The capacity for human imagination is infinite and so is the capacity for superstition. One that many of us believe but few can explain the meaning for is the idea that breaking a mirror brings not just bad luck, but seven years of it. Where did this curious and quite specific idea come from? Here are some possible suggestions and a cure.
The Ancient Soul Theory
There is a belief in many ancient cultures that our reflections in pools of water were not actually ourselves, but us seeing our souls. Some believed that parts of the soul could be trapped in the mirror while we look at it. If this particular theory is the main belief behind it, then it would stand to reason that breaking a mirror (an object that presents a person’s reflection) would be seen as damaging the soul. But how would the seven years apply here? Well, seven is a lucky number in many cultures, so this could be simple irony – the reversal of good luck into bad.
Roman Gods Theory
Most scholars credit the Romans with coming up with this particular superstition. This is the most likely explanation for the origin of this idea. The Romans were the first to use glass mirrors although these were expensive. They also believed that all life took seven years to “renew”. That meant a clearing period of seven years should you be unfortunate to break a mirror. But why would breaking a mirror be bad luck in the first place? They believed that mirrors were means by which the gods and demi-gods communicated with humanity as well as believing that souls could become trapped there (see above).
The Scare Tactic Theory
Mirrors are a relatively new invention. Most ancient societies did not have the technology, even well-to-do Romans could not always afford the reflective glass. Most people made do with the age-old tradition of using highly polished bronze to show their reflection. The technology to make mirrors was not widely in use until the Middle Ages. Even then, it was still relatively expensive for most people. Therefore, the idea that it would bring seven years of bad luck to break one was based purely on a desire for people to take care of valuable possessions.
Roman Remedies for Bad Luck
Thankfully, each of these disparate cultures had a number of remedies one may follow in order to ensure that the seven years of bad luck never came to pass.
- Take all the pieces and arrange them back into the shape they were as much as you could and bury them by moonlight. This theory carried on into medieval Europe
- Simply collect all the pieces and throw them in running water such as a stream or waterfall
- Pound them into tiny fragments so that they would never again reflect anything. This would free the soul
- Early slaves to the Americas had a similar theory in that you should leave them standing in running water for seven hours to wash away the bad luck