A mirror is an incredible thing. It is a window, both a reflection and representation of ourselves and our surroundings. As such, it is subject to the same distortions that we experience when witnessing the world around us — especially so, because when we are looking into a mirror, we look at ourselves, projecting all the “shoulds” and “could bes” onto our bodies. What other object is subject to the same level of distortion, of wishing, of wanting to be different, of denial, judgement and skepticism?
The mirror itself is supposed to be an objective witness, but we ourselves are not objective witnesses of it. Our perception of what we think we are going to see, what we want to see, or what we are afraid of seeing can be projected onto the image in the mirror, just as it is projected onto the world around us. It is these qualities that allow the mirror to be a powerful tool in magical work and self-reflection. Mirror magick gives us an opportunity to look ourselves in the face, both within and without, and thus, we begin to pry apart the notions that make up our conception of who and what we are.
Mirrors in magical work
How do you use mirrors in your everyday life? The lighting in the room affects what and how you see yourself as much as anything else. Is the lighting so bright that you can see every single pore on your face? Does it feel creepy to catch sight of a reflection of yourself in a shadowy room?
Depending on what you would like to achieve in your work, you will want to consider set and setting before anything else. If you want to work on getting to know, deepening your connection with, and understanding of your physical body, you might want to start in a bright room. However, if you want to connect with deeper, subconscious forces, you might want to set up a mirror in a darkened, candlelit room. As with everything in the occult, the way that you craft your working will affect the outcome, but your own individual inclination will affect the how’s and what’s more deeply than anything else. You should always follow your gut instincts and do what feels best for what you want to accomplish.
No matter what your setup is like, the process of doing mirror magick involves a transformation. You will essentially be confronting what seems to be a very solid, material presence. What we find, time and time again, is that the material world is subject to the whims of perception. You may find that what stares back at you is not what you first expected.
Inner self and outer appearance
The expression of the body itself is indelibly linked with our interior experience. For example, there are many ways to “wear” the same face. It does have limitations of structure; the bones and muscles are arranged in a certain way, but the habitual use of these muscles will change the way the face is shaped over time. Our habitual holding patterns create a kind of static manner of wearing our faces. When you catch someone sleeping, fully relaxed and without an awareness of being seen, their faces often seem very different from how they are held in daily life.
When we begin to work with our bodies and faces in the mirror, we can begin to peel away the layers of perception that keep us holding certain muscles, which in turn can release trapped emotions. The holding patterns in our bodies can be seen in the mirror, and then worked through the body in different ways, through relaxation or movement practices or even simply through mindfulness.
The dynamic relationship between seeing and being is something that we can engage with on a conscious level by spending time staring into the mirror. The longer you spend in this practice, the stranger it becomes. Just like any mundane activity, we dislocate ourselves from habitual reception and begin to access a deeper level of perception if we really take the time to invest our attention on it. When we are able to access our deeper perceptions of our own image, we can begin to use the image as a tool to access inner states of being as they show up in the external presentation of our “embodied” selves.
Healing and self-love
As a healer, I approach most situations through the metric of healing. I have used mirror magick as a means to understand my own complexes and to work towards a more holistic and loving body perception. Mirror work need not be limited by this particular intention, but is certainly well-suited to it. Many people use mirrors in divination or spellwork. For myself, I find that self-knowledge and acceptance is the ultimate goal of many paths, and as such, most roads ultimately lead back to the same place.
One of the ways that I have used mirror magick is in addressing a sense of body dysmorphia that I have had for the majority of my adult life. As I began to develop after puberty, my body began to take on some very feminine characteristics that did not sit well with my inner identity. I deeply identified with my pre-pubescent body — thin and boyish — and when I began to fill out as a woman, I was forced to confront the latent gender dysphoria that I had previously suppressed.
Whether or not you have gender dysphoria or other dysmorphic tendencies, we all tend to have parts of our bodies that we feel cut off from or judgemental of. For me, my belly and thighs and breasts were anathema. Whenever I would see myself in the mirror, I would have a jarring sense of dissociation due to the fact that I did not identify with this woman’s body. My inner image of myself was of a thin, boyish person, and this didn’t line up with what I was seeing.
There are a lot of ways that you can deal with dysmorphia, and some of those coping mechanisms will probably include trying to change what you see in the mirror. Some people deal with their dissatisfaction with their body by going to the gym or taking up a sport or other fitness activity. Some people decide to get surgery, and this can alleviate a lot of symptoms for people who disidentify with certain parts of their bodies. A lot of people get tattoos or otherwise decorate their bodies in order to exert some level of control over their physical image. It’s important to accept that for each individual, the path to body acceptance is going to look and feel different. We all have unique challenges when it comes to trying to match what we feel inside to the ways we look outside. I am still struggling with my own body issues, but have come to accept the way I look a lot more through the healing work I have done over the past 10 or so years.
When I look in the mirror now, I still sometimes feel strange about what I see, and I often feel strange about what I think other people see when they look at me. When I look in the mirror, I try to cultivate a kind of seeing that attempts to process what is real in this moment without judgement. Then, once I have begun to accept the way it is now, I can choose to do things to help the process along. Even though I don’t particularly identify as female, I don’t identify as male either. In the past, I have had a lot of confusion about what that means for the ways I present myself to the world.
I have spent a great deal of time just looking at myself, silently repeating affirmations in my head. “This is what I look like right now, and that’s okay. I have the power to change myself, but right now, I look like this.”
I have done a lot of work to heal the stagnant patterns of holding that I have in my muscles, and I have used the mirror to help me to locate and fix these issues. I have worked on my posture and the way I hold my head and my spine, and this work has allowed me to feel a greater sense of pride in this body and the spirit it is carrying around. I also have a lot of tattoos that I have used as shortcuts and reminders of magical work I have done. I have written my spells onto my skin, spells of acceptance, self-love, and kindness. I have a story that plays out all across my body and when I look in the mirror, this story has helped me to accept and love the body that I was given, as it is showing up from one moment to the next.
Whatever your personal journey might be, there is a lot of value in trying to inhabit the body you have in this moment, with whatever grace and acceptance you can muster. You can continue to go to the gym or get that surgery or body mod, or whatever is going to help you to live in the skin you are in. In every other moment until then, and perhaps after, there are going to be aspects of your body that might be hard to accept, and that’s okay. It is possible to live in a body that you feel at odds with. You don’t have to feel like a magical light being at all times. You don’t have to have resolved all the questions and contradictions of your character. There is a lot to be said for dwelling in ambiguities, and trying to eke out a space for yourself amidst the chaos.
Related: “Sacred tattoos: Temporary skin, permanent mark,” by Xenia
My body continues to show up feminine, and I continue to try to process my feelings about that. Day in and day out, I continue to do the work — to look at myself in the mirror and to tell myself that the riddle that is me is okay. I don’t need to solve it right now, but it’s totally possible that I might someday. I wait until the day that I can solve that riddle, and until that day I try to wear my body, even though it might feel that I am in drag even when I am naked. That’s me right now. I don’t make sense to myself, and maybe don’t make sense to other people either. I’m still going to look at myself in the mirror when I feel the most intense self-loathing and I am going to try my hardest to say: “I love you sweet spirit. Keep fighting.”
Getting started with mirror magick
So, how might one get started along this wondrous journey of self-discovery? A couple of things that I think are important are: Affirmations, concentration, patience, and movement.
Related: “Adding movement and energy to your magical practice,” by Chrysanthemum White Alder
The first and most basic exercise that you can do is to simply sit (or stand) in front of a mirror and allow the process of seeing and experiencing to unfold. You will want to try to cultivate a sense of equanimity about what you are seeing. You’re not there to do what you might normally do, which could be self-judgement or even admiration. You are going to simply let be what is. You are going to cultivate the mind of an observer and by looking at yourself in the mirror, you are going to have a kind of biofeedback device that gives you immediate information on the impact of your thoughts and feelings on how your body appears. Give it some time, and be sure to give yourself a way to check out if it’s too much.
If you have a hard time looking at yourself, or find that you get caught up in feelings of criticism or self-judgement, know that this whole process is going to be working on making you feel more acceptance. If you do find yourself feeling critical, you might want to interrogate those ideas. Do they have a voice attached to them? Do you hate that area on your body for a reason? Did someone say something to you about it? What is the story of your body, and what does each part of your body mean to you? What does it mean to have the legs that you have, the arms, the tummy, the hands? What does your face mean to you, the shape of your nose, your eyes, your skin tone?
When you begin to unravel the narrative of your body, you can also begin to rewrite it. I felt like having a tummy made me ugly, though I like other people who have tummies all across the spectrum. I realized that what I liked most about those people is that they didn’t seem to hate their tummies. They celebrated their tummies, and I wanted to be a person who celebrates their tummy, too. I realized that I am a person who does not identify with any particular gender. I am a person who does not identify as any particular gender who has boobs and hips and a belly. That’s me right now. That might change in the future but I am one big ‘ol contradiction.
The stories that I tell myself about how my body is wrong have always had something to do with how my body has been received. That doesn’t always mean that I will be able to change those narratives. Many of the ways in which our bodies are read are constantly reinforced by society at large. It can be maddening to have your entire identity questioned every single day. I’m privileged enough to have this kind of ambiguity that has allowed me to exist within a pocket of society where people can just write me off as a weirdo. Not everyone has this privilege, and as such, some people’s journeys towards acceptance require much more radical work. Each one of us is going to walk their own path, and we’re all going to the same place, towards love.
Once you begin the process of accepting what’s going on with you right now, you might want to start inputting some thoughts by speaking to yourself in the mirror (or saying things inside your head.) You’ll want to think of something that gives you that rosy, warm glow of self-love. It’s not going to be the same for everyone. It might be that when you say, “I love and accept myself,” you get an overwhelming feeling of nausea and self-hatred. Obviously, this affirmation does not work for you. You might need to say something more neutral, something that you can believe. You might not be in a space of radical self-acceptance right now, and that’s totally cool because that is authentically where you’re at. You might want to say something like “This is way I am right now, and I’m learning to accept that.” Whatever it is that you figure out for yourself, the goal it to help yourself along and to feel better, so follow your intuition about what it is that you need to hear.
Often, when you say something really nice and comforting to yourself, you’ll notice that your face and body change (if only slightly). You might see and feel a bit brighter. You might notice some of the edges of tension falling away. This is great. This is what you are going for.
There are some meditations that have helped me cultivate more self acceptance. I have tried to imagine that I am a different person, and how I might look at myself if I was a stranger. I have tried looking at myself as though I was a loving mother looking at her child. I have tried to imagine the innocence that I had as a baby and to see my own inner child. No matter what you do, you are trying to peel back the layers of internal dialogue that keeps you from accessing your most pure, unadulterated self. This is the self that exists within you that is beyond judgement, beyond good and evil. Cultivating the ability to see past your own stories about who you are allows space for who you really are to shine through, simply and without effort or complications.
If you do these same mirror magick exercises in a room that is dimly lit, perhaps by candlelight, your experiences will be less physical than those performed in a well-lit room. In the darkness, it is possible to open oneself up to the imagery of the subconscious. In this way, you might see your face change, you might see visions in the darkness. When working with the subconscious, you will want to cultivate that same energy as you did when looking at yourself in the light. You want to be able to engage with what you are seeing as a simple observer, without judgement, and without imposing your will on the process that is unfolding.
It is possible that potentially disturbing or unsettling material may emerge during these sessions. If you feel frightened, it is well within reason to take a break or to step out of the room and ground yourself. You might want to move into a well-lit space, and physically touch the ground. It is also often helpful to connect with the senses, and drinking a glass of water or eating something nourishing can be helpful in these circumstances. The essential action in grounding is in reconnecting with the body and the present moment, and you will want to do so whenever you wander too far away. Anxiety or fear can be a hindrance, but it can also perform vital sensory functions by warning us about imminent danger. Be sure to keep in touch with your intuition and don’t feel pressured to go as far as possible right away. You will want to take care of yourself as you delve into unknown territories.
If you feel grounded and secure, you can wait for the fear to pass. If your observer mentality is strong enough, you can look at things that scare you, acknowledge that you are scared, and merely observe this process just like any other process that might happen. Being able to look into the shadows often means that you will be facing down what many people call “personal demons.” These are the things that we bury away from our conscious awareness.
I would recommend trying to keep a light attitude about what you are doing. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but at the same time, make sure to take care of yourself and your mental and physical well-being. When you do mirror magick often enough, you’ll begin to catch onto the tricks that your mind will play on you when you attempt to peer beneath the veil. It can become recognizable over time, and you can learn to look at your greatest fears as just another manifestation of the mind.
In my own practice, I feel that physical movement has added another dimension to my mirror magick. Not only can I study and transform the living vision of my body in front of the mirror, but I can also use movement to explore and profoundly heal my body in ways that I never could have imagined.
As you begin to sink into a non-judgemental observer mindset, you can begin to move. I often start with my hands and arms. I try to imagine that I am not really in control of my movements, but rather am creating a space to allow my body to move itself in ways that it may find pleasing. I use the image of my body in the mirror to observe how I am moving and attempt to move inwards to feel how the movement affects my sense of myself within the moment. In this way, I have been able to work through some postural issues as well as habitual limitations. Often, when I am finished this kind of exercise, I feel more beautiful and fluid than when I began.
The most important thing to remember is that this is supposed to feel good and is ultimately for your benefit. You are trying to unlock the pleasure potential in your body. In its free state, your body has the capacity to feel amazing. Movement, when it is fluid and unhindered, is a joy. Anyone and everyone has the capacity to enjoy their body. It’s a matter of getting out of the way.
The best part about mirror magick is that the mirror provides us with a portal, a tool that we can use for self-awareness. The mirror can reveal to us just how flexible we are in regards to our perception. You don’t need any mind-altering substances in order to explore the reaches of your mind, merely a willingness to go there and the patience to sit through the storms that may come about when you start to poke the beast.
I hope that I have given a few of you the most basic of tools to begin a path all your own. It is my greatest wish to help others to unlock their potential for self-love and self-acceptance. In the world, as it is today, I believe that this work is a highly charged political act. By loving ourselves, we spread the message of peace in the world. I bid you good luck on your own journey.
Image credits: Trixi Skywalker, Erik, Juan-Calderon, Rafael Saldaña, and ulalume
The following two tabs change content below. Chrysanthemum White Alder
was born in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. She works predominantly in the medium of dance but her practice is informed by her vocal work, illustration and writing. Alder’s work is heavily influenced by occult philosophy as well as her spiritual praxis. She attempts to weave narratives both intensely personal, yet universal and considers art to be a medium of self and societal transformation. Alder completed a BFA at Concordia University in Intermedia & Cyberarts in 2009. She recently completing a residency during the Earth Spirituality Residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point and is currently editing a short work on Occult philosophy for self-publication. Alder lives and works in Toronto, Canada.