As a child I could lose myself in the depths of a shiny glass ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, pretending it was a crystal ball that would reveal the upcoming year. Sadly, I might have had better luck seeing the future had I buried an Erdspiegel–a particular kind of magic mirror that granted the gift of second sight and remote viewing, and that could only be created at Christmastime.
A PROPHETIC GLASS.
Remarkable Revelations of a Mirror used in Tracking Barn-Burners.
What the Erdspiegel Is and How It Is Used—Cryptograms and Charms Against Witchcraft.
[Hanover (Penn.) Cor. Baltimore American.]
That there is in this part of the country such a thing as the Erdspiegel, or earth-glass, was but little known until last Monday. On that day was published an account of how the glass was used to track suspected barn-burners. The Erdspiegel is a glass which, it is claimed, will reveal unseen things, if looked into by the right person. It takes its name from the fact that it has to be buried in the earth one year before it becomes possessed of great power. The Erdspiegel is not a new thing; in fact, it is very old, and those posted in German folk-lore are well acquainted with the wonderful powers it is claimed to possess. The one in this part of the country is owned by Mr. John Keagy, a well-known and prosperous farmer who lives a short distance from McSherrystown. He prizes the glass highly, and claims that it was through it’s power last Saturday night that he was able to discern the approach of the men who intended to burn his barn, and not only to scare them away, but to follow and recognize them.
By invitation of Mr. Joseph Keagy, the brother of the owner of the glass, I went out to the farm to test the glass myself. At first, he did not believe in the glass, but he says he has had such wonderful experiences with it that his faith in it now is as wonderful to an unbeliever as the virtues of the glass. Mr. Curby J. Smith, also of this city, made the third of the party. Mr. Keagy guards the glass with great care, and keeps it in a silk handkerchief and other wrappings, to prevent breaking it. It is a piece of very heavy plate glass 6×8 inches in size. Beneath it is a sheet of white paper containing words and symbols. On the glass is cut a star, having the signs of the planets cut in each point. Around the edges are more signs and symbols. The glass with the paper beneath is heavily framed in hard wood, because the white paper must be kept white and free from air. Besides the stars and planet signs, the following is on the glass:
THE CRYPTOGRAM INTERPRETED.
The scratchings on the glass are half German, English and Latin. They are very thin. Under this heavy plate is the white paper. The writer of the signs and sentences was not a good speller or writer, either, and part of the inscription is not legible. I give a faithful transcription, spelling and all:
Many of the signs on the papers are well-known safeguards against evil. For instance, the crosses of letters generally have “Spiritus Sanctus” between the two crosses, and it is a superstition that if so written and always carried with one it will protect against all evil powers and all manner of witchcraft. It means “All this be guarded here in time and there in eternity, amen.” When you have the symbol with you and desire its aid, you must say, “Bless me here in time and there in eternity.” The sentences “Dullix ix ux and Pontio ist uber Pilato + + +” is the sign to prevent witched or malicious persons from doing you harm, while if the sentence “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum” is repeated before going to court or investigation, it will preserve your rights, according to the superstition.
HISTORY OF THE ERDSPIEGEL.
Mr. Keagy secured his Erdspiegel some 15 years ago. It was made by a famous old man in Lancaster, Penn. The glass and paper were brought to this locality and buried, according to the rule, one year in the earth under some crossroads. It must also, to obtain its virtues, be buried on Christmas night, between 11 and 12 o’clock, and unearthed one year later, on the same date and hour. This Erdspiegel was buried at the crossroads near McSherrystown, but unfortunately it was not put in a box, and when dug up it was found that the paper had faded and the writing was gone. So the old man wrote another paper, and the glass and paper were framed and buried once more. As the glass alone must stay a year, it was unearthed after three months after the second burial and tested, and found to be all right.
A MARVELOUS GIFT.
Only certain persons have the power to see in the glass. Those born on Christmas Day, or immediately after, it is claimed, see perfectly in it, and to them the glass reveals its inmost secrets. Those born on May 1, also, it is claimed, have the wonderful sight. The reason for this is that Christmas, and the 1st of May always come on the same day of the week. Those who are fortunate enough to see in the glass say that it must be dark for perfect effect. Those who have seen it say that the glass at first looks dark, then a grayish cloud passes over it, which grows blue, and finally breaks into a bright light, like the sun from behind a cloud. The light is so intense that it almost burns the eye, but you must keep on looking, and then the thing wished for is seen. Mr. John Keagy’s sister-in-law is about the only one of his immediate family who can see in his glass. Mr. Joseph Keagy went to visit some time ago an old lady who lived at Marietta, Penn., and whom he did not know, but as soon as she saw him she told him things he had been doing, and described the finding of ore on his place so correctly that he was mystified, and when told by the lady that she learned it by the aid of her Erdspiegel, the mystery was explained.
Young Mrs. Keagy does not see so well now, she claims, as she did some time ago. Her eyes are sore, and besides, recently a colored man came to her house, and as soon as he saw her he exclaimed: “You can read the glass!” He then made a few passes like a magician at her, and said: “There, I have taken the power from you.” And sure enough, Mrs. Keagy says she has not been able to see as well as she did before the colored man hoodooed her. She says she would give $1,000 if he had never come. To show how well she had read the glass, a test was made one night. She was given the glass, and told to look and see what her own family were doing. They were in Lancaster, Penn. She looked, and described the position of every member of the family, and Mr. Keagy says she did it correctly. Only a few days before the colored man called, Mr. Keagy said he would go out and bury a coin, and she was to find it. He did so. She looked in the glass, and immediately went to the place where he hid it. Perhaps the best glass reader about here, or the one claimed to be the best, is Mr. Abraham Connelly. He is a neighbor of Mr. Keagy, and is his chief reader. It was Mr. Connelly who read the glass last Saturday night and traced the barn burners. To-day he said: “I could see the men perfectly all the time. It was dark, and I could see my way. I noticed the men and know them now. The Erdspeigel led me on, and I could see them try to find a soft track, and saw them until we reached town, but they outran us.”
Mr. Keagy remarked that he noticed the Erdspeigel led Connelly over the softest places in the pursuit. While in the dark he and his son often had a bad tumble.
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 March 1889: p. 11
After all of the elaborate preparation and a year’s wait, it is a pity that only certain persons had the power to see in the glass. Did you get a refund if the Erdspiegel was prepared and you could not use it? It seems as though anyone with the “sight” could use another person’s mirror.
AN “ERDSPIEGEL” VISION. A special dispatch from Bradford, Pa., to the Baltimore American states that Mr. John Keagy says that recently he had in his employ a German girl whose visionary powers in the “Erdspiegel” were unlimited, and she spent many hours at night in the lonely kitchen of his house gazing into this wonderful glass and soothing her homesick heart by watching the doings of her parents in the old home far across the sea. One night when feeling unusual sad and homesick, she anxiously peered into the “Erdspiegel,” and was horrified to see her father and mother both lying dead in their coffins, side by side. A few weeks later a letter came confirming the truth of her vision.
Evening Star [Washington DC] 7 March 1889: p. 7
Some seers apparently kept their mirrors out of sight (or is the black bag just to darken the glass?) And a sceptical onlooker could cloud the view.
The erdspiegel, or witch’s looking-glass, is still in use among the superstitious in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In 1875, a little boy named Ankeny was lost on the Laurel Hill, east of Ligonier, when a witch of Somerset county, who had in her possession an erdspiegel, was sent for, that she might see exactly where he was and direct aright the hundreds who had gathered from far and near to the scene of distress on the mountain. Upon her arrival, she looked into her glass concealed in the bottom of a black bag; but the presence of an unbeliever in the throng so beclouded the mirror that the child has not been seen to this day.
Southwestern Pennsylvania in Song and Story: With Notes and Illustrations, Frank Cowan 1878: p. 203
Of course the Erdspiegel reminds us of Dr John Dee’s magical scrying mirror, although other magical mirrors were being constructed by occultists well beyond Dee’s time, through the 19th and 20th century. A detailed description of how to make a piece of glass into a magic mirror with black lead and oil is given in Art Magic; or, Mundane, sub-mundane and super-mundane Spiritism, by William Britten and Emma Hardinge Britten, 1876. The emphasis in Art Magic is more on the psychic gifts of the possessor of the mirror and on influencing the person who wishes to have visions in the mirror rather than the preparation of the physical artifact.
I’ve always been struck by the sheer weight of the minutiae of Pennsylvania folk magic (or, indeed, most occult practices, as we found in “The Expenses of Necromancy.”) There are magic circles; secret papers; cyphers; robes, rods and staffs; magic squares; potions, elixirs, and powders. Every step must be followed in precise order while maintaining silence or having undergone some ritual purification. It is painful to read about people duped by “magicians” into treasure hunts being given lists of rituals, objects, and preparations to be followed in excruciating detail, only to fail to find the promised gold. Naturally the instigator of the wild treasure hunt then claimed that some part of the ritual was not followed correctly or he’s received additional instructions from the spirits, which, oddly enough, will require a fresh outlay of cash. This might go on for years.
To simplify things, in today’s modern, technological world, why isn’t there an erdspiegel app? Screens, mirrors, isn’t it all the same? And what is to prevent some Pennsylvania cunning-man or woman from selling a DIY erdspiegel kit on Etsy? Box included and all you have to do is bury it on Christmas night, digging it up when you get a text from the manufacturer reminding you of the GPS coordinates.
That’s going on my wish list for next Christmas.
Chris Woodyard is the author of A is for Arsenic: An ABC of Victorian Death, The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.