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Catoptromancy

Definition: The use of mirrors to aid in telling one’s future or fortune.  Divination by reflection.

Pronunciation: Cah-top-troh-man-see

Origin:

The word catoptromancy derives from two Greek words- katoptron, meaning mirror; and manteia, meaning divination.  Historically it was performed by putting a mirror in the water and letting a person who was ill gaze at their own reflection in it.  Logically, if their reflection appeared healthy, it augured well, while if it appeared unhealthy, it bode ill.

Why this word?

Mirrors are fascinating to me as a means for magic in old stories.  The idea that one’s reflection, be it in a mirror or a photograph, might not belong to you but could be used against you or used to see more than what is shown in the image seems very old but still very threatening.  In the modern world, while the threat of magic seems a distant relic of our past, there is still the very real possibility that you are not in control of your own image.  With the latest outcry over Instagram’s policy changes, and with the specious privacy policies of web giants such as Google and Facebook, there is the real possibility of your image floating around on the web outside of your control and manipulated by others to their own end.  This seems to me to be the modern day magic of the internet, that manipulation of images and fight over their control, all to show some altered view.

How to use the word catoptromancy?

“The evil queen was famous for her cold beauty, fiery anger, and skill at catoptromancy.” 

“The fortune teller specialized in catoptromancy.”

“The water shone like a polished mirror, a perfect place for her to practice her catoptromancy.”

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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.

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