Week 9: Mirrors in Vietnamese culture

I. First story:

Once, there was a family with two sons, who both got married. The first daughter-in-law was jealous that the little brother’s wife was way more beautiful than she did. One night, she decided to stalk her sister to find out the truth about her beauty.

During the Hour of the Ox (1-3 am in the 24 hours clock), the younger daughter-in-law sat before a mirror, combing her hair. The reflection the big sister saw that night was so frightening that she went mad.

II. Second story:

There was a poor man who lived alone but was quite narcissistic if one were to ask. One day, after getting drunk, he broke the mirror in his bathroom by accident but never paid much attention to it.

Strange phenomena started to happen whenever he looked in the mirror in his bathroom.

At first, he began to see his reflection as strange and couldn’t recognize his face after some time. He also had hallucinations and experienced memory loss. Later, one of the 13 reflections on the shattered glass winked at him. He died a painful death after a short while.

Disclaimer: this is a story my grandmother made up to teach me about the taboo of the mirrors since she didn’t want to tell 3 different tales. The taboos are real, though.

III. Third story:

A woman was using a hand mirror to redo her hair while getting on a bus. The older driver stopped her and insisted she went on a different carriage. She was annoyed, but the driver was adamant.

The car she got on next was of a younger driver, who had no opposition against that. But, as they crossed the road, the mirror showed the figures of ghosts who had died at that spot. Thanks to the mirror, the spirits got on the bus and never left.

IV. General beliefs:

_ The hour of the Ox is when the Gates of Hell open, and demons, ghosts, and all other types of monsters roam the Earth, as covered in an earlier post. It’s believed to be a bad hour.

_ Mirrors are magical artifacts that can reflect things the mortal eyes couldn’t. For instance, in Chinese and Vietnamese mythology, an artifact called “Monster-Revealing Mirror” shows the true form under disguises magic/transformation spell of a monster or shape-shifter. One of the most well-known example is in Chapter 6 of Journey to the West, when Sun Wukong battled Erlang Shen and his sworn brothers, Li Jing and Nezha used this mirror against him to aid Erlang Shen. In the free online translation I was able to find, it was called “Fiend Detecting Mirror” instead, though.

_ In Fengshui (or at least an amateur level), Vietnamese don’t place mirrors facing the door or the bed, at the familial altar (ban thờ), statues of deities, and places where they do their financial works.

_ It’s advisable that one doesn’t look at the mirror for too long, as if one did, the reflection will switch place with the real person, and one will cease to be one’s self.

_ There are actually two apparently opposing ideas about the nature of mirrors. On the one hand, they insist that mirrors are potent to evil spirits/anything non-physical and can ward off evil, cut off luck and fortune. On the other hand, they argue that mirrors are actually favorable for ghosts, as they can stay (or be trapped there) and haunt the place. Think of the mirrors, in this case, as their new grave.

_ When someone in the family died, all mirrors had to be covered up, including glasses on windows and doors. We believe that for the first 7 days, they still live in the house and don’t want to freak them out with their own reflections, as it can make them feel too attached and won’t move on.

_ Many of these concepts were touched upon in Book 1 of the Half-Alive Series, as well as in chapter 1, book 1 of the Half-Dead Series.

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