Monday, June 21, 2010

Mirror as Portal

We’ve all had our own secret relationships with mirrors at some point or another through our lives: the reflection through which we obsess with our own self image. Sometimes a mirror is the first thing we get to when we wake up in the morning; other times, we avoid looking into one. Full-length mirrors are strategically placed in our homes, a portal into exploration of self; the tiny ones we carry become our reality check. If we find ourselves alone with one in a public restroom, we are sometimes struck with what we see there – the changes we hadn’t noticed before; a curve or a bulge we stop to admire; the stranger we fear or had not anticipated.

Mirrors provide all kinds of useful functions, many of which fascinate us, or at the very least, play with our perception in some way. We use large, unframed mirrors to create an illusion of space, or to make a room appear larger. We put mirrors on the ceiling over our beds for a source of erotic stimulation. Amusement parks build Halls of Mirrors, deliberately distorted for our own entertainment. Rotating disco balls at clubs covered in small mirrors cast moving spots of light across a dance floor. In the ancient Chinese system of Feng Shui, practitioners believe that a mirror will help to energize a room. And the metaphor “smoke and mirrors” – used frequently in pop culture references to indicate deception or pretense – came from the magician’s illusion: making objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors amid a confusing burst of smoke.

Jimi Hendrix wrote a song called a Room Full of Mirrors, and in a biography of the same name, Charles Cross describes a man who “had an extraordinary sense of self-awareness, and an uncanny ability to use music to express emotional truths.” He talks about a two-by-four-foot mirror that Jimi had created. “Inside the frame sat fifty-odd pieces of a shattered mirror, set in clay in the exact position they would have held upon the breaking of the mirror. The shards all point toward the center, where an unbroken plate-size circle rests.” It was, according to Jimi’s father, his Room Full of Mirrors. The song, Cross says, “tells the story of a man trapped in a world of self-reflection so powerful, it haunts him even in his dreams.”

By far the most fascinating use of a mirror I ever heard was from a teacher I once worked with, who said that if you ever find yourself in a lucid dream (awake in a dream and able to direct it), you can look for your reflection in a mirror to “lock” you in.

Recently, I had the good fortune to interview one of the most interesting people I have ever met. A scholar, architectural historian, and a specialist in Western esoteric traditions, he struck me as a sort of a mystic Sherlock Holmes. Frank Albo penned the Hermetic Code, a book about his groundbreaking discoveries of Freemasonic symbolism in the Manitoba Legislative Building. He spoke to me about the cornerstone of Hermetic philosophy, the concept “as above, so below; so below, as above” -- that the entire universe, and all things in it, is a sea of mirrors.

In other words, he said, everything is inter-connected.

Ah – yes, everything is inter-connected. Well I’ve lived by that philosophy for most of my life. But hearing it described in this way – namely, a sea of mirrors – inspired me to think more deeply into it. For as long as I can remember, even in the throes of dire escapist behavior, I’ve wanted in. I’ve wanted to know that stranger in the mirror. I’ve wanted to have the courage of heart to embrace what I see there; to perceive the “as above” reflected in her face. I don’t want to wake up at 62, or 75, to discover I am still removed from what I know.

For that is surely what the second half of life is about – learning to relax into what we know, and to meet the stranger in the mirror at last.


The time will come
when with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own front door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letter from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

I invite my readers to share their thoughts on the word “mirror”: stories or myths they’ve heard, favorite metaphors, intriguing associations. It is my intent to write a follow-up post on this subject, depending on the response.

Frank Albo will be teaching a course called Forbidden Knowledge, which will put into proper context the shadowy world of occult philosophy and embark on a fascinating journey through five centuries of mystical traditions, from Renaissance sorcery to modern ceremonial magic. It will explore religious mythology, occult history and code-breaking symbolism. For more information visit


Robert Longpré said...

Yes, I agree "as above, so below" needs to be embraced. Mirrors are not simply coated glass, they are also words and the choices we make, and the relationships we find ourselves engaged in or withdrawn from. Blogging is more about staring in the mirror than one could possibly believe. Re-reading one's own words allows us to see the "below" - thanks, Jesse

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you, Robert, for taking the time to comment here. I enjoy your thoughts and as you know, love your blog. Please stay in touch. Jesse

Mary L. Tabor said...

Beautifully written post: wise and soulful. The concept of "mirror" at the heart of the post is complex, as you unravel that complexity here. I adore the poet Derek Walcott! Your choice here of his work to close yours seals this entry with a kiss from the heart.

Jesse Mendes said...

Mary, how lovely are your comments! Thank you for taking the time to offer me this feedback. I hope readers will share with me their own associations with the word "mirror". Jesse

Barbara Scully said...

Hi Jesse. Have just arrived at your wonderful blog and am just loving what I am reading here. You seem to be reaching somewhere deep within my soul with your words and concepts. It is late now but I will be back for more and often. And I will so look forward to reading your wisdom.
Thank you also for the poem by Derek is very beautiful.

Thank you...

Jesse Mendes said...

Barbara --

To hear that I have touched someone at a soul level is not something I take lightly. Likewise, your writings also touch me. I love your blog, and encourage people to visit you at


Cathryn said...

"Mirror, mirror on the wall" - the phrase is part of our cultural lexicon, but it wasn't until recently that I've come to reflect on it, to be saddened by the Queen's refusal to embrace her journey toward becoming the crone, the crowning of her life's path. Three times the Queen arrives at Snow White's door, with a gift intended to kill her. So enraged is she by the youth's survival that she is forced to dance in iron shoes until she falls dead. As a younger woman, I was repelled by Snow White's passivity, her being saved by men rather than her own inner strength. I've come to see each of the men (huntsmen, dwarfs, prince) as metaphors for the internal and external helpers we all need to reach maturity. But now I'm more intrigued by the Queen, for whom only youthful beauty counts. Instead of growing in wisdom, she cowers before the mirror.

Intriguing post. It sent me off in a reflective direction.

Jesse Mendes said...

Cathryn, what an interesting story and thoughts. Indeed, we all have that choice as women: to cower before the mirror, or to stand courageously, and try to embrace everything we see, even that which we have difficulty with, and endeavor to delve into the riches of our character. I love to repeat the James Hillman quote -- "I am getting on in years, but am I getting on with who I am?"

Thanks for writing!

DazyDayWriter said...

Ah, this is an intriguing topic, Jesse. Seems like the premise of The Secret was that the Universe delivers back to us whatever we conjure up in our minds (or something along those lines). But this also brings to mind body language -- how we mirror those we are talking to almost without our awareness. So certainly there is some dynamic, almost on a primordial level, to reflect back images, thoughts, and so on. As you've read on my blog about my walk with the prairie, when I gaze on open spaces ... they seem to touch something inside me that could be called "spirit" or "inner space," as Tolle might put it, and there is an internal sigh of recognition almost. This is an interesting thread; look forward to the subsequent post! --Daisy

Jesse Mendes said...

Dazy, you express yourself so eloquently I am not even sure how to respond, except to say, thank you for your thoughtful commentary, and for taking the time to write. Jesse

Shirley said...

Beautiful post. Love the Derek Walcot poem and did not know it before. Thanks,

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you, Shirley, for your kind feedback. Yes, I love that Walcott poem as well -- I first heard it from David Whyte, who was reading it with much passion at one of his events. If you liked this poem you would *love* David Whyte. I strongly recommend his site:

He travels around the world talking about the "discipline of poetry".


Tom St. Louis said...

Well hello there. I enjoyed this post and the comments...and I wrote down a few notes since you were asking for comments and thoughts about meers or as my friends in the Deep South say, mirrahs.

1. You don't see a mirror. You see something else. Mirrors exist to show something else...but you can never see that thing in the mirror, only a reflection.

We cannot actually see ourselves in a mirror. What we do see is fairly close, but no cigar.

I can see my arm...and I know more or less what my face looks like and I can "sort of" connect with myself in the mirror...but all it is is a reflection of an external... eternally misleading...eternally unfulfilling.

Music used to be only music...then recording came along...and the recordings which were a reflection of what musicians did in real time... came to be seen as music... and then, zounds...technologies exploded to the point that many "musicians" cannot play an instrument, but they are knob twiddlers considered geniuses and a lot of people never hear "live" or "real" music...they live in the world of reflections.

But hey, the Beatles "Because" is still pretty cool, and they never played it live. So, reflections can grow up to be big mucky mucks apparently.

2. I notice a funny thing women do. I'm sure men do, especially metrosexuals, but I've seen women do it 7,000 times. They see a mirror...maybe on the way to the bathroom in a restaurant or along a hallway somewhere. They don't notice than anyone can see them or they don't care..

They make a face and then look at it in the mirror. I interpret this to mean they are trying to project a persona...or that they have a way they hope they look which they have previously worked out in the mirror...and they check to see if it's there...and make whatever arrangements will satisfy them...and then they walk, presumably with the correct version.

That's funny!!!!

3. All it takes is two mirrors to create a false infinity. I noticed it at the barber shop every time. You look up and you see yourself with the mirror behind you...and in that mirror you see you looking at you looking at you etc. etc.

It's not really profound. It's an illusion. But there it is. I think a lot of allegedly big ideas are big like the phony infinity you see in the barber's chair.

That's it...there are my thotlets du jour about mirrors...

Jesse Mendes said...

Hi Tom

Many thanks for your comments; as always, I appreciate your eclectic mind and range of your thoughts. I am not sure what to say, other than by association. Of course you are right that mirrors are only a reflection. As for women and mirrors, you make me think of how obsessed some of us have been, myself included, and how mirrors can help to feed a distorted perception of self -- we see what we want to see, or what we are afraid of. Many years when I was thin I was convinced I was overweight, and when I looked in the mirror what I saw "confirmed" that. I am sure many women have their own story. So much in the eye of the beholder. My gratitude to you for taking the time to write, Tom.

Christine Young said...

I have always had a love hate relationship with my mirrors—the long and the short of them. When I was young it was a hair that wouldn’t stay put and a pimple that never seemed to fade staring back at me, or it was a slender figure with the coolest new outfit that would be sure to attract the boys. It’s all about image—how I perceive myself on any given day.

I like the mirror in my bathroom at home. It’s not so cruel. The ladies room at work is another story. The bright lighting is in cahoots with the mirror to make me look just about as horrible as I can look. I begin to weigh my looks against the looks of the younger women in the office and I become very self-conscious about my appearance. I begin to think that I am not worthy of notice. How narcissistic of me to imply that my work associates do not see me for who I am when I know they do. But it’s that few seconds after looking into the mirror that formulates my delusion; a delusion brought about by ego and sustained by reminiscences of my younger self.

Jesse I am delighted to be reading your blog. I wish I had found it sooner. I see this post is from June of 2010. What I realize is that I’ve wasted a lot of time on Facebook playing Bejeweled Blitz and not enough time exploring the wonders of the written word. I love your style. Your subjects are thought provoking, easy to relate to, and they prompt me to look inside of myself for the answers.

Jesse Mendes said...

Ah yes, lighting. You are not alone in finding harsh lights cruel. Even a model can look like a ghost in the wrong (bad) lighting. I used to work for a professional photographer. Much of the "art" of taking a good photograph is not just about evoking real feeling or chemistry from a person, but about finding just the right angle, just the right body language, and just the right lighting. Photographers? Anything to add?

I also remember the days when my day revolved around hiding a pimple or placing a hair in precisely the right place. Endless hours in front of the high school bathroom mirror, complete self absorption. Youth was ALL about image, and maintaining it. I do NOT miss those days. I do NOT miss being young. I miss the physical health and agility I had then -- both of which I took for granted. But I do not miss being young.

I am trying to think of who it was that said, was makes the experience of aging miserable is the obsession with youth. I have heard this sentiment expressed over and over again, in a multitude of ways, and it has become my daily mantra.

Thank you, Christine.

Emelia said...

I've always been intrigued with mirrors as they illustrate physically that the way we see ourselves is not the way other people see us. It's the reason we're startled when we see a picture of ourselves with our hair parted on the "wrong" side. Mirrors bring us to the realization of what is...and occasionally what isn't.

Jessica Mendes said...

Well said, Emelia!

Chad Thiele said...

Mirrors also have a useful purpose in the retail environment. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it a few months ago. The underlying issue that Roger Dooley points out in his book might be of interest to you. I mention it in my post.

Thanks for sharing this post on Twitter.

Jessica Mendes said...

Thanks Chad for sharing the post -- an interesting read, for sure!