‘Spirit Mirror’ Obsidian Used by Elizabeth I’s Court Astrologer Has Aztec Origins | Smart News

Dee may have purchased the mirror in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the 1580s.
S. Campbell / antiquity

An obsidian”spirit mirror” used by John Deecouncilor of england Elizabeth Itraces its origins to Aztec culture, according to a new study published in the journal antiquity suggests.

A Renaissance polymath whose interests ranged from astronomy to astrology, alchemy and mathematics, Dee advised the Queen from the start of her reign in 1558 until the 1570s. As court astrologer and scientific adviser, he advocated for overseas exploration and the establishment of colonies.

“Later he became involved in divination and the occult, seeking to speak to angels through the use of clairvoyants (those who divine the future), who used artifacts, such as mirrors and crystals “said the lead author of the study, an archaeologist from the University of Manchester. Stuart Campbellsays Ashley Strickland of CNN.

Today the English Museum owns the mirrorwhich is on display in London alongside two similar circular obsidian mirrors and a rectangular obsidian slab that could be a portable altar, reports Tom Metcalfe for National geographic. Researchers had previously suspected that the artifacts came from the Aztecs, and the new study confirms this chemically.

A page from Codex Tepetlaoztoc, showing mirrors with other images

Aztec codices created at the time of the Spanish conquest depict mirrors, apparently in frames.

Trustees of the British Museum

Using a portable X-ray fluorescence scanner, the team measured the proportions of titanium, iron, strontium and other substances and compared them to those found in obsidian from Mexico. Researchers have determined that Dee’s mirror and one of the others came from Pachuca, just northeast of Mexico City, while the third mirror and slab came from Ucareo, about 150 miles to the west. Both regions were under Aztec control in the early 16th century.

The Aztecs used obsidian for medicinal purposes and considered its reflective surface a shield against evil spirits. The volcanic glass was also associated with death, the underworld, and capturing a person’s image and soul.

Like other Mesoamericans, the Aztecs saw mirrors as doors to other worlds, “much like Alice in on the other side of the mirror“, Karl Taubean anthropologist from the University of California at Riverside, who was not involved in the new study, says National geographic. “Once you look deeply, you’ve opened that connection.”

the aztec god Tezcatlipoca, or “Smoking Mirror”, is frequently depicted wearing mirrors that allow him to see the thoughts and actions of humans. As Campbell says Live Scienceby Mindy Weisberger, “[T]here is a fairly specific association with these types of mirrors and this particular deity.

codesor manuscripts, made by indigenous peoples at the time of the spanish conquest depict circular mirrors in what appear to be frames, the study authors write. Most examples of these artifacts date from the later part of Mesoamerica Postclassic periodwhich spanned around 900 to 1520 CE Indigenous peoples may have continued to produce the mirrors into the early colonial era.

Forces under the command of Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521. They soon began shipping treasures, including obsidian mirrors, to Europe.

Portrait of John Dee

John Dee was a mathematician, astrologer, alchemist and advisor to Elizabeth I of England.

Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

The exact date Dee’s mirror arrived in Europe – and how the scholar acquired the artifact – remains unclear. But Gizmodo‘s George Dvorsky notes that Dee was interested in the Spanish conquest and had probably heard stories about obsidian mirrors. At the time, many European scholars and nobles were fascinated by objects arriving on the continent from distant cultures.

Talk with GizmodoCampbell says the research “helps us understand something of the way in which European voyages of discovery and engagement with other parts of the world – often through disastrous conquests – were accompanied by new intellectual attempts to understand how the world worked”.

According to Garry Shaw of art diaryDee may have bought the mirror in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in the 1580s. At this time he became increasingly interested in the occult practices of mediums who supposedly used mirrors and crystal balls to communicate with angels and other supernatural beings.

“Mirrors have a long history of use in European magickal practices,” Campbell told the art diary. “So the lure of a mirror of new material, coming from an exotic culture with stories of its use for divination, and the drama of seeing faintly reflected images in it probably made a very tempting object. for [Dee] utilize.”