Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Most every home today has a mirror of some type, whether its in the bathroom, a closet, or a hallway. Hell even our smart phones function as a mirror by reversing the camera. But in mythology, mirrors were often associated with the supernatural and the mystical. In some stories they were used as soul cages and in others, they were thought to steal the soul, similar to photography for some present-day people, like Grampa Simpson.
In Chinese afterlife myths, those who managed to make it through the Gate of Demons were brought before Yama-king. He would then consult his register of good and bad deeds as well as the Mirror of the Wicked, which would reveal unatoned sins. In Japanese mythology of the afterlife, the soul is confronted with its past deeds and misdeeds reflected back in a vast mirror in the judgement hall of Emma-o. He judges men and his sister, women.
Vampires and witches are not suppose to show a reflection in mirrors as they have no souls. However, today in the never replete vampire romance novels, television shows and movies, they have no mirror reflection due to their nature of being lighter than air....cuz we cannot have soulless objects of romance.
Ancient Romans believed that seven years was the time period it took for a soul to renew itself, thus, the superstition that breaking a mirror led to seven years bad luck. Some Irish myths speak of underwater soul cages that also included mirrors to capture those souls that try to escape. Today in many households, if a member of the family dies, they cover all mirrors to prevent the deceased's soul from being trapped in a mirror.
Which now brings us to Snow White, the fairy tale, not the Disney movies. It all started in the deepest winter, a childless queen sat sewing at her window. She pricked her finger with the needle and blood dropped onto the snow. She thought to herself that the red of the blood looked beautiful on the snow and wished that she might have a child who was “white as snow, red as blood and black as the ebony wood of her window frame.” Nine months later she gave birth to a little daughter who was indeed white as snow, red as blood and with hair black as ebony.
However, the queen herself died in childbirth. The king later remarried. The new queen, who was beautiful, but very proud and jealous of anyone who might rival her beauty, had a magic mirror. She was a practitioner of black magic or secret knowledge.
This fairy tale has been analyzed by many and in many veins. However, I seek something different, whose soul is in the mirror and provides the magic? Yes, I think of such things...why? Short answer is I am a nerd. However, like of many of us, I like the back story to characters and it will provide me some closure on the matter. Here we go, I am going to overly speculate and make outlandish assertions. With absolutely no proof whatsoever I will determine who's soul is in the magic mirror in Snow White.
Snow White is a 19th-century German fairy tale that was
published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 in the first edition of their collection Grimms' Fairy Tales. We can start our search for the soul in Germany. While the tale was published in the 19th century, many of the tales are much older and were traditionally passed down as oral stories. Which means, I now have an open time frame throughout Germany's history to find the soul. Let's go back to Saxony in Germany in the late 8th century.
An important part of the beliefs of the Saxons was an Irminsul, a sacred pillar-like object. Sacred trees were widely worshipped by the Germanic peoples and the oldest chronicles describe an Irminsul as a tree trunk erected in the open air. Irmin, inferred from the name Irminsul, and the tribal name Irminones, is in some scholarship presumed to have been the national god or demi-god of the Saxons. It has been suggested that Irmin was more probably an aspect of some other deity, most likely Wodan (Odin), mostly due to Irmin fading out in many practices and records. Enter Charlemagne.
Charlemagne was the King of the Franks from 768 and later became the 1st Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Saxon Wars, he was relentless in his thirty year campaign to Christianize the Saxons of northern Germany. Charlemagne claimed suzerainty over Saxony, he controlled the foreign policy and relations of Saxony, while allowing them to have internal autonomy.
In 772, Charlemagne destroyed the Irminsul. In retaliation for the destruction of the Irminsul, tribes devastated Frankish churches and laid siege to the Frankish court. Enter Widukind, a leader of the Saxons. While Widukind was considered the leader of the Saxon resistance by the Franks, his exact role in the military campaigns is unknown. Widukind fled northern Germany and sought refuge with the Danish king Sigrid. In 775 he returned from Denmark and continued attacks against the Franks.
Battles between Saxons and Franks occurred frequently, culminating in 782 with Charlemagne executing 4,500 Saxon pagan priests and nobles at the Massacre of Verden. Shortly thereafter, Widukind surrendered to protect himself and his fellow Saxon nobles. He was baptized into Christianity with Charlemagne being his godfather. According to legend, Widukind experienced a vision that led to his conversion. It as rumored that he was he was then "imprisoned" at a monastery and he died or was executed in 808.
Alright, now that we have set this up, its time to make up some shit. First, I do find it curious that Widukind's name translates as "child of the wood" and the Irminsul was a pillar of wood or a tree trunk.
Second, what if the demi-god Irmin was being summoned by the Saxons in 772, when they were surprised by Charlemagne and his forces. Before Irmin could materialize in our plane of existence, the Irminsul was destroyed. Thus trapping Irmin's essence or soul inside the remains of the destroyed tree trunk. Widukind and others were able to recover the remnants of the Irminsul and keep them hidden. In a dream, Irmin visits Widukind and explains to him that his soul is scattered and any attempts to release him would destroy his very essence. He is also limited in power being trapped in the shards of the tree trunk and needs to be transferred to a soul catcher so he can heal his soul over the next seven years. This also addresses the fact that Irmin faded out of worship by the Saxons.
In 782, at Verden, the 4500 Saxon pagan priests were conducting a ritual to transfer Irmin from the shards of wood into a mirror. This would allow them to have access to the power and god-like abilities to continue to fight against Charlemagne. However, once this was discovered by Charlemagne, he ordered the execution of all pagan priests and nobles who participated in this ritual. The mirror was not recovered by Charlemagne and remained lost. Given Widukind's relationship with the Danish king, it is not hard to imagine that the mirror was smuggled to Denmark for safe keeping.
Widukind was sent to the monastery for punishment. Enter our "evil" new queen from Snow White. As she was noted to have access to secret knowledge, she was aware of the existence of the magic mirror but unable to locate it. She knew she must have the power of Irmin and travels to the monastery in disguise and gains access to Widukind. She seduces the location from Widukind and reports his discussion of the mirror and paganism to the monastery and Charlemagne thus leading to Widukind's execution. She is now the only person who knows of the true location and nature of the mirror.
She sets out for Denmark in search of the mirror and develops her plot. She establishes herself as a local healer armed with with her potions, changed appearance and false personality. It is not long before her services are called upon by the royal court. She gives one of the queen's attendants a mild poison to make her acutely ill with no real long lasting effects. This gives her access to the castle for two weeks while she pretends to tend to the ill servant. In vain, she is not able to locate the mirror and her light inquiries are met with no answers. Quickly, she discredits the existing court healer/physician and gets herself placed permanently in the castle.
After several months she finds the mirror bundled up and packed away. In her natural form, our evil one then seduces the captain of the guard and entices him to have it given to the court healer, which is of course, her. Based on her own power, she finally is able to activate the mirror and awaken the German demi-god, Irmin. The knowledge of Irmin astounds her and tells her of powerful ancient texts hidden away in the castle's secret library. Although she has what she sought, her continued access to the spells increases her power and abilities and she does want to leave.
One day while waiting to attend to the current queen, she witnesses an intimate moment between the queen and king. Our evil one is amazed how the king is enthralled by his current wife. Lusting after that continued admiration, she decides to make the king, the secret libraries, and the entire kingdom, hers. This would provide her with a way to continue to feed her insatiable vanity.
It becomes a simple matter. She starts to slowly poison the current queen over several months, so as not to arouse suspicion. Once the current queen dies during childbirth, she leaves the castle and the royal court as she tells them she failed to protect the queen and leaves in disgrace. Then in her natural form she arrives in the villages outside the castle. Given her described beauty, it is an easy matter to catch the eye of the newly widowed king and influence him to fall in love with her and marry her. My speculation ends here as the fairy tale of Snow White starts.
So we wrapped this up quickly and neatly...Ha! Next time you watch Snow White with family and friends, be sure to mention that the magic mirror is actually powered by the trapped soul of the German demi-god Irmin, who became trapped due to Charlemagne destroying the Irminsul in 772. I am sure they will thank you for this. By the way, you're welcome!
Well, I certainly feel better after providing a logical and rationale explanation of the magic mirror. I can now focus my geek powers and nerdiness on other mysteries that plaque me, for example, what's the difference between ketchup and catsup? And why do we have both?