.
The Greeks and Romans
The earliest recorded instance of a belief that breaking a mirror is bad luck is from the Greek and Roman Empires, thousands of years ago, back when mirrors were made not of glass as we know them today but of metal.
Shiny metals such as copper or tin were suitably reflective and tarnished less easily than common metals such as bronze. Glass did not become a typical mirror material until at least the third century CE. It took centuries of glassmaking evolving as art for German scientist Julius von Liebig to finally develop the silvered-glass mirror we were familiar with in 1835.
Drawing on the Greek belief that a person’s reflection held their soul as well (which adds an interesting layer to the myth of the vain Narcissus), the Romans maintained that not only did reflections hold souls, but that the gods could observe your soul through them. As such, breaking a mirror in and of itself wasn’t what brought you bad luck: the gods’ outrage that you would so blatantly insult them was.
The Romans are also the source of the seven-year limit on mirror-related bad luck: according to them, your body renews itself every seven years. Once the seven years were up, the body cursed by the gods no longer existed.
The Worldwide Meanings of a Broken Mirror
Because the broken mirror motif is so prevalent, it has various meanings worldwide. Here are just a few of them!
Mirrors are not often mentioned in the Bible, so the fear of broken mirrors is not a Christian superstition. However, the idea of a dark or distorted reflection is brought up sparingly in the Bible, such as in the famous “For now we see through a mirror, darkly” line from Corinthians, which laments humanity’s collective inability in seeing the world clearly.
It should be noted again that the mirrors these lines refer to were not, in fact, glass, as the line is sometimes translated, but were almost certainly bronze or another easily tarnished metal which would have shown a very poor view of the true world.
These verses imply a similar belief about how a person’s reflected face symbolizes who they are as a person and cannot be tarnished.
In Chinese mythology, the term “broken mirror” (pò jìng, 破镜) refers to a couple that has been tragically separated. When the pair reunite, it is referred to as the broken mirror coming together again.
Mirrors are also a part of the Chinese principle of feng shui, which you’ll learn about later. It is a complex concept, but in short, broken mirrors disrupt the energy of your home, and must be removed.
While mirrors are also not often mentioned in the Torah, some modern denominations of Judaism have traditions concerning mirrors and death.
When someone dies, all mirrors in the house are covered for the duration of shiva, the seven-day immediate mourning period after the death. During this time, mourners rely on their community for support and do not concern themselves with vanity or physical appearance. It is a time to focus only on going through your grief.
However, some say that if you lift the cover and look into one of these mirrors, the Angel of Death will be staring back at you. Some also agree that breaking a mirror brings seven years of misfortune or poverty.
In Hindu culture, mirrors symbolize the goddess Lakshmi, the deity representing good fortune, wealth, and beauty. To break a mirror was to offend the goddess, who naturally would curse you with misfortune, poverty, and ugliness.
In addition, keeping a broken mirror is believed to bring negative energy into your home. If you do not quickly dispose of it, you and your family will be affected as long as it is there.
The Superstitions Surrounding Breaking a Mirror
In cultures that lend significance to the reflection and mirror, there is also a prevailing superstition that breaking them is dangerous and causes misfortune of some kind. A study conducted in 2009 found that 60% of Americans believe in at least one superstition.
The most commonly known superstition is the popular Western belief that the mere act of breaking a mirror brings you seven years of bad luck, which derives from the Roman beliefs described above in “The History of the Broken Mirror.” Some even go further and claim that if you break multiple mirrors, your years of bad luck multiply sevenfold!
Around the world, there is not much distance from this idea in superstitions surrounding broken mirrors. While some cultures specify that bad luck is a punishment from the gods or interpret the broken mirror as bringing bad energy into your home instead of your person, the fact remains that breaking a mirror is a bad omen everywhere you go.
What’s the Meaning of a Mirror Breaking by Itself?
You may have seen it or even been jump scared by it in some horror movie before: a mirror breaking all on its own, implicitly reacting to some evil presence nearby. Is this why you have to go out and buy a new mirror?
Well, not exactly. Here are some reasons why a mirror might break on its own.
- Usually, it is because the mirror is just too old.
- The glass is worn and stressed by age (possibly tarnished as well, if it was an antique made with metals like silver or mercury) and gives out, cracking wide and giving you a scare!
- Another explanation is that the tempered glass had minor defects that you couldn’t see until they expanded or were stressed enough to crack the mirror suddenly.
- A warped or poorly made mirror frame can also cause damage to delicate glass.
- Finally, watch your mirror during the worst of the summer and winter: dramatic temperature changes can also cause the glass to break spontaneously.
- Bright sunlight shining directly onto the glass can cause this kind of change.
However, Western superstition often claims that if a mirror cracks on its own, it is an omen that somebody in the house will die soon or that you are about to get bad news. One contrasting Hindu belief also claims that if a mirror breaks on its own, you have narrowly escaped death because whatever evil thing was in your home left.
How to Properly Dispose of a Smashed Mirror
If your parents never told you when you were a child, we’ll tell you now: be careful around the broken glass!
Though injuries from glass shards are not often extensive, even the most minor cuts can be more than deep enough to need serious medical attention. You’ve already got enough to worry about without cleaning up blood too.
Some tips to safely clean up the broken glass are as follows:
Avoid using a vacuum cleaner to suck up glass shards: no matter how small, the jagged edges are liable to ruin your poor vacuum!
Feng Shui and Broken Mirrors
You may have heard of feng shui before. It is the traditional Chinese concept of humanity being connected to the natural world. Its most well-known application is the arranging of the home to create as much balance between a person and their environment as possible.
Some principles of feng shui include:
- Making sure you have a clear line of sight to your door
- Placing furniture in specific alignment with the “commanding position” where you spend the most time in a room
- Selecting from the eight energies of bagua to incorporate in your design
- Selecting which energies of the five elements you want to promote in your home
Bringing as much positive energy into the home as possible is the main goal of feng shui. So as you might have guessed, broken mirrors disrupt feng shui.
Because the mirror reflects light and your image, it is one of the important pieces of furniture in your room, alongside major objects such as your bed and desk. The act of breaking the mirror will not bring harm down on you, but keeping a shattered or cracked image of yourself in the house brings terrible energy because of what it implies about your self-worth.
Is There Any Scientific Evidence Supporting the Beliefs Around Mirrors?
No, there is no scientific evidence to support the belief in broken mirror superstitions. However, there is a considerable literature on why myths like this are so widely embraced by humans around the world.
Basically, superstitions are your brain’s way of trying to gain control over a stressful world. Misfortune is random and unpredictable, and we cannot cope with that. We try to rationalize it and calm our anxieties by clinging to the idea that if we do things a certain way — if we don’t walk under ladders, if we knock on wood, if we are careful not to break mirrors — the horrors of the world won’t fall on us.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. But that’s just human nature for you.
What Does It Mean if I Dream of Broken Mirrors?
Recurring or common images in dreams often have similar meanings. For instance, if you dream of being covered in bugs or your teeth falling out, that usually symbolizes that you are stressed.
Likewise, if you dream of broken mirrors, it typically does not portend bad luck. Instead, it indicates something more complicated in your life or your psyche, often vulnerability or insecurity. The message could be that you have a poor view of yourself, as implied by a reflection distorted by cracks, or that you are prone to self-doubt about how other people view your character.
If you are the one to break the mirror, that can be symbolic of dismantling your own image to move on from the past or an old idea of yourself. It is a sign for you to remake your image anew.
What are Some of the Psychological Effects of Such Superstitions?
Superstitions are often deeply ingrained in the culture and lifestyle of the holder. Breaking traditions or accidentally making an infraction on an established rule, can have real-world psychological and even physical consequences.
One such example is the tragic account of Hmong refugees from Laos in the 1970s. They believed in a nightmare spirit known as dab tsog. Banishing dab tsog and other evil spirits required communal ritual. Upon immigrating to the United States, communities were split up. The major stresses of migration, the loss of their homes and communities, and the now-impossibility of performing protective rituals led several healthy young men to die in their sleep.
While most superstitious people are not stressed to the point of death, after performing an unlucky act such as breaking a mirror, they may feel symptoms of anxiety such as:
Superstitions can also feed into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and cause the sufferer to fear for their life and the lives of their loved ones if they do not complete the rituals as directed.
How can I Avoid Bad Luck if My Mirror Breaks?
Let’s say that you’ve just broken your bathroom mirror and you’re now cursed. Naturally, the thing to do isn’t avoid bad luck so much as try to counter it!
How many bringers of good luck in folklore can you think of? If you’re coming up blank, here are some ideas from various cultures:
- Four leaf clovers and shamrocks (Celtic/Irish)
- Horseshoes (English)
- Rabbit’s feet (English/Welsh)
- The number 7 (Western/Japanese)
- Jade and the color red (Chinese)
- Goldfish and dragons (Chinese tradition and feng shui)
- The touch of a chimney sweep (English)
Collect some of these talismans (or their images: for instance, it would be a bit difficult to lug around a dragon for luck) and carry them around with you, and you won’t need to worry about broken mirrors any longer!
What Should I Do if I Accidentally Break a Mirror?
Clean it up, of course. You read the “how to properly dispose of broken mirrors” segment above, didn’t you? Hope you’re going to pay for repairs or a replacement. Unless you’re trained in glass repair, you should not try fixing a damaged mirror yourself. Call a professional to do it.
Dispelling Bad Luck
Oh, that’s not what you meant? Well, there are supposedly other methods of warding off evil portents. Some sources claim that it follows the same principle as throwing salt over your shoulder to prevent misfortune from spilling it.
After you break a mirror, you can spin clockwise three times, repurpose the shards for an art piece to give it positive energy, or grind them into a fine powder and safely dispose of them.
As we said, we do not advise you to do the latter on your own. Get a professional to help you, and wear gloves and safety goggles, so you don’t hurt yourself on the shards or the glass dust.
Mirrors have been important to cultures all over the world for centuries, even before they were made of glass.
Because they are the only object specifically intended for people to view their reflections, breaking mirrors is collectively considered a shocking and harmful action. It quickly became considered either unlucky or outright blasphemous, with the most commonly known belief being the Western superstition that breaking a mirror buys you seven years of bad luck.
But forget bad luck. Explore my site about all the great ways you can use makeup mirrors.