Mirrors are generally symbolic of spiritual and psychological depth. They don’t just reveal what we look like. They reveal who we are on a deeper level.
Some key symbolic meanings behind mirrors include:
- The Soul
- Seeing the Soul
- Bad Luck (Broken Mirror)
These meanings exist in literature, films, and television. Poetry, in particular, has historically spoken about mirror symbolism for centuries.
But the meaning behind mirrors is also something people seek out after they dream about mirrors. Could the mirror in your dreams be a subconscious symbol for you to reflect more deeply?
Below is an explanation of each historical and spiritual meaning behind mirrors.
Mirror Symbolism & Meanings
Primarily, we look to mirrors as a way of revealing the truth to ourselves.
On a physical level, holding the mirror up to our face can show us what we really look like. Without a mirror, we will never know.
But we can also metaphorically use the word “mirror” to talk about reflecting on our true self beneath the skin.
In literature, we see the mirror as a symbol for truth regularly.
For example, Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror” (spoken from the perspective of a mirror) reads:
I am not cruel, only truthful—
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
While others might lie to you about how you look, the mirror is seen as providing a truthful and faithful representation of who you are, without worrying about your feelings!
2. All-Seeing and All-Knowing Wisdom
Mirrors are sometimes seen as holding incredible knowledge and wisdom. They sit on the wall and observe in silence all day long. If mirrors could talk, I’m sure they would have observed a great deal!
In Snow White, the evil queen would say:
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
In response, the mirror would tell the evil queen that the most beautiful person is Snow White. So, the queen tried to kill snow white.
Here, the mirror is wise and all-knowing.
3. Seeing the Soul
Mirrors don’t just reflect our outside beauty. If we stare into a mirror, we can sometimes see our own soul.
Of course, we don’t actually see what the soul looks like. But simply starting into a mirror for a few minutes makes us feel vulnerable. We stare at our face and get to know it. We see who we are.
And that can make us introspective. We can think about who we are and see ourselves from a perspective of others.
We also have a saying: “hold the mirror up to yourself”.
This is a way of telling people to think about what they’re doing and who they are. It asks you to pause and reflect on ourselves.
It’s interesting that the term reflection has both a physical meaning (to see ourselves physically) and a non-physical meaning (to think about ourselves).
When we tell people to look in the mirror, we often mean to say that someone needs to think about what they’re saying to learn about their own shortcomings.
For example, you might say “You tell people to be kinder but you are also pretty mean. You should take a look in the mirror.”
Here, the mirror is used to help someone see that they need to reflect and work on their own behavior.
5. Vanity and Narcissism
People who spend too long starting at the mirror are considered to be vain. This means that they’re too interested in physical looks than a person’s character and personality.
You could say that someone who spends too long looking into a mirror is “obsessed with themselves” and unable to think about things beyond the surface level.
Renaissance art (such as the 1515 artwork Vanitas by Titian) often depicts women starting into mirrors to show their vanity. They may also be surrounded by gems and other earthly obsessions.
Similarly, renaissance art can often depict women holding mirrors as a sign that they are seductresses using their beauty to lure men.
Another example of mirrors (or, at least, reflections) symbolizing vanity is in the story of Narcissus. Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pond. He pined for himself so much and was so in love with himself that it drove him to death.
(You can find the Vanitas artwork in the Louvre Museum in Paris).
6. Disorientation (Maze)
Mazes of mirrors represent disorientation. If you’ve ever been in a maze of mirrors, you will have felt that sense of not knowing where to go. Step one way and you run into a mirror, step another way and you run into a mirror as well.
Here, mirrors are being used to confuse and confound. This usually involves having multiple mirrors to bounce light around and make it seem like there are items in places where they are not.
While we often see mirrors as reflecting the truth, they can also deceive.
And the fact that a mirror is being deceptive is extra powerful because we expect truth from them.
But when mirrors are concave and convex. they can make us look extra tall, short, fat or thin. They can also make objects appear closer or further away than they are in real life.
So, sometimes, if mirrors are bent to distort an image, their symbolism is not truth, but rather the distortion of truth in order to deceive.
Centuries ago, mirrors were expensive. Only the rich and powerful had access to them in their homes. The first mirrors were made of plates of silver rather than glass, making them rare and heavy.
Now, mirrors are widely available for very cheap.
But still today, we decorate them with elaborate frames to display our wealth.
So, an ornate mirror continues at times to be a symbol of wealth (despite not to the same extent as in the past).
When we ‘mirror’ someone, we are copying them. If you lift your arm and I lift my arm to follow, I am behaving like a mirror to copy you.
A mirror could be used to symbolize being a copycat, or even being un-original. We could call someone a mirror if all they ever do is copy what their friends are doing. They have no original ideas to themselves.
We also call people who follow us around at work during training to be “a mirror” of a person, meaning they are going around copying the person they are learning from.
Broken Mirror Symbolism
10. Bad Luck
Broken mirrors have their own unique symbolism. According to folk lore, broken mirrors symbolize bad luck. If you look into a mirror when it breaks, you’re said to receive 7 years’ worth of bad luck.
This meaning stems all the way from the ancient Greeks to Chinese.
It likely stems from the idea that the mirror shows you your soul, and when you break the mirror, you trap your soul in the mirror.
But don’t worry – it’s not all bad! If you bury the shards of the mirror during a full moon, the bad luck is removed!
Mirrors are seen as mystical objects. They reflect our soul, trick us, and show us the truth. Their symbolism is visible in art, literature and film throughout history.
And we often embrace this symbolism in the stories we tell ourselves. Their symbolism has even become a part of our lexicon (‘look in the mirror’, ‘he’s mirroring you’, ‘she’s in love with the mirror’).
I’m Chris and I run this website – a resource about symbolism, metaphors, idioms, and a whole lot more! Thanks for dropping by.