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Why Are the Mirrors Covered in a House of Mourning?

Why Are the Mirrors Covered in a House of Mourning?

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Question:

Can you shed some light on the custom of covering mirrors in a house of mourning? I was told that after the funeral of an immediate relative, we cover all mirrors in the home for the seven days of mourning. I have heard that the reason is that we are not supposed to adorn ourselves while in mourning, but I am looking for a deeper explanation.

Answer:

The Kabbalists give a more spooky reason for covering mirrors in a house of mourning. They write that all types of evil spirits and demons come to visit a family in mourning. When a soul leaves this world, it leaves a void, an emptiness that is prone to be filled by dark forces. This is because wherever there is a vacuum, negativity can creep in. And so the house of mourning, the place where the loss is felt the most, is a magnet for evil spirits.

These demons cannot be seen by the naked eye. But when looking in a mirror, you may catch a glimpse of their reflection in the background. And so we cover the mirrors in a house of mourning because we don’t want to be alarmed by seeing these demonic visitors.

Before we dismiss this idea as mythical nonsense, let’s try to understand it in terms we can relate to. Perhaps the idea of evil spirits can be interpreted on a psychological level: evil spirits can be thought of as inner demons.

The ghosts that visit a mourner are regret, guilt and anger. When people who are grieving take a hard look at themselves in the mirror, they often feel that they didn’t do enough for the departed, or that they didn’t say all they wanted to say, or that there are some loose ends, some unfinished business. Even if this is not really the case, even if they were exemplary sons or daughters, parents or spouses or siblings, our minds tend to play tricks, and we agonize over what could have been. These thoughts are the evil spirits that haunt the grieving, giving them no rest.

So we cover the mirrors. We don’t want to look at those dark figures lurking behind us in the mirror. At a time of such raw emotion, when the loss is fresh and the heart is volatile, there is no room for harsh self-judgment. If there are unresolved issues, there will be time to deal with them later. But in the week immediately following the loss, we focus on the loss itself.

The grieving process takes us on a bumpy journey of many mixed emotions. Every emotion needs its time to be felt. But in the midst of that bumpy ride, we are not in a position to judge ourselves fairly. Taking a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror is often a valuable exercise. But it has to be done when there are no ghosts lurking in the background.1

Footnotes
1.
R. Eliezer Chaim Deutsch, Duda’ei ha-Sadeh 78.
Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Gayle Earnhart Oceanside May 13, 2017

The first emotion is guilt. That being said,... the explanation of evil spirits appearing in mirrors reminds me of all the horror movies I've ever seen where you just know that when a person looks into a mirror there will be an evil presence reflected somewhere behind him. Creepy. Reply

Mark Perez Denver June 21, 2015

Guessing its not only a Russian tradition since we Sefardim have the same tradtion.

I was told it was to see yourself in mourning. Either we covered them or turned them around to not see your own reflection.

Mark Perez
Colorado Reply

Juda June 18, 2015

Re: Ethan Adler What I find even more fascinating is the question, who got what from whom. Perhaps they got it from Judaism, or better yet, perhaps it was an occurrence that occurred, and therefore this custom developed independently in various places.... Reply

meira netherlands June 16, 2015

The ghosts that visit a mourner are regret, guilt and anger Hmmm... why should there be regret, guilt or anger. I can only feel guilt when I am the one to blame for the death of a loved one, because we only mourn for those we have loved and lost. I think that in life we all must learn to let go of things, especially material things, since thats what they are, just things. That is different with a loved one, But there are 2 things in life we can be certain of, that is life and death. I have accepted those facts and have learned to let go. But that does not mean that I cannot be sad.Yes I am sad to lose someone I love because all that rest are the memories. And I make sure that I will only remember the very pleasant ones. I will not allow any ghost to live my life. Let there be sadness and joy. Reply

Basil Cohen johannesbirg, South Africa June 15, 2015

Why do us Sepharim not follow this custom? Reply

Raphaelle Do Lern Hwei June 14, 2015

Covering Mirrors is also a practice in Chinese wakes Mirrors were covered during my Grandpa's wake when he passed on in 1980.
The belief is that his soul still remains in the house with his family during the time of the wake (what Jews will call the 7 days of mourning). the Taoists will have rituals where one can address the soul, which was practised as Grandpa held mostly Taoist beliefs. The reason given was that the departed is not to be reminded that his body is decomposing during this time and hurry off to the World After before everyone concerned with him had time to say a proper farewell. The entry process is supposed to take 49 days. Do you find this interesting? Reply

Hypatia Uk June 14, 2015

mirror covering I have heard that the reason is that we are not supposed to adorn ourselves while in mourning, but I am looking for a deeper explanation.

why do you assume that a deeper explanation neccessarily has to exist? Reply

mordejay June 13, 2015

mirrors during the mourning of relatives we all mourn our dead in different ways. and it also lasts for different times. also they come back and forth but not because they are called upon. its because our forefathers are restless for many reassons. it is not possible to describe in few sentences why all this happens. who do we thing we might be if we can assume the knowledge of the scripts. Reply

M. E Cyprus June 13, 2015

covering mirrors while in mourning My grandma did that when my uncle died 22 yrs ago. I was a kid then. When I asked about it my mom told me that it was a Russian tradition (my grandma was Russian)
Is it a jewish only tradition? I'm not jewish and my grandma wasn't jewish too. Reply

Jim Stewart N Phx, AZ via ourjewishcenter.com June 12, 2015

This is lovely! We goyim are such poor mourners.

Upon the death of my Mother, my father's immediate family - he, brother, and his spouse - destroyed everything in an evil-inspired frenzy of rage and covetousness. Had we covered the mirrors, we would have all known that the first week of sorrow was a point of peril for us all.

Blessings to the Chosen! You are a light to the nations! Reply

Marc Washington State June 11, 2015

Mirror Gazing I really enjoyed that explanation from Aron Moss. I've always believed the mirror violated the commandment in Exodus 20:3-5. I use it to shave and comb my head of hair that's it! No mirror gazing for me. Reply

Len Berger Goshen, NY June 11, 2015

One more possible explanation for the practice of covering mirrors in a house of mourning: since a mirror reflects our physical being, we would be focusing on those physical aspects of life at a time when spirituality might be better at center stage. The candle that burns for the first seven days is to remind us of the light of the departed's spirit which would be working on another spiritual plane, just beyond our human senses. Reply

a June 11, 2015

how does this explain why many cover the paintings around the house as well?
or is that just an ignorant extension of the custom? Reply

Charles; Marseilles, France June 11, 2015

Covered Mirrors Thank you for the explanation. As a child- 80 years ago - I was raised in a Scottish protestant family in Glasgow. When there was a death in the family the mirrors were covered, or turned to the wall, for three days. The time between the death and the funeral. The day of the funeral the windows were covered with black cloth. - "Why ?" "It's traditional". Yes but why ? - "It's traditional, children can't understand.. "
Have we the same Jewish / Christian traditions - or not- ? Doesn't matter. Tell the kids what you believe! If they have the intelligence to formulate the question they have surely the intelligence to assimilate the reply.
Thank you "Chabad" for helping me get closer my Jewish friends. . Reply

Jamie Moran London, UK June 11, 2015

As perhaps the only Jerwish--Red Indian mixed blood here, I will tell you what the indigenous people believe. When a close person dies, the family mourns for a year. It was once done to cut arms and legs, or cut off the hair.. I don't know how widespread that was. But, after one year [counted by moons], the mourning had to stop. Why? Bc it stopped the dead from leaving this world, too much mourning dragged them back. We have to let them go on their journey.. They have left the story, as it is visible on earth, so there must be a break, a cut--off so to speak. Reply

meira Netherlands May 18, 2017
in response to Jamie Moran:

hah, you are not alone. I am also half red indian and definitely jewish. Reply

Lila Mydlarski Canada June 11, 2015

I had always been told that the reason we cover the mirrors is because if the soul would see its reflection, it would not want to leave the place it had lived in. Reply

Rabbi Ethan Adler Rhode Island June 11, 2015

According to many historians, evil spirits were known to invade homes where a death occured, since the family members would be too busy mourning and might be caught unawares. It was also believed that these spirits would enter the home through the mirrors. Thus, covering the mirrors was a way of keeping them out.
It is the genius of Judaism to incorporate secular customs and infuse them with new, spiritual interpretations. Reply

Isaac Brooklyn NY June 11, 2015

Very disappointed by this mumbo jumbo. To call your explanation "mythical nonsense" is an understatement, it is misleading to say the least, taking us far from the real reasons of why the mirrors are covered.
A shame that in todays times this nonsense is still being promoted.
Clearly an irrational explanation derived from an intoxicated state of mind.

There are those who do not handle mourning as well as others may.
Showing sorrow, being unhappy, down and crying, in an undesirable and unpleasant state, greatly affects one's appearance. Whether mourning for the loss of a loved one or not, is not the best time to look at oneself in the mirror. For some it would make them feel worse for seeing themselves in this condition, and would not be too inclined to receive sympathizers. Also, there are many people who notice the common features they have with their departed parent, reflecting on this may be very sad for some. The idea, when one has suffered a loss, is to help make the process of mourning more bearable.

Reply

Buddy van Zutphen Netherlands June 7, 2017
in response to Isaac :

Dear Isaac, to say that the rabbi's explanation is mytical nonsense and mumbo jumbo, is a bit offensive and harsh. In a way with your last sentence, you confirm what the rabbi stated! " Also, there are many people who notice the common features they have with their departed parent, reflecting on this may be very sad for some".
Maybe you take your losses as a nice and gentle person and that's just good but al lot of people are so hurt that they don't know what to do with themselves and the reflection of oneself who looks like the passed can trigger strange reactions. Even terrible anger. Or one can even faint.
I saw my aunt almost faint after her husband died and when his brother, who looked a bit like him came to visit the house. That was shocking, can you imagine if your own reflection causes such a reaction.
The rabbi said, the demons were guilt, anger and regret. His approach is psychological valid. Ask someone who works in a mourning center. Reply

Nathalie Moor Cape Town June 11, 2015

Thank you for this very enlightening explanation!
Nathalie - South Africa Reply

Anonymous June 11, 2015

Am not a Rabbi or a scholar but.... Would have thought that because we are each a reflection of one a other in G-d's light - even more apparently when it comes to close relatives - so we wouldn't want to look in the mirror and see the departed in one's own eyes, making the grieving experience all the more onerous. Reply

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