Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Forbidden things

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Reading Grace Dane Mazur's Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination the other day, I encountered an object well worthy of a ghostly tale or two:
But some mirrors must never be looked at, not ever, at least by humans. This is the case with the sacred regalia mirror, Yata no Kagami, kept at the Ise Shrine in Japan. This is presumed to be an octagonal mirror, ritual in nature, similar to other known octagonal mirrors.

This forbidden mirror is kept in a box within a box within a box, hidden from outsiders in a ritually restricted area of the shrine. The outermost box is made of Japanese cypress wood (Hinoki). The middle box is also of cypress wood. The innermost box, containing the mirror, is made of gold, and thus is incorruptible.

This Shinto sacred mirror is not, in fact, a looking glass, but rather an emblem of imperial nobility in ancient Japan, and, at least in ancient times, possibly a device for reflecting light, thus connected with life and fertility.

No one may look at this mirror, not even the Emperor, though some say the Emperor may have seen it during his pilgrimage to the shrines in 1869; and there is the possibility that Shinto priests may have glimpsed it during a ritual in 1901, when the innermost container was permanently sealed.
I'm enchanted with the idea of a mirror that has never reflected any image that can be aware of its reflection, never had a chance to steal a soul. Surely the story of the Emperor and the priests are but rumors, right? No punishment is spoken of, but it's hard to imagine a forbidden mirror that wouldn't exact a vicious punishment for a transgressive glance. I like to think that, rather than your soul, it would steal your sight, so that as it sat, solitary, in its box of gold in its box of cypress in its box of cypress, it could see, while you, the whole world all before you, are lost in blackest night.

All I know for sure is that, should I ever happen to get to see this mirror, it would be the one mirror in the world into which I would stare while saying, "Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Bloody Mary."

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