Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Mirror - Is it really Me?

I chose the mirror as the first symbol to examine, because of its obvious connotat -ions with self image. For ages mirror was the symbol of (self) knowledge. "Γνώθι σαυτόν", to know yourself, an esoteric alchemical process of inner transformation and purification. One cannot advance in his spiritual evolution, if certain psychological issues  are not addressed, if self is not confronted in its light and shadow. Looking at the mirror, you see your reflection as it is, no lies, no tricks.The clean, flat mirror, is a symbol of clarity and truth.

Mirrors symbolize portals to other dimensions as they are used in divination (scrying) -a variation would be the crystal ball- and that made them very popular tools for magical practices. They are considered to be a doorway to the subconscious mind, to the soul (vampires have  no soul, thus nothing is reflected when they gaze at their mirror image). Scrying would reveal information about a person, about self or future events. Alice in her second adventure "Through the Looking - Glass, and What Alice Found There", uses a mirror as a portal that leads her in a world of opposites, in a distorted reality. The same happens to Christine in the Phantom of the Opera, when she follows the phantom through a mirror. A dive into the subconscious mind, where the hidden aspects of ourselves lie.
A distorting or cracked mirror symbolizes confusion, lies and Illusion. It becomes the emblem of self-deception or even insanity. Those of you who share my weakness for vampire stories and computer games, would be familiar with the logo of the Malkavian clan (Vampire the Masquerade), the cracked mirror, which points out their specific characteristic: dementia. Another negative symbolism of the mirror is that of loss and misfortune. It is said, that if a mirror breaks, you get seven years of bad luck. A fogged mirror symbolizes lack of clarity.

A less popular symbolism of the mirror is that of reproduction. It makes a copy of the person or object reflected on it. Some say that if you see a mirror in your dream, it means the urge to reproduct. I wouldn't want to go too far into dream interpretation, as I believe it is different for every person, but I must admit I accept the power that universal symbols may have in the collective subconsciousness. Thus, I would be more inclined to believe that a mirror in a dream signifies aspects of the self rather than reproduction. But as I said, the symbolism of such a dream is up to you to decipher. 
Mirrors have always been the ultimate symbol of vanity. A very popular example is given by the story of Narcissus, who used the surface of a pond as a mirror (there's a strong connection between mirrors and the element of water. Water reflects an image like a mirror does. Water is considered a passive element, connected with emotions and femininity and so do mirrors). Narcissus fell in love with himself and not being able to take his eyes off his image, he died from exhaustion, enchanted by the ever fleeting, untouchable reflection of his own face. But if we look at it from another angle, we could give another interpretation to the story of Narcissus: while I imagine him, staring at the hypnotic water, in a trancelike state, I can't help thinking about the meditative tones of his activity. Maybe he was just fortunate, because what he found looking at the mirror-like water, was nice and comforting, to the degree that everything else around him ceased to matter. Confronting your own self is not always a comfortable thing to do. In the extreme, one can get too absorbed in Self contemplation, for good or ill. Looking for the inner truth, one can withdraw from society literally (i.e. becoming a monk) or metaphorically (becoming a loner, an introvert), which can be seen as a kind of death, a sacrifice of the self for the self. So we could say, that some people, once they see themselves in the "mirror", they are doomed to "die" for this, either because the image is unbearably terrifying or because it's shockingly unexpected, in a good or bad way. When Narcissus' mother asked the oracle about her son's destiny, the oracle answered that he would live a long life as long as he never came to know himself. Not everyone is ready  to look deep inside the mirror.The evil queen in Snow White's fairy tale, owns a magical mirror that can answer any question. The queen used to ask the mirror "who's the fairest in all land?" and the mirror, that couldn't lie, always told her that she was the fairest of them all. But the same brutal honesty forced the  mirror to tell the truth, when Snow White became fairer than the queen. It showed her the truth that she could not take and which eventually led to her doom. 

Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, is often associated with mirrors. She is frequently depicted looking at a mirror, especially in Renaissance art. The mirror is often held in front of her by Cupid (Eros). In many cases, it's the others that feed our vanity and pride or they just show us who we really are, they are holding the mirror for us. Or they become mirrors themselves. They send back at us the images of their traits, which are also our traits. At times we don't like what we see. 

A mirror always reflects an image in reverse, no matter how accurate the representation is, it's always the wrong way round.

Who's looking at you from the mirror?

The Self Image

I guess that many of you know, that the human brain, whenever it sees an image - don't be fooled into thinking that it's the eyes that see-, fills up the details of that image by its own accord, as indicated by previous experience. It does this for the sake of economy, for saving valuable energy. Thinking about this function of our brain, I came to realize, that we paint the mental picture of who we are -our personality-  in the same way. The image we have for ourselves, is a collection of memories and past experiences, hardly ever questioned or explored on a deeper level, in reference to their validity and meaning. The features of our personality often consist in the impressions made by certain events of our life, i.e. the praise of our teacher at the elementary school, the offense of our schoolmate, the betrayal of a loved one, the time we pushed our limits, etc and the consequent reactions caused by them. Those reactions determine who we believe we are and we tend to regenerate them whenever we come across to similar situations or people in our everyday life. But what If we tried to break that vicious circle of mechanical reactions? many of them are pointless and void and they lead to negative situations rather than creative solutions.

I invite you to notice how each one of us adopts various attitudes, depending on the person or situation we have in front of us. We act in a certain way when we are in the presence of our parents, in another way when we are with our friends and yet differently when we talk to our boss. We change masks and roles all the time and we do this with extreme ease, almost mechanically. I'm not saying that this is necessarily bad, on the contrary it can be very convenient,  but it becomes a problem when it happens without any awareness - which is the case of most of us. How conscious can we be in our interactions with others if this chameleon behaviour happens so automatically? At times, we slip even deeper into unconsciousness and we get stuck in one or two of those roles and we act according to what we think the proper reactions for that role should be (or rather we don't even think about them, we just act without any awareness).

Think about it for a moment and see how many of our (re)actions happen without any sense of logic or purpose. They happen just because we are used to reproduce them for many many years. They are those actions that give us an identity, a sense of self. The problem lies in the fact that many of those attitudes derive not from our own, conscious choices, but from the need to live up to the expectations of other people, be it our parents, our friends, the society in general. Trying to eliminate what we consider to be a  negative aspect of the self can be very hard, as we soon realize that the Image has become an entity in itself, who will struggle to stay alive, no matter how malicious or destructive it may be.

Our reluctance to redetermine ourselves while life and situations shift around us and our attachment to that rigid sense of who we are,  is the source of many personal disasters and dramas. And the ultimate (self) hypnosis.