A Brief History of the Psychomanteum

The concept of a psychomanteum has been around since at least the time of the ancient Greeks as a means to communicate with the deceased. It primarily facilitates the use of the divination method known as ‘scrying’, and specifically catoptromancy.

Practicing Catoptromancy

As children, many of us grew up with the folk legend of ‘Bloody Mary’. Where I was raised, it was said that if you closed yourself in a dark room with a mirror and repeated “I believe in Bloody Mary” three times, her phantom would appear in the mirror.

Many such legends are attached to mirrors and the practice of Catoptromancy, also known as mirror-gazing. The practice dates back to Ancient Greece and was recorded by Pausanias, a Greek geographer. He wrote, “Before the Temple of Ceres at Patras, there was a fountain, separated from the temple by a wall, and there was an oracle, very truthful, not for all events, but for the sick only. The sick person let down a mirror, suspended by a thread till its based touched the surface of the water, having first prayed to the goddess and offered incense. Then looking in the mirror, he saw the presage of death or recovery, according as the face appeared fresh and healthy, or of a ghastly aspect.”

The Psychomanteum Room

The psychomanteum itself is a small, enclosed area set up with a comfortable chair, dim lighting (usually candlelight), and a mirror angled so as not to reflect anything but darkness. The space is intended to provided an environment which supports mental focus while attempting to contact deceased loved ones.

Scientific Study

The psychomanteum was popularized in modern times by Raymond Moody, originator of the term near-death experience (NDE) in his 1993 book, Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones. Moody believed the psychomanteum was useful as a tool to resolve grief. In his studies utilizing members of the public, the psychomanteum chamber was kept darkened and illuminated only by a candle or a dim light bulb. Subjects gazed into the reflected darkness of the mirror, hoping to see and make contact with spirits of the dead. Moody compared the psychomanteum to the ancient Greek Necromanteion, since both were created to facilitate such scrying.

A 2004 Psychomanteum study by Dr. William Roll at the University of West Georgia replicated the conditions of Moody’s experiments with a group of 57 people, with the goal of determining if similar experiences would be recorded. 22% of Roll’s group reported paranormal experiences, compared with 50% of Moody’s group.

Create Your Own Psychomanteum

If you’d like to set up your own Psychomanteum, find a small enclosed space which can be darkened and presents few distractions. Angle a mirror at around 90 degrees, enough so that nothing appears in the mirror but darkness. Light one or two candles and place them near the mirror. Sit in a comfortable chair, and focus on the mirror’s surface. Who knows what you may see.



James R. Lewis. (1995). Encyclopedia of Death and the Afterlife. Visible Ink. p. 294. ISBN 978-1578591077

Christopher M. Moreman. (2008). Beyond the Threshold. p. 201.

Christopher M. Moreman (18 September 2008), Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp. 201–, ISBN 978-0-7425-6552-4

Alexandra Jones
Alexandra Jones
Alexandra is an American historian and the founder of Houselore. She is based in Scotland, where she lives in a creaky castle and tends a poison garden.


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