Black Mirror Magick: The Facial Reflection-Distortion Technique

Introduction

The black mirror facial reflection-distortion technique (FRDT) as presented here was developed specifically for use during evocation. It has many applications, however, and may be incorporated into other developmental exercises and magical workings. It is not the only way to scry, but it does appear to be more readily accessible to more practitioners than many other methods. Students are encouraged to seek out and try other methods for the sake of comparison and in service of a well-rounded education. To that end, we suggest Benjamin Rowe’s Short Course in Scrying.

The technique described in this document was originally published by Anne and Nelson White (Secret Magic Revealed, The Technology Group, 1979), which was later described in Donald Michael Kraig's Modern Magick, but the development of the technique for evocative magick, and the infusion of the technique into the modern occult corpus is rightly attributed to Carroll "Poke" Runyon. As a historical curio, Runyon set the record straight on White and Kraig's involvement in publishing the technique a few years back during a public discussion on a Usenet forum, which has been archived here.

The Initiative fully acknowledges the technique as an innovation of Runyon. Students are encouraged to seek out, obtain, and study Runyon's published work on the topic. While not a "traditionalist" per sé, he is without a doubt a true giant in the field of modern ceremonial magick and especially evocation, and for obvious reasons is the foremost expert on this particular technique. We encourage students to visit the website associated with the order he founded, the Order of the Temple of Astarte to learn more about his work. He also has a few nice pictures of their temple, including a very nice shot of their Black Mirror in the Triangle d’ Art as used during an evocation. Basic instructions for making a black mirror are included here for your convenience. 

The Initiative further acknowledges that some teachers and practitioners do not agree with presenting the full FRDT as a developmental exercise, but would rather reserve it for actual magical workings only. One reason for the objection may be because some practitioners are of the opinion that the magick that takes place during the use of this technique is confounded with the remarkable visual effects. Others may contend that the shock of the initial visual effect is in part what triggers the magician to enter the necessary magical state.

It is true that the visual effect can be quite startling at first. However, we contend that the visual effect is neither the source nor the effect of the magick itself, but is more akin to a tool that serves to facilitate the experience of two-way communication during evocative magick, and magical change in general. In keeping with the Neuromagick perspective, the effects of magick are always defined by a change in the target circumstances, and the cause of the circunstantial change is an initial change in the thinking and behavior of the practitioner. In fact, the startling nature of the visual effect when the technique is being learned may be unnecessarily distracting. We therefore promote gaining experience with the visual effect as a developmental exercise, independent of magical efforts to initiate targeted changes.

An urban legend that is associated with the type of visual effects this technique produces is generally known as the Bloody Mary ritual (or game), where kids, often at a slumber party or sleep-away summer camp, take a lit candle into the bathroom with the lights out, look into the mirror, and chant Bloody Mary some number of times, at which point a ghost of a young girl is supposed to pop out of the mirror and attack, or try to drag participants back into the mirror with her. Countless children have played this little game, which often ends with someone running out of the bathroom screaming with stories of a monstrous figure appearing in the mirror. The Bloody Mary effect is driven by the power of emotionally charged suggestion (highly charged expectation) combined with some basic eye physiology having to do with low-light level perception (see the Mechanics section below).

The Bloody Mary experience, an the initial appearance of a foreign face in the black mirror during an evocative magick session, feels in every way real when it happens, and is therefore quite convincing in the moment. The differences between the magical application of this naturally occuring effect and the child's game are primarily in the preparation, focus, and intent, which drive the experience in both cases. Unfocused and overexcited children tend to have a good scare and usually a good laugh with their friends afterward, while the effects the well-trained magician can generate through the use of this tool, in both the short and long term, are indeed magical in every sense of the word.   

As a side note, urban legend-driven superstitions combined with common elements of magical traditions, such as circle casting and ritual banishings, suggest inherent dangers in magical practice that requires special precautions to early-stage practitioners. That basic idea has been promoted by many modern authors as well, who often include various protective measures as part of their instructions. As a result, an unfortunate and unhealthy fear of performing magick without "proper protection" is fairly common in the modern occult studies community. This unfortunate dynamic is somewhat self-perpetuating, because the early stage practitioner is likely to feel somewhat insecure about their ritual performance in any event. If that natural sense of insecurity becomes associated with a lack of an anticipated need for protection, the aspirant may subsequently experience a host of unnecessary fears associated with their magical work. Of course, while we recognize that fear is an exceptionally powerful and perfectly useful emotion,we feel that unwarranted fear tends to interfere with good magick, and should therefore be avoided.

Rest assured that the fears typically associated with "improper protective" rituals or devices while practicing magick are indeed unwarranted. Many traditional magical practices employ no such "protections" before and after workings. Circle casting and banishing rituals do have their place in both history and practice, but their actual functions have more to do with focusing the practitioners' mind and setting the emotional tone in preparation for magick, rather than keeping nasty spirits away, etc. Public Internet discussion groups on occult topics are rife with early stage magicians who have convinced themselves that they've opened a portal to a demonic dimension or some such thing, and that they are plagued by a host of malignant non-corporeal beasties, which essentially equates to a kid at summer camp running screaming from the bathroom after a glimpse of Bloody Mary. What the reader should be aware of here is that neither the kid at summer camp, nor the demon-plagued chat room participant, the vast majority of the time, suffers any real harm from their experiences, as frightening as they may be.

While most serious students of magick eventually learn their way around these superstitions, the urban myths are prominent enough in the culture to have substantial covert psychological influence over developmental work and magical practice, especially in the early going and especially with a technique as effective and as initially provocative as the FRDT. To be clear, the supposed dangers of magick is not the concern here. Rather, it's the developmental delays some early stage practitioners experience if they get caught up in the psychological dynamics of an unnecessary focus on the need to "protect" oneself before, during, and after a magical effort. We feel that one of the best ways to overcome potential psychological hindrances related to these myths is to practice the facial reflection-distortion technique as an exercise, independent of actual magical work. This allows the student to understand the, often startling, visual effect to be the tool that it is, so that when magick right and proper is performed using this particularly effective tool, the magical effects are more clearly recognized and understood for what they really are.

The Exercise (for developmental purposes)

The technique requires a black mirror or comparable obscure reflective device. If you don't already have one, read these instructions on making a black mirror. If you prefer, you may use an alternative, more extemporaneous reflective surface, such as a bowl of darkly colored liquid (or a black bowl filled with water or ink). The primary difference would be in the physical posture that you would be required to maintain during the operation.

The technique also requires hand-held candles, and while it is unlikely, it's possible that one might naturally slip into a deep enough trance state to drop a candle. Therefore, we recommend having an observer present, especially the first few times.

Equipment List:

stiff-backed chair
table or comparable surface
black mirror or comparable device
hand-held candlesticks (with drip guards to protect your hands)

1. Set up in a room with all sources of natural light blocked off. The black mirror should be set on the table so that it's roughly at eye level or slightly below (prop it up as as necessary; a few books usually does the trick) and about arm's length from the face when seated. Be sure that you situate yourself and the mirror so that you can see your face reflected in the surface. If using a bowl of dark liquid, you'll need to situate yourself so that you can gaze down into the bowl and see your face reflected back.

2. Light the candles and hold them so that the flames are not reflected in the mirror and are not in your direct line of sight. When you look at your facial reflection in the mirror, your face should be illuminated from either side by the candlelight. Some get best results from leaning forward and resting the elbows on the table surface, while others do better leaning slightly back and holding the candles somewhat away from the body. You'll have to experiment to find what works best for you.

3. Perform a basic relaxation sequence, then follow up with a deep relaxation or simple self-hypnosis induction. Most do well with a single technique like this one, but do some research and experiment to find what works best for you.  You don't need to achieve a deep hypnotic state for this work. Strive for a nicely relaxed state. A mild trance will naturally develop as you go, and is really all you need.

4. Look at your facial reflection. At first, make an effort to avoid blinking, but don't worry too much if you realize that you've blinked. Maintain your relaxed state and simply gaze at the reflection.

5. At some point your face will morph, usually within a few minutes. If this doesn't happen, don't worry about it. If your relaxed state feels stable, just keep gazing. If your state is interrupted, you may reset, go through your relaxation sequence again, then continue gazing. If you still get no results, try again another day.

6. When your face does morph, it's likely to be a startling effect. You may be shocked out of your state the first time, or even the first few times. If so, be content with your progress and work at it again another day.

7. When you can observe the morphing image and continue to maintain your state, allow the face to morph without exerting any mental effort to control it. Do this for as long as you desire.

8. When finished, return to your natural state with a little gentle stretching, and then a little something to eat.

Practice this technique until you can get a morphing image in the mirror consistently.

The Mechanics

The visual effects caused by the technique really are visual; they're not "astral" per se, they don't take place in the "mind's eye," and they're not hallucinations. There's a relatively simple physiological mechanism that, along with the basic mechanisms of perception, create the effects. I think that anyone who uses the technique should have at least a basic concept of what's going on, so here it is in brief:

By gazing without blinking for a little while, the ciliary muscles that are responsible for lens accommodation fatigue, which prevents sharp focus, which subsequently degrades the visual signal. Even before the ciliary muscles fatigue, the visual signal is already somewhat ambiguous because of the obscured reflective devise and the variable and low light conditions created by the hand-held candles. So the perceptual system is receiving a degraded, ambiguous image that is roughly in the shape of a face.

Now, generally speaking, when visual input is ambiguous, due to occlusions, poor light conditions, or any number of other reasons, the brain automatically fills in the gaps to create a percept of what's most likely to be there. As a simple example, have a look at this image:

Most everyone perceives a triangle there, even though the lines of the triangle that connect the points are not actually there. That is, the three points certainly suggest a triangle, but we tend to perceive edges that would differentiate what should be the inside and outside of the triangle where the lines that connect those points should be.There are in fact no edges there at all, but when you look at it you'll perceive that the outside of the triangle that seems to be there is a shade darker than the inside (or visa versa).

And notice that knowing there are no lines there doesn't diminish the effect. That's because it's not caused by what you think or believe. It's caused by your previous experience and the statistical probabilities that have been encoded in your perceptual system by your past experience. So given your experience with triangles, with those points in that specific relation to one another, it's almost certain that there are lines connecting them, so your mind shades your perception so that you perceive a fully formed triangle. The perception of those edges may be a little ambiguous, perhaps not supper-stark the way drawn lines would appear, but the edges are definitely perceived and they're stable. It's not an hallucination either, though one might rightly call it an optical illusion. Even so, this is your perceptual system behaving normally given this input. The gestalt of the perception is in no practical way different than if you were looking at a fully formed triangle, because a triangle is the most likely thing to be there.

So that same filling in perceptual process is responsible for the appearance of a foreign face in FRDT. If you're getting ambiguous input that looks kind of like a face, you'll see a face of some sort, and whatever was ambiguous will be filled in with something from your bank of experience. From what we know about perception, you should see what's most likely to be there. Interestingly, what most people experience with this technique, at first at least, is a fairly monstrous-looking face. We can theorize about why that should be, but in truth the reasons for it remain unclear, at least in terms of what the physiological/perceptual mechanisms tell us about what's going on.

What is clear from experience and a lot usage of the technique by many people is that with practice one can develop some control over the appearance of the image, so that what may appear monstrous at first can be morphed into something more pleasant to look at. Given the perceptual realities, however, that control is probably not directly a function of what one thinks or wants, but is more likely to be an effect of subtly shifting ones posture and the position of the hand-held candles. Interestingly, consciously shifting ones position and the candles in an effort to adjust the image doesn't tend to work well. Rather, if one merely continues to gaze, it seems that one will automatically make the necessary postural adjustments and the image will, seemingly naturally, become both more stable and less "monstrous."

Now, the technique is usually taught in conjunction with a mild hypnotic (trance) state. The visual effect, however, as should be readily understood now, doesn't depend on hypnosis or trance at all. Whether or not the rest of the evocative magick experience depends on trance/hypnosis is an open question. My experience suggests that the answer is maybe a little bit yes and a little bit no. It's "yes" in as much as a well-designed ritual that is performed well tends to transform the magician's state of awareness from "normal" to something rather different. If we assume that such a shift is akin to getting to a hypnotic state, then maybe the answer is "yes" in that specific sense. If we assume that hypnosis is a function of a typical relaxation/induction method that "hypnotists" employ or that is typically presented in self-hypnosis methods, then I think the answer is no, those techniques are not necessary, not to produce the visual effects or the rest of what goes with it during evocative magick.    

As a final point on the FRDT, as I'm fond of pointing out, the visual effect itself is not the magick. It's a tool that helps facilitate a two-way communication experience. The hard part, as with any other evocative magick technique, is getting something useful to communicate with on the line, so to speak (refer to A Sampling of Practical Techniques).

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Making a Black Mirror

Whether you're making a Goetia-style circle-in-a-triangle design, or some other design, you'll need at least two things: a piece of glass the size and shape you want for your reflective surface and some flat black spray paint. Be sure your work area is well ventilated.

Outdoors is probably best if possible, but not if it's dusty and windy. Lay the glass  (removed from any frame you plan to use) on a several sheets of newspaper or a drop  cloth, with the side you intend to use as the viewing surface faced down and back side-up, clean, and dry. Shake the spray paint per directions on the can. Then spray the paint with a sweeping motion from side to side across the surface of the glass. Start at the top and sweep across, move down a  little and sweep across again, etc., till the entire  surface is coated with paint. Allow to dry for at least two hours, and then apply another coat. Some people apply as many as 13 coats of paint, but 2-3 is usually plenty. Leave it alone for at least 24 hours. Pick it up and carefully clean off the front (viewing) surface. The glass is now ready to be framed or mounted.

 Freestyle

 A common method of making a magick mirror is to buy a non-reflective picture frame and use the glass that comes with it. The mirror surface can be any shape but oval or circular is most common. A square frame with an oval or circular matte is not uncommon.

Goetia-style ala Runyon/Kraig

 The method developed by Carroll "Poke" Runyon (also published by Donald Michael Kraig) entails cutting a triangle out of wood and painting it with names and symbols (usually from Goetia), and then mounting a circular black mirror on it.

The glass may be mounted a number of ways. L-shaped mirror mounts will work well, but talk to people at the hardware store about the smallest size that will securely hold the weight of your mirror. The triangle can be set on an easel on a slight angle. Alternatively, you could install a prop on the back to make a table-top model (look at any table-top picture frame to see how that's done).

Size should be determined by how much space you have, and your desires (if you prefer to stand or sit, etc.), however, you want to avoid reflecting the candle flames in the mirror surface, which can become a problem if the mirror is too large.

Alternatives

As an alternative to glass, you could use any dark, reflective surface, including polished black marble or onyx, a dark ceramic dinner plate, etc., which could be set on a bookstand on a table. The general idea is to avoid the sharp reflection of a regular mirror. A soft, somewhat obscured reflection is the goal. 

While neither traditional nor easy to make at home, an innovation is to etch a design that suits the magick system in use into the back surface of the glass before coating with black paint. The example below (left) was designed for use with Neuromagick's own system of magick, and the other (right) is etched with the classic Goetic Triangle d'Art design. The circle in the middle of the design is big enough to serve as the entire mirror, but the whole mirror's surcace can still be used, as the etching does not interfere with the facial reflection-distrontion technique, or most other scrying methods.  

 

        

 

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