Crystal Balls in the Parlor
This year we’ve moved our collection of crystal and mirrored balls from the mantle in the
Iris Room to the piano in the parlor. Lots of guests and tour-goers ask about them, and one of our guests suggested that we write this blog post about them.
No Witches at Leith Hall
First, they are not Witch Balls. Those were blue or green blown-glass balls used to catch evil spirits. These beliefs existed in Europe in the 17th century and before. They are sometimes ascribed to New England – probably because of the Salem witch trials – but without much evidence. Usually, fishing floats, which are also blown glass blue or green balls, are brought out as evidence.
Our collection is of mirrored balls and crystal balls. Gazing balls are the big mirrored balls seen on pedestals in gardens. They were very popular in the 19th century. Then again, Victorians could never leave well enough alone and packed their gardens with statuary, sundials, urns, gazing balls, trellises and arbors, obelisks, cupids and gnomes. We have a gazing ball in the tiny front garden at Leith Hall.
In the parlor, we have lots more mirrored balls. Some are mercury glass which was very popular in the early and mid-nineteenth century. It contains no mercury, but is silvered on the inside, then sealed. It was called mercury glass because it looks like mercury. One interesting use for them was to display one large reflective globe on the sideboard in a dining room. That way, the master or mistress of the house could keep an eye on the servants during a dinner party and make sure they were doing their jobs properly.
The clear balls are “crystal balls” for communicating with the “other side.” These became very popular after the Civil War, along with séances, Ouija boards, clairvoyants, and Theosophy. The explosion of interest in spiritualism probably resulted from the number of young men lost in the Civil War and their families’ reluctance to be cut off from them. Or, maybe being a clairvoyant was one of the few ways for women to be famous in Victorian times. Or, maybe it’s just another one of the new religions of the nineteenth century, like Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.
Susan says, “We have lots of collections beside the mirror balls; Victorian Eastlake style silver, decorated Easter eggs, shells, and Japanese woodblock prints. Come visit us and see all of the Victorian stuff at Leith Hall.”