Magic Mirror

Lecanomancy  is an ancient divination method which was practised by Babylonian priests, who floated oil and sometimes other foodstuffs on water in attempts to see into the future. Today I decided to play around with some marbling ink to see what random patterns came to light. I found 3 circular canvas boards which I thought would be an interesting format to use, as they reminded me of circular mirrors, and this also made me think of the magic mirror of John Dee which I have been reading about lately.


John Dee’s Mirror and some of his other magic tools, on display in the              British Museum

Dee’s magic mirror is a circular obsidian Aztec cult object which was brought to Europe in the late 1520s and was subsequently owned by Horace Walpole, an English art historian,  antiquarian and politician. Dee, a mathematician, astrologer, alchemist and student of the occult was said to have joined forces with Edward Kelley (a young con-man who practised the dark arts) and used the mirror, and other tools including a crystal ball to call on “angels” to scry into the future.

Dee’s magic mirror is an object which has inspired a few artists including Damon Albarn (who wrote an operatic work Dr Dee in 2012) and Joachim Koester, who made silver gelatine prints of his photos of the mirror (see below).joachim-koester

Joachim Koester, The Magical Mirror of John Dee, 2006, silver gelatin print, 25.5 x 33.5 cm

I filled my tray with water, and again, added a small amount of water from the sample bottles I had taken in Birnam Wood, before adding some black marbling ink.


I stirred the inky mixture using  a “wand” made from a piece of a beech branch which I found in Birnam wood. Beech is renowned for its divinatory properties.  First I made some prints onto A4 pieces of paper, before moving into larger A3 watercolour paper, and then finally marbling the circular boards.

Below : some of the first experiments on paper

The first circular board I used as a recycled one – it had a few traces of pink ink on it, and ironically – as I actually predicted it (through sod’s law!) it was the best print of all! An air bubble had  created a large white oval shape within the circle, and the marbling had created a beautiful border of mystical pattern around it.


I love the result of the first one – unfortunately it was printed onto a recycled board, and traces of pink ink are showing through. It appears as if one is looking into a hole or void of some kind, which allows the viewer to project their own thoughts onto the blank space.


This piece has a smaller void – is it a doorway into another galaxy, a a magic white stone (as was used by Scotland’s own Nostradamus, the Brahan Seer) a magical megalithic monument or an aerial view of the landscape such as a loch, hill or boundary?

magicmirror1The final circle is very beautiful, but completely covered, leaving less cause for consideration of space. I have an urge to paint over this one, picking out the shapes to create more blank areas within the swirls, and omitting some of the marks with white acrylic. But perhaps that is being just a tad self-indulgent, so for the moment I will resist the temptation.

I did take some film of the swirling ink, which again reminded me of Macbeth, and the cauldron of the witches. I wonder if this could be projected from inside a cauldron onto a ceiling, and how this might look as a video installation?


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