Origins: These days the accidental breaking of a small mirror (like the hand-held or self-standing kinds typically used when applying cosmetics or shaving) usually produces no more thought in most people than "I have to get a new mirror." The breaking a large wall-mounted or floor mirror, however, may still often elicit the exclamation, "Uh-oh, that's seven years of bad luck."
But why should the act of breaking a mirror bring one seven years of bad luck? The individual elements have long featured in myth and superstition — the mirror serving as a representation of the soul and number seven being associated with portentous events — but answers about how and why they came to be linked in this particular fashion have been lost in the mists of time.
The generally accepted explanation for why breaking a mirror brings one bad luck is that the reflection in a mirror represents not just one's physical appearance
Many sources tie the amount of bad luck brought about by breaking a mirror (i.e., seven years' worth) to the Romans, who are said to have believed that life renewed itself every seven years. Damaging a mirror was tantamount to damaging one's health and therefore brought about a calamity that would not be fully righted until the next seven-year cycle had passed.
As with many superstitions, the "breaking a mirror brings bad luck" belief has prompted the creation of a variety of counter-superstitions — antidotes that, if applied quickly enough by the mirror breaker, will ward off the otherwise inevitable run of bad luck:
- Throw salt over your shoulder. (This is also a remedy for other forms of bad luck-producing accidents, such as spilling salt.)
- Immediately spin around three times in a counter-clockwise direction. (This act is often said to bring about bad luck in itself; doing so after breaking a mirror confuses the spirits and reverses the bad luck.)
- Grind the mirror shards into a fine power. (This prevents any more reflections from being viewed in the damaged mirror.)
- Gather the broken mirror pieces and submerge them in the waters of a south-running stream. (This will wash away the bad luck after only seven hours rather than seven years.)
- Use flames to burn or blacken the mirror fragments, then bury them a year later. (Burying the fragments will lift the hex after only one year.)
- Take a piece of the broken mirror and touch it to a tombstone. (This will immediately lift the curse of bad luck.)
Hole, Christina. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996. ISBN 0-76070-228-4. Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19-282-916-5. Pickering, David. Dictionary of Superstitions. London: Cassell, 1995. ISBN 0-304-345350. Waring, Philippa. A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions. London: Souvenir Press, 1978. ISBN 0-285-63396-1.