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Sun Oct 10, 2021, 11:28 PM

The Aztec Origins of a Mysterious Elizabethan Mirror



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The Daily Beast
@thedailybeast
A hand mirror of obsidian once owned by Queen Elizabeth’s court philosopher had long baffled those who studied it—until today

The Aztec Origins of a Mysterious Elizabethan Mirror
A hand mirror of obsidian once owned by Queen Elizabeth’s court philosopher had long baffled those who studied it—until today.
thedailybeast.com
8:00 PM · Oct 10, 2021


https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-aztec-origins-of-a-mysterious-elizabethan-mirror

When Elizabeth I’s scientific adviser and “philosopher” John Dee died in 1609 at the age of 81 he left behind a trove of unusual artifacts. Among them was his speculum, a hand mirror made of polished obsidian (volcanic glass), that was also known as “the Devil’s Looking-Glass.” This mystical device for talking to the dead was coveted by his peers and later generations; it was acquired by politician and writer Horace Walpole before winding its way into the British Museum, where it resides today. Despite its popularity, however, the mirror’s history was shrouded in mystery. A just-published scientific study has tracked its origins to 16th century Mexico and the religious rituals of the Aztecs.

The mirror in question is part of a cluster of obsidian artefacts in the British Museum and measures about 7.2 inches in diameter and half an inch thick. Visually it resembles drawings of black mirrors that appear in the pages of codex Tepetlaoztoc, a 16th century Aztec book made by residents of Tepetlaoztoc in Central Mexico. The book depicts images of the tribute that indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica were forced to pay to the Spanish conquistadors and among jewelry and other precious objects were at least 10 obsidian mirrors. These objects were associated with the god Tezcatlipoca (literally “smoking mirror”), the authors explain, and were used for scrying, or examining the future.

Just because the mirror resembles those in the manuscript does not mean, however, that it is the real deal. Anything of value is susceptible to forgery, and Dee moved in spiritualist circles that included known forgers like the alchemist Edward Kelly. A scientific team, led by University of Manchester professor of archaeology Stuart Campbell, analyzed the various obsidian objects at the British Museum and compared their chemical composition to various samples from regions of modern Mexico. Their findings, which were published this week in the journal Antiquity, show that the mirror is very similar to the samples from Pachuca, an area that was heavily mined for obsidian during the period that it was under Aztec control.

Though rock mirrors date to 4000 B.C. Anatolia, they were not easy to make. The Franciscan missionary and ethnographer Bernardino de Sahagún (c. 1499–1590) writes that the mirrors were made by specialists, who polished the stone using abrasive sand and a fine cane to make it shiny. The obsidian was believed to have medicinal and religious properties that could protect the user from harm as well as allow them to look into the future. Though there were a variety of different kinds of spiritually useful mirrors in use in Mesoamerica, at least one important was a tool for metaphorical “self-reflection.” Contemporary mirror divination among the Huichol of Santa Catarina Cuexcomatitlan sees mirrors as “like the apprentice’s notebook” in which the diviner learns what is inscribed in the mirror. Among the Huichol, Karl Taube summarizes, the mirror “is much like a camera” and “functions similar to the sight and minds of human beings, with images recorded in the “memory” of the object.”

*snip*

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Reply The Aztec Origins of a Mysterious Elizabethan Mirror (Original post)
Nevilledog Sunday OP
Raine Monday #1
Withywindle Monday #2
KY_EnviroGuy Monday #3
melm00se Monday #8
tonedevil Monday #10
crickets Monday #4
ananda Monday #5
malaise Monday #6
malaise Monday #7
BSdetect Monday #9
Hekate Monday #11

Response to Nevilledog (Original post)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 12:49 AM

1. Very interesting ... thanks for posting this! 👍 nt

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Response to Nevilledog (Original post)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 02:50 AM

2. I thought this was already known

It's definitely mentioned in Benjamin Woolley's biography of Dee, The Queen's Conjurer. I guess the story here is that it's now been definitively proven to be of Aztec origin and not a forgery of some kind.

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Response to Nevilledog (Original post)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 03:36 AM

3. Further detail from drjohndee.com and the British Museum....

Photos and description of the scrying mirror and other artifacts:

See: https://drjohndee.com/british-museum/


Dr John Dee Items on Display At British Museum

KY

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Response to KY_EnviroGuy (Reply #3)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 10:37 AM

8. More recent versions of the devil's mirror.

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Response to melm00se (Reply #8)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 01:18 PM

10. Romper Stomper Bomper Boo

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Response to Nevilledog (Original post)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 10:16 AM

4. Interesting! K&R for visibility.

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Response to ananda (Reply #5)


Response to ananda (Reply #5)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 10:28 AM

7. Thanks

We may have to "uncancel" some cultures

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Response to Nevilledog (Original post)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 12:51 PM

9. Pity the mirror did not foretell of the Spanish coming

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Response to BSdetect (Reply #9)

Mon Oct 11, 2021, 01:43 PM

11. How do you know it didn't? All scrying and divination techniques require interpretation...

…and sometimes the true answer appears only in hindsight. “Total catastrophe? I thought that meant a tidal wave, not a volcano.”


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