John Dee, the famous Elizabethan Mathematician, Scholar and Occultist, continues to exercise a powerful hold over the British imagination. So much so that British newspaper The Guardian this weekend featured a nice article this weekend about Dee’s “Shewstone” or black-obsidian disc with which he got Edmund Kelly to skry all the wonders of what we nowadays call Enochian Magic.
The article in question was about a new exhibition at the Tate St Ives (Cornwall, not Cambridgeshire) about magic and modernity. This proved to be somewhat ironic as according to the article, the exhibition neither featured the work of a modern magic practitioner, nor did it feature John Dee’s Shewstone. Ah well, serves me right for reading such a miserable excuse for a paper. Back to The Daily Telegraph for me in future!
But this got me thinking that I should take this opportunity to write a blog piece about Dark Mirrors and their use in magic generally.
A “dark mirror” or Speculum (not to be confused with the medical instrument of the same name) is not so much a conventional mirror but a black shiny surface in which one’s reflection may be perceived. It is used in magic for evocations.
Now a number of magicians seem to think that when performing an evocation, the spirit somehow materialises within the Triangle of Art out of thin air – but a survey of both classic magic texts and modern sources suggests that this is not the case. A great many texts suggest that the object of evocation is to make a given spirit appear in some sort of skrying medium: the most famous example of which would be the classic Crystal Ball.
However a number of other media have also been described as being used – e.g. Dee’s black-obsidian disc, or a bowl of water (a technique favoured by the Ancient Egyptians) or a small quantity of black ink held in the palm of one’s hand. Anything in fact which is black and shiny.
Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825 – 1875) advocated the use of dark mirrors for skrying purposes. He recommended using two sheets of glass, one flat and the other (the skrying surface) concave: the space between the two sheets of glass was to be filled with black ink. Randolph also wrote down practical instructions for getting started in dark-mirror skrying. (See his book Sexual Magic).
Eliphas Lévi (1810 – 1875) famously attempted to evoke the spirit of Appolonius of Tyana into a mirror. Technically he succeeded (he claimed that an apparition of Appolonius appeared) but for all the good it did him he might have just as well tried reading the tea-leaves.
Franz Bardon (1909 – 1958) in his book Initiation Into Hermetics also describes how to create magic mirrors for the purpose of skrying. According to Bardon there are several methods – such a mirror can be made from an actual mirror or glass bowl, a concave glass disc (such as can be obtained from clock-makers), or bowl which has been made by oneself out of plaster-of-paris. Knowledge of what Bardon calls “fluid condensers” – substances which attract magical influences in a kind of very simplified alchemy – is necessary to render the mirror effective. Once prepared – and assuming that one undergoes all of the other steps required for magical training – the magic mirror can be used for skrying the various planes of existence, contacting dead people, contacting magical entities, and numerous other magical effects.
The most famous practitioner of dark-mirror skrying today is Carroll “Poke” Runyon, founder of the Ordo Templi Astarte. Runyon has stated that he re-discovered the practice all by himself in the early seventies, and uses it to contact the seventy-two spirits of the Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon (whilst using a crystal ball for contacting angelic beings). See The Magick of Solomon.
What is being observed when one looks into a dark mirror? The reductionist-materialist would say that it is merely a dim reflection of oneself. However, in every case of evocation with which I am familiar, the magician does not just sit down in front of the object, but prepares himself with a great deal of magic ritual, which involves concentration and entering into an ecstatic or visionary state of consciousness. Runyon for example explicitly states that both raja yoga and self-hypnosis are necessary requisites for proper skrying in the dark mirror. Therefore although the physical cause of the apparition is the dim reflection of the skryer, what the skryer perceives is in fact the sum total of the influences at work on his or her mind at that particular moment, due to the magical ceremony in progress.
There is a description of a dark mirror skrying operation in my novel which I do not recommend readers carry out literally – it is meant to be the direct opposite of what a normal respectable magician would do in real life. On the other hand it is meant to convey an authentic flavour of what a vile, degenerate luciferian ceremony would consist.
Finally I should point out that several magicians claim that it is not necessary to “see” a spirit in order to evoke it properly. Lon Milo Duquette for example has claimed success with Goetic operations, but readily admits that when he evokes a spirit he feels its presence rather than seeing it. In Chaos Magick, an evocation refers to evoking the effects of a magical force to physical manifestation, not necessarily to evoking a visible appearance of the force itself.