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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 11, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 67




global perspective Through the looking glass

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Have you ever heard of the verb, "to scry." I hadn't. Scrying is like being a seer, and comes from "descrying" -- seeing something difficult to make out. Thank you Mark Pendergrast, author of just-published Mirror Mirror: a History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection (Basic Books).

It's honest-to-God fascinating. And God isn't far removed from some elements of the Pendergrast account.

Scryers were people who stared into reflective surfaces of all kinds, "bowls of water, ink, oil, mirrors, crystals, swords, fingernails, bones, even fresh animal livers." Mirror gazers are, correctly, catoptromancers. Gorgeous!

Now I know about Father, later Bishop, Robert Grosseteste (you can work out your own translation of his last name), an English theologian "born around 1168." Grosseteste explained the law of reflection on mirrors in terms of rebounding life forces.

A New Age bishop Middle Ages ago.

Reflective surfaces, glass and mirrors in time meant telescopes and such. Universe divining. Always popular. The Vatican has its own Advanced Technology Telescope, but a mixed record on scrying and divination.

It wasn't a good thing to be a scryer during the Inquisition, and as for telescopes, poor Galileo.

French theologian Nicolas Oresme (1323-1382), later Bishop of Lisieux, was a rational critic. Less rational, people who sold small mirrors to pilgrims to catch reflections of saints' relics.

All this is a small part of Pendergrast's lucid exposition that holds the amateur's hand (and I'm sure the expert's interest) down through the centuries to modern telescopy and laser light. First class stuff.

I do have a Mirror Mirror story.

A quarter century or so ago I was at the bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan. Not worse for wear. The mirrors were arranged in such a way one's reflection was the opposite of what one sees in a straightforward gaze into the mirror.

I was probably about 42 or 43.

Lights reasonably dim, my hair was parted on the correct side (not so in a direct reflection -- plus I still had some). And the image, the illusion, the moment, (the glass of wine?), produced in the mirror a young lad version of me, somewhere in my mid-20s.

I toasted the young fellow in the mirror. And said goodbye to my youth.

It was all rather nice.

Try Pendergrast's book. It gets technical at times, but is a very nice challenge.

Arthur's Daily Ditty
The mirror, honest to a fault
Is there, with nothing in between us,
Imagine though the rough assault
If we saw ourselves as others seen us.

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