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Scrying (also called seeing or peeping) is the practice of looking into a translucent ball or other material with the belief that things can be seen, such as spiritual visions, and less often for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. The most common media used are reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Scrying has been used in many cultures in the belief that it can divine the past, present, or future. The visions that come when one stares into the media are thought to come from one's subconscious and imagination, though in the past they were thought to come from gods, spirits, devils, the psychic mind, depending on the culture and practice.
Although scrying is most commonly done with a crystal ball, it may also be performed using any smooth surface, such as a bowl of liquid, a pond, or a crystal.
Like other aspects of divination and parapsychology, scrying is not supported by mainstream science as a method of predicting the future. However, a 2010 paper in the journal Perception identified one specific method of reliably reproducing a scrying illusion in a mirror and hypothesized that it "might be caused by low level fluctuations in the stability of edges, shading and outlines affecting the perceived definition of the face, which gets over-interpreted as ‘someone else’ by the face recognition system." The Ganzfeld experiment involves sensory deprivation which might also be seen as comparable with scrying.
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The visions that scryers say they see may come from variations in the medium. If the medium is water (hydromancy), then the visions may come from the color, ebb and flow, or ripples produced by pebbles dropped in a pool. If the medium is a crystal ball, the visions may come from the tiny inclusions, web-like faults, or the cloudy glow within the ball under low light (e.g., candlelight).
One method of scrying using a crystal ball involves a self-induced trance. Initially, the medium serves as a focus for the attention, removing unwanted thoughts from the mind in the same way as a mantra. Once this stage is achieved, the scryer begins a free association with the perceived images suggested. The technique of deliberately looking for and declaring these initial images aloud, however trivial or irrelevant they may seem to the conscious mind, is done with the intent of deepening the trance state, in this trance the scryer hears his own disassociated voice affirming what is seen within the concentrated state in a kind of feedback loop. This process culminates in the achievement of a final and desired end stage in which rich visual images and dramatic stories seem to be projected within the medium itself, or directly within the mind's eye of the scryer, something like an inner movie. This process reputedly allows the scryer to "see" relevant events or images within the chosen medium.
One of the most famous scryers in history lived in the 16th century and was known as Nostradamus. He used a bowl of water or a "magic mirror" to "see" the future in it, while he was in trance.
The Shahnameh, a historical epic work written in the late 10th century, gives a description of what was called the Cup of Jamshid or Jaam-e Jam, used in pre-Islamic Persia, which was used by wizards and practitioners of the esoteric sciences for observing all of the seven layers of the universe. The cup contained an elixir of immortality.
In the late 1820s, Joseph Smith, Jr. founded the Latter Day Saint movement based in part on what was said to be the miraculous information obtained from the reflections of seer stones. Smith had at least three separate stones, including his favorite, a brown stone he found during excavation of a neighbor's well. He initially used these stones in various treasure-digging quests in the early 1820s, placing the stone in the bottom of his hat and putting his face in the hat to read what he believed were the miraculous reflections from the stone. Smith also said that he had access to a separate set of spectacles composed of seer stones, which he called the Urim and Thummim. He said that, through these stones, he could translate the plates that are the stated source of the Book of Mormon.
Rituals that involve many of the same acts as scrying in ceremonial magic are also preserved in folklore form. A formerly widespread tradition held that young women gazing into a mirror in a darkened room (often on Halloween) could catch a glimpse of their future husband's face in the mirror—or a skull personifying Death if their fate was to die before they married.
Another form of the tale, involving the same actions of gazing into a mirror in a darkened room, is used as a supernatural dare in the tale of "Bloody Mary". Here, the motive is usually to test the adolescent gazers' mettle against a malevolent witch or ghost, in a ritual designed to allow the scryers' easy escape if the visions summoned prove too frightening.
While, as with any sort of folklore, the details may vary, this particular tale (Bloody Mary) encouraged young women to walk up a flight of stairs backwards, holding a candle and a hand mirror, in a darkened house. As they gazed into the mirror, they were supposed to be able to catch a view of their future husband's face. There was, however, a chance that they would see the skull-face of the Grim Reaper instead; this meant that they were destined to die before they married.
In the fairytale of Snow White, the jealous queen consults a magic mirror, which she asks "Magic mirror on the wall / Who is the fairest of them all?", to which the mirror always replies "You, my queen, are fairest of all." But when Snow White reaches the age of seven, she becomes as beautiful as the day, and when the queen asks her mirror, it responds: "Queen, you are full fair, 'tis true, but Snow White is fairer than you."