In the 1937 animated Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the evil Queen gazes into her enchanted mirror and says, “Magic mirror on the wall--who is the fairest one of all?” You know that line, right? I’m sure you do. Everyone does. But the queen says something else in the film that not many people remember. She says, “Slave in the magic mirror, come from the farthest space. Through wind and darkness I summon thee! Speak! Let me see thy face!” Let me see thy face. The queen is not simply asking the mirror to answer questions here; she is looking for a vision, and she’s looking for it to come from within the mirror itself.
Disney didn’t come up with the idea for a magic mirror on his own. The use of mirrors as divination tools has been around for centuries. Scrying is a technique whereby the seer gazes into a mirror, a pool of water, or a crystal ball until images appear.
But the real magic of scrying as it relates to seeing dead loved ones lies in something called a psychomanteum. The word comes from the Greek, and translates roughly as “theater of the mind”. A psychomanteum is a darkened room designed to induce apparitions through gazing into a mirror.
A reflective surface seems to be key to having this type of visual experience. In his book, Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones, Dr. Raymond Moody tells the story of a woman who saw her deceased husband in the surface of a hotel picture window.
It was nighttime, so the glass only reflected the dim light from inside of the room. The woman was looking at this surface with nothing particular on her mind when she suddenly saw a man running toward her. He was wearing a bathing suit, and his hair was wet as if he had just run up from the beach. The woman instantly recognized the man as her husband who had recently died in a car accident. He ran right up to her and smiled. She said that she could even smell him, and that the vision was so real that she could have felt his wet hair if she had reached out. The man was smiling as he said to her, “Everything is fine here”.
This story illustrates the emotional impact that a visual reunion with a loved one can have on a person and how such an experience can help them deal with grief. But keep in mind that the woman wasn't looking to make contact with her deceased husband -- he just showed up. How would you go about actively seeking out a visionary encounter with a deceased loved one? You would use a psychomanteum.
Dr. Moody describes the psychomanteum he made in his home this way: “A room was set aside for use as an apparition chamber. At one end of the room a mirror four feet tall and three and a half feet wide was mounted on the wall. The bottom edge of the mirror was three feet above the floor. A comfortable ‘easy chair’ was prepared by removing its legs so that the top of the headrest was about three feet above the floor. The chair was placed about three feet from the mirror and inclined slightly backward. This was done for comfort, but also to keep the reflection of the gazer from being seen in the mirror. In effect, the angle of the chair created a clear depth view of the mirror, which would reflect only darkness behind the person who was gazing. The result was a crystal-clear pool of darkness.
This pool of darkness was assured by the black velvet curtain draped all around the chair from the ceiling. A curved curtain rod was used to allow the drape to surround the area around the chair and mirror, creating a curtained booth or chamber. Inside this apparition chamber and directly behind the chair was placed a small stained-glass lamp with a fifteen-watt bulb. When the lights in the room were turned off and the outside light excluded by blinds and thick window curtains, this tiny light provided the room’s only illumination.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.82)
Prior to using a psychomanteum, subjects are asked to look at photographs of the deceased person they wish to communicate with, and to try to recall vivid memories of the time they spent together. They also are encouraged to bring mementos into the room with them such as a piece of clothing or jewelry owned by the person. One man even brought his father’s fishing poles into the booth!
The experiences people have in the psychomanteum vary, but most are extremely vivid. It’s not just that you see a fuzzy image in the mirror. People report seeing full bodied apparitions that look as real as any living person. Some even seem to walk out of the mirror and into the room.
It’s interesting that many people encounter deceased persons other than the one they were prepared to see. One such example in Moody’s book comes from a businessman named James who described himself as an ‘interested skeptic’. He was using the psychomanteum to attempt a visionary reunion with his father who died when James was twelve years old. After preparing for the reunion by looking through family photos and pictures of furniture that his father had made, James entered the apparition booth.
After being in the booth for a long time a man’s image began to form in the mirror and suddenly, the man stepped right out of the mirror and into the apparition room. But it wasn’t James’ father, it was his old business partner who had died of a heart attack a few years earlier. Interestingly, the two had been business partners, but they were not very close friends.
The man who stepped out of the mirror looked totally real, and he told James that he was fine where he was. He also gave a message about his daughter who once blamed James for her father’s death. This was all done telepathically, so he did not hear a voice in the booth. When the experience was over, the vision vanished quickly.
Afterward, James said that he felt that he had made peace with his business partner. He insisted that the man he saw in the booth was not an apparition or an hallucination; he said that it was actually his business partner in the room with him.
Not all psychomanteum experiences are purely visual. In her book A Glimpse of Heaven: The Remarkable World of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (1) Carla Wills-Brandon writes of an amazing experience she had while using Dr. Moody’s psychomanteum. After just a few minutes of sitting in the apparition booth, she saw bluish-grey cloudy shapes begin to pour out of the mirror, then a bluish-white light began to sprinkle down upon her. This light turned into balls of light which began to grow in size. One of these blue-white orbs hit her on her left side near her heart and took her breath away. At the same time, it filled her with a peaceful, joyous, and loving feeling. Ms. Wills-Brandon said, “Then I saw more light around me and I was inundated with unlimited unconditional love. Very thin etheric streams of whirling white energy came toward my left side, touching my left arm, as if in an embrace. From this soft, cool touch, I felt pure amazement and joy. I will never know what would have happened next because one of Moody’s more aggressive visitors suddenly burst in and told me he wanted to try this psychomanteum. With this intrusion, the swirling, loving light immediately disappeared. For a moment, I just sat there stunned.” (Seeing is Believing! My Personal Experience With the Spirit World)
One man who enter the psychomanteum had a purely auditory experience. He said, “After what I guess was no more than five minutes I began to hear the voice of this friend of mine who was killed in a boating accident. It was just like her speaking to me. I’m not talking here about thoughts or day dreams or imagination. I’ve never heard anything like it. She just talked to me and said it was wonderful where she was. I could hear each word plainly and separately. There was a quality to it, like an echo, I believe, like maybe she was speaking through a tin tube. It was her voice, though, definitely.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.144)
Visual encounters in the psychomanteum are usually highly emotional experiences. Moody reported that one woman not only saw her deceased grandfather in the psychomanteum, she also spoke to him and felt his touch. She said, “I was so happy to see him that I began to cry. Through the tears I could still see him in the mirror. Then he seemed to get closer and he must have come out of the mirror because the next thing I knew he was holding me and hugging me. It felt like he said something like, 'It’s okay, don’t cry.'” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.93)
As we’ve seen, these visual encounters are often so real that people feel as if they can reach out and touch the apparitions, but they are not always able to. One man who used the psychomanteum in an attempt to contact his sister described the experience in this way:
“I was sitting in there, and all of a sudden it seemed that these three people stepped right into the room all around me. It looked as if they stepped out of the mirror, but I felt that such a thing couldn’t be, so I was shocked. I didn’t know what was going on. For a moment I thought it was someone trying to play a joke on me, so I reached up quickly, trying to touch them, and when I did, my hand hit the curtain. I still saw them. I got a look at all three. My sister, Jill, was there, but two others also, my friend Todd and my grandfather. All of them looked very much alive, just looking at me.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.135)
Another woman was reunited with her deceased grandmother, her aunt, and her great-grandmother in the psychomanteum. She said, “I was so overjoyed during this whole meeting. I was so happy. There was not a doubt in the world they were there and that I saw them, and it was as real as meeting anyone.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.123)
Not all experiences with the psychomanteum happen right away. Dr. Moody calls these delayed experiences ‘Take-Out Visions’. One example of this type of experience comes from a woman who used the psychomanteum to make contact with her deceased husband.
While in the booth, the woman saw images of people in the mirror, but they quickly disappeared when she tried to focus on them. After leaving the booth, she went home and had the distinct feeling that someone was with her. A night later, she had a strong sense that her father was in the room with her. The following evening she woke up in the middle of the night and also felt her father’s presence, and she could smell his aftershave lotion. She said, “I looked up, and my father was standing at the door of my bedroom. I had been lying on the bed but I stood up and walked over to him. I was within four steps of him. He looked just like my dad, but not sickly like he had been just before he died. He was a full figure, but he looked more fleshed out than when he died. He looked whole, like everything was wonderful.” Her father told her that he didn’t want her to worry, that he was fine. (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.138)
Not all visions experienced in the booth are realistic. Some who use the psychomanteum have symbolic visions. These typically occur when a person goes into the booth without the goal of contacting a loved one. In these cases, it is as if the psychomanteum acts as a gateway to the subconscious. One woman reported seeing snakes in the mirror. Some of the snakes were rising up and hissing at her, but others were smiling and friendly looking. But no matter what type of snake showed itself to her in the mirror, she always felt fearful and she wanted to run away. Afterward, she said that she realized that the snakes represent trust because she has always been afraid that people will appear one way, then turn against her.
Another woman went into the booth just to see what would happen, and she saw a huge peacock with brilliantly colored feathers. The peacock seemed to have a human face. Then she noticed that behind the peacock was what looked to be a sacrificial altar with a person laying on it who appeared to be dead. Suddenly, the woman found herself dancing with Jesus at the last supper! The two danced around the table until a woman lead her away. Since many of the symbols the woman saw had to do with religion and spirituality, Dr. Moody felt that they represented the role that religion unconsciously played in her life.
Are the visual encounters experienced in the psychomanteum proof of life after death, or are they simply projections from our subconscious. As we’ve seen, the people who used the booth claim that the people they saw in the mirror looked as real as any person. They were convinced that they had actually made contact with their deceased loved ones. Dr. Moody himself said, “After conducting a number of mirror-gazing sessions in which apparitions were facilitated, I decided to try to have one myself. The result was a personal encounter that has totally changed my perspective on life.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.22)
For Moody's experiment in the psychomanteum, he chose to focus on his maternal grandmother, but instead he made contact with his paternal grandmother. He said that, “In no way did she appear “ghostly” or transparent during our reunion. She seemed completely solid in every respect. She appeared no different from any other person …”
Moody said, that the experience left him “with an abiding certainty that what we call death is not the end of life.” (Moody, Perry, 1992, p.27-28)
It may not be a simple question of whether or not people were actually reunited with their loved ones in the psychomanteum. Perhaps mirror gazing puts us in a state of consciousness where we are able to be in two worlds at once; a place where where there is no barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead.